Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Amazon Reviews

Frank Wilson at Books, Inq. notes a piece at TechCrunch, "Amazon Killed the Book Reviewer Star" The author of the latter piece, Greg Ferenstein, interprets a paper from the Harvard Business School "Working Knowledge" site as showing that "the aggregate rating of Amazon reviewers are every bit as good as professional book critics." I read the paper as making a different claim: that for the 100 highest-rated books on Metacritic between 2004 and 2007, the ratings of the professional reviewers are correlated with those of the Amazon reviewers. As best I can judge from a brief reading, the correlation is strongest in mainstream US journals and alternative sources, weaker among magazines; and the correlation could be checked only for books rated between 5 and 7 out of 9 by professional reviewers.

Mr. Ferenstein also interprets as "nepotism",  meaning favoritism,  the paper's finding that "connected" authors receive better reviews. That I think is subject to interpretation. Does Joe Dokes, who has reviewed for the NY Times, get good reviews because they know his face, or did he get to review for Times because the editors admired his previous work?

The mainstream reviews have their faults, which have been catalogued by excellent critics. Yet I find that Amazon reviewers give out a lot of high scores to books I would score low. To name a couple:
  •  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. Out of 682 reviews on Amazon, 520+ were 5 or 4 stars out of 5. A hinge of the plot involves a Chinese father, during WW II, planning to send his son from Seattle to Canton to finish his education. If Mr. Ford had picked up a history book, he might have noticed that Canton was then occupied by the Japanese.
  • The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. Out of 217 reviews, 168 are 4 or 5 stars. I found it implausible as to character and plot, and awkwardly written in too many places.
And I could go on, but why?

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