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Customer Discussions > top reviewers discussion forum

Does disliking a popular book lead to distortion?

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Showing 1-25 of 182 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Feb 2013, 13:14:07 GMT
SueKich says:
When you look through 1* and 2* reviews for well-liked popular books, it really is striking how many negative votes they attract. Any reviewer wishing to protect their ranking has little option but to wash their review or delete it altogether. My point here is not to comment on the morality of this either way but to say that if the reviewer decides to delete their negative review altogether, then this must surely lead to a distorted view of the item in question as far as the prospective buyer is concerned. In other words, that people will get a false idea of the item and believe it to be even more popular than it actually is. Of course, this must suit Amazon right down to the ground.

I also wonder - and would welcome other reviewers' views on this - why it seems to be a more common phenomenon this way round than the other. That is to say, what clearly appears to be facetious negative voting on low-star rated reviews doesn't seem to occur to the same extent or frequency on high-rated ones. Why is this do you think? Or am I imagining it?

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 13:32:55 GMT
FictionFan says:
You're not imagining it, Sue. Fanboys and girls for really popular stuff and if you give a low-rated review to a new or self-published author, I always assume it's mum, spouse, child, Great Aunt Jessie and the dog who can't help clicking that neg button. But if you think it's bad here, try reviewing a book with a religious aspect in the good ol' US of A - the land of the free, but not free to like any book that might imply that the Old Testament isn't the literal Truth.

That's why I don't have a problem with people washing reviews - both Vine reviews and low-star reviews attract disproportionate numbers of negs. I gave a poor review to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and was blasted by fans, washed it, put it back up when the hoohah had died down and now oddly people seem to feel it quite helpful. Same review. And then there was the RJ Ellory scandal when it turned out he'd been reviewing his own books. Everyone who'd given his books 5-stars got blasted and accused of shilling.

Oh and steer clear of political books. Doesn't matter how objective you try to stay, you'll get negged by people from the opposite side. So if like me you review books from all of the political spectrum it's quite amusing to get negged by the left for reviewing George W's memoirs one day and then next day negged by the right for reviewing Peter Hain! And as for reviewing Enoch Powell...don hard hat and hide under bed. I enjoy it though, at least it means people are reading the reviews and in the case of Enoch Powell I was thrilled to discover that so many BNP members could actually read and write! ;-)

Posted on 6 Feb 2013, 13:57:17 GMT
SueKich says:
Thanks FictionFan - such relief to hear I'm not imagining it! And I liked your enlightened 'take' on review-washing too.

Books that even touch on religion inevitably attract extreme views - look at last night's vote in the H of C! I had to delete my review of Christopher Hitchens' book Arguably because I couldn't handle the vile comments it attracted. I was late to Harold Fry with my (neg) review of it and it doesn't seem to have met with too much disapproval. Perhaps as you say, it's best to leave these very popular things till the fuss has died down though I think that perhaps the fanatical fans patrol their favourites periodically!

Literacy comment: hilarious!

Posted on 6 Feb 2013, 14:05:16 GMT
I think things like books are really too subjective to get reliable reviews from people who are not professionals. Where Amazon reviews really come into their own, are for practical items, where objective facts can be checked by ordinary consumers who are in the same position as the person reading the review and wanting to make a simple choice. They just want to know if the item(s) performs as promised. That's where Amazon really works for you; but reviews of items like books, CDs and DVDs are really worthless and totally unreliable. Best to make your own mind up.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 14:11:12 GMT
[Deleted by Amazon on 6 Feb 2013, 14:55:13 GMT]

Posted on 6 Feb 2013, 14:19:37 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2013, 14:22:31 GMT
FictionFan says:
Just as a wee aside, this is an actual review of Testament of Mary in the US:

"If you are a Christian and believe anything this author says, may God have mercy on your soul. May God have mercy on Colm Toibin's soul."

Edited to correct mistake.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 14:19:50 GMT
This is exactly why I look for reviews of books in things like the Observer review section and not at Amazon. Whereas, if I was thinking of buying a printer, electric toothbrush, food mixer, coffee machine etc. then I would look at Amazon reviews by genuine consumers of these items.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 14:23:46 GMT
SueKich says:
Exactly! Getting an accurate picture rather than a completely one-sided one. The current system lends itself to a distorted one.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 14:26:06 GMT
FictionFan says:
Fair enough. But plenty of people like reviews from average readers rather than professional reviewers - all a matter of choice. There are a few reviewers that I know share similar tastes to me - Lady Fancifull and Roman Clodia spring to mind - so I look out for their reviews because experience tells me that if they like something there's a very good chance I will too. I also look at the 1-star reviews to see if they're complaining about things that would bother me - poor grammar, for instance.

Posted on 6 Feb 2013, 14:27:13 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2013, 14:28:22 GMT
SueKich says:
Some professional book reviewers give far too much away - the Amazon community would never let them get away with it. Though I tend to agree that the Obbie book reviews are, on the whole, excellent.

Posted on 6 Feb 2013, 15:12:17 GMT
FictionFan says:
Haha! I see Az have deleted my post where I mentioned the word anti-freeze only instead of 'freeze' I took the name of the son of our lord in vain. Maybe it's Amazon who neg the reviews...;-)

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:26:44 GMT
Ho Sue, you and FF have started an interesting conversation, and for the first time it gives some objective reason to wash. It never really occurred to me it was anything other than people trying to climb that greasy ranking pole, so I'm afraid I had little sympathy with it.

The serial negging of for example all negative reviews on a product so they sink into the outer darkness - or, even, if someone doesn't 'wash' but simply deletes reviews would do exactly what Sue said.

Thanks for the eye opener!

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:31:44 GMT
FictionFan says:
<polishes halo>

Well, of course, washing the grease off the pole does help climbing too...;-)

<oops! drops halo in muddy puddle>

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:35:10 GMT
Ah.. that has left my second post "stranded" and lacking context.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:37:12 GMT
But there is NO such thing as an unsubjective review of a book. 'Professional' reviewers will have had their own particular intellectual, emotional and preferred tastes every bit as activated as the amateur reviewer. And an amateur reviewer may well be every bit as discriminating, thoughtful and experienced in their reading as a professional reviewer.

The other glaringly obvious factor with the pro reviewer - is it is a fairly small, rather incestuous world. Specialist writers of genre, general type and subject matter review each other's work. If I review my good friend's book I better say something enormously flattering about it because next week they are going to review my book and I really really want to get a good review.

Look at the number of literary books reviewed by other literary writers, and see how often you can count up the you scratch my back I'll scratch yours corresponding reviews. It is endemic.

So personally I have gone the other route now - and hearken to reviewers who share my tastes in certain categories. They have absolutely nothing to gain or nothing to lose (other than, of course, the wretched greasy pole ranking) by damning or praising.

And, for myself, I have identified reviewers who have some similar tastes to mine in certain areas, and whether or not they are shenaniganing around washing or not - they call a spade a spade as far as liking or not liking a book is concerned.

It is the professionals I distrust, not the discerning ammy Ammy reviewer

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:39:55 GMT
SueKich says:
Good Lor - oops, better not go there.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:41:17 GMT
Tugs forelock, drops a curtsey, thank you FF and yes, (sighs) I'll do the you scratch my back I'll scratch yours only insofar as to say you - and Roman Clodia, are both reviewers I use to see whether I'll buy something or not - but we are well aware that there are some books one of us will like which is not the kind of thing the other will like. So until both you and I write a book each and do the luvvy luvvy small band of fellow reviewers in the press kind of thing - say my book is the best, and I'll say your book is the best - I think our limited back scratch is fine!

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:41:56 GMT
FictionFan says:
Agreed. I also hate when a book has quotes from another author on the jacket raving about how it's the best thriller ever written - and it turns out to be mediocre. The publishers just get their stable of authors to provide glowing praise for each other's books - it takes away any sense of trust and also demeans the commenting author in my view.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:48:03 GMT
What Sue was talking about was the phenomenon of undiscriminating "fans", who see everything as good/bad and I don't think any professional reviewer would be like this. Even if their review was in some way biased, they would give you enough information to make up your own mind. Whereas the fan-voting phenomenon on Amazon means you are denied anything like a balanced view.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:48:36 GMT
Another reply to yours Kenneth, which i forgot - some of those professional reviewers may also be ammy Ammy ones.

She's stopped reviewing on Ammy much now, I think, but the writer Amanda Craig (and a very fine writer, IMO) who is also a professional reviewer, both of 'literary fiction' and of childrens' books, was for some years a top 10 reviewer, or perhaps just outside the top 10. She reivewed on Ammy under her real name. There are others who are also professional writers who review on Ammy under pseudonyms. And some of THOSE (not all, of course, but certainly some) use their pseudonymous identity to slag off the opposition. Quite possibly they may be the same people who publicly in print are saying Wonderful book, sliced bread, eat your heart out, this changes the course of literary history etc etc etc (please say the same about me, my book is on your desk waiting to be reviewed) and in private, with their pseudonym, saying what the REALLY think, or at least, if 2 books are in direct competition, trying to sink the opposition into oblivion.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:48:53 GMT
SueKich says:
As a rule, I read reviews in the press then, if something takes my fancy, refer to Amazon reviewers. But lately I have come unstuck a few times buying or borrowing books from the library based on dazzlingly good reviews and I began to ponder why this might be. Then - d'oh! - it occurred to me that the negative reviews had probably been deleted.

It doesn't matter too much when a library book deeply disappoints but when it's one's own dosh....

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:52:40 GMT
Well, I think you have to pick the reviewers you trust. And the publishing houses, as mentioned above by FF certainly do their damnedest to make sure that only the 'best thing since bread, sliced OR unsliced' was invented, appears on the dust jacket. Exactly the same sort of thing as theatre reviews where you might find the word "brilliant" plucked out of a review - and what the reviewer actually said was '"far from brilliant"

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 15:55:21 GMT
FictionFan says:
It's reasonably easy to spot the fan review - or the enemy review - usually, though. Sometimes the 2, 3 and 4 star reviews are most helpful. For the occasional shopper, it might be more difficult, but for old lags like some of us a shill or fan review stands out a mile and can be disregarded.

However, I came across someone the other day who'd given a book 2 stars because they bought the wrong book - that seemed pretty unfair on both author and potential customer! So I'm not pretending all Az reviews are good, reliable or helpful. But on the whole, for me at least, far more useful than not.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 16:00:43 GMT
SueKich says:
Someone wrote on another thread somewhere that they only read 3* reviews of books because they are much more balanced - but I don't think that's the answer either. A genuine rave or a genuine slate is fair enough.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2013, 16:07:20 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2013, 16:07:50 GMT
FictionFan says:
Indeed. I tend to read a sample of each rating and then make my own mind up. As LF said earlier, even the reviewers I trust don't always read stuff I'd enjoy - so when she goes off on one of her 5-stars raves over, say, '2000 meals to make using only courgettes', for instance, I just smile indulgently, ignore her and continue eating my bacon sandwiches. ;-)
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