Biased ‘consumer’ reviews sway readers

A recent glitch in Amazon.com’s system pulled back the Wizard’s curtain and revealed the identities of thousands of anonymous reviewers whose opinions have been responsible for the rise and fall of those five little stars judging everything from books to DVDs.

You’re probably wondering why anyone would care just who “c00lgUrL69” is, or any of the other thousands of people whose insightful critiques have ranged from “OMG THIS BOOK SUX!!!!!!!” to “OMG THIS BOOK ROX!!!!!!!”

Apparently, the writers of some books do. The least interesting “secret” thus revealed was that in many cases, the writers had critiqued their own book. I figured as much back when I read the occasional glowing four-paragraph, grammatically perfect review written by Some Guy. After all, if it was good enough for Walt Whitman, it’s good enough for the guy who wrote February 1997’s selection for Oprah’s Book of the Month Club. What was a bit more surprising was that friends and family of the authors had been recruited to beef things up with their own five star reviews.

But the one revelation that really spiced the entire affair up was that personal enemies and rivals of the authors were among those responsible for some of the harsher reviews. And the sad truth is that people do read these reviews. In fact, Amazon has reported that they’re the most popular feature of their site. From star giving blurbs to those user lists that keep calling attention to themselves with headings like “Best Book Ever Written,” the average Amazon customer can’t help but see what regular people think of the book he or she was just about to add to his shopping cart.

So we have this writer subculture of Amazon lurkers who sit around, ready to wage war against each other, enlisting friends and family to fortify their defenses and undermine those they don’t like, as opposed to doing little things like writing books. One writer even described a secret group known only as the Underground Literary Alliance responsible for some of the critiques, further reinforcing my fear that a lot of the “intellectuals” I meet in college actually get published somehow. That’s perhaps the saddest truth. In the end, so many of the writers out there are exactly like so many of the self-styled “writers” you meet in high school and college.

Interestingly enough, not a single one of the writers involved with this Amazon business is a really great writer. That should tell you something.

Endre Enyedy can be contacted at e.enyedy@umiami.edu.

February 17, 2004


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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