January 19th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Amazon Book Reviews:  Democracy in action, ignorance or bullying?

I used to make it a point to not read my reviews on Amazon.  There were several reasons for that:

1.     As any student of sampling knows, the people who post reviews are not a fair representative of the reading public.

2.     Anyone who has ever purchased anything from Amazon can post a review, but that doesn’t mean they purchased the book they’re reviewing.  That makes it the Wild West.

3.     Some reviewers spam all of an author’s books.  Excuse me, but if you didn’t like one book, why go paste in that same exact blistering review on all the books that author has had published?

4.     Some authors spam other author books as a means of promoting their own book.  These people need to grow up.

5.     Customers unhappy that a book hasn’t yet been published on Kindle often post one star reviews of the print book, as a form of protest.  All that does is hurt the author, who often has little control over when and what form the publisher releases the book.

6.     At Who Dares Wins Publishing we do control formatting and dates.  But what we run into are customers who purchase an eBook and then have problems downloading it on their end (less than 1% of our customers).  Because they mess up, they blame us and post scathing reviews (except in one case where we had uploaded a flawed copy and pulled it immediately).  We always respond to those customers, offering them another version and, surprise, it turns out the book is fine with no formatting problems.  However, those people don’t go back and remove their bad reviews and don’t follow up positively.

7.     One star reviews seem to carry more weight than Five star reviews.

Because of the last two reasons, I now force myself to go over the Amazon every once in a while and check the reviews.  We see a definite correlation between lost sales and scathing reviews, but not great reviews and positive sales.  One aw-shit seems to outweigh one atta-boy.

Some suggestions:

1.     Only people who buy the book, and that version, have the right to review it.

2.     Reviewers should not be anonymous.  This prevents the bullying and spamming that is prevalent.  It also allows the author/publisher, to address the problem if need be, such as technical problems or downloads.  And thank readers who really enjoy something.  The future of publishing is an author-reader relationship, but we can’t relate with people who aren’t identified.

3.     When the person downloading messes it up, they should have recourse to notify the publisher and have the situation worked out immediately rather than have a product that doesn’t work.  At Who Dares Wins Publishing we not only will resend the formatted book, we usually add another title as recompense for the reader’s trouble.

4.     When a title is brought as an eBook, allow the previous reviews of the title to be carried forward as these are focused on the content:  the book itself.

5.     Allow people to recant their reviews if technical problems have been resolved.

A final suggestions: If you really enjoyed a book, go, review it. Review the format you bought it in. Remember, a typo is different from bad formatting and bad formatting isn’t necessarily the fault of the author, or even the publisher. Technology does fail at times. If it’s a self-published eBook or from a small publisher, take the time to go to their web site and contact them.  You might be surprised at the positive results.

The future of publishing, as we note in Write It Forward, is wide open.  And readers, more than ever, are going to determine the success of failures of books.

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3 comments to “Amazon Book Reviews: Democracy in action, ignorance or bullying?”

  1. Clothdragon
     · January 19th, 2011 at 9:43 am · Link

    Try Goodreads. There may still be bad reviews there, but I’ve yet to see any reviews there that discussed the book-buying process rather than the book itself. I know that doesn’t suggest any help for the amazon specific issues, but it probably gives a better general opinion from readers.

  2. Jesse
     · January 20th, 2011 at 2:48 pm · Link

    I can’t speak for everyone, but my reading of reviews is rather complex, I imagine that’s true for most people. Reviews mean more when considering a new author or series. First, If the number of reviews are too small I assume they are employees, friends and family of the publisher and or author, and ignore them all. If there are enough, then I look at the spread, but, on it’s face, the spread doesn’t mean too much. I have to sample the reviews usually starting with the three stars, then working down and back up. Like you said, one star reviews are often issues with shipping or odd people an axe to grind. I also assume that five star reviews made a connection with the book that might transcend the actual content, so I don’t pay a lot of attention to them either. Beyond that there are catch phrases that I watch for, like “The characters weren’t likeable.” for me means the characters might be complex and well developed.

    But on the whole, I think amazon’s system is good. I’ve found more books and authors with it than before it existed.

    I like the idea of limiting reviews to only those that bought the book, but while that work well on Apple’s app store, it wouldn’t work on amazon because I can buy the book from any bookstore, so amazon doesn’t know if I bought the book or not, only that I did or didn’t buy it from them.

  3. Allison
     · January 21st, 2011 at 12:52 am · Link

    Bob Sutton (author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and the enjoyable/education No Asshole Rule) posted part of a study that found it takes 5 positives to erase 1 negative. I have seen too many review wars on the internet to trust amazon reviews for anything other than how long my new electronic gadget is likely to last without issues. If I’m searching for a new author, I ask my friends, check my favorite websites and most importantly, go to the bookstore, pick up a copy, and start reading. If I go 10 pages without realizing it, I buy the book.

    The study writeup is here:

    I agree with Jesse – I buy books from used bookstores, garage sales, friends’ “This is going to the thrift store, did you want first pick?” I especially love Bookmooch! I got first editions of a very difficult to find trilogy from the mid-eighties. It took four months of careful watching and three countries. Does that mean I can’t review those books?

    I think the best way to cut out trash reviews is to view IPs and track who makes consistent 1 star reviews under different pseudonyms. Or trolls, as we would call them in other parts of the internet. Also, if the IP matches the one the author uses to make blog posts, ban away! No badmouthing the competition under a false identity, it’s poor form.

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