June 30, 2011

Scientists: Amazon reviews more meaningless than previously thought


Just when you thought you had an understanding of how cynical Amazon.com truly is, well, they go and top themselves. Take this report from Emily Witt at the New York Observer:

While it’s easy to be cynical about old publishing’s faux-gentlemanly approach to getting promotional quotes (send advanced reading copies to an author’s MFA supervisor or writer friends with handwritten requests on nice letterhead for “thoughts”) Amazon Publishing dispenses with the niceties altogether.

Exhibit A is an email that was sent in January to Elyse Cheney, a New York literary agent, asking for a quote from one of Ms. Cheney’s authors for a book called Stalina, “by an exciting author named Emily Rubin.” The book was coming out on AmazonEncore, the Amazon imprint that republishes successfully self-published books.

I’m interested in knowing whether [name redacted] would be willing to take a look at Stalina and if he likes it, provide a guest review in which we’d also promote [name redacted] and his works, including any upcoming projects.

“They referred to her as a man!” said Ms. Cheney with disdain. The client in question is a woman.

The email went on to detail its promotional efforts:

The review would be prominently featured on Amazon.com in customer emails, rotating campaigns in the Amazon.com Books and Kindle stores, and on the Stalina detail page (to which our marketing and PR efforts will be driving significant traffic). This would be a great way to get added exposure on Amazon for [name redacted]’s backlist or upcoming releases.

Or, as the headline to the story puts it, “Amazon Publishing to Authors: ‘Review’ Our Books and We Will Promote You.”

Probably, if you ask politely, they’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself, too.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives