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Old 1st Dec 2006, 0:17   #1
John from Paris
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Default Queries about amazon.co.uk

I've started having funny feelings about amazon.co.uk...
To explain:

•This summer I posted a short (there not being a great deal to say), middling ( ) review of (Ruth Rendell)/Barbara Vine's The Minotaur. It was immediately followed up by someone making a basically moralising comment about something I'd considered a weakness, totally missing the point I'd made in the process. Shortly afterwards, my "helpful" rating went from 1/2 to 1/7 within a couple of days. It then lurched up to 1/12 within twenty-four hours. Query: does this represent some concerted, concentrated effort to discredit a negative review (even though it was middling rather than negative)?

•Something very similar happened regarding a book called 50 Reasons to Say Goodbye (the "50" in figures is in the title), by one Nick Alexander, which is the biggest load of I've read this year, indeed in recent memory. I'd orginally bought it, through amazon.co.uk, on the strength of positive reviews on their site. My own review also attracted a sudden lurching upwards of my negative vote, and was offset by a number of totally uninformative reviews: brilliant, fantastic, unputdownable... you know the style. Incidentally, the author shamelessly plugs his own books in his amazon Listmania entries... Query: how did such a load of dross attract all those favourable comments?

•Just today I checked out comments on Twentysomething by Iain Hollingshead, having seen it had just won the Guardian Bad Sex award. Again, there are lots of short, emotive, uninformative reviews which strike me as strangely similar in (lack of) content and intelligence. Perhaps significantly, I discovered that nearly all of them are by first-time reviewers. And they're all reviews (as I recall... [EDIT: yes, I've checked: 13 out of 13 five-stars]) Doesn't that just seem rather too coincidental? Because, if the extract that won the Bad Sex award is anything to go by ["I can feel her breasts against her chest" ], it's another bumper helping of Query: what's going on?

More generally: does anyone here have any ideas... or inside info?

Final general query: am I being paranoid? I don't think so... I've set out a reasoned argument.

And, more generally: why do amazon publish bad reviews of books when they're in the business of trying to sell them??

And, on a related topic: a month ago I stayed in a hotel in Spain which I'd stayed in on several occasions before... despite a nightmarish recent comment on the Tripadvisor site. I mentioned this to them when I checked out after a wholly satisfactory stay, and they said Tripadvisor had contacted them to say they could only continue publishing reviews if they "registered"... i.e. coughed up... BUT this doesn't seem to apply to negative comments. And I sent in a glowing review myself when I got back home. It wasn't published.

Last edited by John from Paris; 7th May 2007 at 20:35.
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 0:26   #2
Stewart
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

While I will still buy from Amazon I doubt I will ever post my reviews there. The US site was always accepting them until one day it refused, citing that I'd never bought anything from them. Of course I hadn't; they're in America. But the UK Amazon have a different policy towards reviews - they want original copy. Original at the time of accepting/denying it, that is. So sod them.

Anyway, we've had the discussion here at some point about how people seem to be able to misinterpret the question 'Was this review helpful?' as 'Do you agree with this review?' Unfortunately, while their are honest people, Amazon gets swarmed by annoying fanboys who can't let their favourite books go with a one star rating. It's a flawed system, but there's nothing better.

Another interesting abuse of the Amazon reviews can be found here. This also implies the moderators on Amazon don't actually know the difference between a review and a self-serving diatribe.
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 0:42   #3
Kimberley
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stewart View Post
...people seem to be able to misinterpret the question 'Was this review helpful?' as 'Do you agree with this review?'
I actually find that so annoying. They aren't misinterpeting, though, it's wilful. Is there a word that means wilful misinterpretation?

I don't bother writing reviews for Amazon and I don't read them very often unless the book in question is a guide or something and I want some indication of its reliability.

John from Paris asked, why they publish bad reviews when they're in the business of selling books. This is one of life's great mysteries. Like why do they link to second hand copies that other people are selling, when they must get less money from those than from a new copy from their own stock?
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 0:47   #4
John from Paris
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Thanks for concurring and for moral support, Stewart. I now realise my misgivings have already been voiced here, and that, for example, JS has already pointed out that:

Yes, all the five-starrers are single-shot merchants*.

In any case... now that I've found palimpsest I can happily live without amazon. I've only bought from them when I couldn't possibly have found what I wanted in Paris (and once when I ordered stuff to be sent to my dad in Yorkshire).

* that is a wonderful put-down phrase, JS...

Last edited by John from Paris; 1st Dec 2006 at 10:29.
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 0:48   #5
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Quote:
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This is one of life's great mysteries. Like why do they link to second hand copies that other people are selling, when they must get less money from those than from a new copy from their own stock?
So they get a cut of the sales. They'll still have their own stock to sell, but they'll profit from someone else losing theirs.
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 10:24   #6
John Self
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Yes, JfP, as you've discovered, this has been a bugbear for some of us here for some time. I think there can be little doubt that the glut of positive reviews for Nick Alexander come from Alexander himself, particularly if the new ones all went up quickly after yours (even fans of books don't keep an eye on the reviews that frequently: the authors sometimes do, though). I suspect though that Ruth Rendell has better things to do with her time.

The Amazon system is open to widespread abuse and it could easily be solved - or at least reduced dramatically - if they, for example, checked the IP address of a reviewer against previously posted reviews.

I don't have a problem with Amazon accepting negative reviews at all though: it's good that I can trash Kevin Lewis's Kaitlyn and get my views aired on Amazon. I also like the fact that Amazon, in their own editorial reviews, point out when a book is rubbish (see the Amazon US editorial review of John Irving's Until I Find You, for example).

As well as the widespread 'misunderstanding' of "Do you find this review helpful?", many Amazon review-scorers seem to misunderstand that a rating on Amazon's scale means "I liked it." Such was my intention for The Giro Playboy, though sadly the author's agent couldn't resist weighing in because of the widespread perception that anything less than a perfect is a critical mauling.
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 10:35   #7
John from Paris
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Thanks, JS. I'm now both disillusioned and relieved at the same time...
I too enjoy the hatchet-job reviews, of which I've written a couple... BUT I don't understand what the Amazon salespeople have to gain from them...
Whereas a site like Tripadvisor (see my first post) would appear to be running some kind of racket...



I still love "single-shot merchants" - it sounds like what low-class hookers would say about dirty mac types that creep into seedy knocking-shops about once every six months.
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 10:46   #8
John from Paris
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Quote:
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see the Amazon US editorial review of John Irving's Until I Find You
Oooh, gosh. Never seen anything quite like this before. Certainly not on the UK site...
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 11:45   #9
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

Amazon co uk's attitude to which reviews they'll print is incomprehensible. A friend of mine told me she'd reviewed one of my books saying it had got her back into reading again after a long period of not finishing a book - not what you'd call your average comment - and when she emailed them to ask why it wasn't up she got a reply saying it was too like the other reviews. Actually no, it wasn't.

I always read the lowest ratings first, once you know how people review it's easy to blcok out reviews written from spite and looking at the more negative reviews is an excellent way of counteracting sycophantic reviews both on Amazon and by friends of the author in the press.

Incidentally John in Paris have you tried buying off Amazon.fr? They have both English & American editions of books and though they hardly ever discount books they don't charge postage which easily evens the score .
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Old 1st Dec 2006, 11:46   #10
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Default Re: Queries about amazon.co.uk

I've stopped paying any attention whatsoever to customer reviews when it comes to books, because of the reasons outlined above. The Amazon system is far too unreliable as a measure of a book's quality. Instead, I use the American Amazon site which allows you to read an extract from the book and so gives you a good idea of how the prose measures up, if not the plot. Since it's the quality of the writing not the plot that interests me most, this is particularly helpful. Not all books have this facility, but the American Amazon site offers it in far greater abundance than the UK one.
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