What’s the real story behind all the negative reviews Barkha Dutt’s book is receiving on Amazon?
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What’s the real story behind all the negative reviews Barkha Dutt’s book is receiving on Amazon?

Publisher alleges a concerted campaign against the NDTV journalist.

By Arunabh Saikia

Published on :

The wise dude who said the opposite of love is indifference was wrong. It’s hate. And when it comes to India’s best-known journalist Barkha Dutt, it’s pure unadulterated hate. No, seriously. One look at the e-commerce site Amazon’s page of Dutt’s new book, This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Lines, and you’d know what I am talking about.

The book has 847 reviews (at the time of writing this) on Amazon.in. That’s a huge number, considering the book’s been on the website for barely two weeks. Just in case you aren’t convinced: Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy – a monumentally successful set of books – has an average of 834 reviews (at the time of writing this) on the website. The first part of the trilogy was released in 2011 and the last one in 2013.

On Amazon.in, the book currently has a rating of 1.1 on a scale of 5. An astounding 812 people (that’s more than 95 per cent) have given it one star. Remarkably, though, only 11 of the 847 reviews are by “verified purchasers”. What that essentially means is almost 99 per cent of the people who have reviewed the book haven’t purchased the book on Amazon. We are assuming these people bought their copy from the neighbourhood bookstall and, like good Samaritans, logged on to Amazon to write a review to help out other potential buyers.

Dutt is unsurprisingly not amused. “The Amazon page resembles a Twitter timeline. How is this different from any random faceless online forum?” Dutt, though, asserts she is not worried about the barrage of poor reviews affecting sales of the book, but says she would lodge an official complaint with Amazon. “I have absolutely no problem with my book being negatively reviewed; I don’t want to curtail anyone’s freedom of speech. But shouldn’t reviews be only by verified purchasers?” she asks.

On her Facebook page, Dutt contends that she is privy to a message that’s being widely circulated on various WhatsApp groups, exhorting people to negatively review her book.

David Davidar of Aleph, the publisher of the book, says the company has lodged an official complaint with Amazon, but hasn’t heard back from them yet. “We have no problem with negative reviews by people who have actually bought the book and read it, but this is a concerted campaign against the author and a lot of the reviews are personal and abusive,” says Davidar.

Davidar’s assertion about this being a concerted campaign doesn’t sound far-fetched, considering something very similar happened only last month. Incensed by Aamir Khan’s now much-dissected comments on intolerance during the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism award function, people in large numbers gave 1-star rating to the mobile app of Snapdeal, a brand Khan endorses. The move, though, backfired, as the app’s ranking, in wake of the spam ratings, only got better on Google’s Play Store.

We tried reaching out to Amazon for a comment, but received no response. The story will be updated if and when we hear back from the company.

According to Amazon’s customer review creation guidelines, “customers are allowed to comment on products and question the expertise of authors, sellers, or other customers as long as it is in a non-threatening manner”. In the past, Amazon has cracked down on writers positively reviewing their own work and negatively reviewing competitors’ books.  This, though, could prove to be much trickier for Amazon to deal with as it involves reviewers with no direct conflict of interest.

A computer with an Internet connection reveals the world to people. Sometimes, it reveals the person using it too. In this case, the latter seems to have happened.

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