Watching big-time bloggers put out books really is something else.
Case in point: yesterday, Mark Sisson, a huge paleo blogger, released a book called the 21-Day Total Body Transformation. Naturally, he was trying to hit the New York Times bestseller list, and offering bonuses for buying multiple books, etc, as many people have before. The strategy works, I don’t blame him and I wish we had done it for Trust Agents (we ended up doing “free” speaking deals instead).
So naturally, as an author, I end up looking at the reviews of this book; as an author, reading Amazon reviews is what I do when I should be working. I read other people’s reviews to give me either an inferiority or superiority complex, depending on the situation. I’m sure many of you do the same.
Anyway on Mark’s book, there they are, sitting there, all 5-star reviews, except this lone 1-star review sitting there at the bottom, voted “least useful” of all the reviews (at this point, it’s sitting at 138 “downvotes,” or 93% “unhelpful”). Then there’s the giant comment thread that accompanies it in which the reviewer is put down, insulted, etc.
Now before I continue, I’d like to mention that I read Mark’s last book, liked it, and passed it on. I’m sure this one is fine too, and I hope he hits the list (it’s sitting at #6 overall right now).
But that aside, some of the internet’s superfans are starting to drive me nuts.
I first began to notice this trend a long time ago on Gary Vee’s book Crush It, which I also read when it came out. There’s this crazy comment thread attached to a two-star review over there, which due to its inflammatory nature has been voted up to “most helpful” of all reviews. Gary (who I consider an friend/acquaintance) answers really helpfully in the thread, and then, unbeknownst to him I’m sure, all the devils in Hell are unleashed in his defense.
Here’s how it happens. First, a guy with a huge blog audience puts out a product, book, or what have you. This author probably polarizes quite effectively, leading to a number of zealots who judge him not by the quality of his content (though they could– Gary, Mark, etc. write quite well), but by who they are, leading to anyone who disagrees becoming a kind of enemy of the state, a traitor, or what have you.
The weird thing is that, often enough, the authors themselves have nothing to do with this. They don’t intentionally create cults– they’ve just helped a lot of people, and those people personally identify with the lifestyle or personality who leads them.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to be popular, and I want to hit lists as much as the next guy. But the weird part is, every author I know, even those who would recognize the insanity of this phenomenon, probably also think it’s be the best thing that could ever happen to them.
I don’t have a conclusion to this because there is none. It’s something everyone thinks is nuts, yes, but only as it regards someone else’s audience, and never theirs, because polarizing is good and helps drum up attention. However,
- It’s not good for the public.
- It ruins the trust people have in Amazon’s rating system.
- It artificially inflates the apparent popularity of books.
In short, it is a perfect example of the tragedy of the commons.
Have a solution? I’m open to hearing it. I honestly don’t think there is one.