Monday, January 09, 2006

Finally getting my fill of Phil.

Well, it's a new year. And in the spirit of same, I suppose it behooves me to get off the daily pounding of Dr. Phil, Amazon, and Love Smart, which, I admit, has become something of an unhealthy obsession. (Call it a New Year's resolution of mine.) I plan to do just that at the conclusion of this post, though I reserve the right to revisit the subject if something really over-the-top should happen. So let's take a look at the situation in summary, one last time.

1 As of this morning, Amazon has seen fit to give McGraw a second Spotlight Review--another 5-star rave. (Was there ever any doubt?) This time it's allegedly from a male reviewer, "L. POWER of San Francisco." Along with Barbara Rose's glowing Spotlight pick, this nicely covers the full demographic spectrum. Among other things, "L. POWER" tells us that "unlike other bestselling dating books, I can see how this book would work, and the more you apply its concepts the better it will work for you." Hmmm. That doesn't sound too much like PR copy, now, does it?

2 The infamous "real name" "Dr. Marilyn R. Barry" review (which, let us not forget, debuted verbatim as the "real name" "Dr. Joyce OHolleran" review) has been taken down and reposted atop the review heap at least seven times now, by my count, the latest occurrence being yesterday. In every case its reappearance pushed a critical review out of the No. 1 slot and further down the page.

3 The Love Smart page still features two identical reviews by "Jane" (albeit under different titles), both of which are identical to a review by "real name" reviewer "Sara Burnett," who later turned up on Love Smart's Barnes & Noble listing, again with the identical review, as "Sarah Burnett." Key verbiage from those reviews also appears in yet another Amazon review, by "Lisa Mac Donan."

4 At least a half-dozen negative reviews have been purged from the Love Smart listing. Others have been dramatically edited. For a good example of the latter, compare the currently posted review from "BentInSoho" to its original, unedited version, which is preserved in my own post of Dec. 13.

Hey, I don't know about you, but it all sounds pretty fair and balanced to me. And bear in mind, these are just the major irregularities I've noticed and tracked. There are also smaller oddities we haven't even discussed, little things that don't rise to the height of any particular evidentiary bar, but which, in context, are circumstantially suspicious nevertheless: like the fact that glowing reviews instantly, almost magically, seem to acquire a number of "helpful" feedback votes the moment they're posted. This, of course, suggests an orchestrated campaign to promote (and artificially support) the book.

The most discouraging aspect of Dr. Phil and Love Smart is that I haven't been able to spark more enthusiasm for the story on the part of folks I know in media. The consensus is, "Look [yawn], everybody knows that online ratings are bogus." What a shame. First of all, I'm not so sure that "everybody" knows. I think a lot of buyers are being hoodwinked by this (and, as tends to be the case in SHAMland, they're probably the most poignant marks of all: people desperate for change in their lives, hopeful of finding a push-button miracle in the next Dr. Phil book or Tony Robbins seminar). But more to the point: Have those of us who consider ourselves "savvy consumers" really become so jaded that we not only expect product reviews to be rigged...but we accept it as a way of life...?

1 comment:

acd said...

I performed a little experiment of my own that adds credence to Steve's claims here. A couple weeks ago, I posted a negative review for Love Smart. Just recently, I deleted the review and reposted it. Guess what. It got sent to the bottom of the pile, dated December 13! Meanwhile, Dr. Barry gets her number one spot every time. Obviously, Amazon has a hand in this. Only the positive reviews can be reposted with the current date.