- Posted by Johanna on March 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm
- Category: LinkBlogging
More and more often, users on Amazon.com are using the review function to express their opinion, not about the content of the work, but about its format. TechCrunch points out one recent example, where a book is getting one-star reviews because it’s not available for the Kindle.
You can also see this on DVDs, where people complain about a soundtrack change from the original airing or that the special features aren’t available unless you buy the Blu-ray version. Another popular example is when a video game is marked down because of the DRM protection features that get in the way of gameplay.
Is this just a clever new way to electronically boycott inferior goods? These reviews, technically speaking, aren’t accurate. They don’t speak to whether the book is a good read or the movie enjoyable to watch. But looked at another way, customers are repurposing the review function in a way that they find more useful and might cause the decision-makers to pay attention.
People aren’t able to enjoy the content in the way they want to because of technological limitations that have been introduced to raise company profits. Of course, that’s the right of the producer/publisher. But it’s also the case that customers will speak out against artificial restrictions that prevent them from spending the money they want to spend. Readers want to give the publisher money for an online book. Viewers want to buy a DVD with extra features. If producers don’t want to create products for that audience, fine, but you can no longer expect the audience to passively sit silently about it. Because now we have the internet.
TechCrunch bemoans the practice of one-star reviews because it hurts the author, but the author doesn’t have the power to fix the problem. That seems a little naive. Can’t an author, in at least some cases, draft a contract that requires ebook releases? The piece goes on to quote someone else as calling the practice “bullying”. That’s an extreme, inaccurate reaction. Many smart sellers WANT customers to express their desires, so they can fill them and become more successful, or at least understand what factors into buyer decision-making. There’s no way to respond directly to many media producers, so people are using an open forum instead.
Jason Kottke, on the other hand, thinks that paying attention to format is a sign of how regular people are more forward-thinking than “traditional media reviewers”.
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.
I wonder if part of the reason for that is because traditional reviewers may not see the final format. They may get a screener DVD with no packaging and no forced trailers at the start, or an advance reading copy that’s a copied paperback instead of a nicely presented hardcover. That’s another way the publishers save money, in a way that may come back to bite them in the long run.
Update: (3/24/10) At an Amazon forum, users debate the tactic. From that, I learned that Amazon has a link near the book that says “Tell the publisher I’d like to read this book on Kindle”. So there is an alternative notification method, although not one that collates response data publicly.