Thursday, 27 September 2012

Is this the end for peer review at Amazon?

I see that the Amazon UK reviews for J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy have already been utterly hijacked, within hours of publication. Most of the 1-star reviews are complaining about pricing, making no attempt to actually review the contents, and the book is also being tagged with terms like "kindle swindle".

Across at the Amazon page for John Locke's How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!, one of the critical 1-star reviews entitled The Secret He Left Out, about how he paid for 300 fake reviews, has been ticked as helpful by no fewer than 531 of 563 people, after the review was repeatedly tweeted and retweeted at the social networking site, Twitter.

More recently, according to an article at Slate, "an anti-circumcision fringe group waged an ideological attack against AIDS scholarship", leaving a vast number of crowdsourced critical reviews designed to scupper the book launch.

Fresh revelations are also now coming in from the author-turned-sleuth @jeremyduns at Twitter, about a large number of reviewers giving rather suspicious 5-star ratings to the same unrelated books. The implication, according to Duns, is that these, too, are fake or paid reviews -- and this appeared to be so wide-ranging that it would take a computer algorithm to fully unravel the threads.

So the question in my mind is: with all the talk of fake reviews -- in spite of author Joe Konrath's light-hearted take on the subject -- is this the end for open and free Amazon peer review?

~~~oOo~~~

Addendum: Meanwhile, in the mainstream media (that last bastion of Empire and all things civilized, suffering in the face of onslaughts from the self-published; the independent book blogger; the hoi polloi; riffraf and unwashed masses), reviewers appear to be trying to out-bitch one-another, as this review of The Casual Vacancy clearly shows.

The latter review prompted one reader to comment: "Gosh, I agree with Deborah Orr about a lack of profundity in Harry Potter, but take away the petty sarcasm and lack of sensitivity from this review and what have you got? I leave your readers to fill in the appropriate blanks."

Another commentator wrote perceptively: "I'm looking forward to The Casual Vacancy. The critics seem like the residents of her town, some fairminded even if not impressed, others happy to be spiteful. To hold the mirror up to the world in your book and spot your critics in it. What a coup!"

There's another common thread in this, perhaps? The way the media build up a celebrity and -- almost inevitably -- at some point proceed with glee to knock them back down. Why? Because this sells copy and sometimes confers minor, transient celebrity on the perpetrator.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

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