The Amazon Review Problem

I’ll admit here that I did something yesterday that’s a bit hypocritical. I posted a review at Amazon without reading the book. I gave it five stars. Why did I do such a thing? The answer is fairly simple. People are allowed to give reviews and rate books based on nothing to do with the book itself, and I take issue with this.

This made some news with Stephen King’s new short story collection. The book had a 3 1/2 star rating, mostly thanks to forty odd one-star reviews that did nothing but complain about the fact that the kindle edition of the book was 45 cents more than the hardcover. While this is indeed an issue with Amazon, the hardcover is discounted while the kindle edition is not, it has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself.  As I talked about in a prior post, reviews are for one purpose only, to give an opinion about the content of the book which will encourage or discourage other readers to read the book. That’s it.

If people have a problem with the seller or publisher of the book, trashing the author with a poor review rating is not the appropriate method for expressing this opinion. There are other venues. An Amazon review may be convenient, but it accomplishes nothing. Amazon doesn’t care. They don’t remove these kinds of reviews. The publishers aren’t checking these places to see what people say. Complaining in this venue about pricing is pointless. So, please, don’t do it. While it may have no effect on the likes of Stephen King, for a midlist or debut author, trashing an book’s review rating can impact sales. Not significantly mind you, but for the reader who skims through genres and checks out books with high review ratings for possible purchase, it can mean no sales. You can hurt the non-bestselling author by doing this, and it’s a fact that they have absolutely nothing to do with how books are priced. So, why pick on them? 

Reviews are for talking about why you liked or didn’t like the book. There are ways to do this well. You can even put in there that you don’t appreciate the pricing of the books, but don’t rate the actual book based on this fact. Read the book and talk about it. Find other ways to formally complain about non-author issues, because the author won’t be able to do jack about them.

Tomorrow: some tips from some reviewing pros.

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8 responses to “The Amazon Review Problem

  1. I have to admit that I struggle with reviews. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I can land on either side of the coin – wish I did, wish I didn’t. I object to spurious reviews and definitely have a problem with hundreds of negative reviews based on the price of the book like the new releases for Ken Follett and Vince Flynn. Both excellent writers of different genres and both have too many people giving one star reviews due to the price of the book. I totally agree with your view that reviews should be based on the content of the book. I used to be able to skim a star average on book reviews and make a high level decision. That’s not possible anymore and that’s frustrating too. People should not be using reviews as a forum to vent. That said, authors should not be “buying” reviews with free books, etc., too. Hopefully when that happens, the reviewers are honest about whether the like the book or not and not just giving a positive review because of the freebie or the favor their owe the writer.

  2. I know that’s really annoying when I look for a book or movie review and get someone complaining about the shipping. Why would you give the movie one star because Amazon shipped it to you late? I hate sifting through 10 reviews complaining about how the dvd doesn’t work in their computer, or the book came damaged, or it was just too expensive. Goodreads is much better, I just wish they’d start doing movies too. At least people there have the sense to rate the book, and not the system through which they obtained it.

  3. What about the other way around?

    I have a documented case where a self-published author listed his book on Amazon, recorded only a single copy since release date (tracked via NovelRank) and yet there are about 6-7 reviews on the book’s Amazon page.

    It doesn’t hurt the sales… mainly because there was no sale to speak of. It’s just not right that potentially misleading reviews can simply sail past.

    • I think self-published books is a whole other ballgame. These authors are attempting to overcome the built-in bias against these kinds of books being any good in the first place, and so readers aren’t even giving them a second glance when browsing, no matter what the review is. While I believe there is some truth to this bias, it makes it rough for those few who actually do put out a quality product.

  4. Mr. Duncan,

    Timely thoughts. I review books for several publishers, and it has occurred to me that the Amazon slush pile of reviews is never really read by anyone. But, as well as posting on my blog, I put the blurb on Amazon because my agreement requires me to do so.

    Perhaps the authors themselves read them ( I would) but a feedback source would be revolutionary. I tried one such animal called book glutton, but found it user-unfriendly.

    As to the rants about pricing, it might be smart of Amazon, and others to include a feedback box for matters not pertaining to the content of the book. and it would be nice if you could know that someone important actually read these, too!

    • A feedback button is exactly what they need. Not a difficult idea to fathom. It makes you wonder if this key, little feature is left out on purpose. Perhaps a disclaimer even, when signing up to do reviews about what a review should and shouldn’t be, giving them the leeway to axe reviews that have nothing to do with the story content. Of course they would have to actually do this, another matter entirely.

  5. I find Amazon reviews hilarious. People are nailing down some of my favorite novels for the most stupid things. One said if any novel cannot grasp him within 10 pages, they suck and that’s why he gave “The Great Gatsby” one star. This guy should watch movies, not read. Or read Robert Ludlum or something. Gatsby got me by the throat after half a page, but I have read many stories that didn’t move me until page 50. “Chronicles from the Wind-Up Bird” for example, who grows on you like a snowball going downhill.

    • Yes, some of those rant reviews are pretty damn funny, in a bad way mind you, but still laughable. I hope authors who receive these are able to laugh about them too. I would. I can’t take those kinds of things seriously. If a reviewer can’t take the idea of a review seriously by at least being tactful and respectful about the review process, I’m not going to take a rant to heart. If I get any, I will likely post them here on the blog so that we can all have a bit of a chuckle.