Remember the days when you went to the library or the bookstore and the shelves were filled with books, many of which were written by authors you’d never heard of? A title would catch your eye, you would lift that book down and browse the blurb. If this aroused your interest further, you might read the first few pages. Then you would make up your mind whether or not to buy or borrow the book. In those days relatively few of these books were reviewed in print media - some of the top bestsellers and maybe a couple of that year’s literary prize winners - so it is likely that also relatively few of us based our decision to buy or borrow a book on reviews alone.
Then along came the Internet and it brought a slew of blog and online magazine reviewers with it. Some of these reviewers turned out to be very good at what they did. They took time to construct thoughtful and fair reviews, and they took the pride of a serious amateur in what they were doing ( which is often a greater pride than the lazy professional ). But then a behemoth bullied its way to the front of this charge and this behemoth was named Amazon. It introduced a system of everyman-as-reviewer, thus allowing every Tom, Dick, and Harriet to become arbiters of taste via offering their own little pearls of wisdom on books. In itself this should not necessarily have been a bad thing, it should simply have been a thing, and I am assuredly not saying that Amazon shouldn’t have a review system. Freedom of speech is a good thing but it means we must be prepared to take the good speech with the bad.
The problem is that somewhere along the line of its evolution, Amazon became the apex review site and this is where the 5-star rave review may have turned into a sort of fool’s gold as a result.
All alleged abuses of Amazon’s system aside, if Amazon reviews have begun to count so much toward the decision-making of readers that said readers no longer pay attention to anything else, all that says to me about modern thinking processes is we have we already arrived at Borg-style assimilation to the ‘hive’ mind to which resistance is futile. I find it hard to conceive that readers really have such short attention spans and so little self-awareness they would slavishly take the word of an Amazon reviewer alone on the potential worth of a book’s reading. Instead, I want to believe in readers’ discernment.
In fact, I think it is we authors who have given this power to Amazon. Through our own fear of being ignored by a supposed “in-crowd” and our subsequent slavish devotion to and constant slavering after 5-star reviews and Amazon sales figures that we think represent the approval of this in-crowd, we have allowed the behemoth to tyrannize us.
Just like any fear, our fear of the Amazon review can only have power over us if we give it permission to hold that power. So don’t give Amazon the power to tyrannize us. Amazon is not the sole arbiter of taste and success. Stop obsessing and stressing over 5-star rave reviews and sales figures, stop being scared of Amazon, stop convincing yourself that “ 5-star Amazon reviews drive sales and nothing else” and pretty soon your world will start to look a little more realistic and a little less stressful.
Oh, and if you still don’t believe that reviews really are only one person’s opinion, then take a look at the video review below which was posted by a prolific Amazon reviewer named Dottie Randazzo ( who happens to write self-help books herself ). It seems that Dottie thinks paying $107 ( £67 ) for a 250pp PB is worth every cent…Seriously, Dottie??? If I was a wealthy collector and it was a 1st Edition signed leatherbound antique one-off copy...well, maybe. But I'd still prefer it was handwritten by Charles Dickens!
But as a guide to living on an island? You have got to be fucking kidding me!