Reviews

Amazon Shoppers Misled by ‘Bundled’ Star-Ratings and Reviews

5 April 2019

From The Guardian:

Badly translated versions of classic books and critically panned remakes of Hollywood films appear to have glowing endorsements on Amazon thanks to the website’s policy of bundling together reviews of different products.

Analysis by the Guardian shows products that have actually been given one-star ratings appear alongside rave reviews of better quality items, making it impossible for consumers to judge the true value of what they are about to buy.

The Guardian found numerous examples of “bundled” reviews that make poor products look highly rated – rendering the star rating effectively meaningless.

. . . .

The research found:

 Badly translated or updated Kindle versions of Emma by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which include references to “moms”, “guys” and “buddies”, but appear to have 4.5-star ratings from hundreds of reviewers.

 A 2017 TV version of Dirty Dancing that shares the 4.5-star reviews of the original film, despite being described by Hollywood Reporter as a “bloated” remake “that nobody asked for and nobody is likely to truly enjoy”.

 Reviews for Wuthering Heights appearing under listings for Jane Eyre, and vice versa.

 Complaints from consumers who said they had been misled when buying books from a variety of authors – from JK Rowling to Shakespeare.

 Star ratings being combined for different products in other departments, from electronics to gardening equipment.

The problems with some reviews seem to go back years, with complaints from readers pointing out they were appearing under the wrong works and editions since at least 2014.

. . . .

The combinations of formats and editions make it impossible for readers to pick between multiple versions of the same products, and allow those selling badly put together editions to piggyback on good reviews.

Anyone glancing at the reviews for a Kindle version of Emma retailing at £4.36 might believe it is worth buying, but a look at the opening pages reveals a poor translation of the original.

Emma’s mother has become her mom, and her love interest, Mr Knightley, is “a sensible guy” who uses the word buddy instead of friend.

A passage that is supposed to say “poor Miss Taylor” will be missed, instead reads: “She is surely very sorry to lose terrible Miss Taylor, and I am positive she can leave out her more than she thinks for.”

. . . .

A review from a reader, which appears to be about this edition, gives it just one star and describes it as terrible.

“Each page has a dozen errors. It reads as if it has been translated from a foreign language. ‘Dog’ in the original is ‘canine’ in this version; ‘file’ in the original has become ‘document’; ‘tremendous’ has become ‘maximum incredible’; ‘man’ has become ‘guy’.

“That is just a short summary of the errors in the first two pages. The whole thing is unreadable and a waste of money.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Oops! Famously Scathing Reviews of Classic Books from the Times’s Archive

15 March 2019

From The New York Times:

 What can we say? We don’t always get it right. Here’s a look back at some of our most memorable misses.

On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin (1860)

. . . .

“This Salinger, he’s a short-story guy.”

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (1951)

. . . .

“The author’s probable intention was to exhibit a unique development in this little asylum waif, but there is no real difference between the girl at the end of the story and the one at the beginning of it.”

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery (1908)

. . . .

“Not one syllable of what Hemingway has written can or will be missed by any literate person in the world.”

Across the River and Into the Trees, by Ernest Hemingway (1950)

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Where Amazon Reviews Really Come From

28 February 2019

A Book That Captures the Singular Life of Marie Colvin

14 January 2019
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From The New Yorker:

In Lindsey Hilsum’s book “In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin,” there is a passage describing Colvin’s ordeal behind Chechen-rebel lines over Christmas of 1999. After coming under sustained Russian bombardment outside Grozny, the American-born reporter, then aged forty-four, was forced to trek out of the war zone over the snow-covered Caucasus mountain range to reach safety in neighboring Georgia. There were many bad moments, and, at one point, driven to exhaustion, Colvin considered lying down in the snow and sleeping. It was the opposite impulse of the one that drove her forward throughout her life. Colvin survived her Chechen experience and a dozen or more equally dangerous episodes during her twenty-five years as a war reporter, but, a month after her fifty-sixth birthday, in February, 2012, her luck ran out, in Syria. The Assad regime’s forces fired mortars into the house where she was staying, in the rebel-held quarter of Homs, and she was killed.

Colvin’s life has been memorably chronicled by Hilsum, a friend and colleague who lived and worked alongside Colvin in many of the same war zones, and whose home base was also London. (Full disclosure: I knew Colvin and am a friend of Hilsum’s.) At a time when the role of women is being reëxamined and has rightly galvanized public attention, Colvin’s tumultuous life has inspired a number of recent accounts, including the feature film “A Private War,” starring Rosamund Pike as Colvin. But it is Hilsum’s biography, written by a woman who both knew Colvin and had access to her unpublished reporting notes and private diaries—a trove of some three hundred notebooks—that seems to most closely capture her spirit.

As told by Hilsum, Colvin’s life was an unreconciled whirl of firsthand war experiences—many of them extremely dangerous and highly traumatic—London parties, and ultimately unhappy love affairs, laced through with a penchant for vodka martinis and struggles with P.T.S.D. Colvin was a Yank from Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Yale-educated, and she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gellhorn—her Bible was Gellhorn’s “The Face of War”—but she never wrote a book herself, and was little known to her countrymen, making her name, and the bulk of her career, instead, inside the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times, a British broadsheet with a tabloid soul. From 1986 onward, when the Sunday Timeshired Colvin, the editors appear to have happily taken advantage of her lifelong hunger for professional affirmation, a chronic willingness to throw herself into danger in order to get scoops, and her considerable personal charm, which, early on, earned her the trust of roguish political players like Yasir Arafat and Muammar Qaddafi.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker




Is It Really Five Stars? How to Spot Fake Amazon Reviews

20 December 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Dogs love water!!!

My dog loves this pet drinking fountain. He doesn’t care that it’s louder than Niagara Falls when the water level is low, and that the setup instructions were impossible to follow. Oops, this is supposed to be a positive review. So, yeah, the LED light is nice, I guess?

I’ll never actually post that, but it could have been worth money if I had. Let me explain. I visited a Facebook group called “Amazon Reviews” and was promised a full refund on a $44 Amazon purchase of a pet fountain if I did the following on the mega-retailer’s site:

1. Write a positive review.

2. Post my photos of the product.

3. Rate it five stars.

Not only is this ethically problematic, it is also against Amazon and Facebook user policies. Plenty of people don’t care, though: They’ll do it for this pet gizmo or one of the other bajillion products in these forums.

Every day, many of us search for a product on Amazon, pick a four- to five-star option and tap Buy Now. Those little yellow stars can make or break a product.

“In early 2012, the Amazon catalog grew too big, and the only way to get to the top of search results was to prove to the algorithm that your product was the best,” said Juozas Kaziukėnas, chief executive of Marketplace Pulse, a business-intelligence firm focused on e-commerce. “Most sellers realized acquiring reviews was a golden ticket.”

. . . .

There are four species of Amazon review:

A legit review. Left by a human who bought a product and felt like sharing, the legit review, often labeled as a “Verified Purchase,” might be peppered with real-life experiences that indicate genuine use.

Legit reviewers tend to be moved to review when they love or hate the product, so the ratings are more extreme, says Tommy Noonan, founder of ReviewMeta, a website that analyzes Amazon reviews.

A Vine review. Amazon invites some of the most prolific legit reviewers to be a part of Vine. The program rewards them with free products in exchange for reviews, marked with a green label. Vine members choose from a preselected group of products, but neither Amazon nor the company that provides the product can influence, edit or modify reviews, Amazon says.

Amazon Vine reviewers I interviewed say they don’t let the perk influence their ratings, and showed me many negative reviews they have written. ReviewMeta found Vine reviewers give more two-, three- and four-star reviews than other groups.

. . . .

An incentivized review. Incentivized reviewers are given free products—or in some cases flat-out payments—in exchange for four or five stars. In 2016 Amazon updated its terms of service to prohibit this practice, but sellers found a big back alley: Facebook. An incentivized review. Incentivized reviewers are given free products—or in some cases flat-out payments—in exchange for four or five stars. In 2016 Amazon updated its terms of service to prohibit this practice, but sellers found a big back alley: Facebook.

Here’s how it works: A shopper joins a Facebook group with a name like “Amazon reviews.” These groups tend to be private but I was let into two, even after saying I was a journalist.

Sellers, often out of China, post about free products, say Bluetooth headphones. The buyer gets the Amazon link from the seller via direct message, orders the headphones through Amazon so it can appear as a “Verified Purchase,” then writes the review, posts some photos and rates it five stars. Once proof of purchase is provided, the seller refunds the buyer, generally via PayPal .

The moderator of one of the Facebook product-review groups I joined directed me to his rules, which state that members are meant to write honest, unbiased reviews, and that the group isn’t responsible for “deceitful posts or dishonest reviews left by buyers/sellers.” Facebook says it closes groups that offer incentives for fake reviews. Amazon says it works with Facebook to police these groups.

I spoke with various reviewers in these groups, many of whom didn’t want to be identified. They say they write these types of reviews to save money.

“I definitely gave a 4- or 5-star review to stuff that wasn’t good,” said Jeffrey Chu, from Charlotte, N.C., who reviewed products from Facebook groups until Amazon blocked him from reviewing last year. “I felt a little bit bad about doing it, but even before this, I noticed a lot of BS reviews. I figured the system was broken, I figured I’d get stuff out of it.”

The fake review. Finally, there are the full-on fakes. These reviews don’t show verified purchases and consistently deliver high ratings without much detail. One person I saw on Craigslist offers reviews starting at $5 a pop. So-called click farms in Asia claim to control thousands of Amazon accounts that vendors can hire to leave reviews for between $1 and $5 each.

Sellers also “hijack” legit reviews through some back-end trickery, Mr. Noonan said. A merchant might put a new item on the page of a well-reviewed but now-unavailable older product. The star rating looks good, but the reviews don’t match the item.

. . . .

“We suspend, ban or pursue legal action against these bad actors as well as suppress all known inauthentic reviews,” an Amazon spokeswoman said. “Customers can report suspicious reviews 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we investigate each claim.”

Last week, I spotted a listing for headphones branded Wotmic with 51 five-star ratings—and no poorer ratings. This week, Amazon’s sweep removed all 51 reviews. Wotmic’s parent company, Shenzhen Womaisi Technology Co., Ltd. hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment.

. . . .

ReviewMeta and Fakespot automatically look for those red flags and more. Paste in an Amazon product page address, and either site gives you a review of the reviews. They both calculate the average star rating with questionable reviews removed. I prefer ReviewMeta for its more comprehensive report cards.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Facebook, Amazon struggle in fight against fake reviews

16 December 2018

From Fox News:

A Fox News investigation has found that Facebook is a breeding ground for groups where reviews for products on Amazon, among other online platforms, are bought and sold. And small businesses competing in the online marketplace may already be suffering because of a lack of controls, or a lack of efficiency, on behalf of two of the world’s most valuable brands.

Reviews can be critical for businesses that operate in online marketplaces like Amazon, not only because of the impact a 1-star review can have but because sellers and products with the greatest number of reviews typically appear higher in search results.

. . . .

Beyond the fact that reviews are critical for a company’s existence, the practice of compensating someone in exchange for a customer review is something that violates both Amazon and Facebook policies. It could also put you at odds with the Federal Trade Commission.

That hasn’t stopped the practice from flourishing on Facebook, Fox News has found. Groups like “Amazon review club” can be joined with the click of a button, and with no apparent background check.

. . . .

Fox started tracking that group, and others like it, just before the Black Friday shopping rush in early November. Since then, its membership has grown by thousands, standing at more than 82,000 members as of this writing. That group was created in 2016, and there are plenty of others like it where reviews are solicited for everything from Google Maps to Yelp.

. . . .

Over the course of a few weeks, Fox News witnessed members of these groups offering to sell hundreds of reviews at a time, promising commissions in exchange for praise and soliciting 1-star reviews that seemed destined for some unlucky online competitor.

Link to the rest at Fox News

Where Did the Amazon Reviewers Go?

6 December 2018

From The Book Designer:

Two years ago, it was so easy to find the top Amazon.com reviewers and approach them and ask for reviews. There was software that let authors and publishers find the name and email addresses of the thousands of Amazon reviewers who had already written reviews of books in a similar vein.

I had written a self-help book for women about lowering stress, so it was easy to find the bestselling books on stress reduction and find the contact information on Amazon of those who had reviewed those bestselling books.

Then, I put together a BULK email using MailChimp and emailed THOUSANDS of reviewers all in one afternoon.

It. Was. Awesome.

Then, for some reason, in March of 2018, Amazon made a decision to hide the email addresses of reviewers on their profiles. Speculation was they did this because of the new GDPR rules and regulations but no one really knows why. This completely stopped authors from being able to email potential reviewers–even if the reviewers didn’t mind being contacted with their information public on their profile.

Does this mean it’s the end of finding targeted reviewers for books? Absolutely NOT! But it is a lot harder than it used to be.

Amazon is REALLY working hard to hide the contact information of book reviewers, and GoodReads only lets you message a few readers every day before shutting you down for the day. HOW, then, can you reach the reviewers and readers who write reviews?

. . . .

Debbie [Drum] has a program called Book Review Targeter that pulls data on readers and reviewers of specific books. I LOVE the idea of using software to find readers and reviewers of books written by authors in my community. There are authors out there who have already written books that appeal to MY readers. Finding readers and getting them to consider my book is SO much easier when I start by knowing my fellow authors and reach out to THEIR readers.

With this idea firmly in place, and knowing that it is no longer “cool” to mass email folks. HOW CAN I REACH THEM?

. . . .

Amy: Debbie, is there any way in today’s world, to email readers in a way that does not “spam” them?

Debbie: The good news is YES.

When researching comparable authors to find books that have a lot of reviews online, look for bestselling books to start. When a bestselling author releases a book and they have done “everything right” – meaning

  • they have done the market research,
  • their cover is beyond professional,
  • their description is spot on and convincing,
  • and their content is killer,

then that author will probably have a lot more reviews and you will get better review response results from mass cold emails.

I would say first test out in a small segment to see if mass emailing will work for you. If it doesn’t, don’t give up. There are certainly other ways to get the reviews you need to sell more books.

Amy: So what other options do we have? That’s the next question.

Debbie: Social Media is also a great place to find reviewers. When looking for book reviewers, and influencers that can share and promote a book, I like to start with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest.

All of these amazing platforms have direct messaging and commenting components to them.

What’s so great about this? A lot of these social media platforms are listed on an Amazon reviewer’s bio page.

. . . .

Amy: What is the best way to connect with readers in this new world?

Debbie: There are only four rules to follow when it comes to contacting reviewers.

Here they are:

#1 – Be Brief

This is the most important that’s why it’s FIRST. Don’t write paragraph after paragraph after paragraph. This is a HUGE mistake. In a couple of sentences you can explain what your book is about, why you are contacting them, what they will get out of it (more about this in #3) and what to do next.

People will tune you out if you go on and on.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

How to Have an Opinion: The Criticism of Martin Seymour-Smith

9 October 2018
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From The Millions:

Martin Seymour-Smith was a grumpy fellow. A promising poet who took up writing big reference books of literary criticism, his highly idiosyncratic 1977 survey Who’s Who In Twentieth Century Literature is deliciously highbrow junk food. But like strawberry Pocky or matcha Kit-Kat, Seymour-Smith isn’t for everyone. His effort to catalogue the literary scene is full of curiously gleeful put-downs and undercooked psychoanalysis. He pronounces Hemingway “by no means intelligent … seriously overrated,” sums up Nabokov as “a distinguished lepidopterist” and “a minor writer of distinction,” and tenderly humiliates Updike’s Rabbit, Run as “brilliant … but too much so.” Who’s Who would be an impossible book to write today: Seymour-Smith is skeptical of literary personality at its core. The entries on particularly mythic writers like Hemingway and Faulkner show a dogged commitment to tearing down the aegis of respectability surrounding these figures.

As a critic he is digressive, laughably biased, and mean-spirited. For Seymour-Smith, even the century’s most celebrated writers deserve about as much humiliation as praise. Faulkner, for example, “worked from intuition and passion and never from what an educated man would call thought … if anyone believes that he possessed a mind in the usual sense, let him read the text of the Nobel Prize speech (1950): cliché-ridden, naive.” The entry goes on to praise the Yoknapatawpha novels and Seymour-Smith assures us “there is no doubt … of his high stature; and doubtless the poor work was part of the price—heavy and exhausting drinking-bouts were another—that he had to pay for his achievement.”

On Hemingway he is far less generous: “inept … he knew nothing about bull-fighting, as Death in the Afternoon (1932) which purports to be about it, makes painfully clear.” One has to wonder where Seymour-Smith had gotten his bullfighting intelligence, but no matter. After informing readers that The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway’s attempt to describe how difficult it had become for him to produce anything of value, he dismisses it as “a portentous and pretentious analogy.” Worse still are Hemingway’s personal qualities: “He was a liar, he was treacherous to those to whom he owed most.” Finally, Seymour-Smith concludes that “the decency [Hemingway] found is limited and answers little.”

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG notes that Mr. Semour-Smith’s magnum opus, published in 1976, appears to be out of print, has an Amazon Best Sellers Rank of #2,042,365 and two Amazon reviews.

A quick check of Rabbit Run, published in 1960, shows Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,167 and  The Old Man and the Sea, published in 1952, is ranked at #8,265 and just one of its many editions has 2,121 reviews.

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