harrietkThis news is a little old, but apparently it wasn’t considered big enough to make the major news sources so I only just found out. Harriet Klausner, at one time one of the most recognizable names on Amazon, passed away on October 15, at the age of 63. Klausner was a speed-reader who was one of the most prolific customer reviewers on Amazon, with over 31,000 reviews to her credit at the time of her death. According to a 2006 Time profile of her, she read an average of 4 to 6 books per day. Although the details of her death were not disclosed, it must have happened fairly quickly—the last review on her Amazon.com reviewer page is dated October 12.

Klausner, a former librarian with a master’s degree in that field, was not an uncontroversial figure. She never gave any book a negative review. Often, her brief review blurbs betrayed a fairly imperfect understanding of what the book was about, casting doubt on whether she actually read them. Also, the Time piece noted her prolific reviewing habits meant publishers sent her free books at a rate of 50 per week, which included advanced review copies of books not yet available for sale. A blogger at “The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society” noted that many of these books ended up resold on Half.com via her son’s account, and wondered whether Klausner’s positive reviews of them without disclosing she received them for free might constitute fraud under FTC regulations.

Although Klausner has gone right on reviewing books through the years, she has drifted out of the public eye since Amazon overhauled the way its customer review system worked in 2012, which is probably why most major news sources have taken so little notice of her passing. Nonetheless, during the 2000s, Klausner was a well-known name in on-line book circles, and it was rare to see any popular title on Amazon without a Klausner customer review at the top of the list. She was an important part of the history of Amazon, and deserves to be be remembered as such.

Correction: An earlier version of this post listed Ms. Klausner’s age incorrectly. The right age, as given in the paid obituary notice, is 63. Thanks to Garson O’Toole for the catch.

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.

6 COMMENTS

  1. “… she read an average of 4 to 6 books per day.”

    Sorry, but blitzing through books that quickly greatly lowers the value of her reviews. Imagine someone who reviews restaurants, going to “4 to 6” each day. She was behaving much the same, doing the literary equivalent of gobbling down food. The fact that publishers like a speed reader who uniformly gave good reviews doesn’t speak well of them either.

    Nothing good comes easily. Regularly, I tell people who started Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and gave up after the first chapter that they’ve not given the book a fair chance. In the first chapter, Tolkien was doing what his publisher wanted, writing a children’s book that’d be a sequel to The Hobbit. Only with the second chapter, “The Shadow of the Past,” does the book’s darker and more adult theme emerge. Tolkien didn’t change that first chapter because there was no literary reason to do so. The innocence of that chapter fits with the innocence of Bilbo and Frodo at that time.

    Not grasping that, a quickly done review will fail to inform readers about that critical shift in atmosphere. And there’s no way someone could adequately review 4 to 6 books like The Lord of the Rings a day.

    —–

    Amazon is right to suspect that many of their reviews are bought. Maybe five years ago, I was one of Amazon’s top reviewers, dipping occasionally into their top 1000 ranking. I reviewed books and, after they signed me up for Vine, other gadgetry, some costing up to about $200.

    I quit reviewing after I clashed with Amazon’s corporate schizophrenia. At the same time that a major Amazon executive was telling Teleread that authors could mention what they’d written in their reviews, the Little Hitlers of their book review police were enforcing a ‘no mention’ rule. When someone from Amazon called, insisting that I remove those mentions, I refused and told her off. Perhaps the only think more irritating that a bully is someone who isn’t a bully but is being bullied by her boss into behaving like one. That was her. I felt sorry for her.

    Her call couldn’t have come at a worst time. Since most of the books I was reading were books I was inclined to like (with a few notable exceptions), most of my reviews were positive. That meant that, worried as I was about Amazon’s increasing market dominance, I didn’t like the thought that I was increasing that dominance by encouraging sales.

    That person I’d told off yanked those Amazon US book reviews that mentioned my books, but apparently didn’t touch those overseas. The result is bizarre. Even years later and without contributing a single review in the meantime, I’m still a highly ranked reviewer in Canada and the UK.

    That matters, because roughly weekly I get an email from some company, noting that top reviewer status, and offering me free stuff for reviews. Those I quickly delete, but they do hint at just how difficult it is for Amazon to track down and weed out bribed reviewers. Sellers who want can use Amazon’s own resources to find ways to directly reach reviewers with their bribes.

    Here’s one of my still-lingering reviews in the UK:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R1VG4YAVU8ZX98/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0345466454&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=266239&store=books

    As you can tell, I couldn’t have turned out 4 to 6 reviews like that a day. Interestingly, in making the links to my books not work in my postings Amazon U.S. was being a pain. It was being so meddlesome at the time that every other book I mentioned was linked, but not the books by me. It was weird to think that Amazon would go to that much bother since my Lord of the Rings chronology, Untangling Tolkien, does belong in a same list with Karen Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-Earth. and Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth. Each book has its place as a LOTR reference.

    Perhaps the most irritating aspect of Amazon’s review process is not that some people are gaming the system. It’s that Amazon, ever the control freak, is increasingly regarding reviewing as a privilege and imposing irritating conditions on reviewers. I suspect that many, feeling insulted like me, will tell Amazon to get lost. They’ll lose their best reviewers, which is worst that having those shallow and bogus reviews.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien