Amazon Book Reviews

There's been a lot of chatter over this NYT article about how Amazon has been deleting reviews. I'll put in that one or two reviews of my books have mysteriously disappeared, though it's not clear why since none of them were written by anyone I know, so I'm not sure what metric they're using to determine these things.

"Everyone's a critic," the old saying goes. But whether they're all honest critics seems to be the core question. And an honest opinion doesn't appear to be what some authors really want.

As a writer, I'll admit it's always a blow to see a bad review. No one wants to hear (read) that someone didn't like what they worked so hard to produce. And some reviewers are needlessly cruel. I think if Amazon really wants to police reviews, they should consider culling the personal attacks and only keep the reviews that say, if not something nice, at least something constructive. Go ahead and say what you don't like about the story, the writing, etc. That's fair. But "this writer is an idiot," is not a helpful comment.

But in equal measure, keep the reviews that mention what's good (or great) about the book in question. It's hard enough for us little indie writers to get any traction, so pulling the rug out from under us is kind of mean. At least give us a warning first. And do make an effort to truly establish whether there is real cause to remove the review. I have friends who like my writing; why shouldn't they be allowed to say as much? I have fans, too. Shouldn't they be permitted to write reviews for works they enjoy? It's a slippery slope.

Certainly there are red flags. When a book has dozens—hundreds, even—of reviews, all of them five star, I immediately assume this is too good to be true. No writer pleases every reader all the time. So I automatically figure the author has friends doing all the reviews. (It doesn't really cross my mind that the author has paid for reviews, though apparently this happens?) So I'm actually proud that my books aren't perfect fives. That shows, I think, that my reviewers are honest and the ratings more trustworthy.

And really, therein lies the issue. Amazon must know that, with potentially fake and questionable reviews rampant on their site, their credibility is on the line. Which is why they have begun slashing and burning. But I'm just not convinced this is the best way to fix the problem. I can't say I have some better solution—how can one hope to police so much information? But cutting suspect reviews won't restore the site's reputation. In fact, it only makes everything less reliable. And for those of us relying on those reviews to help our books along, those of us too small for the big sites and magazines to bother with, it's as much a problem for us as for Amazon. Because Amazon will lumber along, behemoth that it is, but we indie authors are likely to get squashed between its toes.


Roland D. Yeomans said...

John Locke bought 50 reviews at a time for $1000 from a review-mill on the net. It both upped his sales ranking since those 50 people bought his book in a short time and padded his review section. Amazon has since removed reviews by authors of other author's books to negate the practice of downing your competition with negative reviews. They also have adjusted their sales ranking to de-value the impact of 99 cent sales. Only books of $2.99 or more count as a full book sale.

May all your New Year wishes come true, Roland

M Pepper Langlinais said...

Thanks, Roland, for the information!