What use are Amazon customer reviews, or indeed the user reviews on any website? During Amazon’s first decade the company employed a team of freelance writers to review books, videos and DVDs. I was one of them. Crucially, our opinions remained our own. But we worked to guidelines which included being factually accurate, not committing libel and avoiding spoilers. Then Amazon introduced customer reviews, and the result is now a caveat emptor free-for-all.
While many customer reviews are excellent, Amazon imposes no quality control – some reviews are no worse than ill-informed and amateurish – and no warning that one might at any time come across a massive spoilers. Amazon long ago gave-up proofreading customer reviews, and some Amazon users have no consideration for the reader or creative artist, and no idea of civilised reviewing etiquette.
I have just finished reading the novel Stone’s Fall, by Iain Pears. This is an exceptionally long, intricately plotted historical thriller / mystery. It’s not perfect, but it is an extremely enjoyable and intelligent piece of work. Unfortunately, with 450 pages to go I decided to see what Amazon’s customers made of it. I happened to read a short ‘review’ by someone who admitted they had not read the whole book (they awarded it one star and described it as ’a waste of money’), but felt it their right to explain the central mystery of the entire narrative. Something the author chose to keep secret until almost the last page. It is a testament to Iain Pear’s skill that I remained engrossed despite knowing where the story was heading.
Not content with attempting to spoil the novel for the reader, the ‘reviewer’, hiding behind a pseudonym, also casually libeled Mr Pears, stating without evidence that he ‘must have stolen this idea for a book from some movie or book from the 1940’s or ’50’s’. I would like to see that stand-up in court.
So faced with the contemptible and unacceptable I have decided to stop looking at customer reviews before reading or watching any work of fiction. Meanwhile with some reservations I’d recommend Stone’s Fall. Clare Clark sums up the novel well on The Guardian without spoiling anything. Read the Amazon customer reviews at your peril.