As promised—or threatened, depending on your POV—please find attached a post on Amazon reviews. Same disclaimer as with my last OBSERVATIONS post:

PROCEED WITH CAUTION, OPINIONS AHEAD.
If you don’t agree, by all means speak up.

Recap of previous post: I am a loyal Amazon customer but do not buy books via Amazon.com unless I have to. Moreover, I’m not a fan of Amazon’s (or anyone’s) blanket freebie book schemes. Downloads do not equal reads, and in my opinion, the market is becoming saturated with free books. On Wednesday, I shared all the freebies that hit my Facebook stream before early afternoon. It amounted to twenty-two books. That’s a lot of free books for one day, mid-week. Just sayin’…

But that topic is dead to me. Now it’s on to Amazon Reviews.

536968_10200766638313478_224792653_nBest to be blunt. I loathe Amazon reviews and loathe even more they carry so much import.

What with the phony slams, the sock puppet reviews, the friend reviews, the bought and paid for reviews—it’s hard to understand how anyone could look to Amazon for a book recommendation. Professor Bing Liu of the University of Illinois estimates one third of all online reviews are fake. My guess is the number for fiction reviews is even higher given that non-fiction business writers don’t bother. Instead they eliminate middleman reviewers by simply buying their way on to the best seller list.

None of this means I don’t understand why authors’ seek out Amazon reviews. Of course I do! If I had a book, I’d certainly be lobbying, but that doesn’t make these fake or bartered-for reviews any more legitimate or meaningful.

Frankly, I blame Amazon.

If Amazon is as gung-ho to put a stop to the corruption as they claim, why not start with Harriet Klausner? I won’t say more about Ms. K, but if you’re interested in Amazon’s top reviewer, go here. I also won’t discuss the sock puppet scandal as it’s been covered exhaustively elsewhere.

2265816229_a7c158ec8a_bTo clean up their mess, Amazon is reportedly removing reviews: writer reviews, family reviews, friend reviews. WTF?!!! Why this draconian approach when there are so many sensible and straightforward ways to address the issue?

  • How about allowing reviews only from folks who have legitimately purchased the item from Amazon? Sure, if you’re online you can look to see if a review is marked “Amazon Verified Purchase,” but that notation is not available when browsing on either the Kindle or Kindle Fire. 
  • Why not make real names mandatory? If someone is too embarrassed to sign his or her name to a review, then s/he likely has no business posting it. Any of you who maintain blogs with unmoderated comments understand the dark evil that is anonymous.
  • On the create your review form, would it be so awful to ask respondents if they have a personal relationship with the author? Yep, I hear you, people lie. But if the review is posted under a *real* name, lying becomes less likely. It’s called accountability. My opinion? If your mother wants to post a review of your book, she should be allowed to, but I want to know she’s your mother.
  • And why delete writer reviews? Can’t Author Pages be connected to Amazon IDs in such a way that whenever an author posts a review, it’s clear the review is coming from someone who might be biased one way or the other?
  • It would also help if Amazon made it easier (possible?) to flag suspect reviews.
  • And in an unrelated rant—quit with the ratings inflation. How can three stars be considered a “critical” review?

Will any of these suggestions do away with abuse? Hell no, but they’re a step in the right direction and more effective than Amazon arbitrarily deleting reviews.

A couple months before the sock puppet scandal broke, I deleted sixteen years of Amazon reviews. It was obvious there was a lot of crap going on. But when I ran into two 5-star books in a row (25+ reviews each), neither of whose authors knew enough grammar to make their stories intelligible, suddenly my careful, genuine Amazon reviews became an embarrassment. Those reviews are no more.

These days, when I have time to write a review, I post it to Goodreads.

Here’s the dark truth. Until Amazon makes a good faith effort to actually clean-up their review system beyond capricious censoring, every author with a book for sale—and this very well may mean you—will lose out to she who can buy, cajole, falsify, or scam her way to the top of the rankings via fraudulent reviews.

There must be a better alternative.

Thoughts? Good or bad, bring ‘em on!

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This Friday, I will be participating in the Back From the Future Bloghop hosted by the amazing M. PaxSuze, and Nicki Elson.
bftf

Want to join in the fun? Go here to sign up!