Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thumbs Up

There's been a discussion on some other blogs recently about's Top Ten reviewer program. Somebody published an article recently digging into what the program's about and it's a bit revelatory to realize that these people are apparently reading thousands of books a year and offering up reviews on the Amazon site. Yeah, right. From what I've seen, these reviews (as delineated by a Top Ten Reviewer logo near their names) don't offer very much, intend coming off mostly as an amateur trying to write something that sounds what a professional would write.

Be that as it may, this lead to the question of whether or not it is even a good idea to publish reviews on the site since a negative one could, in theory, adversely affect sales. In fact, in Ed Gorman's blog author Robert Randisi said that after arguing with Amazon via e-mail and getting nowhere, he refuses to patronize them. He uses the example of a grocery store selling peas who then puts up a sign saying they are bad peas.

This is valid, of course, but I disagree. In fact, I love the fact that there are reviews on the site. This discussion, though, has made me consider why. First of all, though it may have happened, I don't recall a negative review ever causing me to change my mind about a purchase. I can recall many instances where positive reviews helped me either decide to buy then, or confirm my decision to buy later.

I think there's a knack for reading reviews. A glowing review from someone I don't know means nothing to me unless their actual comments make sense. Likewise a bad one doesn't do much by itself, especially the ones by people who are upset that the book arrived two days later than expected. That's a bad book.

There are two things that I try to get from the reviews (and this excludes the ones by the infamous Top Tenners). The first is a general sense of how people liked the book, which I can then put with my own frame of reference to make form some kind of opinion. But I need that reference. If I were to go to a listing of Dean Koontz's books and all the reviews are marvelous, it would mean nothing to me because I don't care for the man's work. If I know nothing about an author or his previous books, the reviews may be interesting or not, but they probably won't be all that helpful.

The second, perhaps more important thing, are the references to other works or authors that the reviewers may bring up. Comments that refer to similar authors or books, or that provide background material that I didn't already know, are often very helpful. These often lead me to other books and other authors and have been a wonderful resource.

The frustrating thing to me is when there aren't enough reviews for a given book to absorb the aburdities offered by people who really don't have anything to say. The book "My Father As I Recall Him" by Mamie Dickens contains excellent examples of people with nothing to say exercising their ability to do so in a public forum. The book has a ridiculous star and a half rating thanks to a couple of people who condemn the book for its "style" while admitting that it would be enjoyable to people who liked that "style."

Speaking for myself, I find I do actually like things that are like what I like. And I'm proud to say so in this public place just because I can. Hopefully you'll find this useful, too.


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