One of the very best features of Amazon.com, one of the reasons that it’s a tremendously successful online bookstore, is that anyone who wants can post a book review. No longer the exclusive purview of The New York Times Review of Books, Amazon lets anyone become a book reviewer, attaining the promise of a truly egalitarian online society. But, like anything else, there’s a dark side to the open nature of online reviews, and when the following messages from two of my favorite authors arrived in my mailbox, I asked them if I could republish their notes. They said yes, so here’s what Robert Bruce Thompson shared:
Now I’m pissed. Ordinarily I shrug off bad reviews, but I just read one on Amazon posted today for my book Building the Perfect PC, which has 35 reviews averaging five stars….
The “review” awarded our book one star, and made numerous false statements about it. The review was written by “Flying Tiger”. Clicking on the link for Flying Tiger reports that this person’s name is actually Mark Chambers. The first hit on an author search for “Mark Chambers” is:
Building a PC for Dummies, Fourth Edition
by Mark L. Chambers (Paperback – September 2, 2003)
Avg. Customer Rating: 3.0 out of 5 stars
A bit more sniffing around convinces me that this is the same person. Note that the Amazon nickname is “mlcbooks”. Going to www.mlcbooks.com displays “The Home of Books Written by Mark L. Chambers”. I’ve already reported this to my publisher and to Amazon.com, but I wonder what else, if anything, I can or should do.
Dave: One could ostensibly argue that authors are subject matter experts, so who better to post reviews of other books, but when a single review is so out of step with all the competing reviews, something’s clearly awry. Further, since authors already are subject matter experts, they’re not the target market for how-to and tutorial books anyway. But even if you don’t agree, concealing your identity as a competing author is indefensible, in my view.
Another author pal of mine, Kathy Sierra, author of the wildly popular Head First Java, has been plagued by this sort of problem too. Here’s her response to the situation:
Amazon will absolutely remove this. If you have evidence that a competing author wrote the review (and you have more than enough), this violates Amazon’s official review policy, and you should have no trouble removing it. I never let these things stay up… just on principle. If an author is unethical enough to do this (and it happened to me plenty of times), they shouldn’t be rewarded for it.
Did you get a response from Amazon? Usually you hear back from them within a day or two. If you get the standard form letter about the review being within their guidelines, write back! Sometimes it takes that second note… but they will remove it. It can take 5 days or more from the time they tell you it was removed before you actually see it disappear from your page.
We all have to accept the legit bad reviews, but I see no reason to not take a stand on the fake ones. You’re lucky that this reviewer didn’t do enough to cover his tracks : )
There’s great power to the “vox populi” of the Internet, but it should be no surprise that unscrupulous people subvert the system for their own goals. The challenge is for the rest of us to differentiate between legitimate, credible content and bogus or overtly biased material. Ironically, reading Amazon reviews proves to be no different from reading weblogs or any other material online.