Reviews on Amazon.com can make or break an author’s career, but the motivations of those leaving the comments aren’t always clear. Take, for instance, Randall Sullivan’s book — Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson.

The New York Times offers an inside look at what happens when a group of people — in this case a vocal group of supporters of the late pop music icon — take over the review section of Amazon. That’s what happened after Sullivan released the 704-page biography of the King of Pop’s last years, with a group known as Michael Jackson’s Rapid Response Team to Media Attacks generating a campaign to post dozens of negative 1-star reviews on the book. 

An example:

I am so sick and tired of all these “wolves” using Michael’s name, his likeness, and lying… to make a quick buck and a name for themselves. This book is a phony and so is the person who wrote it…Anyone who buys this book is wasting their money. It’s sensationalism, lies, and simply disrespectful. Let the KING rest in peace Mr. Sullivan…

At present, there are 176 reviews of the book, which is currently hovering at a 2.5-star rating. Interestingly, editors for Amazon.com picked Untouchable as one of the best books of the month, with Amazon’s reviewer encouraging readers to “check out this train wreck of a life.”

Nonetheless, the majority of the reviews are negative. NY Times Reporter David Streitfeld dubs this sort of onslaught the “attack review,” pointing out that the campaigns are devised “to sink new books as soon as they are published.”

Streitfeld has been digging into issues around online reviews for months now, posting a story last summer about authors paying to have positive book reviews written on online retailing sites.

Amazon.com, for its part, has attempted to clean up its review system, including what Streitfeld called a “hazy purge” last December in which thousands of book reviews were removed from the site. However, it remains difficult to truly know if a 5-star book on Amazon.com is really a 5-star read.

Comments

  • JamesS2012

    A big problem with reviews is that Amazon lets anyone write a review, whether they purchased a product from Amazon or not. This opens to the door wide for false negative or positive reviews, as well as attack reviews. Amazon should change their policy to allow only a verified Amazon purchaser of a product or book to write a review about it.
    As it is now, as an avid Amazon customer, I’ve been less trusting of the customer reviews for more than a year now because I’m aware of this flawed review system and simply don’t trust what I’m reading anymore.

    • http://www.facebook.com/the.leif Leif Espelund

      Seriously, eBay figured this out years ago with buyers and sellers only able to review each other after a purchase was completed. Amazon has complete knowledge of the purchase cycle. Users should be invited to post reviews only after an item is delivered.

      • Anonymous Mike

        Close, these things should simply be factored in to a larger equation. A simple average of stars from users is easy to implement and defend as unbiased, but is clearly too easily gamed. Like with most things, there are good folks that can be trusted to write an honest review whether they bought the thing or not, this should be weighted more heavily somehow. the thing to avoid is this annoying crap where someone gives a Pink Floyd t-shirt a bad review because they don’t like Pink Floyd’s music. A “review” of a product is too often a political statement or some other nonsense.

  • IrishLass2121

    Many of the fans have done their homework and have gathered a lot of verified facts in into their knowledge base. However, some journalists just keep ignoring / or won’t
    investigate /further research / or show any interest in verifying the facts
    that of many of the fans have been stating for quite some time – and with
    backup.

    I would agree with the fans on this one. Theyseem rightly frustrated with the fact that they are supposed to be journalists;the very people who are supposed to approach a topic/subject void of bias and willing to dig deep research. There is a lot of rehashed tabloid stuff from the past which has simply been copied/pasted as part of compiling the book. It is pointless having some facts in a book if you are going to end up doing something like this. It cheapens / discredits a
    book. Simple!

    • IrishLass2121

      Strange how some of my sentences are broken up after posting. Oh, well!

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