Friday, August 20, 2010

'And if you need to fill your bank account, write a book loaded with empty thoughts...'

UPDATE, Tuesday, Aug. 24. Now that my take (scroll down) on Rhonda Byrne's The Pow-errrrr has indeed made it to "spotlight" status, there is apparently a massive counterattack underway from the other side. In just the past few hours, my review has accumulated at least 10 "not helpful" votes. Wonder how long I'll be able to "hang"....

And let me add that this isn't some sly effort on my part to "sell a few more copies of SHAM," as some have alleged. My being dour about The Pow-errrrr, as it were, is not going to sell many (if any) copies of my book...as evidenced by the fact that at this writing, SHAM lolls at No. 529,411, down markedly in the past few days despite my sudden visibility on Rhonda's high-traffic page. I feel safe in proposing that there's virtually zero overlap between her target market and my own.

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UPDATE, Monda
y, Aug. 23. I've never done this, folks, and I really don't believe in it philosophically. But I just want to see if we can shame Amazon into being honest in its policy on reviews...or, alternatively, get them to reveal their agenda and/or susceptibility to the PR heavy-hitters who engineer the roll-outs for major books like Rhonda's latest. So, I'm asking readers of this blog to check out my review of Rhonda's new book, The Pow-errrrr, and if you agree with what I say, give it a thumbs-up. Right now I've got 29 "helpful" votes (out of 47 total), which I'd think would already be enough to earn me a slot among the spotlight reviews. Amazon sees it differently. Let's see if we can force their hand?

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UPDATE, Saturday morning, 8:15 a.m.
: Re one contributor's question about Amazon and its policies: As I write this on Saturday morning the three so-called "spotlight reviews" for The Pow-errrrr are all 5-star gush factories by (a) obvious New Age fanatics or (b) outright Byrne shills/partisans. Even though these reviews are bracketed as "most helpful," they boast only four votes total, and the middle review, so far as I can determine, has not yet received a single vote yea or nay.

Meanwhile, the 1-star review from yours truly, which has received 13 votes, 9 of them positive, lolls in obscurity on the sidebar.

===========================

SO HERE IS OUR
generation's very own Jean-Jacques Rousseau, otherwise known as Rhonda Byrne, philosophizing on the unique symbiotic relationship between love and money in her new bestseller, The Pow-errrrr:

"Love is the attracting force that brings money, and love is also the power that makes money stick. You have to give love and feel good about money to bring it to you and make it stick. If you lack money, and your credit card debt is increasing, you have no sticking power and you are repelling money."
How's that again? I find it hilarious that nowadays you can write things that don't make a damn bit of sense by any commonly accepted standards of meaning and/or logic, yet those very things will be cited by some of the folks who propel your book to its lofty status...in Byrne's case, No. 5 on Amazon this morning. (One such folk: reviewer Connor Dejesus, whose 5-star plug currently sits atop Byrne's "most helpful" list.) The cynic in me also can't help noticing the way Byrne is pandering to her largely female audience with this ostensible connection between love and money. (Doesn't the above passage sound oh-so-Oprah-esque?) Much like the demonically staring Suze Orman, Byrne seems to feel (with some justification, at least based on the observable landscape of the marketplace) that you can't talk to women about money for too long in terms of, uh, money, but must broaden and "romanticize" the subject in order for your advice to resonate (except that in Orman's case, she has some actual financial know-how to share. I'm not her biggest fan, as readers of SHAM know, but if America is going to take financial lessons from just one prophet, and that prophet has to be either (a) Suze Orman or (b) Rhonda Byrne, the lesser of the two evils is clear).

Among other things, Byrne also observes that if you want new clothes, just hang a bunch of empty hangers in your closet. Apparently the ever-obedient Universe will notice its glaring oversight and move to remedy the situation. Of course, if she wants new clothes in her closet, all she has to do is slap together a book like The Pow-errrrr.

Here, by the way, is a very nice (meaning not-so-nice) review of Byrne's book from my new best friends at ABC News.

25 comments:

Jim said...

I found your "The Power" review on amazon.com and I voted it up as being helpful...maybe we can get it voted as the "most helpful critical review?"

Previously I remember reading (here or elsewhere) that sometimes critical reviews on amazon.com get deleted. Do you think that could happen here?

Steve Salerno said...

"Do I think that could happen here?"

You're kidding, right? Amazon is a business, Jim, and business concerns make people susceptible to certain pressures. The heavy-hitter PR types who are formally dedicated to hawking these A-list books are relentless in trying to protect their company's investment, and are probably back and forth on the phone with Amazon all day long in an effort to police negative reviews by finding faults real or imagined ("vested interest," "wrong facts," "quoted out of context," etc.).

Since I launched this blog in mid-2005, I've had a number of disappointing experiences with Amazon, with respect to both my book and other books I panned. I do not consider it coincidence that "SHAM"--which up till a few months ago carried a 3.5-star overall rating--has two out of three extremely negative (1- or 2-star) Amazon-selected "spotlight reviews," one of which has been in its current position almost since the book was published (even though an Amazon rep once explained to me that the site likes to "rotate" its spotlight reviews). What's more, reviews I myself have written have been (a) mysteriously deleted, (b) highly edited, and/or (c) given wrong, much-earlier dates that caused those reviews to be shunted to the back of the line, where they're far less likely to be seen by new book browsers.

So, do I think something like that could happen here? The short answer is: YES. I almost expect it to.

Voltaire said...

Didn't the housing industry build a lot of empty houses hoping the universe would fill them with people? Or are we just too impatient and it'll happen any day now?

Steve Salerno said...

Volt: That's pretty funny.

Cosmic Connie said...

Voltaire, perhaps the housing industry needs to get together with Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, who claims that his Operation Y.E.S. program can end homelessness and foreclosures in one day. The Universe can only do so much by itself; it needs a little human help too.

Speaking of Mr. Fire, it will come as no big surprise that he has given The Pow-errrrr an enthusiastic thumbs-up, though he says he disagrees with Rhonda's claim that merely thinking good thoughts and feeling good feelings is enough to make good things happen. He likes to boast that he was the guy in The Secret who said action is necessary too. But he's also the guy who said in The Secret that the Universe is like a mail-order catalog and all you have to do is flip through its "pages" and point out what you'd like to have. "It really IS that easy," he said.

BTW, Steve, I joined in the fray on Amazon. The conversation is all sounding so deja-vu-ish...

See Otter said...

What's cute is that when you click on See All Reviews, Amazon has the 'Most Helpful Critical Review' as the 3-star pub-job copied below. How does a pretty gushy THREE star review count as a neg at all, if there are equally popular 1-star reviews? Clearly a hidden (or obvious) agenda being played.
=========================
The most helpful critical review

35 of 50 people found the following review helpful: 3.0 out of 5 stars

Inspiring in places but superficial
There are parts of this book which are definitely inspiring. It certainly makes you feel uplifted and creates a positive attitude, so that you feel stronger and more equipped to face the difficulties in your life. Rhonda Byrne helpfully reminds us that we have much more power than we think, and shows us how easy it can be to change ourselves and our lives for the better...
Read the full review ›

Steve Salerno said...

SO: That got by me somehow, and it's an excellent point.

Cosmic Connie said...

Re your August 23 update, Steve: I went to Amazon yesterday, August 22, gave your review a "helpful" vote, and contributed my own comment.

I have since responded to Joe Vitale's gushing five-star review, which was also posted yesterday on Amazon. (It was a copy-and-paste job from his August 18 blog post.)

Here's the permalink to my comment...
http://tinyurl.com/2fbk7hu

...but in the event that it gets deleted, here it is. (Of course I have made some of the points previously, both here and on my own blog, but sometimes repetition is necessary.)

==BEGIN MY AMAZON COMMENT==
Note: This is just an informed comment about a review. It is NOT a review of The Power, which I have not read yet.
~CC

Joe, you wrote:

"But I still take issue with Rhonda's stance that you don't really have to take any action to attract what you want.

"I was the guy in the movie The Secret stating you needed to act on your ideas."

You are also the guy in the movie The Secret who likened the Universe to a mail-order catalog whose "pages" one can just flip through, picking the things, people, and events one wants in one's life. "It really IS that easy!" you enthused. You even posted that bit on your own sites, leading me to believe you were earnestly trying to promote the magical thinking that is the foundation of The Secret.

Your tale of taking the "inspired action" of writing to an editor of a magazine that has already featured you and your cars looks more like just another bragging op than real advice for people in genuine need who would benefit by making substantial changes in their lives.

As for the "actions" Rhonda has taken, she has definitely been involved in legal actions against some of the people who helped her create The Secret in the beginning and were arguably as responsible for its success as she was. Drew Heriot and Dan Hollings come to mind. Maybe things really do seem "effortless" to her, or maybe she is exaggerating the effortlessness in order to more effectively market her ideas to the lazy or eternally hopeful members of the reading public. In fairness, though, exaggeration and painting a false picture of oneself are actions too, so I'll concede that point.

In the event that things really do seem effortless for Rhonda, perhaps it is because other people do most of the work for her -- whether we're talking about legal action, promotional efforts, or anything else around The Secret and her latest project. My guess is that she isn't exerting much effort to promote her new book but is relying mostly on the publicity team her publishers hired, as well as members of what I like to call her Shillionaire Club, such as yourself, to do it for her. (Regarding the latter point, I do think it was a good move to make The Power a purported solo effort rather than building it around talking heads as was the case in The Secret. After all, several of the "teachers" featured in the latter have revealed themselves to be less than exemplary. James Ray, David Schirmer, Bill Harris, Marie Diamond and a few others come to mind.)

Your loyalty to Rhonda is understandable because she helped raise you to new levels of success and fame. For that very reason, however, your enthusiastic review of her latest effort should, IMO, be taken with a few grains of salt.
==END==

John said...

Steve,
After a publisher sends out galley copies for review, they put the most favorable reviews on the front and back cover, maybe they'll put a few more inside and trash the less favorable and negative reviews. Why do they do this? To sell books. Amazon is in business to do what? Sell books.

Amazon isn't, nor do they claim to be in business to supply a third-party, objective and independent review ranking service to the book buying public. They're objective in the sense that they do publish all reviews with the exception of the irrelevant, insulting, obscene, spamming, flaming, etc… They're selective in the sense that they choose what reviews to spotlight, highlight and how they're ranked, because they are afterall in business to sell books.

Yes, new releases with a big publisher push behind get selective treatment. The people who click on amazon looking for such a title are probably going to buy that book or nothing, hence if they lose them they'll probably lose a sale. So it's in amazon's interest to put the book's best foot forward, so to speak.

Best Regards,
John

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, CosCon. I've often thought that one of the most amusing aspects of the New Age is that gurus who present themselves as having all the answers to success and fulfillment will nevertheless greet a colleague's newest project with the kind of gushiness you describe. Think about it: If Joe Vitale really thinks his personal projects are the be-all-and-end-all of success, and the hot ticket to Oneness with the Universe, then why would he seem so dazzled by Rhonda's ideas (as he does in his first graph)? Isn't that an admission that his own stuff perhaps isn't as foolproof as he portrays it to be in his own marketing matter?

To me this adds a good deal of credibility to the cult-of-money allegations. I honestly don't think any of these folks are sincere anymore. Their only dedication is to profits.

Steve Salerno said...

John: To me, any entity that puts forth ratings, and maintains a site that encompasses mass numbers of products from all precincts of the publishing universe (there's that word again), has at least a moral obligation to be "pure" in those ratings, if you will. To state that a review is "most helpful," when in fact the very numbers that are there for the seeing (if one does even the most cursory investigation) prove this not to be the case, is a form of fraud being perpetrated on the buying public. To take a book like mine--which, as I've said, carried a 3.5-star rating up till a few months ago, and was glowingly reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Booklist and other major reviewers--and use three different spotlight reviews, all of which make my book look very bad, is dirty pool. Those reviews are not representative of the whole. And they should be.

We all know that the Amazon ranking system is highly susceptible to manipulation and abuse. I'm not sure that can be helped. But Amazon itself should not knowingly participate in the manipulation and abuse.

Rational Thinking said...

I've given your review a 'helpful' - it'll be interesting to see how it plans out.

namowal said...

I think John makes some valid points, but the bottom line is that if all Amazon cared about was selling books, then why not only spotlight the glowing reviews for Steve's book, too? I imagine it's just as likely that people who click on that link are going to buy SHAM or nothing, so why discourage their business? Clearly there's more to the story than just 'Amazon is a business and is trying to make money'.

Wayne S. said...

Isn't it possible that because we are a consumer driven society that every organization is pandering to the market researchers polls and focus group results?

Amazon, I would guess, has already predetermined how many units of The Secret, The Power and Steve's book they are going to sell, so they would have them in stock. The public review process might be just window dressing to keep people coming back to the sales venue.

It would also explain why the Sonoma County, CA public library stocks 66 copies of The Secret (with 10 derivative selections included in the mix) and only 3 of Steve's book.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, but Steve, love makes money so much more... lovable. (And vice versa. ;)

Now allow me to be a moderate devil's advocate and point out, again, that for the purveyors of "The Power of The Secret and Its Secret Powers" (or whatever this thing has morphed into nowadays) the whole shtick kinda really works. To a T, one could say.

They are non-descript people without any particular talents, who came up, rather accidentally, with a brilliant marketing idea, pushing a pipe dream based on repeating a mix of the absurd and the obvious -- and they've cashed in on it beyond their wildest dreams. For them, the (not so) secret powers of this powerful (non)secret are obviously working very well and confirming every tenet of their new-formed belief system. In the (semi-deranged) words of Kenny Bania from Seinfeld, "It's gold, Jerry! Gold!"

So who are we to argue otherwise? And, really, on what basis -- our unloved and unlovable sour grapes? Tsk tsk. ;)

I, for one, am ready to embrace the secret powers of the powerful secrets, starting today. Because I'm tired of grocery shopping and cooking, I'm going to empty my fridge and wait for the food to appear -- with luuuvv, of course -- as it inevitably will. Before dinnertime, too -- or else.*

*My kids have a car and a credit card. McDonald's is three blocks away.

Dimension Skipper said...

I found your review very helpful! And wanted to click so, but I've never bought anything through Amazon and apparently you can't find a review helpful if you don't have an Amazon account. I ain't settin' one up just to click a button. Sorry. But I do hope your experiment stirs the Amazonian pot.

Btw, it's easier to find your particular review by going to the page of one-star reviews where, at the time I looked, yours was sitting at the top of the bottom of the heap, so to speak.

I wonder how it might affect things, though, if Amazon gets wind of your little experiment... I ain't tellin' them, but if they do learn of it somehow—say, via Rhonda's minions who seem to be fairly tenacious—might that be grounds for removing the review?

Steve Salerno said...

To address Namowal's point (and implicitly, points made by others), I could get into a long and complex discussion here that would almost get algorithmic at times, but the simple fact is that due to various marketplace and other realities, I can do a lot more harm to Rhonda's book with my negative review than she could do to my book with her negative review, assuming she bothered to write one. The fact that her page gets hundreds of thousands of hits--compared to my hundreds, at best--gives me an incredible "reach" via Amazon. And since her book stands to generate far more profits for all than my book ever could, I think the folks at Amazon (and certainly the publicists shilling for Rhonda's book) are very conscious of that.

Nonetheless, my review does indeed appear as one of the "spotlights" (if they even call them that anymore) this morning. Thanks to all who participated!

Steve Salerno said...

Btw, now that my review has made it to that lofty position, you may see some fur fly. Could get interesting.

NormDPlume said...

Steve:

Normally Amazon would be crazy to spotlight a review that has "Don't buy this book!" as it's central conclusion. After all, Amazon is in the business of selling books and they don't want to kill a blockbuster in-the-making. It could cost them millions.

Amazon proves a point in Sham: people who buy this self-help crap have generally bought this type of crap before - they even show you what buyers of this particular book have also purchased.

If Amazon is smart, they will spotlight your review in an effort to gin-up the controversy angle. "The Power" is off to a slow start; no media buzz and no marketplace traction. I am sure the publishers expected much bigger numbers. So I'm sure the publisher's flacks have told Amazon to gin up some controversy so people will start talking about this book.

So your review is being used as a tool to create the sorely-lacking buzz. I am sure other blogs and Facebook pages are trashing you in an attempt to rally the faithful troops to rush to Amazon and defend Rhonda.

So, what is your cut of this marketing campaign? Will Amazon do you a favor or cut you a check? How about the publisher? They owe you and they need you - it's a symbiotic relationship at the moment.

Steve Salerno said...

NDP: If my negative review is serving to "gin-up"* the controversy over this book, thereby diabolically serving the publisher's aims, then I'm afraid that must be viewed as a simple accident of the marketplace, at least on my side of the coin. Once again, that's such a twisted way of looking at the situation--especially when you throw in the specter of my being paid for my (ironic) "contributions" to the cause. I know you're just saying all this facetiously, but it still underscores a point about the anything-to-get-the-job-done cynicism that typifies latter-day America.

* And don't you love the way so many of us now fall back on patented Limbaughisms in making our points?

Jim said...

When I looked at amazon's reviews just now I noticed that your review was no longer the top critical review and had been replaced by "Ally's" review ('Compared this with others' with 3/3 helpful votes) which absolutely made me cringe. I voted it as not helpful, and then immediately you were back as the top critical reviewer.

I hope that your review being on top prompts some people to read your book. I don't think I told you this, but I found you when I randomly found your book in the library while looking for some other self help book that you happened to criticize in your book. Reading your book caused me to see the light and say goodbye to the self help world all-together.

Steve Salerno said...

Jim: That's encouraging to hear. I'm obviously not going to get rich doing this--I'm on the wrong side, for that--so I guess I have to look at feedback like yours as my "currency."

Thanks again.

NormDPlume said...

Is "gin-up" a Limbaughism? I wouldn't give Rush credit for that one. President Obama has been using it a lot this year - and he has a much wider audience.

According to The Word Detective, it's been around since the 13th century in one form or another.

http://www.word-detective.com/2010/03/31/gin-up/

I stick by my original point: since this book is being ignored, controversy is "Plan B".

Steve Salerno said...

NDP: It had been one of Rush's pet phrases for a while, but he turned it into a major universal currency by talking about the Dem strategy of attacking Bush and "ginning up" class warfare.

As for The Pow-errrrr, maybe it's not being talked about very much, but it isn't exactly being "ignored" by buyers. It's No. 10 on Amazon at the moment and, perhaps more important, No. 15 in Barnes/Noble. Maybe it hasn't made its way onto some of the big lists yet...but give it time. Remember, the original Secret was promoted virally only and took some months to get its legs under it.

I don't know if Rhonda's current book will sell 7 million copies, but it's way too early to dismiss it altogether.

Anonymous said...

I think Byrne's got some balls to write another book like that in this economy. I thought the first one has pretty much been proven to be a loser with a vision board. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the first book come out when the economy was doing a wee bit better? I hear lots of other self-helpers bashing the Secret left and right to distance themselves from essentially saying the same thing.