Now at first, in the nineties, most of my colleagues would have been embarrassed to say that this free-for-all disturbed them. They would have dismissed amateur book ratings on the Internet as insignificant. Surely one good review in The Globe and Mail and another one in Quill and Quire and one interview on the CBC were going to be far more influential as advertising than this nonsense from nobodies who can't spell? And we certainly didn't want to be known to be planting reviews from our friends with the crass and ego-driven idea of boosting the ratings, or worse, writing reviews of our own books ourselves. I remember being disgusted by the idea.
This turned out to be embarrassingly naive. It is hard to measure empirically the effect on sales of bookstores' star ratings, but we have all started to have the feeling that the star-ratings – the first thing you see, really, when you look up a book that you are thinking of buying – are actually far more influential than the reviews written by professionals in newspapers. Everyone in the publishing industry now agrees that newspaper reviews are less influential than they have ever been. The amateur reviews are for the most part so idiotic, so ideologically driven or otherwise missing the point, that to receive a low star-rating from them – particularly if one has had excellent reviews from professionals – has started to become offensive and maddening. So, if the star-ratings are so easy to manipulate, then we had better get started manipulating them.
And so now everybody does. You can't post multiple reviews any more (although most of the ones posted for devious purposes before 2005 are still up there, wreaking havoc), and Amazon now requires that you have made a purchase to contribute a review. But there is nothing embarrassing any more about sending out a mass e-mail – to people you know have purchased something at Amazon – asking for help. In fact, marketing consultants suggest that authors launch concerted campaigns to raise their star-ratings on book sites, by sending out review copies of their book to 300 friends and asking that they, in return, post a one-line five-star review on Amazon. You might even send out some sample lines of your glowing review yourself, to make it easier for your friends. Obviously the authors with the greatest resources available to mount such a campaign – such as the ability to hire a PR firm to do it – will be the ones with the most glowing reviews.
For the whole article go here.