A while back, I posted my thoughts on how to use reviews (as a reader, not a writer 🙂 ). Much of that post was devoted to how to tell if a review was honest. That is, how do you tell the honest review from a favorable one from the author or author’s friends? The New York Times has an article on their Sunday front page about Amazon’s attempts to deal with this. I’m heartened that they are taking the problem seriously although their efforts seem a bit clumsy. For one thing, if I ever put a book in Amazon will I no longer be able to review books? I guess there’s always Goodreads for my reviews, not that I post tons of reviews anyway.
But it is a real problem for Amazon. A few months ago they sent me one of their regular fliers with a list of Fantasy books worth a look. I was in the mood for some good fantasy and pulled up the first book recommended. The first one was 5-star rated: cool. Checked the reviews. Only four of them (bad sign). Read the reviews. They were all variations on the same theme. Clearly, every one of them was written by the same person, most likely the author. That was the last time I’ll pay attention to book recommendations from Amazon. One can only imagine that they had some tool automatically pull some high rated books from genres I like. If a human had read the reviews, it would have been obvious. So, for me, it’s back to more proven methods of finding good books (basically from friends and blogs I like, or as in my earlier post, from Amazon reviews when there are enough posted that it’s clear that many are from un-biased readers.)
But for Amazon, they just lost a way to market books to me, thus, their crack down on bogus reviews. While I don’t think their current method is the way to go about doing it (how are they really going to identify shill reviews?) I support their intent. I want to read useful reviews.
However, I think the real way to address it is, essentially, to let the community police it. Allow the community to quash bogus reviews, as many sites do now in their comment section, and just as important, allow the community to identify reviewers worth paying attention to. Here, I mean not just reviewers that aren’t shilling for an author but reviewers who have a decent critical sense. Reviews by people who give everything 5 stars aren’t much better than reviews from a friend. With this in place and the ability to filter so I only see the good reviews, or least the vetted ones come first, reviews would suddenly be worthwhile again.
I hope Amazon’s fumbling effort here starts a discussion that leads to some meaningful Amazon reviews. In addition to their ability to provide the desired goods, their real claim to fame is letting prospective buyers see what others think. So fixing this is at the heart of their business.
- Amazon Changes its Review Policy (but not enough) (ritholtz.com)
- 5 Ways to Spot a Trustworthy Amazon Review (janetboyer.typepad.com)
- Disappearing Amazon Reviews (laurenwaters.net)
- Amazon Tackles Review Problem, Deletes Wrong Reviews (forbes.com)