Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Love Smart's last chapter (we can only hope).

I notice in my monthly perusal of the Amazon page for Dr. Phil's best-selling tome on modern romance that the site's new policy on reader reviews seems to have cut down on the hanky-panky. In case you hadn't heard, Amazon now insists that, as a prerequisite to posting a review, you must have made a verifiable purchase, in your own name (i.e. the name under which you're registered with the site and are writing the review), at least 24 hours before submitting your e-pinions. One instantly noticeable effect of this policy is that it has purged the infamous "Dr. Marilyn R. Barry" from the Love Smart page. In fact, in searching all of Amazon I can now find just a handful of reviews by the mysterious "Dr. Barry," a formerly ubiquitous presence. (The above link to "hanky-panky" provides more background on the Barry chronicles.) Kudos to you, Amazon; I'd like to think the constant noise coming from this blog, as well as from the faithful SHAMbloggers who took up the cause, played at least a supporting role in your decision to rig your ship a bit tighter.

Speaking of rigging, I won't deny that I remain somewhat distrustful of Amazon's internal policies, which easily could be rigged in favor of one author and against another—without any of us here on the outside ever being the wiser. (For one thing, regular readers know that I've long been suspicious of how the two Spotlight Reviews for SHAM got selected.) Even the new rule changes aren't foolproof.
Anyone who doesn't mind shelling out a few bucks can defeat the system just by making the required purchase; a publicist flacking on behalf of a major author wouldn't bat an eye at this. But in such cases, there will be, or should be, a paper trail—the lack of which was a conspicuous fly in Amazon's previous ointment. And the new protocols should definitely tamp down on the worst byproduct of the old system: multiple reviews from the same reviewer under a dozen different phantom names. That should also have some chilling effect on the common authorial ("guruial"?) practice of mobilizing one's existing customer base into a mass book-buying and/or review-writing frenzy. The Web abounds with horror stories in this vein, if you know where to look.

Now, curmudgeon that I am, I feel duty-bound to report that there's one thing I still don't get. And I concede in advance that I haven't actually sat down with a calculator. But in looking over the 82 customer reviews now listed on the Love Smart page, it doesn't appear that they could possibly average to almost 4 stars; there are just too many flat-out pans. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe the overall rating considers reviews that have since been spiked (notably, Marilyn Barry's 792* separate 5-star reviews). Anybody out there feel like doing the math?

FINAL (unrelated) NOTE: Here's another example of self-help in the true, pre-bastardized sense.

* I exaggerate. But not by much.


acd said...

Currently, the 82 reviews average 3.7 stars, and considering that the book's rating is 3.5, I'd say that's fair. One interesting observation (that you may have touched on before): The negative reviews tend to be longer, more well written, and more in depth than the positive reviews, which usually consist of one or two sentences stating something along the lines of "It's good. Buy it." or "I feel better about myself after reading it." (not that sheer confidence will help these people get dates anyway). Ironically, the negative reviews are voted less helpful overall than the positive reviews, which are often considered unanimously helpful. Make of it what you will.

Steve Salerno said...

Now how did I know the scientist among us would take me up on this challenge? :) Thanks, acd. I guess I stand corrected in my original, jaundiced perspective.

The negative reviews are longer than the positive reviews for two reasons. First of all--in fairness to Dr. Phil and all authors seeking high ratings--generally (though not always), negative reviewers take more time in detailing their reasons for hating a book than positive reviewers take in outlining their reasons for loving it. (This is equally true of reviews for movies, hotels, restaurants, cars, and just about anything. It's just human nature.) But certainly in the case of at least some authors, the negative reviews are longer because (and I think this was an intended implication on acd's part) they're more likely to be legit. People writing upside reviews as part of an organized campaign usually just trot out a few well-worn cliches ("if you're entering the dating market, you need this book!") and feel they've done their duty. The negative reviewers, on the other hand, are probably folks who were sincerely disappointed in the book (or are sincerely fed up with the author), and want you to know the reasons why.

Cosmic Connie said...

I'm glad Amazon has tightened up their customer-review policy. Of course we'll still have to take some of those reviews with a grain of salt. After all, since the requirement is that the reviewer must have made an Amazon purchase -- any Amazon purchase -- at least 24 hours before the review is written, that still leaves a lot of leeway.

For example, I bet that most of Joe Vitale's fans who write those gushing reviews of his books are regular Amazon customers. (And on his blog, Joe implores his readers to buy Amazon gift certificates for him; he even thoughtfully provides a link at the beginning and end of each post.)

However, as others have pointed out, there are at least some honest, thoughtful reviews on Amazon. So I think it's definitely worth one's time to scan the reviews when shopping for a product, whether it's a book, CD, DVD or whatever. Steve himself has three pages of reviews on Amazon, and they all seem to be thoughtfully written. He does appear to give the self-help/pop psychology titles a chance; he doesn't automatically one-star 'em just because of their genre.