First, before we get to the topic at hand, my client Jennifer Hubbard is hosting an awesome blog event around the Internet: lots of participating blogs are making per-comment donations to local libraries and all you have to do is stop by and leave a comment. The master list of participants is on Jennifer’s blog – it’s a great way to generate money for a great cause!
Meanwhile, you may have heard that Michael Lewis, author of The Blind Side and Moneyball, just published a new book on the financial crisis called The Big Short. The book has received good reviews, but a funny thing started happening on Amazon: lots and lots of 1 star reviews, leading to an overall ranking of 2 and 1/2 stars. Why? People leaving 1 star reviews solely because there is no Kindle edition available.
The actions of these consumers prompted TechCrunch to write a rather direct article on the controversy: Amazon: You Need to Change Your Idiotic Customer Reviews Policy Right Now. But TechCrunch, tell us how you really feel!
Noting that these one star non-reviews mainly just hurt the author, who by the way doesn’t have control over the publisher’s publication plans, Paul Carr’s suggestion is that reviews should be limited to people who have actually bought the book from Amazon – this way people with an outside agenda can’t drag down a book’s rating without even having read it, whether their beef be political or gender-related or Kindle-centric.
What do you think of this controversy? Are the Amazon reviewers just flexing consumer muscle or are they out of line? Do companies have an obligation to address libelous/spurious/treasonous/blank-ous reviews?
I frequently check Amazon reviews and find them very useful. On the other hand, I use them judiciously. I don't just look at the "score"–I read a bunch of reviews, both good and bad, and try to gauge from that what the strengths and weaknesses of the book really are. Reviews judged "helpful" by readers often really are, so I read those. Reviews that have generated a lot of critical feedback I take with a grain of salt.
I have written to Amazon when one person posted a string of bad reviews that was driving down a book's rating and they immediately removed all but one posting.
I've also written reviews of quite a few books, mostly of obscure ones that I like a lot and feel need some better press.
On the down side, some nitwit posted a negative review of my book under the pseudonym "Edward
A. Wake" (took me a while to get that) which did made me cross. But my rating is still 4 stars, which isn't bad for an obscure academic book!
Funny–I just stopped by here after checking a few books on Amazon, where I noticed books with one or two reviews always seem to have five stars, but really hot-selling books usually have four or less.
So–although this situation is outrageous, bad reviews may be kind of an achievement.
I definitely don't think we should restrict reviews to Amazon buyers. I always try to buy from indie stores or the author herself if I can.
What we can do is remind readers how bogus amazon reviews can be. When I'm trying to decide whether to buy a book, I always check out a few one-star reviews. If they're ungrammatical and misspelled, complain the book is "too hard", or appear to have been written by people whose tastes run to videogame plots, I figure this is probably a book I'll like.
Doug Pardee says
Remaining tangential to the basic discussion:
In this case, the blame falls on the author, not the publisher. Lewis chose to go with a publisher who doesn't produce e-books except for textbooks, and whose e-textbooks aren't suitable for handhelds. W. W. Norton doesn't produce e-books for the Kindle or any other handheld. Period.
Lewis should have known that W. W. Norton would not be e-publishing his book, should have retained the e-book rights, and should have had a Kindle edition ready to go when the print version hit the streets. (And non-Kindle e-book editions, too.)
Where the ball got dropped, I don't know, but it sure looks like it was Lewis who dropped it.
This wouldn't be such a big deal if Lewis hadn't previously fawned all over the Kindle and gone on about how great e-books are.
Nathan Bransford says
Incorrect that Norton doesn't do e-books at all. Lewis' other books are available on the Kindle.
When I buy a book off amazon I don't even look at the star rating. I read the customer reviews and see what they have to say about the book.
And for this same reason I think they should leave it alone. What if someone has a really great review and they read the book elsewhere?
When I read a review, I expect to be about the writing–not the format it is available in, the cover art, or the location on a store shelf. Maybe it is fair to complain about a publisher's choices, but the low stars hurt the writer first.
And why do Kindle readers feel so entitled?
But I rarely read Amazon reviews because I don't trust them.
I've found the best way to judge a book on Kindle is to download the free sample. If the writing quality is good and the hook bites me and the price is right (there are many good books for $5 or less on Kindle store) I'll buy.
Forget the reviews. The free samples are a much better indicator of the writing style and quality. I can usually tell if I'll like the book in five pages or less.
Moira Young says
Carr is right. Over the years, I've witnessed a LOT of online drama in the Amazon Reviews section over people trying to promote their own agenda/bias/amusement, well before the Kindle "Nuclear Option" was ever an issue.
It would mean I couldn't rate the books I'd bought or read elsewhere, but I'd accept a "Please Rate The Book" e-mail following my purchase, the way I get a "Please Rate Your Seller" when we buy from Amazon used.
It's still not perfect, but hey, I know I'd rather have one five-star review than a hundred one-star-based-on-bias-and-lack-of-Kindle-edition reviews.
I try to stay away from Amazon. I think they're so big they don't care about anyone else. Having said that, I think you have to trust who gives the reviews, but if you can only leave 1 star on a Kindle then there should be no Kindle reviews until it is as fair as anywhere else.
The Editors says
For any in-line purchase that has a rating system I read a mix of the top and bottom of the reviews. It’s easy to weed out the reviews of people that have issues with things you don’t care about. A ton of one star reviews of a book stating it was late or not on Kindle will have no effect on me. A large number of one star reviews stating that a children’s book is offence with different detailed reasons why the reviewer thought that, will stop me from buying it without at least thumbing threw a copy of it first. If a five star review states that it is the greatest book ever, I’ll see why the 3 star reviewers didn’t think that. At the point I’m looking at the reviews I’m already interested in buying it, so just because it has a low rating, it may not stop me from buying it.
What I don't understand is what drives people to give a 1 star review to a book they clearly want to read.
I'm not sure about only allowing Amazon customers to review. I buy books from a variety of places but have reviewed books on Amazon when I've really liked a book and want to let others know how good it is.
I do use Amazon reviews sometimes to decide about a book I'm wavering on. However I never go based on the stars but actually read a sampling of the reviews. Not sure if thats how other people work or not.
Maybe amazon should just not have the star system or only allow people who have bought it through them to put stars but still allow other people to share written reviews.
Stephanie Barr says
The problem is that a book is not just the author's when it's for sale at Amazon. It's the publisher's as well. It's a package deal.
If it were a type of luggage and I liked it but hated the color, I could post a review that said, "Nice but why not in red?" and rate it according to how much of a difference that made to me.
The review is there for the purpose of people telling you what they like and don't like.
One thing this is doing is letting publishers know that they are missing out on a collection of would-be readers by not having it in a format they want to read.
Discerning readers should be able to glean that from the reviews. It stinks that it can be used this way, but you can't have it both ways, with all your friends and family gushing either without the same thing happening.
You leave yourself open to reviews, you're going to get them for whatever reason. Limiting the review is pointless.
I might also add that Amazon is relentless at sending reminder emails to people who do purchase their goods, encouraging buyers to add their own reviews.
A J Hawke says
If a lot of reviews are showing up giving low reviews because it isn’t on Kindle, it makes me wonder who is driving it? Could it be a Kindle employee doing the reviews? Now surely, I’m just being paranoid.
I leave reviews but only of books I have read. Sometimes they are books I have been given or purchased elsewhere. I read reviews before purchasing a book, but pay attention only to ones that are thoughtful and speak directly to the contents of the book. If someone starts getting rude in a review, I disregard their review completely.
Because of inappropriate people, there is a need for Amazon to moderate the comments. Hey, at least it gives someone a job.
As always, it's up to consumers to be smart consumers. There is no way Amazon can police all the reviews people leave and it's exclusionist not to allow people who read books from the library to comment. Since Amazon sorts reviews by stars, I usually read a couple of really good reviews and a couple of the really bad ones then decide who I'm more inclined to agree with. In this case, I would disregard Kindle-based gripes.
What I still don't understand is why everyone is upset over publishers want to release hard covers first. They've always done that when it was just hard covers and paperbacks.
Does anyone think movie studios should release pay per view and DVDs along with the movie going into the theaters? I don't see anyone posting nasty 'reviews' of newly released movies because they have to wait a few months to buy them or watch them at home.
Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado says
To call the Amazon review system libelous/spurious/treasonous/blank-ous is being too kind. I don't have this issue because I've never published on line and with this sort of thing going on, I don't think I want to. Maybe Amazon should re-think their policy? What if a whole bunch of little, medium-sized and even big Davids refused to go and play with Goliath at Amazon?
Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
James Cameron did not make his movie AVATAR available on Bluray disc on the day it premiered in movie theaters. Therefore I call upon all my fellow Bluray player owners to boycott the movie and gave it bad reviews on Amazon!
So there! That'll show him! I bet Cameron is shaking in his boots now!
ryan field says
This happened to me. A reviewer gave me a three star review on amazon and didn't even read the book. Instead, the reviewer wrote a scathing comment to amazon about how she/he was buying the book somewhere else because the prices are cheaper.
At least the reviewer didn't give me one star, but to be honest I would rather have had a real review…even if it was one star…instead of a rant about amazon's pricing. I have no control over how books are priced.
I think it's fair enough actually. The publishers take a hit on sales because consumers are annoyed they aren't providing what they want. Of course the author loses but you know maybe less authors will agree to deals like this/work with publishers who don't provide e-releases and that leads to customers GETTING WHAT THEY WANT. Which is really their whole point.
er in theory- however i know from personal experience i barely even notice the star ratings on amazon much less buy or not buy a book based on them.
JTShea – I was kind of amazed when I saw this; but someone actually gave the DVD and Blu-ray versions of James Cameron's AVATAR one star, along with a long and scathing review on Amazon because a 3-D version wasn't released for home viewing at the same time as the DVD and Blu-ray versions. I doubt this will affect sales.
Adam Heine says
It sounds like the (non-)reviewers are flexing consumer muscle, but the end result is to make all reviews ineffective for their purpose.
Maybe what Amazon needs to do is provide a different place for that kind of feedback, so that reviews can instead be, I don't know, actual reviews of the novel.
Saying go to a publisher who will release ebooks with hard covers makes the assumption that there are lots of publishers to choose from.
Most authors are under contracts to their publishers and I suspect if an author who wasn't J.K Rowlings or James Patterson in terms of sales started dictating terms like that, they'd find themselves without any publisher very quickly.
If you're satisfied to stick with small indie pubs then you'll be published simultaneously, or as is my case, the ebook comes out before the paperback. But my sales also aren't in the tens of thousands.
Sommer Leigh says
I use the star review system for a lot of things I buy on Amazon…but not books. Usually I know whether or not I'm going to buy a book anyway, and I'm too afraid of spoiler summaries to read most reviews. That being said, I find it appalling that people rate a book with a one star review only because there is no kindle edition available. It also drives me crazy when people rate a product 1 star because the shipping was too slow/damaged product/etc.
I don't think it is possible to stop people from messing with the star ratings though. For good or for ill.
I've also heard of one star reviews for ebooks the reviewer feels is overpriced.
I think not buying it is response enough – for both the nonKindle protest or the price.
A 1 star review reminds me of the silly chain emails that make claims like "my doctor said that if this email is sent to X people, X lives will be saved."
1 star is hyperbole — and ludicrous for the Kindle complaint.
1-star reviews that have nothing to do with the book? And we bother writing for these ignoramuses?
Charmaine Clancy says
I think Amazon should have a choice of reviews – if you buy the book from Amazon (or the Kindle edition for the ones available) then you can review. If not, there could be a visitors review for people who already have the book or want to make a comment on it.
And if this is a big issue why not have a button that says 'Do you want to see this on Kindle?'
I'd like to see more convert to Kindle, and a lot of books I don't buy just because they're not on Kindle.
Plus I want to know WHY does the author not have a say if their book goes to Kindle???
I think this is important. Do these idiots not understand they are just hurting the author? That their "one star" is not they way to get the book on Kindle?
Really. How dumb do you have to be?
So yes. I suppose one answer would be for Amazon to limit the reviews to people who actually bought the book ON AMAZON. I had no idea they DIDN'T do that. Silly me. Thinking a review a Amazon was from someone who had bought a book on Amazon.
I need a life.
I've also seen people leave one-star reviews because they thought the Kindle price was too high.
The whole thing is obnoxious. These people are idiots.
And yes, Amazon needs to change their policy.
I'm very sorry to see that Michael Lewis is caught in the war between Amazon, publishers, and readers. I think that the readers have found a way to tell publishers what they want. Namely to have books epublished at the same time as hardcopy. And I think the publishers will be fools not to listen.
It's truly unfortunate that the author is the one caught in the middle.
Matera the Mad says
Disgusting. The whole e-book scene is getting disgusting. Too many incompatible proprietary formats — it's not competition, it's bloodlust. Amazon wants to monopolize the market with their grotty Kindle. Adobe has their even worse piece of crud. I don't imagine Apple's is any better. Try reading anything in them with reduced vision or dyslexia. How many web pages are there that can only be read with one browser? Think about that.
I wonder how many commenters here actually read any of the one star reviews. I checked them out, and though some of them were just gripes about Kindle availability, many of them criticized Lewis for supporting derivatives right up until 2007-2008 when the handwriting was firmly on the wall. This is not a pub format issue, this is a writer hypocrisy issue.
Mon Chéri says
I DO think the reviewers are out of line, however, since I read the reviews regularly to decide if I want to buy a book or not, I’ve seen things like this happen before. Perhaps not to this extent but since I actually read them, it’s easy for me to see which reviews are real and which ones are just people griping with an outside agenda. For example: complaining about the condition of the book they received from Amazon, as in munched or something. I’ve seen this one several times, and it has no bearing on the quality of book for me, it’s a customer service issue with Amazon. I don’t think it’s fair to the author when people do that, but I would want my readers who haven’t purchased from Amazon to be able to leave feedback.
Perhaps they should begin a policy stating that if the review is not about the book content, then those reviews could or will be pulled…just a thought. Things like this belong with customer service not book reviews.
Amazon def has a responsibility to fix this. These poor authors don't deserve being put in the middle of this idiotic controversy.
Amazon customer service? You mean they have that? All I've ever seen is Amazon ignore everything that people complain about.
Amazon rarely responds to customer issues. That's always been my biggest complaint about them.
Well, I am at least a bit grateful that someone has discovered what's happening and is bringing the topic up. Who knew? Hopefully someone will think outside the box and come up with a good solution.
The Amazon review system is flawed for all products. People give low ratings when, for example, the Amazon shipment is delayed or damaged. This is like a Yelp review in which a customer gives a restaurant a 1-star rating because his girlfriend broke up with him there.
Limiting the reviews to people who have purchased through Amazon might prevent this particular variety of format-related problem, but it doesn't (and can't really) solve the problem of reviewers using irrelevant criteria for giving a low rating.
Oh, and what's really upsetting about this particular problem is that, in theory, people with Kindles read and use Amazon a lot. They should know that their star rating affects the author. It's either incredibly stupid or very selfish of them to post low ratings in such a case. (Or both.)
Timothy Fish says
I don't really see it as an issue, since how many stars a reviewer gives a product is such an arbitrary thing anyway. I see it as primarily a way of grouping reviews, allowing people to find the reviewers who like the product and those who don't. Many books will have a high average number of stars because the only people who have reviewed them are friends and family. Or a book may have a low number of stars because the marketing is aimed at the wrong people. If people are actually paying attention to the reviews, they will see that a one star review is a result of there being no Kindle edition and it won't play into their decision.
Icy Roses says
The reviewers are out of line. I do check Amazon reviews before I decide to read a book, and subconsciously, I'm definitely going to have a better impression of a book with five stars than a book with one and a half. Granted, I do read the positive and negative reviews so I'm not getting skewed opinions like these, but still.
Laura Miller Edwards says
I do check the reviews and the stars before I consider buying a book– heck, I check amazon ratings before I request it from the library, and I can't imagine I'm alone in this.
So, that sucks, and people are stupid. Why would you give the BOOK one star for something like that? The review is supposed to be about the work itself. How stupid can people be?
Even though I buy books from Border's and check them out from the library, I would be on board with the idea of only letting those who purchase from Amazon review on Amazon. It's about the only way to keep it honest.
That's why I read the review comments and don't go by the stars. BUT seriously get some ebooks going here. Is it really so difficult to make an ebook of something you put into print? Honestly?
dude, my verification word just changed to "billy".
I've gotta go with what Kurtis said. People need to stop taking so many other people's opinions seriously. With any luck news of such idiotic actions will encourage more people to think for themselves and maybe, just maybe, look for the opinion of someone a little more professional to get a good handle on whether or not they'll like the book.
Shelley Watters says
I think the whole 'give it 1 star because it's not available for Kindle' is ridiculous. Before kindle, did people give one star just because it was only available in hardcover? I seriously doubt it.
I think that only people who have actually READ the book (regardless of how they obtained the book) should be leaving reviews. That's just common sense, but I guess common sense isn't as common anymore.
Ishta Mercurio says
A book review should be about THE BOOK.
I agree with lynnrush, though, who said that people who don't necessarily always shop at Amazon (who prefer to go to independent bookstores, or who are professional reviewers with ARCs, or who went to an author event somewhere and got the book that way, etc.) shouldn't be excluded from reviewing a book.
Why doesn't Amazon moderate reviews? Have someone read the reviews before they're posted, to make sure that they're not unrelated to the content of the book? I know it involves hiring more people (EGAD! Not PEOPLE at Amazon! shivvverrr…), but if they aren't going to police the service properly they shouldn't offer it in the first place.
Hire someone (or more likely, many someones) to moderate reviews, or axe the reviews completely, that's what I say.
BTW: I was doing the library-loving challenge running-aound-posting-everywhere-thing, and I got "fracting" as my word verification on someone's blog. I remembered that someone had gotten it on your blog, too. I have been spending too much time in the comments sections of blogs.
P.A. Brown – really? I've had great experiences with Amazon customer service. Fast, friendly, refunded money at a snap.
I'm just not sure Amazon thinks what's currently happening is a problem.
Kate Evangelista says
I believe that one star reviews are mostly motivated by personal agenda rather than speaking of the quality of a book. Why? Because I believe that editors, agents, publishers are smart enough to know what sells in the market. So those who give out one star reviews might just be taking things way too personally.
Some reviews are left for silly reasons, but unless it's a personal attack, it is what the reviewer thought of the book. Some people decide not to buy a book because it was the wrong shade of purple or it didn't come in the format they wanted. The author can't control those things, but I think it's handy to know it's what the potential reader thought. Many of those one star reviews are potential buyers lost, whether you agree with their reasons or not.
Though I have to agree with JM "JM" who says "I cannot believe that Mr. Lewis and his publishers have the nerve to produce a book and not simultaneously produce a Na'Vi Audio Version."
Publishers need to get with the future!
Marti Rulli says
Some reviewers have purposely left negative reviews of my book, Goodbye Natalie Goodbye Splendour, not based on "the book" but on the subject and their preconceived opinions that the true story told is not true, despite the account comes with polygraph test included. One 5-star positive review (by Ginger) of my book has 300 comments in the review's comment thread as readers argue their points, using the comment section as a forum. Derogatory comments are made and readers get nasty with opposing views over the controversy of this book dealing with a high-profile death.
I welcome honest reviews and constructive criticism, but I am astounded at the few 1-star reviews I received based on nothing but a pre-set intention to offer it. I doubt there is much Amazon can do. Even though unfair to authors, freedom of speech and choice rules.
Marti Rulli, Author Goodbye Natalie Goodbye Splendour