The Sciences

Harriet Klausner, a one woman content-mill!

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJun 13, 2011 6:14 PM

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On occasion I browse through books on Amazon with an eye for really good

negative reviews.

The other day I stumbled upon a really strange positive review of the awful fantasist David Bilsborough. It was confusing to me to see 4 out of 5 stars for this author, but the "review" was even more perplexing:

In the tunnels under the mountains of Eotunlandt, Nibulus leads the Questor survivors of the battles as they struggle to reach the surface where they expect their enemies the Thieves will attack them en masse. Instead when they finally reach the outside, no one eerily awaits to ambush them. ... This is a direct sequel to The Wanderer's Tale that takes time to get started as the various key players and their allies are established for new readers. Once the action accelerates there is no slowing down as this military fantasy goes into hyperspeed with confrontations seemingly everywhere. With all the various armies at war and new leaders and heroes emerging, A FIRE IN THE NORTH still pares down to the destined Wanderer. He remains the only one who can save an apathetic prosperous world from the malevolent Drauglir and the wicked necromancer Scathur as The Annals of Lindormyn move forward.

This wasn't really a review, but more like a repackaging of what you might be able to glean from the jacket. It reminded me of the kind of prose that content-mills produce! Then I recalled this profile in Time from 2006 of the Amazon reviewer, Harriet Klausner:

Without the web, Harriet Klausner would be just an ordinary human being with an extraordinary talent. Instead she is one of the world's most prolific and influential book reviewers. At 54, Klausner, a former librarian from Georgia, has posted more book reviews on Amazon.com than any other user—12,896, as of this writing, almost twice as many as her nearest competitor. That's a book a day for 35 years. Klausner isn't paid to do this. She's just, as she puts it, "a freaky kind of speed-reader." In elementary school, her teacher was shocked when Klausner handed in a 31⁄2-hour reading-comprehension test in less than an hour. Now she goes through four to six books a day. "It's incomprehensible to me that most people read only one book a week," she says. "I don't understand how anyone can read that slow." ... ...Publishers treat Klausner as a pro, sending her free books—50 a week—in hopes of getting her attention. Like any other good critic, Klausner has her share of enemies. "Harriet, please get a life," someone begged her on a message board, "and leave us poor Amazon customers alone."

Some have pointed out that even assuming she reads as fast as she claims the math has a hard time adding up. Additionally, Klausner's reviews aren't of a very high quality (they aren't selected as "helpful"), adding very little value to what the publishers and Library Journal give you. You can look at Amazon's top reviewers. Klausner has nearly 25,000 reviews and 95,000 helpful votes. Someone who goes by "Chandler" has fewer than 500 reviews and 28,000 helpful votes! I have see no big reason for why Klausner is doing what she's doing. She gets free books, and I assume she gets paid to review in some venues. And there's always the cachet of being Amazon's #1 reviewer. But in hindsight it looks like Klausner was ahead of her time, and prefigured the rise of quantity-over-quality content mills.

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