The */***** Controversy

Reading & Writing

One star or five stars? Do you bother to rate the books you read on Amazon?
There’s a new row brewing, and it’s over the way in which these ratings may be manipulated. Out of 69 ratings on the US site of Amazon for the recent novel, ‘The Priest’s Graveyard’ it has apparently received 51 5-star ratings – for a book which its only UK reader regards as poorly written 1-star rubbish.

I’ve seen the book – it’s not very good, but nor is it the worst I’ve seen by a long chalk. The question is, though, are authors and publishers manipulating the star system to force their books up the lists?

In January 2009 a marketing manager from Belkin, a company that sells computer peripherals, was caught soliciting fabricated reviews. The manager posted messages on Amazon’s bulletin board offering people sixty-five cents for positive reviews of his products. He noted in his posting that one need not be familiar with the product in question. He also asked people to mark other reviews as unhelpful.

Belkin is not alone. The company DeLonghi stirred up a controversy when the communications manager was caught writing glowing reviews about twelve of their products, including espresso machines and the publisher Elsevier was the subject of an exposé in which they offered people $25 gift cards for positive reviews of textbooks.

i enjoy reading author reviews but it’s getting increasingly hard to separate independent opinion from PR spin, and the more I have to do it, the more cynical I get. And the more I return to bookshops…

6 comments on “The */***** Controversy”

  1. Marc says:

    Agreed. The thing that always rings alarm bells for me is when the top rated review reads like the blurb on the back of the book in question or simply feels too well written for what should just be a five minute quick comment.

  2. Peter Lee says:

    It’s also a bit of a giveaway when you see a book receiving numerous 5* reviews but when you look at the reviewers they have either the same surname as the author, or have only one review to their name.

    I recently read a book by someone I know after reading dozens of 5* reviews of it on Amazon. It turned out to be very poor, but as I know the guy I haven’t the heart to post a review of my own, not just because I’ll probably see my review have lots of negative votes posted against it, but I’m about to publish a book of my own and I’d hate for him to give that a bad review.

  3. J. Folgard says:

    Despicable & sad practice… I generally enjoy readers’ opinions on Amazon -but there’s a guilty pleasure when a disappointed ‘reviewer’ bursts into a rant that actually prompts you to try the book, because its supposed shortcomings look appealing (bad spelling and CAPS LOCK being a bonus). That’s why I rely on recommendations coming from actual writers more often.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I’ve never read or written a review on Amazon, but I do on Goodreads with every book I read and, of course, with anything I release on Bookcrossing.I assume that Goodreads people have read the books they review, but it takes a while sometimes to figure out the background of the reviewer. I wouldn’t trust Amazon or other sites like that because I would just assume that the temptation to shove in non-real reviews would be too great for PR people to resist.

  5. Chris Lancaster says:

    Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have just given Memory of Blood a five star Amazon review, then!!

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I’ll probably hear about this but I am really tired of reading books that have not been even basically proofread. Sometimes I understand what has happened but I’m reading an historian’s recent tome published by Constable & Robinson and had to read one paragraph three times before I realized that my problem was a repeated name. Three pages in there with letter reversals, spelling mistakes (unless Sir John de la Pole was a ‘bother’ to William first duke of Suffolk and there is such a word as ‘duather’ which appears where I expect ‘daughter’)It is irksome, even though I know that every book ever published, including Bibles and the works or famous authors have been plagued by the work of the demon calligraphers call Titivillus.

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