December 3, 2021
  • December 3, 2021

Dr Barry Clayton and the Weird World of Amazon Book Reviews

By on December 19, 2018 0

Dr Barry Clayton enjoys reviewing books on Amazon. In fact, he reviews so many books that he is, at the time of writing, the …

Dr Barry Clayton enjoys reviewing books on Amazon. In fact, he reviews so many books that he is, at the time of writing, the site’s 181-rated reviewer. His biography says he is both a retired army colonel and a university professor, although he does not have a photo. He “would like to think that the critics have actually read what they are criticizing.” Strange, then, that after reviewing more than one book a day until October 22, 2018, when it abruptly stopped, none were a verified purchase. Why did he stop? He must have felt tired after all these readings. Or maybe he felt intimidated by Dr Barry Clayton, a rising critic rated No.386, a former senior military and academic officer, who posted more than 70 reviews in the past month. [13th-13th], which he must have bought from brick and mortar stores, since none of those were verified purchases either.

At first glance, he’s just a nice retired college colonel who changed his email address recently (and managed both accounts simultaneously in August and September), shopping for several hundred pounds of books in his local Waterstones each month or stakes a very well stocked local library before checking them out on Amazon. Voracious critic that he is, he is not deaf to his literary milieu: on the contrary, he has been criticized for having copied an evaluation directly from the Literary journal, and in another using whole sentences from Sunday opening hours (sentences which he seems to have wisely amended).

Now at this point you might be thinking that Dr Barry Clayton is not a real person but a fake account named after the recently deceased voice actor who played Earl Duckula and featured “The Number Of the beast “from Iron Maiden. To you I say: this rabbit hole goes further. In fact, he has a LinkedIn profile (albeit with only one login). Based on his prolific letter writing, he writes to Telegraph, Blackpool Journal, Wigan today and the Lancashire Evening Post and argues with Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday – he is a true human resident of Cleveleys, Lancashire. The local Cleveley’s News website definitely seems to think there is something fishy about it, but I’m inclined to take a more generous point of view.

Even if he wrote, for example, paid reviews, who could blame a man for supplementing his meager pension as a colonel? It might just be a speed drive. Maybe he aspires to the Amazon Hall of Fame and dreams of having his name in the spotlight alongside S Riaz, who has posted 6,800 reviews, mostly Vine’s reviews of free kids toys, or Overclocker’s Heaven, a specialist in custom PCs and No1 Hall of Fame. review no later than 2018, who apparently hasn’t written any reviews.

If the landscape is starting to look a little weird, that’s because it is. It is almost impossible to understand what is going on with the review system on the site. Amazon explicitly says that the reviews I have mentioned are “the best of the best.” They’ve also tightened the rules over the past few years to make it harder to post reviews if you’ve received a free or discounted item (outside of Vine), and have started accepting only reviews from one buyer. verified (for Amazon white label products).

But it’s still painfully easy to manipulate the review process. Sitewide, Amazon claims that over 99% of its reviews are legitimate, but in popular product categories Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Washington post found that “the vast majority appear to violate Amazon’s ban on paid reviews.” Thousands of people coordinate fake reviews using at least 100 Facebook groups for this purpose – the Amazon Review Club alone has 80,000 members. In addition to paying for reviews, sellers can pay to get their item to the top of product listings (in fact, playing with the algorithm by adding a product to carts and wishlists without purchasing it); you can pay to mark reviews as “helpful” or “not helpful,” or to remove reviews you don’t like.

Even verified purchases are gambled by creating fake accounts and shipping the product to a random address (hence why people sometimes report receiving weird and unwanted items in the mail). Paid reviewers are sometimes asked to search for a generic term like “bluetooth speaker” and click on a few products first to get rid of the algorithm, but apparently it’s easy to go wrong. According to the Reply All podcast, the “best practice” for evading detection is: don’t review everything you buy, don’t review too many products of the same type, and give your review almost entirely positive, with a very small critical minor to give it an impression of realism. I guess the best practice for customers is to disbelieve everything you read in an Amazon review.

I’d like to know if the company thinks that’s a fair characterization, but Amazon doesn’t really do interviews. We know they feed their algorithms to spot fakes, but they don’t like to use human moderators on principle, so whenever they close a loophole, humans, the creative and adaptable creatures that they are, in. just find another. In my opinion, the real problem is that Amazon wants to sell as many products as possible and that doesn’t automatically mean selling you something good. Reviews make people buy more products. Ergo, reviews are by definition a good thing and a lot of reviews are even better.

If we assume that Dr Barry Clayton is exactly what he appears to be – a more conscientious reviewer than you or I – he represents Amazon’s ideal reader: flip through books, consume them, quantify them, and move on. , all day. , everyday. He reserved a rare one-star review for Yuval Noah Harari’s Twenty-one lessons for the 21st century – but he has not yet seen Brave New World.

Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll get there soon.


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