Who is a review for?
Of late, there has been a lot of to-do about book reviews being offered for sale, and authors purchasing them. Reading through some of the news about that, I had wondered how pervasive this could possibly be. But I did not lose any sleep over it. My decision to read a book, or not, is seldom based on any review, professional, or friendly. (Thank God! Else I would have read those Grey books! Eew!). So I moved on.
I put my hand up recently to review a book and was asked by the author to put it up on amazon.com, but only if I was able to award it 3 points or above. The request felt absurd, but I was not expecting to dislike the book. When I realised I could not award it 3 stars, I started feeling uncomfortable. I felt that for what it was worth (or not), my opinion of the book should be on the site.
My advisory board said I should put the review up on Amazon nonetheless.
“Any publicity is good”
“You cannot have a biased set of reviews. What kind of request is that? How can you only put up good reviews?”
Since I had not discussed this before reading the book, I decided to do the right thing by the author, and sent off an email saying that I was unable award the book 3 stars and would not be putting up my review on Amazon. But I did also forward my opinion that it had been an unethical request.
The author accepted my decision, but asked me the question “Why would you offer to write a review if not to help?” Meaning, I presume, that a negative review will not help sell a book.
It set me thinking. Who is a review intended for? Having been always a reader, I have always assumed that a review is intended to inform the buyer. Information and a recommendation to fork out the dollars or not. If I am part of a setup where only favourable reviews get seen by prospective buyers, then I feel that I am committing fraud.
There are studies that suggest that a book’s sales does not really depend on its reviews. But it seems to me, that they must have some value. How often do we ask those whose opinions we value: “Do you recommend it?” Very often we are swayed by the recommendation for or against. So had I, by not putting up my opinion on amazon, committed fraud, nevertheless? No one would know about it, but what does it say of my integrity?
NB: For the record, I was not offered, nor did I expect or ask for payment for the review.