Reviews

It will soon be illegal to punish customers who criticize businesses online

1 December 2016

From Ars Technica:

Congress has passed a law protecting the right of US consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies.

. . . .

The Commerce Committee held a hearing on gag clauses a year ago and said it heard “testimony from Ms. Jen Palmer, a plaintiff in Palmer v. KlearGear, where a company demanded the removal of a negative online review or payment of $3,500 in fines because the online merchant’s terms of service included a non-disparagement clause. When the review was not taken down, the company reported the unpaid $3,500 to a credit reporting agency as an outstanding debt, which negatively impacted the Palmers’ credit.”

Palmer beat Kleargear in court, but only after a years-long ordeal. In other cases, a supplements maker, called Ubervita, threatened legal action against customers leaving negative reviews on Amazon, and a jewelry store sued a customer who left a one-star review on Yelp.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act—full text available here—voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews. The legislation empowers the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the new law and impose penalties when necessary.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

Amazon is taking big steps to reduce crummy reviews

27 November 2016

From Digital Trends:

In the middle of its busy season — Cyber Monday is just hours away — Amazon has been busy on internal fronts as well. After dumping incentivized reviews, the retail giant is going to start capping the number of product reviews any customer can submit in a given week. According to The Digital Reader, an email went out to Amazon’s more enthusiastic reviewers telling them of this change.

Basically, you can review any product at any time if you bought it from Amazon. However, if it’s a non-Amazon Verified Purchase, there’s a limit. In GeekWire, an Amazon rep confirmed the changes.

“Customers can now only submit a limited number of non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews a week. The limit is five and the count is calculated from Sunday at 12:00 a.m. UTC through Saturday 11:59 p.m. UTC. Customers’ ability to submit Amazon Verified Purchase reviews will not be impacted. This policy also does not apply to Vine reviews or reviews on digital and physical books, music, and video.”

 

Link to the rest at Digital Trends and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

I found out about reviews

1 November 2016

I found out about reviews early on. They’re mostly written by sad men on bad afternoons. That’s probably why I’m less angry than some writers, who are so narcissistic they consider every line of every review, even a thoughtful one, as major treason.

Barry Hannah

Why Most Amazon Reader Reviews are Worthless

1 November 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

I’ve been an agent for 40 years. Publishers may not like what I’m about to say, but my observation is that most Amazon and Barnes & Noble reader reviews are either fraudulent or, at best, useless in assessing the true merit of any given title. Debut authors are largely being shut out of a fair shake, and without them, publishing will follow the network-media misstep of avoiding/shunning the fresh voices that attract new audiences (which is why HBO, Netflix, Showtime, and, yes, Amazon Prime have surpassed the major networks in original content).

Two decades ago, I knew editors and publishers who, determined to see their authors climb the New York Times bestseller list, got the tacit okay from the major publishing houses to enlist their friends and colleagues to go to all of the 10 retail outlets that the Times secretly used to gauge reader interest—no Nielsen numbers, just 10 stores (most of us back then knew which stores those were)—and buy a copy of their books. Ten friends carrying out this directive could result in a second printing because the book would appear at #20 or better on the Times list. Some editors I knew had a whole campaign mapped out: five friends the first week, 10 the next, and 10 again the third. The result? You were bound to get a Times mention and the book was likely to be a winner. This was cheaper than co-op advertising.

The Amazon reader reviews are today’s equivalent of manipulating the numbers. How is the book a success? You would think blurbs or actual media and viral reviews would be the most important criteria for Amazon’s algorithm assessing positioning and promotion. Nope, those have no mathematical number to plug into a formula. So is it the public reviewers’ average rating? Not alone. What Amazon does is akin to the cheap tailor’s quip over the cost of a suit fabric: “Never mind the quality, feel the width!” One hundred reviews at three stars becomes more valuable commercially than 10 at five stars. Crudely speaking, 300 of anything is more valuable than 50.

Should we all be paying for reviewers? There are services that do so for serious fees. Google “buy Amazon reviews” and they will turn up. If Amazon finds out that reviews were purchased, it will sue, but are those who purchase reviews frauds or are they fighting an already-corrupt system?

Now, publishers know this reality. We all know this. Every major publishing house we deal with, every editor, asks our authors to have all their friends and colleagues preorder their books and write reviews immediately on pub date, and preferably buy copies the week of release to drive the profile. Does anyone really believe that a branded author’s reviews, queued up for the morning after release, are all suddenly written by quick readers? Oh, come on. It’s the Times 10-store whip around in an Internet-age version. It’s fighting fire with fire.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amazon says goodbye to ‘incentivized’ customer reviews

30 October 2016

From DealNews:

User reviews are tricky to navigate. You assume you’re getting the unvarnished opinions of your fellow shoppers, who’ve paid their hard-earned money for a product. But what if you’re not getting that? How could you tell?

This conundrum is what Amazon is trying to combat with its new customer review policies.

. . . .

Customers had previously been allowed to publish “incentivized” product reviews (the item in question provided for free in exchange for a nominally objective review), so long as that transaction was disclosed. As of October 3, all such reviews go through the invite-only Amazon Vine program.

. . . .

This means Amazon will be responsible for identifying trusted reviewers and providing them with products to review, which removes all contact between the seller and the customer. (Books are the only category exempted from this restriction.) This should lessen the likelihood of biased reviews. Amazon Vine reviews will, of course, be clearly marked.

Link to the rest at DealNews

Why was My Review Rejected or Removed?

24 September 2016

From Amazon Customer Review Creation Guidelines:

If your review does not comply with these guidelines, it may be rejected or removed.

We are unable to accept the following feedback:

Reviews that are not about the product

Seller & Shipping Experience

– Feedback about the seller, your shipment experience, or packaging is not a product review and should be shared at www.amazon.com/feedback orwww.amazon.com/packaging.
Product Availability & Feedback – Comments about product availability or alternate ordering options are not about the product and should be shared by contacting us.

Reviews that contain inappropriate or offensive content

Inappropriate Content – Reviews may not contain obscenities, profanity, phone numbers, mailing addresses, non-Amazon URLs, videos with watermarks, foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product), or other people’s material (including excessive quoting).

Hate Speech & Offensive Content – We don’t allow reviews that express intolerance for people belonging to identity groups including race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or nationality. Customers are allowed to comment on products and question the expertise of authors, sellers, or other customers as long as it is in a non-threatening manner.

Promotion of Illegal Conduct – Reviews may not encourage or support behavior that is illegal, including violence, illegal drug use, underage drinking, and child or animal abuse.

Promotional content

Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.

Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact. Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary. Read more about promotional content.

Link to the rest at Amazon Customer Review Creation Guidelines

Reader Reviews

9 September 2016

From Slate:

It’s been a while since a reporter has called to ask if I’m worried that Amazon reader reviews spell the death of my own livelihood as a critic. That used to happen all the time. Over the past 20 years that I’ve been at this job, professional book reviewers have turned out to be an endangered species, but for reasons having little to do with opinion-dispensing customers on Amazon or Goodreads. (Blame the economics of newspaper publishing!) So I’ve had few occasions of late to trot out my handful of stock quotes about the very different purposes served by professional and amateur reviews.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to dislike Amazon reviews. Every author has a war story about absurd one-star reviews written by dolts complaining that the shipping package was torn or ranting that the Kindle version ought to be priced lower. Even when these grousers stay on point, customer reviews sometimes seethe with inexplicable contempt.

. . . .

But here’s my semi-shameful secret: I like reader reviews. I often make a point of seeking them out. When reporters used to interview me on the subject, I’d feel obliged to note that you can find reviews on Amazon and (even more commonly) on Goodreads that are as considered, thorough, and well-written as anything that used to appear in your local newspaper. But actually I don’t care much about those reviews. I already know how people like me, people who read books professionally and with a particular set of aesthetic values, respond to a text. I go to reader reviews to see how the other half reads.

. . . .

But if you’re willing to escape your bubble, the internet can teach you the infinite variety of ways that a person can experience a book. The novel I regard as brilliant never quite wins the audience I feel it deserves, while the one I wave away as mawkishly overwritten strikes the reading public as wonderful. This happened before the internet, of course, but now, thanks to reader reviews, I stand a better chance of finding out why.

. . . .

Crucially, the internet has made it simply impossible for me to kid myself that there’s a widely shared agreement on what constitutes good writing or a good book. This, I realize, will be viewed as the violation of a sacred trust by some of my fellow critics, who see our role as that of knights defending the citadel of Literature from barbarian hordes waving Fifty Shades of Grey. But I can’t help it: Not only do I think the citadel can take care of itself, but I always want to know what the barbarians are so worked up about. Besides, some of them are not actually barbarians at all, just tired, overworked women who have finally found a bit of recreational reading that hits the spot. I want to know why: why people devoured The Da Vinci Code by the millions, what they saw in The Help, why they fell for Twilight over hundreds of other vampire romances. True, I seldom end up loving the best-sellers myself, but I always learn something from them. And more often than not, with the help of reader reviews, I’m able to ferret out the source of their appeal.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Curtis Sittenfeld on Book Reviews

29 August 2016

From The New York Times:

I only recently became a book critic. In 2014, when my own book came out, I remember living in deathly fear of the person I now am. How many jobs involve submitting your work to the scrutiny of a paid corps of strangers? It seemed, at the time, like someone’s idea of a cruel joke. And I instantly understood why Nathan Zuckerman fantasized about quitting the novel-writing business and becoming an obstetrician in Philip Roth’s “The Anatomy Lesson”: “He catches what comes out and everyone loves him. When the baby appears they don’t start shouting, ‘You call that a baby?’”

. . . .

Now, as a person who writes reviews for a living, I am curious to know: How do professional authors handle unsparing criticism, written in just a few days or weeks, of something they’ve toiled over for years? I decided to ask Curtis Sittenfeld, author of “Prep,” “American Wife” and most recently, “Eligible,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.”

. . . .

O.K., the obvious questions first: Do you read all your reviews?

No. I read more of the early ones and more of the ones from publications I respect. I think of reviews being mapped on a graph with four quadrants, and I’ll read the ones that are smart and positive, smart and negative, or dumb and positive (hey, all our egos need a little sustenance!). But there’s no point in reading a dumb, negative review.

You’ve now written five books. Your feelings toward reviews must have evolved over the years, yes?

I take criticism less personally, and I recognize that sometimes fate smiles on you and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m aware more than I was before I had books published that any review is a bit arbitrary — it’s not really, say, The New York Times that’s authoritatively weighing in on the quality of a book, though it seems this way to the public. It’s actually one reviewer weighing in (maybe a daily reviewer like you, but maybe a random novelist like me who reviews one or two books a year), and all of us as individuals have quirky, subjective taste.

When my first book, “Prep,” was published, I also realized I had to accept that many reviews would contain factual errors, and some would misunderstand the book. Unless you receive a rave, especially in The Times, it’s tempting to write a letter to set the record straight, but I literally don’t think I’ve ever read a letter from a writer complaining about his or her negative review that made the writer look good. You’re better off just biting your tongue.

. . . .

Do you have a nightmare reviewer? You do not have to name this person, just curious if you do.

The nightmare reviewer is the reviewer who has some sort of agenda that precludes him or her responding sincerely to the book. Often that agenda is seeming clever and/or taking someone who has received more than her fair share of attention down a notch. But again, there are people who are just on a different wavelength from you, and it’s not that they misunderstand your book — it’s that they really in their heart of hearts don’t like it. That’s actually fair.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Why I Review Everything I Read

21 August 2016

From BookRiot:

A little more than eight years ago, I started blogging about the books I was reading. Over the course of those eight years, I’ve written a post on almost every single book I’ve read. (The only exceptions that I can think of are books I read for a class, books I quit reading, and books I reread.) Writing these reviews has become part of the reading experience for me, and my reading no longer feels complete if I haven’t written a review.

You see, I read a lot of books, and without a blog, most of them would go into a black hole, leaving nothing but a faint memory and a vague feeling of pleasure or annoyance. Character names and major plot points often fall out of my brain.

Reviews are a great memory aid, and I use them that way often, going back to read old reviews to refresh my mind. However, the process of writing reviews often keeps me from even needing to consult them later. Writing seals in the knowledge, making every book just a little less forgettable. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.

 

Writing reviews also slows me down and forces me to reflect on my reading. I’m greedy for books, wolfing down one right after the other, not always taking the time to appreciate each one. Pausing to write a review helps me to digest my books better.

In my years of review writing, I’ve found a lot of truth in the quote often attributed to Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I write reviews to figure out what I think and why I think it.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Pamela Paul to Oversee Daily and Sunday Book Coverage

19 August 2016

From The New York Times PR department:

Dean Baquet, in a note sent to staff, writes that Pamela Paul will now oversee The Times’s daily and Sunday book coverage, including coverage of book news and the publishing industry:

“Colleagues,

For generations The New York Times’s criticism and coverage of books have been a vibrant part of America’s cultural life. We are the last daily newspaper in America with a free-standing books section, an essential journal of literary discussion and debate. And to a remarkable degree our daily book critics help set the literary agenda for the country.

In order to continue and enhance our influence in a digital age we have decided to place all books coverage — daily and Sunday — in the hands of Pamela Paul, the current editor of the Sunday Book Review and one of our biggest stars. It will be Pamela’s job to think about how our coverage should change and, of course, how it should not change. (We will, for instance, maintain our Sunday Book Review. It is hard to imagine the paper without it.) Above all, we believe we have a significant opportunity to expand the audience for our books coverage.

This may seem like simple tinkering in the flow chart. But it is large in the life of The Times and in American publishing. Currently, the line between Sunday and daily reviews — a line established when the paper was divided according to print constructs — means that the great critics Michiko Kakutani, Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior do not write for the cover of the Review. It means that we don’t often coordinate in deciding which books are so important they deserve both a daily and a Sunday review.

We also hope this change will create a structure that will allow our critics more breathing room to do other kinds of writing — including essays that marry the world of books and the larger world. Pamela will also oversee coverage of books news, including the work of Alexandra Alter, who covers the publishing industry.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG predicts that Pamela receives even more invitations to lunch at expensive Manhattan restaurants.

While the Times continues to lose print circulation, it does have one of the few reasonably successful digital subscriber programs for access behind a paywall – about one million digital subscribers in the most recent information PG could find.

In the US, the Wall Street Journal has much larger print and total circulation than the Times, but the Times has the largest US digital newspaper circulation. Unfortunately for the Times, print advertising continues to decline and the paper still loses money every quarter.

Will the Times ever pay any attention to indie authors? PG has his doubts. The book world as perceived by the Times staff and the world of legacy publishing are essentially identical. Plus the Times book sections receive most of their advertising from large publishers.

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