Amazon has been one of my favorite retailers, ever since my college roommate gave me an Amazon gift certificate for the holidays in 1998.

The reviews are a large part of it. I think it is a crucial aspect to their business model — having trusted 3rd parties giving fair reviews of books and other items is a valuable reason for people to shop at Amazon over somewhere else that might not have the same depth and quantity of robust reviews.

That said, they also have some really bad review policies that are overlooked that I have been critical of.


• Michael Lewis The Big Short discussion received an avalanche of 1 star reviews — all because the kindle version was not released simultaneously with hard cover version.  More than half of the first 80 reviews were negative 1 star reviews solely due to the kindle version.

It was embarrassing to allow these sorts of reviews — and while Amazon gave a backdoor apology to Lewis’ manager, the non-reviews are still up.

• Authors on the Left and the Right regularly receive 1 star reviews having nothing whatsoever to do with their books — people on the opposite side of the political spectrum use this mechanism to simply spit at their political opponents — its quite uncivilized.

• There are a slew of reviewers that have never read the book (and have no intention to), but instead use the platform and a high profile book to free ride on the traffic.

Solid reliable informed reviews of books are an important corporate asset of Amazon’s — one that should be tended to and nurtured, not wasted. It is a significant part of their infrastructure.

Towards that end, Amazon is, in a very small way, beginning to police some of the more egregious reviews, starting (WTF?) with family members:

“Giving raves to family members is no longer acceptable. Neither is writers’ reviewing other writers. But showering five stars on a book you admittedly have not read is fine.

After several well-publicized cases involving writers buying or manipulating their reviews, Amazon is cracking down. Writers say thousands of reviews have been deleted from the shopping site in recent months.”

I care much less about family members than I do people buying ads — clearly unethical and should be illegal under Amazon’s terms of service. But lots of other things are not helpful to Amazon’s sales and inappropriate as far as authors and readers are concerned.

Amazon can improve their reviews in a variety of ways by rethinking along the lines of helping buyers make informed decisions and basic fairness.

Here are five suggestions:

1. Amazon Verified Purchase should be upgraded and strengthened. Someone who actually bought the book gets more weight than a random person. Give them greater weight, move them higher, etc.

2. Non-Review “Reviews” that are NOT about the book should be taken down as a violation of the terms of service. Whether you like the author personally or not is not relevant to THIS book. I don’t care what you think of Maddow or Limbaugh personally, what is your review of the book?

3. kindle: This is especially true for the eejit kindle fanboys. Amazon’s obvious conflict of interest here should be resolved in the author’s favor. Drop the fanboy kindle reviews.

4. Pay for Play: Be more aggressive in rooting out pay for play reviews. Software can catch students cheating on essays, similar algorithms should be able to identify the phony positive ads.

5. Don’t forget about the readers: Never forget that the entire point of reviews is to help a shopper make an informed decision about a book they want to read.

There’s a reason Zagat’s edited reviews are so much more valuable than Yelp‘s or Trip Advisor.

I hope Amazon wises up to this. The reviews are important, and if they don’t get on top of this, a backlash may be brewing.


Hey Bezos! Fix Your eejit Pro-kindle Anti-Author Book Reviews! (March 17th, 2010)

Amazon Apologizes to Michael Lewis Over Kindle Flap (March 20th, 2010)

The Review Factory (August 21st, 2011)

Bailout Nation: Recent Amazon Customer Reviews (June 25th, 2010)


Giving Mom’s Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review
NYT, December 22, 2012

Category: Philosophy, Web/Tech

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

12 Responses to “Amazon Changes its Review Policy (but not enough)”

  1. La Marque says:

    Good suggestions, BR. I might add that the “Was this review helpful to you?” should also be used to delete poor or bad reviews. One has to be logged in to vote, tho. They also have reviews grouped by stars meaning more work for the prospective buyer to figure out whether or not the one star was deserved. I think that most readers can figure out if the review is legitimate.

    As an aside, I wish Best Buy would cull or downgrade poor reviews.

  2. dina says:

    there is no easy solution. news sites resolved this problem by allowing only paid subscribers or facebook account holders to comment.

  3. uhmmm_doh says:

    Amazon doesn’t mind the 1 star non-reviews because it would push publishers to release a Kindle version sooner. Readers can’t easily filter out the one stars and focus on the proper reviews. Authors and publishers are the only ones bothered by it.

  4. slowkarma says:

    There have always been problems with Amazon reviews, to the point that they’re practically useless. One very well-known top best-selling thriller author wrote a pretty bad book which got bad “real” reviews on Amazon, but she then went to her blog and asked her fans to reverse this unfair trend by writing good reviews. They did, in droves, and she went from one or two stars to four stars overnight — and a lot of her fans admitted that they hadn’t yet read the book.

    I recently read a story about a woman who reviewed literally hundred of books a year on Amazon, all positive reviews — turns out that the publishers were so thrilled that they inundated her with reviewers’ copies, which her son then sold out the back door.

    The Kindle problem continues; books that get four or five stars, and that people should know about, routinely get dragged down by the Kindle people who want their $9.99 copy right now. THese people don’t even understand the policy that they’re complaining about — Amazon sells Kindle books for $9.99, but only after they become bestsellers. It takes a couple of weeks for a book to achieve bestseller status (it takes that long for the numbers to start coming in.) But the Kindle people think that books that are going to become bestsellers (because they are written by people like Grisham or King) should immediately have the sale price. If that happens, it will further damage both the bookstore and publishing businesses.

    Authors continue to campaign for good reviews — I’ve been to author events in which the authors ask that people go to Amazon and give a good review to the book. Authors can also pay “consultants” to provide rave reviews.

    I think only Amazon Verified Purchasers should be allowed to review. You really don’t need 600 reviews for a book; most just repeat what’s already been said, and a large number of those will be fraudulent. Why not just have the verified purchasers do the reviews?

  5. sellstop says:

    Good points in the above.
    BR you sound quite abit like Mr. Taleb, whose latest I finished this morning.
    Editors and reviewers were on Mr. Taleb’s list of irritants and contributers to fragility. But that’s a whole ‘nother subject….

    Perhaps it would be constructive to only allow one or two reviews per month per person…. They would have more “value” perhaps….

    Keep up the good work!

  6. jaymaster says:

    From your lips to Bezos’ ears!

    It’s not unusual for me to buy stuff from Amazon 3-4 times a week. And I’ve been a shareholder for about 7 years.

    The reviews are often an important part of my purchase decision. And I agree, Amazon should treat them as an asset and manage them appropriately.

  7. Iamthe50percent says:

    All these points are good. I echo La Marque’s suggestion. Downrating a book because it isn’t in kindle is like the Newegg reviews that downgrade an IDE drive because it isn’t SATA or because it isn’t an SSD. Rate on what a thing claims to be not on what it doesn’t claim to be. “I’m giving this chicken sandwich only three stars because it isn’t filet mignon.” Certainly all hardware reviews should be from verified owners. In the case of books there is the problem with re-releases. Why can’t I review a book that I own that I bought in say 1976 that is being re-released? Perhaps only originals should be subject to verified owner. On the other hand, shoddy binding, paper or printing are legitimate complaints although no reflection on the author.

    In hardware reviews many ratings are one star because the item was DOA. While an item dying after say a week is cause for a downgrade, DOA’s are mainly a shipping problem. Perhaps separate reliability reviews are in order.

  8. znmeb says:

    “There’s a reason Zagat’s edited reviews are so much more valuable than Yelp‘s or Trip Advisor.”

    “The reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.” ~ Tom Lehrer

  9. Bill Wilson says:

    I wonder if real reviews have a natural negative bias. I’ve bought plenty of merchandise on Amazon, and I’m pleased with most of it. I’ve only posted one review. It was for a thermos that stopped working after six months. I gave it a bad review.

  10. Bill Wilson says:

    I stayed at a hotel in Santa Fe. When I was checking out, they told me I would get a discount on my next stay if I wrote a positive review on expedia. I liked the hotel and I liked Santa Fe, but I knew that I wouldn’t be back there anytime soon, so I was too lazy to do it.
    I take hotel reviews with a grain of salt. I’ve found them to be useful for finding out what restaurants to eat at or attractions to go to.

  11. Mike in Nola says:

    I was irritated with Amazon in September when I bought a battery for an old cell phone I had picked up on Ebay for use in Europe. The battery was close to fitting, but no cigar; it apparently was for a variant of the model I had. I emailed the Amazon seller but got no response. For $5 it wasn’t worth going to a lot trouble.

    What was worse was that I tried a few times to give seller a bad review because of what happened, but Amazon kept bouncing it. Finally had to give up.

  12. pharlap says:

    I really like the added weight for verified purchasers idea. Another one would be extra weight to reviewers who actually read the book (presumably could be confirmed on the Kindle platform).

    If amazon were good at reviews, goodreads probably would not exist.