Book Bullying with Amazon Stars
Interesting. A while back A Fuse #8 Production took a close look the what-fors and what-have-yous of the Amazon Vineâ„¢ review program as it related to childrenâ€™s literature (click here to read). One item she touched on was the fact that negative reviews often came from people who didn’t find the book appropriate for their child, and thus gave an unfavorable critique. Today I came across an article about Amazon stars on technology blog TechCrunch that caught my eye in a similar way – book reviews based on something other than the actual quality of the book.
The adult title The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis has been a huge success. It was featured on 60 Minutes and in TIME Magazine, vaulting it to the top of the Amazon sales rankings. Critical reviews (like this one in the Washington Post) have been quite positive. However, the star rating for the book would have you think otherwise.
Seems pretty bad, yes? The thing is, many of these low ratings have nothing to do with the content of the book. It turns out that a large portion are due to the fact that The Big Short canâ€™t be read on the Kindle yet.
Accompanying the single stars are reviews with titles like “Greedy Publisher – Accept Reality- Ebooks Are Here To Stay” and “Another Sad Kindle Owner Hoping for Retribution.”
These folks are upset that W. W. Norton & Company (and other publishers) delay release of the ebook version of their titles. Publishers would likely say this delay has a lot to do with the low price that Amazon forces sets for the format. A price that Macmillan and Amazon famously butted heads over back in January. In short, itâ€™s complicated (the TechCrunch piece has more info on the price issue).
Of course, books that â€œthe criticsâ€ (see: newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs) donâ€™t like become popular all the time (hello, LA Candy!), but few popular, well-received books get the lowly 2 Â½ star rating that The Big Short has going. LA Candy? 3 Â½ stars.
So what does this mean? TechCruch quotes Barry Ritholtz, who calls this practice “collective bullying”. I agree, but my feelings are, as always, mixed. The democracy-lover in me likes the fact that customers can use the stars as a tool for making their voices heard. The message here is pretty clear: we want the ebook now. Depending on how big this story gets, I would hazard to guess that it will cause at least a couple publishers to revisit their ebook strategies. The people win, right?
On the other hand, these folks arenâ€™t reviewing the book. Theyâ€™re simply mad they canâ€™t read it in the format they prefer. And since lots of people look at the stars to help decide if the book is worth buying, it hurts the authorâ€™s reputation and sales. Authors, it appears, lose. Not good.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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