Okay, so they never went away – but they did from this blog. I had a grand old time a few years back tearing strips off homophobes, book burners, prudes, egotists, and those who think they know something about history and geography.
I wonder why I stopped. Too much fun? I do remember thinking that change was coming. After the Orlando Figes scandal, how could it not? No responsible retailer would allow its customers to be so grossly misled.
Sure enough, 2012 saw Amazon deleting all sorts of customer reviews. “My sister’s and best friend’s reviews were removed from my books,” sniffed self-published author M. E. Franco. “They happen to be two of my biggest fans.”
Now, there's a coincidence.
How many reviews did Amazon delete? The company was mum. Writing in the New York Times, David Streitfeld described the exercise as a "sweeping hazy purge". Neither friend nor family to M.E. Franco, I noticed nothing.
Then came 2013, a busy year in which Amazon's customer reviews cropped up in a trio of otherwise unrelated Canadian news stories.
The first concerned the resignation of Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence, who had been caught plagiarizing all sorts of things including – improbably – an Amazon customer review. Might it have been one by educator Rudy Patudy? Reporters were not so specific.
The Spence scandal was followed closely by a hysterical, media-created controversy over a print on demand publisher's sexy blonde Anne Shirley. Then came Stephen King, who just happened to give his latest the same title as a very fine 2006 graphic novel by Emily Schulz.
This in turn led to all sorts of nastiness from semi-literate folks who purchased the wrong book in error:
Good souls worked to repair the damage:
The author endured it all, recording her experience on a blog and coming out a winner with a refurbished MacBook Air for her suffering.
The current year had been much more quiet until I began receiving emails from a publisher encouraging me to ask family and friends to post reviews of my "books" on Amazon.
Before continuing, I want to make one thing clear: I have no books with this publisher. I have no book with this publisher. That said, I did play some small role in one tome's journey to print. This modest effort has resulted in messages such as these:
If you/your family and friends are unfamiliar with posting online reviews, we have included some guidelines below. Online reviews are a great way for authors and readers to interact online. Reviews are critical to both publishers and readers alike, and many consumers rely on these opinions when making purchases on Amazon.Lord knows this is anything but the golden age of publishing. I wish the publisher well. I wish the book well; it deserves to by widely read. But I cannot call on family and friends to plant online reviews. I cannot ask them to laud something they haven't read or encourage them to think better of a book because of some small connection to yours truly. Amazon customer reviews are unreliable and ill-informed as it is. Who wants to be part of that mess.