“An Arms Race of Sorts”?
The wonderfully named Trevor Pinch, a sociologist at Cornell University, has just published a 90 page study on Amazon reviewers. While we were sure this piece of academic research is destined to promote greater understanding, world peace, the deconstruction of commonly-held fallacies and perhaps bring about the fall of the Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, we were not however sure whether it would be interesting.
Luckily the study seemed to confirm the Omnivore’s warning about the increasing danger of heeding online reviews and about the dark and murky – remember Figes-gate? – world of Amazon reviewing :
All is not pure in the top-reviewers’ world. Reviewers are increasingly rewarded with free books, reviews are directly solicited, there is the possibility of gaming the system, and in order to maintain their ranking, a level of productivity is demanded that seems to go against the grain of serious book reviewing. Reviewers, especially the more prolific ones, are starting to cut corners …
There were also some good tips to be had on writing reviews. Someone who took part in the study gave this handy hint:
I have a unique style of giving family anecdotes in some reviews; makes it earthy and real, and is being widely copied now.
The New York Times reported on Pinch’s study in a suitably overblown style and mentioned one reviewer’s recipe for the perfect anodine review:
The boundless demand for positive reviews has made the review system an arms race of sorts … Mr. Pinch’s interviews with more than a hundred of Amazon’s highest-ranked reviewers found that only a few ever wrote anything critical. As one reviewer put it, “I prefer to praise the ones I love, not damn the ones I did not!”
We’re not sure the NYT’s most feared hatchet-wielder Michiko Kakutani would concur.