A casualty on the battlefield of Amazon’s book reviews

With Untouchable, Grove had hopes for a modest best-seller. Amazon selected it as one of the best books of November. When Sullivan tried to complain, saying reviews of his book were factually false yet being voted up by the fans. The bookseller replied with boilerplate. "Rest assured, we'll read each of the reviews and remove any that violate our guidelines".

Sullivan asked: "Should people be allowed to make flagrantly false comments about the content of a book or its author? This is suppression of free speech in the name of free speech."

Even before the book was officially published on Nov. 13, the rapid response team declared, "It's time for action!"

Within two weeks, the book had nearly 100 anonymous one-star reviews that included such comments as: "A disgrace and a disgusting insult to the greatest artist and entertainer the world has ever known." "There is not one actual fact in this book."

For several days in late November, Amazon stopped selling physical copies of the book after buyers said they were defective. The fans took the credit for removing the book from sale. Other readers started leaving positive reviews of the book and criticising the negative reviews, turning the review forum into a full-scale brawl.

An administrator for the rapid response team, who identified himself as Steve Pollard, said that the response team did not tell fans what to say in their Amazon reviews and that they did not try to have the book removed.

Grove has distributed 16,000 copies of Untouchable. Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales in most outlets, counted only 3,000 copies sold. For a time this month, Untouchable was being outsold on Amazon by a book on Jackson's body language, Behind the Mask.

That book, published by the author, had something going for it that Untouchable did not: the endorsement of the fans. "Michael Jackson would be pleased that such an objective book was written about him," one reviewer wrote on Amazon.

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