Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Faking Amazon Reviews

Neth Space linked to a fine piece of fan harrumphing (from a blog called Best Fantasy Books) on the subject of Amazon reviews late yesterday. BFB is shocked and appalled at his discovery that some authors and publishers actively try to encourage (or even write) positive reviews of their own books on Amazon, and so rambled on in the paranoid mode for a thousand or so words about this deadly scourge.

I thought the outrage was ridiculously overstated for the tiny complaint -- there are so many reasons that quick reviews by random amateurs might not be entirely reliable as a guide to one's own tastes -- and so I commented over at Neth's place, thusly:
Well, he's half-right: publishers and authors do sometimes write reviews of their own books on Amazon, and even more often ask their family and friends to review their books. But the idea that there's "big money" in this is ludicrous.

Amazon's search algorithm is affected by reviews, yes -- but it's also affected by tags, and the behavior of customers (what books they click on, what books they buy), and, most of all, by sales ranking. So it's not possible to do that much SEO through good reviews alone.

I won't say that no publisher has ever spent money to pay an outside company (or their own staff) to sit around writing Amazon reviews -- the world has an endless supply of really stupid people -- but that's a ridiculously expensive way of accomplishing not very much. For all but a few very bestselling books -- which are already selling very well everywhere else, too -- the velocity of sales at Amazon is not and will not be at a level to pay for those activities.

So: yes, authors in particular do try to game Amazon. It doesn't work as well as they think it does. And any particular reader might well find that a random Amazon review does not closely match her taste and preference in books. But anyone who's surprised and outraged that a self-publisher is a huge self-promoter probably is also shocked every morning to see that the sky is blue.


Suzan Harden said...

Caramel Truffle coffee hurts when it comes out your nose.

And thanks, I needed the laugh after staying up most of the night, waiting for flood water to come into the house.

Anonymous said...

The unknown author who gets a bunch of great reviews from people who haven't reviewed ANY other book (maybe at most they've reviewed a kitchen implement or kid's toy or something) is the one that you would immediately suspect of calling on every member of his family and most of his friends to post reviews without mentioning their connection to him.

Not a sinister publisher ploy but the author's semi-desperate yet low cost way of trying to generate some buzz. Which seems to have worked for one or two books that are now getting reviewed in some of the more popular SF blogs these days. It's a tough business to get ahead in, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It's such a goofy complaint. I use Amazon reviews frequently, but I _read_ the reviews and base my purchasing decision on the substance of what people say. I also never read the five-star reviews; their content is so seldom helpful that I skip them altogether. So, to me, it doesn't matter if the author is getting inflated reviews from friends or family, because I'm not looking at the perfect scores anyway.

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