Avidbookreader.com has a post about Amazon's new Vine early reviewer program. You sign up and you get early releases of books to review! For free! It sounds like a neat idea, but it turns out to have lots of problems caused by the basic human urge to hoard free stuff. One of the big problems was that people would write a review before receiving their book so they could quickly request another one.
On one hand, I'm disappointed that Amazon's reviews are getting padded with more junk. I occasionally read the reviews for a book that I'm interested in. However, bad book reviews are not a new thing. At Amazon I've learned to cultivate a caution, so that I can quickly recognize and skip over reviews that I think will annoy me or ruin the book. There are also fake, glowing reviews written by publicists, which can sometimes be harder to detect, and seem to growing in frequency.
However, on the other hand, a part of me is happy to see the further ghettoization of Amazon's book reviews. They make book review blogs, including this blog, more valuable to you, our readers. This assumes that you continue to believe that we have not been bought off. This shouldn't be too hard if you look at our traffic, our posting frequency, and the many old old books we've recommended. If we'd sold out, we'd be making much more money than the five dollars a year we're currently netting from Google ads (woo, I'll be 50 when we get our first $100 check!), we'd quit our day jobs, and we'd be living our own fantasies of literature-reviewing hedonism.
Early on, Amazon.com actually made me wonder why I was bothering to blog about books. Why not just write up my recommendations over there? Did I seriously need my own blog, to set myself apart, to stroke my own ego, that much? Well, you know the answer to that!
However, there's more to it. When Mister Troll asked me to create this blog with him, I wanted to provide something more than just a clump of reviews. I think Gabe at Penny Arcade said it best when he wrote, albeit about video games instead of books:
I think the big value of a book blog is that the reader gets to know the blog author's tastes, and how those tastes match up with his. That's the bonus we provide with our recommendations and reviews. If I had not thought we could provide something that Amazon.com can't, I would not be doing this.
The first thing you do is get rid if the numbers or percentages or stars or monkeys or whatever the fuck it is your site uses to review games. Then you get together a group of five or six guys and you give me some background on each of them. Tell me what kind of games this cat likes to play. Did he like Halo? Did he enjoy REZ? I need to know if my tastes match up at all with this guy. Then you have him write an article about a game he just played. No bullshit though, I just want to know if you had a good time. What did you like, what didn't you like? In the end I want you to tell me if it's something you think I should pick up. Once this has been going on for a while people will be able to identify with certain reviewers. If after six or seven games Steve and I seem to agree on pretty much everything I'll know that I can trust Steve's choices in the future. You need to make them people though, not just names at the end of a review.
Of course, there's plenty of other content to set us apart, too, like our half-baked rants, controversial pronouncements, goofy lists, and silly stories.