Should we write off online book reviews?
The explosion of reviews for The 4-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss shows how the system has evolved from something spontaneous to a means of marketing and promotion. On publication day, dozens of highly favourable reviews immediately sprouted. Other reviewers quickly criticized Ferriss, accusing him of buying supporters.
He laughed off those suggestions. “Not only would I never do that – it’s unethical – I simply don’t have to,” he wrote in an email, saying he had sent several hundred review copies to fans and potential fans.
“Does that stack the deck? Perhaps, but why send the book to someone who would hate it? That doesn’t help anyone: not the reader, nor the writer.”
As a demonstration of social media’s grip on reviewing, Ferriss used Twitter and Facebook to ask for a review. “Rallying my readers,” he called it. Within an hour, 61 had complied.
A few of his early reviews were written by people who admitted they had not read the book but were giving it five stars anyway because, well, they knew it would be terrific.
A spokesman for Amazon, which published The 4-Hour Chef, offered this sole comment for this article: “We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.”
The dispute over reviews is playing out in the discontent over Klausner, an Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer for the last 11 years and undoubtedly one of the most prolific reviewers in literary history.
Klausner published review No. 28,366, for A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder. Almost immediately, it had nine critical comments. The first accused it of being “riddled with errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation”. The rest were no more kind. The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society had struck again.
Klausner, a 60-year-old retired librarian who lives in Atlanta, has published an average of seven reviews a day for more than a decade. “To watch her in action is unbelievable,” said her husband, Stanley. “You see the pages turning.”
Klausner, who says ailments keep her home and insomnia keeps her up, scoffs at her critics. “You ever read a Harlequin romance?” she said. “You can finish it in one hour. I’ve always been a speed reader.”
She has a message for her naysayers: “Get a life. Read a book.” More than 99.9 per cent of Klausner’s reviews are four or five stars. “If I can make it past the first 50 pages, that means I like it, and so I review it,” she said. – (New York Times)