Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anonymous Reviews

Recent headlines point out what I have long suspected— authors do trash the competition via websites which accept anonymous reviews. However, since Amazon is the big site for sales and reviews, and since Amazon does not require that readers actually even purchase the book, much less use a real name, Amazon is a fabulous place to trash the competition. Apparently that happened to some scholarly authors in the United Kingdom, and the perpetrator has been identified, confessed, and gone on sick leave.

While I do not subscribe to the idea that illness comes from a guilty conscience, I did find the revelations by British author Orlando Figes to be fascinating. According to various articles in the UK press, Figes first denied the accusation. The denial was succeeded by threatened lawsuits against those who accused him. Then his wife took the blame, and after the pressure failed to subside, Figes reversed his position. He is now stating that his wife's concern about his illness led to her take the blame for his scathing reviews of the literary competition. Let's hope the confession will help Figes' health, and everyone trapped in this morass will be able to move on.

The Wall Street Journal's article focuses not on the confession, but on what provoked it— an investigation began when one of authors that Figes panned on Amazon got an electronics whiz to trace the "digital signature" of the anonymous critic. Lo and behold, as the saying goes, this led straight to a computer in Figes' household. The WSJ article goes on to highlight other lawsuits which have resulted from online reviews, including those on, and even one based on an eBay seller's ratings. Obviously, the days when one ignored scurrilous reviews are fading fast, and lawyers will profit.

From time to time, I have written some reviews on Amazon, but always with my author name or with my legal one. While I don't like every book I read or every product I use, I am honest, so I do not have to hide behind a fake persona. As an author, I am fortunate to have some really good reviews on Amazon. I am quite grateful to have as many good ones as I do. Still, as long as this vendor allows anonymous reviews, some dishonest people will post reviews which are neither fair nor honest.

Some authors, especially scholars, are not fond of Amazon, and this latest revelation won't help Amazon's reputation. Currently, I do have links to my books on Amazon on my website, but those may disappear when I do my next site update. Price is often the deciding factor in where to make a purchase, so Amazon will continue and will probably thrive. But, don't put much faith in the reviews, because they might be written by enemies rather than readers.

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