Paid-for Amazon Reviews? Oh Dear

Both the New York Times and the Atlantic had articles on this disturbing phenomenon in the last few days. Definitely worth reading for anyone who uses Amazon, as a producer or consumer.

I completely agree with the Atlantic’s conclusion:

“Policing reviews could take time and alienate some customers, both self-published authors and reviewers, but to let reviews continue unregulated might alienate far more of them.”

Both authors and readers–but especially readers, of course–need to have faith in the honesty of the review system, for the simple fact that it’s often the prime driver behind making a purchase.

And to offer a non-literary equivalent, how happy would you be to find out that, say, Samsung had paid ten thousand people $15 each to write a five-star review of a new TV they’d brought out?

Not happy, I’d imagine.

12 thoughts on “Paid-for Amazon Reviews? Oh Dear

  1. Consumers should be wary of all reviews, even genuine ones, especially when the reviewer is forced to reduce his or her feelings about the product to a certain number of stars. The number of stars is meaningless without a detailed explanation, and consumers should be suspicious of overly positive or negative reviews that don’t provide thorough explanations. Overall, though, I find the threat of paid-for reviews to be minimal. If an author of a bad book pays for positive reviews, the book will eventually get genuine negative reviews that will outweigh the positive ones and make the positive reviews look suspicious. Paying for fake reviews may also tarnish the author’s reputation and ultimately reduce sales. How do you suggest Amazon police reviews?

    1. It’s a tough one. As someone who’s going to soon be struggling to get my work noticed among the 1.5m other books on Amazon, it’s not the genuinely bad books I worry about – I completely agree that for these the genuine, negative reviews will accumulate over time and clash so obviously with the glowing 5-star paid-for reviews that buyers will at least pause. It’s the authors of books which are just mediocre, where readers didn’t hate it enough to bother posting a 2 or 3-star review, leaving the paid-for reviews unbalanced and driving those books to the top of the ‘Sort by Average Review’ list. And all us writers who didn’t spend a hundred bucks buying 50 reviews languishing on page 14 of the search results!
      That said, you’re right to point out the logistical/practicality nightmare of policing this. The NYT article says that Amazon have already pulled all the reviews posted by Mr. Rutherford – but not (presumably) those of all the other reviewers he subcontracted to.
      At the end of the day, all I can do is have faith that Amazon put a lot of stock in how much faith its buyers have in the information presented to them on the site, and will expend as much money and effort as is needed to find a way to maintain that. How, exactly, they manage that, I just don’t know.
      Oh, and on your first point – absolutely. A bald 3-star review with no explanation tells you nothing, and a similarly blank 5-star review is conspicuous – I can only assume Amazon chose not to mandate the explanation because they thought it would put people off reviewing. Which is probably true.
      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment 🙂

      1. Thanks for your detailed response. I agree that artificial reviews for mediocre books are more problematic, and I would like to see Amazon address the issue. One possibility is to allow only reviewers who purchased their books from amazon to rate books (give star ratings), while allowing other reviewers to write reviews without assigning a number of stars. That way, the reviews from other sources won’t be part of the average number of stars a book receives while still being available for consumers to sort through if they so choose. The problem of skewed reviews isn’t limited to self-publishing. Some reviewers who receive free copies from publishers seem incapable of giving unbiased reviews.

      2. Ha! Amazon has an interest in encouraging positive reviews because that’s how they sell products, but I imagine they also care about the integrity of their service and that’s what is at issue here. It’s not like truthful reviews about a mediocre book will discourage consumers from buying a book–they just won’t buy THAT book, and in the world of ebooks and on demand printing, bad reviews don’t mean much for Amazon’s stock. So maybe Amazon will feel compelled to police the reviews a little more carefully.

      3. I hope so. They’ve got a fair amount of negative publicity from the NYT article, so there’ll be people looking keenly at this for a while at least.

  2. Pingback: Q&A: Why Write Amazon Reviews? « Kerry Dwyer

  3. I think if I had an extra grand sitting around, which is what I read a biggie offered the guy who said “yeah. I did paid reviews”, I would use that grand to buy a big bunch of my own books. That would boost my rating some.

    After reading about another author – reviewer -kerfuffle which ended in police reports at both ends, I think I would fear putting up a review with my name on it.

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  6. Pingback: How To Get Amazon’s Top Customer Reviewers To Review Your Book | The Creative Penn « booksbyjudith

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