Amazon's book site clamps down on online reviews


Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 7

The world's biggest online bookseller, Amazon, is to clamp down on anonymous reviews of titles on its Web site in an attempt to curb excesses of backstabbing in the competitive world of publishing.

After mounting concern about abuse of its open-door policy regarding feedback, Amazon has begun a new system, Real Names, which requires reviewers to provide their credit card details before posting a comment. The change, which was quietly introduced earlier this month, is intended to put an end to authors and publishers anonymously showering their own books with praise while trashing the work of their rivals.

An Amazon spokeswoman said: "This is the latest step in an ongoing effort to continually improve the content of the site."

Since its launch in 1995, Amazon developed a worldwide following of 42 million active users. It made profits of US$35 million on sales of US$5.2 billion last year.

Ratings by reviewers are displayed prominently for each product and are considered to be influential to sales. Under the new rules, Web site users will still be able to make comments under pen names, but they will not be able to merely describe themselves as "a reader."

Amazon's spokeswoman insisted that "the vast majority of people who come to our site to write reviews don't have any particular ax to grind."

Award-winning authors such as Philip Pullman, Alain de Botton and James Delingpole have been among those to complain about anonymous reviews on the site.

Last year a former KGB agent, Alexander Vassiliev, sued Amazon for libel over a review on its Web site which raised questions over the source material for his book on Soviet espionage.

Kate Pool, the deputy general secretary of the Society of Authors in the UK, welcomed the changes.

"What started off as a good service was subject to abuse. People caught on to how easily it could be manipulated. Authors, publicity departments, friends, aunts and uncles all sent in wonderful reviews on their own books or terrible ones of their rivals' work," she said.

She said that although authors considered Amazon to be a success in widening book ownership, many had concerns about the company, including its habit of offering cheap secondhand copies alongside new novels, which deprives writers of royalties.