Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let’s Review The Book Reviewing World

Amazon recently made headlines by filing a lawsuit against 1,000 people accused of filing fake product or book reviews.  Although I applaud their efforts to do the impossible – weed out people who posted reviews because they were paid to do so – what this whole exercise should call into question is the book review process itself.  Let’s take a look.

Who is reviewing the reviewers?  Why should I listen to what anyone says about anything?  Who is qualified to be a book reviewers?  How do you weigh a review over another?  Can we even trust the reviews are legitimate and not done by slimy competitors or paid for “fans”?

The digital world, like the brick and mortar one, is filled with players, playa haters, losers, liars, cheats, criminals, and incompetents.  But the online world makes it quick and easy to con, scam, and virally disturb things.  Instahoax should be a word, because the online world allows anyone to be anybody, to say anything, even anonymously, and one comment can disturb everything.  There’s no real accountability here.  Someone, with motives or mental state unknown, could post something that is believed to be true, and can cause a subsequent storm that ruins reputations, leads to violence, causes stocks to tumble, hurts a business, or bullies young, impressionable souls.

All reviews are bullshit until proven otherwise. Why?  Because reviewers or reviews can be:

1.      Paid for
2.      Done out of jealousy/anger
3.      Posted by a competitor seeking to undermine another
4.      Written by someone not qualified to judge what they review
5.      Placed by people who are crazy, dumb, or intoxicated
6.      Based on an arbitrary incident or moment that doesn’t truly reflect the totality of the experience
7.      In a poor position to judge, due to a lack of experience
8.      Misguided by poor judgement
9.      Driven by lousy ethics and values
10.  So free to say anything that they will go overboard simply because they think it’s funny
11.  Egotistical and lack compassion
12.  Produced by a racist, sexist, or biased individual

The process of reviewing books is tough enough.  Who determines which books get reviewed?  That’s the first issue to examine. Out of a million titles released in 2015, only a handful get reviewed by authoritative outlets.

Next issue: How do you judge a book?  Sure you can look at certain technical aspects but then it comes down to feelings and opinions.  What informs these judgements and how can a reader give weight to a review unless he or she understands what this reviewer tends to like or hate?

Book reviews can be compromised.  Some publications charge for reviews, such as Kirkus, Foreword, and Publishers Weekly Select.  Other places allow for user reviews, such as Amazon, but it’s hard to know what motivated a reviewer, nor is one in position to judge the reviewer’s credentials.  Then there are the many bloggers and random online reviewers out there, some of whom may be compromised by financial, political, or other considerations.

I rarely buy a book based on a review, and when I do it’s not so much because a review gushed over it but merely alerted me that such a book is available.  I’m not a snob but generally look at The New York Times Book Review and The Wall Street Journal to tell me what books are out there.  I also like to see what the New York Post has to say.

We need a review of the book review process, the review outlets, and the reviewers themselves.  We can’t sue over false reviewers, bad reviews, or media outlets that don’t review the right books, but we should be cautious when we let reviewers guide our economic decisions, movie choices, or book selections.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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