With the booming industry of online shopping, two interdependent practices that have come to the forefront are — first, the habit of checking reviews of the product that one is buying, and secondly reviewing the product once bought.
However when it comes to intellectual products such as books and films, reviews can be fairly subjective, to the point of even being false. Ujval Nanawati, a freelance writer and journalist recently tweeted bringing to notice the malpractice of false reviewing. The writer congratulated author Tony Joseph on the raving reviews his book, Early Indians, has received on an online purchasing platform, while mentioning that all the 12 ‘unverified purchases’ gave the book a one star rating and "deeply negative reviews".
While it is not unheard of that books and films do get reviewed incorrectly by people who may have not even read or watched a certain project, how does false reviews actually affect the author or the filmmaker and their business?
Tony Joseph, the man in question, is of the opinion that Amazon has taken a positive step towards curbing such reviews with their ‘verified purchase’ tag. "I feel, that the ratings received from the ‘verified purchase’ tag and the rating from the unverified reviews should be separate. The book should receive an over all rating from just the verified purchases. The issue is that most of these reviews online follow a propagandist pattern where if one influential person with a propaganda to malign a book rates it one star, their entire follower base does the same without even reading the book."
According to Ravi Dee Cee of DC Books, one of the leading regional language books’ publisher, the review of a book as a domain has entered a new phase in the very recent past with the advent of social media. He says, "Much like the paid or unpaid news, there are two kinds of reviews — the honest as well as the vicious ones. There is a preconceived notion of what an author could write and then being malicious about the final product after it gets published."
The publisher points out another aspect, that of a ‘proof copy’ and continues, "The proof copy is a source that can be read and then reviews made based on that but the proof copy is accessible to only a limited number of people. This is usually the practice with major publishers and not a mandatory one for all books."
Author Anand Neelkantan, of the Asura fame, resonates with Ravi Dee Cee and says, "One may simply dislike the author, for example when Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness was announced, there were negative reviews even before the book hit the stands. This could be because of political grudges or personal hatred towards her."
On the other hand, one of India’s leading authors, Amish Tripathi, says, "Five to 10 years ago, the reviews of critics mattered. But that’s no longer the case because people do not read newspapers as much anymore. People only trust the opinions of their friends, which they get through social media, or online reviews, like those on e-commerce sites. An author should focus on writing a good book rather than gauging his book’s worth solely by reviews."
Keeping integrity aside, do false reviews affect sales? Meghna Pant, author of Feminist Rani, feels online reviews are important and they do impact book sales. She also explains that readers can spot a con job when the reviews don’t really match the book’s sales. "While I feel that it is extremely important for an author to publicise his or her book, but such paid initiatives fall flat if it is not followed up by good content. Readers will call your bluff."
But author Aditi Mathur, of Soldier & Spice: An Army Wife’s Life fame feels that people take the effort to log on online and post a review only if it is negative because they’ve spent money and they want its worth, if there’s no other motivation or if they are not paid for. "The only way to circumvent false reviews is by going to credible websites such as GoodReads.com to check for reviews," she advises.
Anand Neelkantan still has hope and feels genuine and avid readers will not rely on just online shopping platforms’ reviews. "If you have a strong fan base and are churning out good content, your fans will read your book. But the concept of false reviews cannot be tackled in the Internet era. The maximum one can do, is read the ‘verified purchase’ tag and hope for the best," he concludes.