Friday, February 11, 2011

Reviewing on Amazon: It's a Jungle Out There!

I have been thinking quite a bit lately on posting reviews on Amazon and whether I want to continue to do so. Amazon is pretty much top dog in reaching the largest amount of consumers which is a plus for any author trying to get the word out there about their work.
I can definitely see the appeal for the author and for people who want to get their opinions out there on what they read. Its got to be a good thing for me-the small potatoes blogger-to post my reviews on there because it will reach a wider audience. A little publicity for the author and a little publicity for me and my mad reviewing skills (heh). Win-win right? Well, maybe not. There are a few elements to the whole Amazon reviewing deal that just make me go hmmm. Such as.....

1. Totally clueless customers-people that use the review section to complain about e-book pricing or how the item was not delivered in the condition described. I didn't know whether to laugh or be seriously annoyed when I recently perused the reviews of Fall of Giants by Ken Follett and saw one star review after one star review because of the price of the e-book. Then as if that wasn't bad enough, to have people give one star reviews as a protest of people giving one star reviews for the pricing issue. Really?

2. Reviewer rankings. These are decided by helpful ratings. I've seen well written, thought provoking reviews get trounced in helpful ratings by reviews that were the equivalent of "I was hopin' the author would git r' done and he did! He got r' done!" Okay, so maybe that is a slight exaggeration but it still leaves me completely baffled as to how people reading the reviews decided if they were helpful or not. I've also noticed that positive reviews tend to garner more helpful votes than the less positive ones. I tend to favor the reviews that point out potential problem areas in a book.

Adding to my confusion about the whole helpful vote thing in general is there are two different tiers of reviewers: Classic Reviewers which appear to be the paragons of Amazon society-the people who have been reviewing for years and have several thousand reviews under their belts and New Reviewers which are the fledglings who must work their way up the reviewing food chain. So, why the need for two separate reviewer rankings Amazon? Which brings me to my next area of concern.....

3. Credibility! As a blogger, this is important to me. I want my readers to feel that I am someone who can be trusted to give my honest opinion. So it begs the question, why does Amazon gives so much credence to people like Harriet Klausner whose every review is rainbows and puppy dog farts? Never mind that it is not humanly possible for one person to read and review that many books (or that at times the reviews read like she hasn't even read the book). I know for a fact I am not the only person out there that doesn't give much weight to a Klausner review because of the reasons I cited above, so what does this say about the reviews on Amazon as a whole when it is their ranking system that puts her at the top of the dung heap? To be fair to Harriet, she is not the only one who gives glowing reviews on everything but she is the most visible. Now, I know there are some excellent reviewers on Amazon but I also know that it takes effort to weed out the never read a bad book in their lives people to find them.

4. Snarky Snarkerton commenters. I love snark and sarcasm. It is as essential to me as oxygen. You know what I also love? Common courtesy and respect. On Amazon I had someone leave me a rather insulting comment because I dared to use the word "novel" to describe a memoir. I don't see the point in ripping someone a new one for a small oversight. I've seen plenty of not so nice comments on Amazon, most of which were completely unprovoked by anything the reviewer said. Number of times I've received a rude comment while blogging? ZERO. Apparently the posting of reviews on Amazon also requires the wearing of a flame retardant suit at all times. Here in blog land most of what I've seen is someone respectfully disagreeing with an opinion followed by a discussion of why. Rudeness hardly ever enters into the equation.

5. Authors. I can't discuss reviewing on Amazon without discussing the authors themselves. Amazon calls to them with their siren song of masses of potential customers. Unfortunately there are just so many ways authors could end up crashing on the waves. Amazon is the only place I've personally seen authors behaving badly and attacking reviewers for less than favorable reviews. I'm not saying it doesn't happen elsewhere but it happens with more frequency on Amazon. Authors also add to the credibility issue when they post reviews of their own books, have family members post reviews, or even make up fake user names to post numerous 5 star reviews of their work (I have seen all this happen and more). Is an author or a family member really going to give an unbiased opinion of the book? No. I am not attacking authors as I know they have an extremely difficult job in promoting their work but there are ways to do it without alienating potential readers. I know if I see an author on Amazon attack a reviewer, there is a 99.9% chance I will never read anything by them or recommend them to anyone else. After seeing some of the scathing responses from authors to reviewers who have posted less favorable reviews, it makes me hesitant to put my reviews out there.

Those are the main concerns I have with reviewing on Amazon which is why for the time being I think I am going to stick to just posting reviews here. I'd love to hear from other reviewers as to why they're willing to slog through the mire that is Amazon reviewing.

Also a question for everyone-how much importance do you place on Amazon reviews when making a decision to buy a book? When I am on the fence about buying a book I'll look at reviews on Amazon but I also look at reviews at several other sites and blogs and I solicit opinions from others before I buy. I never buy just based on the Amazon reviews and am wondering if others do.

In closing I would just like to say a quick thanks to those that do post the honest reviews on Amazon. I have discovered a handful of reviewers there that I can rely on to give a fair and unbiased opinion of the books they read. Also a big thank you to the authors who do take the time to interact favorably with their readers. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful I think it is as a reader to be able to interact with authors on a more personal level due to blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other forums for reviews as opposed to just knowing the author as a picture on the back of the dust jacket.

For me personally, I just wish that Amazon could be so.....amiable :)


  1. I've had many of the same issues you've had with Amazon. I stopped cross posting my reviews there a few months back. I do like to read other people's reviews when searching for a product, and often time the Amazon ones are the first up, but I almost always cross reference with a goodreads search. At least the reviews there seem to be more honest, and honestly, more harsh.

  2. When I want to see some reviews of a book I'm thinking about reading I almost always check the Book Blogs Search Engine first. If I can't find anything there then I might go check at Amazon.

    I have come to dislike Amazon reviews, and I get a bit nervous about posting reviews there (usually only by author request). People can be mean there, and their helpful/unhelpful votes tend to depend on what they thought of the book, not how helpful the review was. I think people use them more as "I agree" or "I disagree" than anything else.

    I've seen the author trainwrecks there too. It's crazy. And it annoys me when reviews are left that have nothing to do with the content of the book (the ones that talk about shipping time or prices are always head-scratchers).

    Anyway, what I'm getting at is I know how you feel. :)

  3. +JMJ+

    I read Amazon reviews only when I'm interested in buying a book--and each time I do, I'm reminded of how unhelpful they generally are.

    I used to post reviews on Amazon as well (many, many years ago), and I remember a kind of filtering/censorship system. You'd submit a review and have to wait a couple of days for it to be published. (I once reviewed a book in which a character is raped and my review came out with the word "violated" instead.) I'm not sure if it is still in place or not, but it seems to me that it would be better for Amazon to filter those "reviews" about pricing, et al. than to worry so much about inappropriate words.

    That's an interesting observation about authors being more likely to attack readers on Amazon. It's not as bad as them doing it on your own blog, of course, but if it's part of Amazon's culture, that makes the whole site a minefield for well-meaning reviewers.

  4. I can think of a bajillion things to say to answer your comments, but it's late and I'm sure you don't want to hear them all :)

    1. Loathe the one star protest reviews. You can try complaining to Amazon about specific ones, but it is time consuming and if you get a CS (customer service) rep who doesn't *get* it nothing will happen. Been there done that.

    2. Rankings-a never ending discussion at Ammy, trust me. Harriet got the #1 on the old system in large part because extra credit used to be given for being first on a book with a review (at least that's what the armchair experts surmise). Many believe that the new rankings were particularly aimed at Harriet and with an eye to making the field fairer for all. You will notice Harriet has dropped significantly since then, but everyone has been allowed to keep their original ranking button. Hopefully one day the Classic system will disappear.

    3. There are other reviewers out there like Harriet, who receive all their books free from publishers and never mention it (disclosure is now required in Ammy's guidelines, but I don't think they enforce it yet). I've spotted quite a few reviewers that are also on review websites (not blogs, professional review sites) who do not disclose that fact on their profile page, nor in their reviews. Are they being honest? I can't say, but I still like to know what's *behind* the review.

    Why is Klausner and her ilk still on Amazon? If they aren't breaking the rules there's not much Amazon can do about it. IF someone could prove that Harriet is a consoutium posting reviews instead of one person (the debate rages on), Amazon could and most likely would derank her (it's happened before). That is all they would do, as merely posting reviews, no matter how laughable, is not against their guidelines. The buyer just has to beware, unfortunately.

    4. As for snarky commenters, more often than not when I've spotted them the nastiest ones can be traced back to a connection with the author, a pal, business associate, etc. They try to hide behind an anon account but there's ways sometimes. See the comments on the one star reviews of TA's Tears of Pearl.

    5. I agree, any shenanigans put them immediately on my do not read list, and that includes shenanigans as noted above in comments from friends attacking critical reviewers. And it most especially includes authors who manipulate bloggers into sniping at Amazon reviewers (no, I am not kidding).

    Why post reviews there? There are the perks they throw at you sometimes. I got a Fliklip camera when they introduced video reviews and gave a bunch away. If you can pick up Vine status, the free stuff offered can be very cool (but there's some not so cool stuff as well). But the best reason? When someone comes out of the blue to leave a comment and say thanks for taking the time to write them, and how many times I've saved them from a bad book. Of course, I immediately invite them to Goodreads where they can have fun :0

    Sorry for the long winded post.

  5. I also have a love/hate with amazon reviews - but really enjoyed your discussion about your own experience. And I'm glad you put the e-book-one-star-whiners as #1 on your list - that is the most annoying thing in the world. I haven't gotten too many snarky comments on my reviews - except for one gentleman who took issue with a sentence in one of my reviews and wrote a political rant - which by an objective measure was quite crazy. I just laughed. The other annoyance with amazon is that your negative review - no matter how well-written and supported - will always get more "not helpful" votes, just because people are idiots. That drives me nuts, too.

  6. Amazon has never been my first choice for reviews. I don't post them, but I don't consider them to be a very reliable source when making a decision about reading something. They are tremendously useful for non-book products (though there are still plenty of asinine 1- or 5-star reviews). For books, I pretty exclusively look to Goodreads (mostly because in doing so, I'm only looking for peoples' general ideas about a given book, not so much a thorough discussion of it). If I'm unsure of a book, my first instinct is to look at the lowest ratings, and if those ratings complain about things that generally bother me, I might reconsider the book. I'm not suggesting the Goodreads is perfect, but for the reasons I seek reviews, I find far fewer divas and morons reviewing the books.

  7. Oh how I love this post. I do post most of my reviews on Amazon - but I say most, because there are ones I won't put up because I know there will be backlash. I had someone proceed to argue with me about how I worded something and what I meant by it - and they were very angry with me for my opinion. I tried to peacefully state that these were my opinions and they were absolutely entited to theirs, but they didn't seem to understand that.

    I couldn't agree more about the stupid one star reviews because a product took too long to get there. That is an issue with the company, not the product itself.

    I always take Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. You can always tell who has really put time into it and those that just spout crap. If it is something I am on the fence about I will certainly look elsewhere for other less biased reviews - and I always look to the blogs first because I trust you guys more.

    Thanks for this post!

  8. Sarah-I do it that way too-Amazon then Goodreads then Barnes & Noble & PBS if I still want opinions.

    Katy-Thanks for mentioning Book Blog Search Engine. I didn't even know about this so now I have another resource :)

    Enbrethiliel-They do still have the thing that tells you your review will show up within x amount of time but often times it pops up there right away. Maybe they have a set of keywords that they hold reviews for to look at them more thoroughly and if a review doesn't trigger anything it shows up right away? Thats my best guess.

    Misfit-I hope the classic reviewer ranking goes away too. Interesting comments on Harriet and professional reviewers. I did not know the pros weren't marking their reviews as such. It seems philosophy of Amazon reviewing is just a pointless college class waiting to happen :) The thank you's can make it totally worth it but I don't think I'll be stick around Amazon long enough to get any of the perks.

    Greg & Heather-glad I'm not alone in encountering some strange characters while reviewing on Amazon. All it takes is one irksome word or sentence and they're off!

    Krista-I look at the lower ratings first too usually to see if the person is bent on ripping the whole book apart or whether they had valid points. I prefer Goodreads too. Since I read so much Historical Fiction my sources I consider the most reliable are other bloggers and the ladies on the PBS HF forum. Then its Goodreads :)

  9. +JMJ+

    That's interesting, Holly! My reviews always used to be held back for a couple of days. Perhaps because they actually had substantial content? ;-)

  10. Holly, I was rambling on so much yesterday (and sleep deprived at that) that I forgot to answer the main question. Yes I do look at the Amazon reviews but not for making a reading decision (that's what GR, HFO and PBS is for). If I'm having trouble with a book and considering bailing, I will go and look at the critical reviews and see if those readers are having the same problems I'm having.

    With other Amazon products (household, etc.) I do go immediately to the more critical reviews to see what issues they've had with the product, and can be very helpful in making the decision that is right for me.

    I appreciate reviewers like you who can tell me the good and the not so good in a book. We can't all love the same books all the time, that's just life. Reviewers like Harriet who give four and five stars to both the very good books and the very bad books don't do any of us much good.

  11. I am so not confrontational at the best of times so avoid posting and commenting at Amazon completely! I just don't get why people constantly need to be so nasty!