okay, let’s review

Jason Kottke seems to like it when Amazon reviewers give a book, or some other item, a low rating because of availability issues: “the early reviews for Michael Lewis’ The Big Short are dominated by one-star reviews from Kindle owners who are angry because the book is not available for the device.”

Compare this with traditional reviewers who focus almost exclusively on the content/plot, an approach that ignores much about how people make buying decisions about media today. . . .Newspaper and magazine reviewers pretty much ignore this stuff. There’s little mention of whether a book would be good to read on a Kindle, if you should buy the audiobook version instead of the hardcover because John Hodgman has a delightful voice, if a magazine is good for reading on the toilet, if a movie is watchable on an iPhone or if you need to see it in 1080p on a big TV, if a hardcover is too heavy to read in the bath, whether the trailer is an accurate depiction of what the movie is about, or if the hardcover price is too expensive and you should get the Kindle version or wait for the paperback. Or, as the above reviewers hammer home, if the book is available to read on the Kindle/iPad/Nook or if it’s better to wait until the director’s cut comes out. In the end, people don’t buy content or plots, they buy physical or digital pieces of media for use on specific devices and within certain contexts. That citizen reviewers have keyed into this more quickly than traditional media reviewers is not a surprise.

Interesting that Kottke thinks that “reviewing” and “giving buying advice” are the same thing; or, in other words, there’s no difference between the “review” that appears in a newspaper or magazine and the “review” that appears on Amazon.com. This is a classic case of false synonymity.When I review a book I don’t even think about whether the reader of my review is going to purchase the book — it never crosses my mind. I am trying to engage, intellectually, with what I am reviewing, to respond fairly and charitably to it, but also with proper critical acuity (which I think charity demands). I am trying to be a good reader, but to be one in public, as it were.This approach to reviewing is, first of all incompatible with handing out stars, which is an intrinsically stupid system anyway. But if we have to hand out stars, shouldn’t we make a distinction between what we think about the movie or book or game and what we think about its delivery system? Isn’t it possible that The Big Short is a terrific book that just doesn’t happen to be available on the Kindle at the moment? And if that is possible, does the one-star review capture that distinction? Maybe Amazon needs a new system to take such matters into account.