Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place: Amazon Reader Reviews

There's been a lot of hoopla lately over fake reviews on Amazon, both positive ones and negative ones.  The problems exposed are various: some five-stars have been purchased to unscrupulously boost authors' sales, some one-stars have been purchased to unscrupulously lower rivals' sales, some glowing panegyrics have been written by biased friends and family members, some malicious diatribes have been written by angry trolls.

Throughout the past several months, the statement has been made over and over again that the Amazon reader review system is so flawed as to be worthless. But is it? This post that I read earlier this week gave a good defense of Amazon reader reviews, and after reading it, I wanted to post my own thoughts on the subject.

Sure, I know that some reviews might be originating from biased sources, but I also know that I have posted my own honest reviews on Amazon and that there are other people like me. I believe that I have the ability to discern between the review of a rabid fan, a disgruntled troll, and a discerning individual. I'm not going to buy a book solely because of how many five-star reviews it has. I'm going to read those reviews and see if they discuss the books' merits intelligently and if those merits are something I would appreciate. I'm not going to dismiss a book simply because of how many one-star reviews it has. Again, I'm going to read those reviews and see if the detractors' have any legitimate points.

I'm still going to look at Amazon reader reviews when I buy the baby his next car seat, when I buy galoshes for my boys, and when I buy Advent decorations for my house. I'm still going to look at Amazon reader reviews when I add books to my wish list for Christmas. And though I may not trust implicitly in the honesty of each review, I trust in my own ability to sort the wheat from the chaff. A place for everything and everything in its place, say I. And despite all the negative press, Amazon reader reviews still have a place in helping me decide what books I will and will not buy.

5 comments:

  1. I think sometimes critical reviews can highlight the shortcomings of a work in ways that a glowing review could not. Sometimes, I even look at the lower reviews first- and yes, reviews on Amazon are still often a first point of reference which can help to to decide whether to but or not.

    Then again, I confess, I have written some harsh reviews in my time, but I think I am beginning to learn that picking apart all the historical errors and internal inconsistencies does not necessarily make for a good review.

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    1. I look at low-star reviews, but I discount them if they say nothing of substance, or if the things they don't like about the book are things that I have no problem with. For instance, a reviewer could give a book low stars because "it has hardly any female characters." I have no problem with that kind of book. They could give it low stars because "it's written from an obviously Christian perspective." Again, I have no problem with that. It all depends what's said, and often, if they back it up with examples from the book.

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    2. Yes I think I know what you mean. A complaint about too much religious content in a Christian book seems a bit pointless, or then there are people who complain because some aspect of a book don't measure up to modern standards. They just annoy me.

      However, some remarks and comments made can be genuinely helpful, useful, or insightful.
      One thing a have a problem with in novels written by some Americans (no offense meant) is the tendency to 'bash' the British/English or present an extremely biased slant on history which favors is Americans or whoever else.

      I remember reading a review of one novel on Amazon.com set at the time of the Revolutionary war, which questioned the interpretation and portrayal of certain events presented in it. That review was genuinely helpful and interesting.

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  2. I definitely agree with you. I think the reviews are very helpful even though I know some of them aren't "legit". If it's an item that has a lot of reviews then it's pretty easy to figure it out. When there aren't a whole lot of reviews it can be more difficult though.

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    1. Yeah, it's tricky when there aren't very many reviews--especially for buying products. If there's just one review and it says that it's cheaply made and will fall apart right away, I'll probably steer clear. :-)

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