Courtesy of The Guardian…

For as long as book reviews have been published, writers have argued that book reviewing itself is in a state of crisis – a pointless exercise, a waste of time. In 1846 Edgar Allan Poe called reviews nothing but a “tissue of flatteries”. Virginia Woolf worried that the reader was none the wiser because “the clash of completely contradictory opinions cancel each other out”. According to Elizabeth Hardwick in 1959, “sweet, bland commendations fall everywhere upon the scene; a universal, if somewhat lobotomised, accommodation reigns … For sheer information, a somewhat expanded publisher’s list would do just as well as a good many of the reviews that appear weekly.” And it’s even more fashionable now to be “against reviews”..

Today, the crisis takes a different form: the challenge of the web; the decline of the critic – you know the deal. More narrowly, there’s Amazon, and its anonymous, unmarshalled reviews. There have been numerous flare-ups about these – the self-reviewing, the hate-reviewing, the downright-unreadable-reviewing, and so on. The latest unholy behaviour to come to light is of authors paying for positive reviews. As the New York Times has recounted, and Salon has discussed, one Todd Rutherford set up a now-defunct operation called that would, for a fee, ensure the publication of dozens of five-star consumer responses to a submitted book. It filled his pockets with cash, and, in at least one case it seems to have worked, helping to create an ebook bestseller out of a self-published novelist.

So: are Amazon et al, with their bought-and-paid-for notices, killing off the book review? Or are they rather making the traditional, commissioned book review more important than ever?

Read the complete article here: Are Amazon Reader Reviews Killing Off The Critic?

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