Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why Amazon Reviews Aren't Always What They Seem

I've often thought it unfair that Amazon allows anonymous reviews as often bad reviews can be left for malicious reasons.... I think that explains why books that have a fair number of five star reviews on Amazon can also attract one-star vitriolic attacks.

The Daily Mail has just reported on a historian who posted malicious reviews of work by his competitors. And I'm sure he's not the only person doing it! Amazon needs to clean up its act - it doesn't make sense to give equal weight to serious reviewers with a history of reviewing and morons who only bother to post one bad review littered with spelling and grammatical errors!

Anyway, here's the Mail story:

Historian Orlando Figes has admitted posting anonymous reviews savaging his rivals' books on Amazon.

The Russian scholar has now apologised profusely for the negative and critical reviews, saying he is 'ashamed' of his actions.

In one review, Figes labelled academic Rachel Polonsky's book Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History 'hard to follow' and 'the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published'.

Under the names Historian and Orlando-Birckbeck, Figes also called Professor Service's book Comrades 'awful', while leaving a review calling his own book 'fasincating'.

Figes said in a statement: 'I take full responsibility for posting anonymous reviews on Amazon.

'I have made some foolish errors and apologise wholeheartedly to all concerned.

'In particular, I am sorry for the distress I have caused to Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service.

'I also apologise to my lawyer to whom I gave incorrect information.

'I panicked when confronted with an email sent to academics and the press and instructed my lawyer without thinking this through rationally.

'This escalated the situation and brought more pressure on myself by prompting a legal response.'

Mr Figes said Dr Rachel Polonsky's book Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History 'is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published'

Figes added he was 'ashamed' of his behaviour and did not entirely understand why he acted as he did.

He said: 'It was stupid - some of the reviews I now see were small-minded and ungenerous but they were not intended to harm.

'This crisis has exposed some health problems, though I offer that more as explanation than excuse.

'I need some time now to reflect on what I have done and the consequences of my actions with medical help.'

The professor, who has gone on sick leave from his job at London's Birkbeck College, admitted to being "stupid" - but said he had not intended to cause harm.

A spokesman for Birkbeck College declined to comment on the issue, simply saying: 'He is on sick leave and we are supporting him at this time.'

The admission is the latest twist in the literary puzzle, after the finger was earlier pointed at Figes' wife Stephanie Palmer.

However, Figers has now admitted he let his wife take responsibility for the reviews, but regrets his decision.

He added: 'My wife loyally tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried for my health, and I owe her an unreserved apology.'

But while author Rachel Polonsky would undoutedly have been offended by Figes' reviews, she is thrilled that her book has experienced a sales boost following the scandal.

She said: 'Molotov's Magic Lantern reached the top 500, then dropped to about 1,600 on Amazon's best-seller list. Now it is back to 500 again.'

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