Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Marilyn chronicles.

SHAMbloggers who've been here a while will be well aware of my gripe against the infamous "Dr. Marilyn R. Barry" review (nee the "Dr. Joyce OHolleran" review) on Dr. Phil's Love Smart page. It was reposted again on January 28, marking, by my count, at least eight times that its author (or whoever) put it up there, including at least five times in December alone, the month of Love Smart's debut. (It's happened so often that I may have missed a few. Click here to go to my December blog pages for a quick review of "the case." Many of the posts between December 10 and December 30 concern themselves with McGraw and Love Smart.) In each instance Amazon has seen fit to give it a brand-new date--exactly as if it were being posted for the first time--which seems not to be the site's policy for other reviews/reviewers (or at least not for yours truly). Still more suspicious, this never seems to happen until a bad review needs to be displaced from the top position on the site. A week ago, for example, with the Love Smart page awash in happy-talk, "Barry" didn't reappear a single time.

I'm curious if any of you feel enterprising enough to challenge Amazon on this tactic and see what response you get? For the record, I've written to them three or four times already; they don't even acknowledge me anymore. (Fact is, I've been such a pain in their neck, I'm almost surprised they haven't taken down the listing for SHAM.) If you're going to do this, don't just take my word for it. Track the site for a few days, wait for the "Barry" review to reclaim the top spot--I doubt you'll have to wait long**--then write Amazon and ask about it. Here's a link to Amazon's comments/feedback page.

Better still, if you're feeling really frisky, write a lukewarm review of your own and try to achieve what "Barry" has achieved. (I know you've got nothing better to do than undertake covert ops on my behalf.) Report back, please. I hasten to add, I'm not entirely comfortable with this, for one could say I'm urging you to stoop to their level. But from my POV, as someone who's devoted considerable portions of his career to investigative journalism, a little undercover work may be warranted here. Sometimes it's the only way to get the info you need. The beleaguered company president, after all, is not going to tell you in an interview, "No, we don't hire blacks or Jews." No more than Ken Lay, whose trial has just begun, is going to admit, "Yeah, we sacked Enron and left the retirees and shareholders twisting in the wind..." You have to do a little digging...maybe even get a job there yourself.... And hey, if anyone here can actually get a job supervising Love Smart's Amazon listing, so much the better!

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** UPDATE, February 3. And as forecast, the "Barry" review is back atop the "new reviews" heap. See? I told you you wouldn't have to wait long... You never do with these jokers.

** FURTHER UPDATE, February 3, 1:30 p.m. The "Barry" review is down again. I'm wondering if any of you accepted my invitation and confronted Amazon on the point? Or if maybe by this time they've assigned someone to follow SHAMblog, and we've made them nervous? (Doubtful.) Or if there's something else going on?... I tell ya, if it pops back up as "Dr. Joyce OHolleran," it almost wouldn't surprise me...

5 comments:

Rodger Johnson said...

Steve,

I mentioned your thing with Love Smart to my public relations professor on more than one occasion. He says that Amazon’s practice that you’ve documented is very common. No doubt it’s shady, but common, he says.

Circumstances may be that Amazon has a stake in the good doctor’s book – that said – there’s a vested interest and Amazon, like you or I, hate to lose money on our assets.

That’s just a conspiracy theory to think about.

Steve Salerno said...

Rodg, I think it depends what you mean by "common." If your PR prof is referring to the tendency, say, for an author to recruit his buddies (and editors, and agents) to write glowing reviews of his own book under fictitious names...yes, I agree that that's common, and almost impossible to regulate--though I understand that Amazon at least professes to try to crack down on that by monitoring duplicative reviews submitted from the same IP address and such. But that only makes the whole Love Smart scenario that much more suspicious, from my POV. If Amazon has the wherewithal to recognize bogus reviews--and clearly in the case of the Barry review above all, something pretty bogus is going on--then that means Amazon is IN on it. That's clearly unfair, if not downright fraudulent. Especially when such practices are invoked to elevate one book (artificially) over another, and even more especially if--I can't prove this, but if--money is changing hands in order to "motivate" Amazon to take such dubious steps. In fact, if indeed somebody is paying Amazon to do this, then that comes awfully close to the old "Payola" scandals that got so many rock-n-roll radio stations in trouble back in the 1960s, I believe it was. Anyway, whether the practices are common or not, they definitely merit a closer look. Because unsuspecting buyers are being duped...

mrnonel said...

I would like to participate in your inquiry, but does it mean I have to buy Dr. Phil's book and actually read it before I post my review? Or can I make something up?

FYI. At Match.com, Dr. Phil is selling his on-line dating advice service "MindFindBind." This service costs $8.99/month above the Match.com monthly membership fee. It includes a personality profile survey, which is probably just a canned psychological evaluation questionaire. It also provides members access to Dr. Phil dating tips on-line videos. In a free preview video, Dr. Phil says only 7% of communication is verbal and the rest is non-verbal, such as body language. But Dr. Phil, how can one convey body language on Match.com's on-line dating service?

Steve Salerno said...

Hmmmm. An interesting philosophical and ethical question. Normally I'd say that you'd be "required" (in an ethical sense) to buy and read the book. But I honestly think--and look, maybe I'm rationalizing here--that McGraw and Amazon have forfeited their right to expect such ethical practices in this case. I think the example I used--about taking a job at Enron under false pretenses, in order to expose their own malfeasance--might apply here. At a certain point, maybe, you have to fight fire with a little bit of fire of your own.

Also, frankly, I hate to encourage people to actually continue feeding the beast, providing the McGraw camp with still more profits! So if you want to read it first, maybe you could borrow it from someone, check it out at the library, or pick up a used copy somewhere. Whatever you decide, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

I agree! Though I understnad your (steve's) concerns as a journalist, I think these jackals have no right to expect to be treated honorably, even decently, when this is how they go about deceiving people who come to them with honest problems.