With all the uproar over the recent New York Times article The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy--especially the admission to buying 300 hundred reviews by "bestselling" indie-turned-traditional-author John Locke--people are wondering if Amazon.com reviews can be trusted at all. (Not to mention all the gushing reviews that authors bribe encourage from friends, family, neighbors and publicists...)
I'm here to tell you that yes, they can. Here's how to spot them (as well as bogus reviews):
1. Look for the Real Name badge
In order to have a Real Name badge as an Amazon.com Reviewer, an individual must VERIFY her identity via credit card. When an individual puts her name on a review, she is saying "I stand by my review and will put my reputation on the line for it."
2. Hall of Fame Reviewer or Top Reviewer badge
In order to reach this status, a reviewer will have chalked up hundreds (or thousands) of reviews posted...with TENS OF THOUSANDS of "helpful" votes for the total. Unless the reviewer doesn't have a life outside of reviewing, this signifies passion and dedication to the art and craft of reviewing (rare suspect reviewers like Harriet Klausner aside).
3. Quality and depth of the review
It's a no-brainer that anyone can type "This book sux". While a review doesn't have to (and shouldn't) rival the word count of the book being examined, a quality criticism contains examples of why the reviewer didn't like a book. Generalities such as "this books lack any inherent value" are meaningless. Quality reviewers (and thinkers) back up their assertions. Quality reviewers usually know how to spell and use good grammar, too.
4. Comparison with other posted reviews
One book. Thirteen 5-Star reviews. One 1-Star review. No 2, 3 or 4-Star reviews. You do the math.
5. Stars given over the long haul
In 2009, the FTC told bloggers and reviewers to disclose freebies from publishers or financial interest in a product--or face fines up to $11,000. This ruling was supposed to ameliorate the distrust of netizen reviewers. However, most bloggers and Amazon reviewers still do not post full- disclosure notices. So, how do you know if an Amazon reviewer is on the up-and-up...or just a publisher's go-to gusher because 5-Star reviews are the only thing she cranks out? Here's how: Scroll through the reviewer's profile on Amazon.com. Criteria 1-4 above being met, check to see if there's a mix of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5-Star reviews. Pages and pages of 5-Star reviews are to be taken with a grain of salt.
So, what about you, readers? How do you determine if a review is worth your consideration? What rings your alarm bells?