Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Not Just Look at Amazon Reviews?

So what, some people ask, is the difference between posting a blog entry about your opinion of a book versus posting an Amazon review?

One key difference is transparency. In his New Republic article titled Critical Condition, James Wolcott quotes Gail Pool, author of Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, about some of the problems inherent with the Amazon system:
"To begin with, because Amazon neither solicits nor screens reviewers and allows them to remain anonymous, reviewers have the option of being dishonest. Many seize the opportunity. When Amazon's Canadian Web site went wonky one week in 2004, exposing the names of anonymous reviewers, authors were revealed to have reviewed their own books, promoted the books of friends, and attacked more
prominent authors they thought overrated."
And a few years ago, Publishers Weekly ran a satirical “quiz” that purported to be a screening mechanism “to avoid further complaints and controversies about review ‘stuffing’ and other efforts to manipulate sales rank numbers.” Sample question:
The way I first learned about the book I am reviewing was:
a) through word of mouth
b) in a newspaper/magazine article or ad
c) from a display at my local bookstore
d) because the author and I share the same summer house
e) because the author and I share the same DNA
Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I’d rather read one that I know is impartial.

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