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Amazon’s Review System Needs to Be Changed

Dear Amazon:

Perhaps you know that there was a bit of scandal involving the Amazon review system that erupted in the past couple of weeks. An author, Deborah MacGillivray, was found to have been the leader of a group of people who worked systematically to make their reviews the top rated ones and to get negative reviews actually deleted from the review page. As my friend and fellow blogger Robin says, the deletion of reviews is particularly disturbing because it represents the silencing of a reader’s voice. KatieBabs, who blogs at Ramblings on Romance, wrote about her frustration with Amazon. Katie shared with me the following:

I did a review for Lord of the Deep which happens to be a Dawn Thomson book and one for Raine the hermaphrodite one a few weeks ago. My LOTD review got 10 negative votes and soon after disappeared. I reposted 4 times after email after email to amazon customer services. They said because my review had sexual connotations in it, they wouldn’t post it. Plus, I wasn’t giving a good critical review of the story. So, I revised it yet again and a week later it was gone. Raine because I gave it one star and guess what happened less than 24 hours? It went missing because I was the only one who didn’t like it out of the majority of reviews posted for the book. So if a book has a lot of positives and you are the lone review that is a negative, 9 times out of 10 your review will be gone.

More importantly it frustrates the reader and turns them against Amazon’s system. MacGillivray is a top 50 reviewer. Her reviews are deemed to be some of the most helpful on Amazon. She is part of the “Vine” system which is a program wherein Amazon rewards reviewers with advanced copies of books. Does MacGillivray with her history of abusing the system deserve to be in this position? Is this the type of reviewer that you, Amazon, is supporting? And what about Donald Mitchell, who is an Amazon top reviewer, also member of the Vine program who received $20,000.00 for reviewing books on Amazon over a seven year period? Your POD company, Booksurge, as of last year, offered a positive review for the cost of $399.00. After being outed by Slate, you apparently discontinued the public offering of this service.

When DP Review, the premiere camera review site on the internet, was purchased by Amazon, the tech world was worried that Amazon’s new ownership would affect the value of the site’s reviews. We know that part of the value of Amazon’s site is the integrity of the reviews. That integrity is in question and has been for some time. You’ve made changes but it isn’t good enough. I’ve got some suggestions for changes to the review system:

  • Get rid of rankings for reviewers. Some reviewers who have only written a few reviews are just as helpful (or more so) than the Harriet Klausner or Deborah MacGillivray’s of the world. As a friend of mine said, if there is no reward for writing quantity over quality then maybe people won’t be driven to write a mass amount of reviews.
  • Another suggestion is to allow only those who have purchased the book from Amazon to be allowed to review it. Fictionwise does this.
  • Have a helpful button but not a “not helpful” button.
  • Make the report abuse more difficult. If your metric for removing a review is based on how many people click the “report abuse” button, it’s too easy to manipulate, as we have seen. I think that you either need to change the metric or make the reporting of abuse more difficult such as requiring more steps than merely clicking a button.

What we are asking you to do, Amazon, is to be willing to stand by your motto which is to serve the customer. We’re excited about your new initiatives like TextBuyIt (although you need to streamline the process so that we don’t have to have the follow up phone call). We like the free shipping for orders over $25.00. We like the fact that you have the recommendations that help us buy books we might not have ordered. But our confidence in your product, the community that you are trying so hard to build, is being eaten away.

Unfortunately, this incident makes consumers like me doubt the veracity of ANY Amazon review. I use Amazon as a resource center. I might not always buy something from Amazon but I look at the reviews to tell me what others think about a product I am buying. I may have doubted Amazon reviews in the past for romance books, but I didn’t doubt them for children’s books or exercise videos or electronics or toys. But now I do. I am wondering who else is gaming the system and I have to ask, what are you going to do about it?

Best

Jane

***

Readers, please let us know what changes you would recommend. I plan to send this whole post and all the comments to Jeff Bezos via regular mail and email. You can just post a comment to say that you want change even if you don’t have a suggestion.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

154 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 04:42:26

    [I swear to God I don't want to be first here, but the time zones are against me!]

    My suggestions:
    * remove all ranking of reviews. Let the volumes of reviews of different star ratings be the way people judge the accuracy

    * Permit the removal of a review only when it is in clear violation of Amazon’s content rules, or breaches author privacy (or is spam). If a review is poorly written or overtly hostile, let the reviewer be assessed on that. Reviews are opinions. There can’t be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ opinion about taste or experience, and people of all abilities should be able to express their views.

    * There should be clear penalties for those engaged in any abuse of the reviewing system – removal of products, removal of reviewing privileges, and so on.

    * Reviewers, commenters, authors and producers who engage in personal abuse or worse, should be permanently banned. Amazon should institute a robust policy against bullying and harassment.

    I disagree reviews should be limited to those purchasing items – I’ve posted three reviews on Amazon, all on items sent to me for review or purchased elsewhere, though also available for purchase at Amazon. I wanted to share my positive experiences of those items legitimately. Restricting it to Amazon purchasers will unfairly narrow the review base.

    I strongly agree that tracking of abuse reporting and clicking should be made, and it should be easier to report authors/producers who carry out this abuse.

  2. loonigrrl
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 05:37:51

    Great letter, Jane.

    Amazon:

    As an occasional Amazon reviewer and member of Vine Voice, I completely support the idea that Amazon should stop ranking reviewers. Getting rid of the ranking system would go a long way to repairing some of Amazon’s severely damaged credibility as a source for reliable reviews.

    I agree that the “report abuse” system needs to be changed. As we’ve seen recently, it’s far too easy to manipulate. There needs to be oversight. I would also suggest requiring each person to give a brief explanation when they report any alleged abuse. Removal of a review should not be permitted simply because it is negative. Instead, there needs to be actual abuse. Thus, some oversight is necessary in this regard.

    I also agree that there needs to be clear penalties for authors, reviewers or readers who abuse Amazon’s system, and I support the idea of removing that person’s products or reviews from the site.

  3. B
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 05:54:39

    I too disagree that only those who purchase products from Amazon should be allowed to review them.

    I think most of the ideas are good ones, though. Mostly, I think Amazon needs to pay a good deal more attention to what’s happening on their website. From all the things I’ve experienced and the things I’ve heard people say, Amazon doesn’t spare half an eye blink for these things. It’s time they started.

  4. Leslee
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 06:37:50

    I agree with Ann. I would like to post reviews even if I didn’t purchase it through Amazon. All the other suggestions made sound great. I am tired of Harriet Klausner and others of her ilk making money or even just getting free books in exchange for positive or even glowing reviews. Thank goodness sites like Dear Author and Smart Bitches give us another avenue to hear about books and whether they are good or not so good.

  5. Tracey
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 06:59:24

    I disagree that that those who purchase products from Amazon should be the only ones allowed to review them. I buy books from other online booksellers rather than Amazon because the other online booksellers are cheaper. But the book is the same.

    I would suggest the following:

    * Eliminate the Vine System. Not only is the Vine System basically paying customers to review, it also has this little quirk:

    “Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vineâ„¢ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.”

    Which means that MacGillivrey can say anything she wants in one of her reviews, including inciting her fanbrats and sockpuppets to gang up on someone who had the temerity to leave a negative review, and yet no one can ask that her review be modified, edited or removed. Effectively, MacGillivrey and her ilk no longer have to obey Amazon’s terms of service.

    No one should be exempt from the rules. No one.

    * Reviewers, customers, authors and publishers who habitually use the review system to abuse, badger and persecute others should be permanently banned from reviewing on Amazon.

    * There should be a department which deals solely with complaints about reviews on a case-by-case basis. Examples of valid complaints: the review is illiterate/written in chatspeak, abusive or plagiarized. A negative review should NOT be grounds for complaint. People are allowed to have their own opinions–even if someone else disagrees.

    * Receiving X number of “not helpful” votes re: a review should not be grounds for removing that review, either. Simply because the review said something that many reviewers disagreed with does not make the review unhelpful or invalid.

    *Tracking abuse reports should be mandatory. There should also be records kept of the complainants and those about whom they complain. That way, it will be more easily determined if the person complaining is being a Special Snowflake.

    ***

    Now, personally, I’ve known about this tendency of Amazon’s for a couple of years. It was that long ago that I reviewed City of Bones by Cassandra Clare–yes, the same one from the HP fandom, she just dropped the “I” in “Claire.” Now, I said nothing about Clare herself; I stuck strictly to criticism of the book. Nevertheless, the review was deleted. So were almost all unflattering reviews of the book. A few people tried reposting their negative reviews; the reposted reviews were gone by that afternoon. No one was allowed to dislike the book, apparently.

    I have reviewed very little since that time. I see no point in it. Why waste a couple of hours writing up a detailed, well-thought-out opinion if someone else can get it dismissed on a whim–without Amazon.com even contacting or querying the person whose review is being dismissed?

  6. Jackie
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 07:19:48

    Here’s a crazy notion for you: along with not censoring negative reviews and doing away with the reviewer ranking and incentive system, how about doing away with review rankings, period? That way, there’s only the actual review of the book for readers to take into account.

  7. Angela James
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 07:42:35

    I know authors who have occasionally asked for the removal of a review because of major spoilers in the review. I personally don’t care for spoilers so if I haven’t read a book, I will avoid a review of it here on Dear Author or other reader blogs, but I like being able to go to Amazon and glance at the reviews there without having major plot points given away. What do you (Jane or anyone else reading this) think of authors (and publishers) asking for a review to be removed because of spoilers? Obviously, I support this (both from a reader point of view, and a publisher point of view) but I would guess there are those who might feel quite the opposite.

  8. B
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:00:07

    * Eliminate the Vine System. Not only is the Vine System basically paying customers to review,

    Why Tracey! Don’t you know? Amazon Vine is generous enough to give customers products for FREE! No one is getting paid for anything, it’s all FREE! Books, electronics, various other products don’t count as payment! And certainly using them and reviewing them doesn’t count as work!!!

    /sarcasm

    Ugh. Here we hit upon one of the many and myriad reasons that I opted out of the Vine program. The program itself was terrible, poorly organized, horribly run. The system was full of glitches, the product selection was poor, and the products themselves were often lousy.

    I got so tired of people telling me I couldn’t complain about these things because I was getting products for FREE. No, no I wasn’t…I was WORKING in return for these products. Why should I be a grateful, simpering suck up? That shouldn’t be the point.

    Honest reviews often got flak. And as I’ve stated here before, Amazon issued a not-so-subtle statement regarding ARCs that basically summed up to: “It’s an ARC, it’s not the final product, so you’re not allowed to point out the laziness and/or hackiness of the author”. This meant that I wasn’t supposed to be honest when I encountered an author who had no place being published to begin with. And let me tell you, you’d all be horrified by some of what I saw.

    The Vine program is just doing further harm to Amazon’s poor reputation. I definitely agree that it needs to go. All it does is encourage dishonesty.

  9. Kristie(J)
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:14:47

    I too disagree with curtailing reviews only to products bought from Amazon. Because I live in Canada is less costly for me to buy elsewhere but I have posted a few reviews on Amazon so others can see why a certain book appealed to me. I myself don’t consider the number of stars a book receives but why a reviewer liked or didn’t like a book.
    I like the suggestion that there should be a brief explanation as to why the review should be removed and/or do not remove it unless it violates Amazon’s rules

    I also think the Vine system should be done away with. To me reviews should be based on a readers thoughts on the product, not on the fact they are being rewarded.

    Amazon has many excellent features and I appreciate it. But the system is broken and needs to be fixed – and I mean as in repaired – since it’s obvious it is ‘fixed’.

  10. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:19:05

    Man, I didn’t know Amazon ‘rewarded’ its reviewers. That’s…well, stupid. Sorry. I can’t think of another way to phrase it. And if they continue to ‘reward’ reviewers, then I think it should be somewhere in the reviewer’s profile that they get compensation for their reviews.

    My suggestions:
    1)Get rid of the reward system for reviewers.
    2)Get rid of the ranking system. Somebody already said a reviewer with one or two reviews can have opinions every bit as helpful as somebody with 500.
    3)Removal of reviews should only happen if they contain major plot spoilers, personal attacks against the author or other reviewers, or inappropriate language
    4)Only allow reviews on books you’ve purchased from Amazon

    The latter one, some people might not like, but it seems the only fair way to me. How many reviews have we seen by mega-hit authors with huge followings that were little more than squees? Or to contradict somebody else’s negative opinion? I’m pretty sure B&N has that policy in effect, don’t they? And if I was going to put stock in a review, I’d be more likely to do it on B&N’s site versus Amazon’s.

  11. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:22:10

    Spell “MacGillivray” right and don’t couple her name with Harriet Klausner, or make it clear you aren’t lumping them both in the same boat. For all her positivity, Klausner reads the books she’s sent and doesn’t charge for them, and she doesn’t have any ulterior motive (like only putting positives up for her cronies).

  12. A Concerned Amazon Customer
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:23:24

    In the big picture, Amazon was also abused here. The power and influence of your company was wielded to harm others and profit Deborah MacGillivray using unscrupulous and maybe illegal means (extortion). Please look at your system so that this cannot happen again.

    I would like to see a better monitoring. The reason Deborah MacGillivray was able to get away with cheating is because no one was watching her. She was offered free things and more power the more she worked the system. When a reviewer or Amazon user is accused and found guilty of abuse of power, as is the case here, there must be a penalty.

    Deborah MacGillivray should be kicked off Amazon:
    1) most seriously for threatening Amazon customers (she threatened user Reba Belle’s family and children
    2) made reference to a private investigator and hounded her around the net)
    3) for tampering with other Amazon writers and their reviews (internet bullying)
    4) for manipulating your review system
    5) for abusing her title as a top reviewer on Amazon US, Canada and all your subsidiary companies, and for breach of trust.

  13. B
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:42:41

    Shiloh,

    On one hand, I understand where you’re coming from in regards to allowing only people who purchased the book from Amazon to review it.

    On the other hand, I see where it would be a problem. There are a lot of people who buy from Amazon who never review. And there are a lot of people who review who won’t buy from Amazon. I personally don’t buy from them very often anymore, after the way I’ve been treated. I have, however, bought an awful lot from them in the past.

    The reason I still post reviews there is to try to help people find something to read (or to not read, as the case may be). Though I now review with a site, I still do post some reviews on Amazon for the benefit of other people. And there are a lot of other readers like me who do the same.

    I think perhaps some sort of compromise would work best. If they found a way to work it so that people who have bought from Amazon can still review, at least to some extent, I really believe it would be better than just cutting that many people off all together. Not everyone has blogs or sites that they review on, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to or shouldn’t be allowed to share their opinion too. If we encourage Amazon to stop them from reviewing, isn’t that just giving them the power to bully people into buying from them?

  14. Karen Scott
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:48:28

    The manipulation of Amazon reviews is something that should have been looked at a while ago, the potential has always been there, and quite frankly, rewarding reviewers was always going to lead to blatant abuse of the system.

    I also agree that Amazon (if it hasn’t already) needs to have dedicated staff who deal with review-based issues/complaints.

    People like MacGillivray who abuse the system should be stripped of their reviewer status, and all previous works by them, books as well as reviews, should be removed from the site.

    If people like MacGillivray are allowed to continue to do what they do, and manipulate the system to their own ends, then I can only conclude that Amazon are happy to let individuals like her, deceive their ‘valued’ customers.

  15. cecilia
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:54:29

    I think that only allowing people to review books that they’ve purchased from Amazon is a reasonable idea. Lord knows that my one and only review on Amazon is for a book I didn’t buy from them, but Amazon is a business not a public service.* It’s nice that people can offer their opinions, but it’s not like we have a constitutional right to review books on Amazon. You can post your reviews in lots of places. You can put a comment on someone else’s review. I sometimes see books on Fictionwise with a higher rating than I think they deserve, but since I bought it elsewhere, I don’t get to vote. I know people would be better off with my opinion, but I’m coping with keeping it to myself ;)

    *Speaking of that, in the letter, personally I would not mention using Amazon as a resource even if you don’t buy something from them. I’m not sure any profit-oriented business is going to be moved by that argument. I know I’d want to tell the person to get a subscription to Consumer Reports and quit asking me to patrol the playground.

    I’m not in favour of eliminating the “report abuse” and “not helpful” buttons. I think that some way of setting limits on reviews has to be available – wheither it’s to prevent spoiler or trolls. The “report abuse” button, as well as the unhelpful button, is a pretty powerful tool, and I’d like to see that baby not thrown out with the bathwater. And thanks to whoever posted a link to one of NR’s books, I now know that it was given 1 star, because of excessive taking of the Lord’s name in vain. After I wiped away the tears of laughter, I was glad to be able to say that this was not actually a helpful review. I think it’s Amazon’s response that has to be changed, but I can’t see any solution other than having staff designated to monitor that stuff, and I doubt they’ll want to spend money on it.

    I agree that reviewers don’t need to be ranked – it just serves reviewers’ egos and not the customers’ interests.

    That was pretty much all over the place. Sorry.

  16. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:56:01

    If we encourage Amazon to stop them from reviewing, isn't that just giving them the power to bully people into buying from them?

    B, I really don’t think it is. There have been times when my jaw just dropped after reading reviews…well, we’ll use LKH as an example. People would either rave/rant about her work-then the last line of the review was, I haven’t read this one yet, but I know it will be great/it will suck

    And I’ve gotta wonder, how many of the ‘rigged’ reviews have been rigged by people who didn’t get the book from Amazon or by people who haven’t even read the book? If somebody’s bought the book thru Amazon and go to the trouble of posting a review, maybe those of us who don’t pay much attention to Amazon’s reviews would give them a little more consideration.

    Amazon’s forums are great. Maybe there is a way that review opinions for those who didn’t buy the book on Amazon could be run thru there versus on the main review page. I’ve skimmed the forums and actually, there’s more helpful suggestions/discussions there than in the reviews.

  17. Chrissy
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 08:58:36

    I know quite a few people sent letters, and it’s early in the game. I have been waiting to write mine. I want the outrage to become a little distant before I do.

    If anyone hears back, though, I would seriously love to know about it. Has anyone? (As I said, I know it’s early.)

    The complete disinterest in any moral standard that seems to be prevailing both in this instance, and in the plagiarism scandals, has actually had a terrible impact on my feelings about the genre. :(

  18. Nora Roberts
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:15:20

    I agree, strongly, that anyone abusing a reviewer, another customer, an author should be banned. A reviewer or an author who manipulates the system–this clickies nonsense–should be banned.

    Actions MUST have consequences.

    What happened to the reviewer Reba should have serious consequences.

    I use Amazon a lot (not for books as my husband owns a bookstore) but for a lot of other products. I’ve always read and depended on the customer review system. Since the MacGillivray scandal I’m aware of the ease of manipulation of those reviews. I certainly won’t be able to trust them now, not until the system is fixed.

    As for books, I agree a review should only be removed when it attacks the author personally, uses offensive language or contains major spoilers of the work.

    I hope Amazon takes this abuse of its customers, its reviewers, its products and its system seriously.

  19. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:15:59

    I know authors who have occasionally asked for the removal of a review because of major spoilers in the review. I personally don't care for spoilers so if I haven't read a book, I will avoid a review of it here on Dear Author or other reader blogs, but I like being able to go to Amazon and glance at the reviews there without having major plot points given away. What do you (Jane or anyone else reading this) think of authors (and publishers) asking for a review to be removed because of spoilers? Obviously, I support this (both from a reader point of view, and a publisher point of view) but I would guess there are those who might feel quite the opposite.

    Angela, I know where you’re coming from and as an author, I hate when spoilers are given in reviews. However, it’s unfortunately not just restricted to reader/blog/amazon customer reviews. One of the best reviews I received for IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT came from none other than Publisher’s Weekly and contained a huge spoiler. Luckily, my publisher opted to post only a snippet of the review up on amazon.com, so I was able to avoid the spoiler issue there, but if they’d wanted to put the whole thing up, it would’ve been difficult to argue with them because again, good review and in that instance, it’s not something I could go to amazon with, because it’s my publisher who has the access to the book’s page to put up the “Editorial Reviews.” Obviously, it’s a different animal than the customer reviews, but I just mention it as an example of how it’s something that’s would be difficult to police.

  20. Jill Myles
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:33:32

    Way back when Amazon first appeared (and I first started to get involved in the internet read/writing community, I used to review for Amazon for fun. It was a game to me to see how high I could get my ranking, so I reviewed a lot of items. Some reviews were positive, and some were terribly negative. But I *always* reviewed items I’d read or watched/listened to (music/dvd).

    But I admit it. I was one of the jerks that gave one-star reviews to books.

    You see, I was one of those shmucks that had never heard of POD, and so I kept buying all these trade paperbacks that had nothing but 5 star reviews…and they were nightmarishly bad. It would make me angry (POD books ain’t cheap) and so I’d post the one-star review.

    I reviewed a lot of books (most of my reviews have come down now, heh) but I noticed that if I hit a new release that took off like hotcakes, my ranking soared. So I started to only review ‘hot’ books and I gave them positive reviews. Again, still a game, and I watched my reviewer ranking soar. (I jerked down most of my reviews once I realized that people in publishing actually paid attention to them. Heh.)

    Also, Amazon *used* to edit reviews. I know mine didn’t go up for a full 24 hours or so, and I’d usually find that some of my comments were edited out with an ellipses (…) to show that something had been removed. Sadly, I think this system has gone by the wayside due to volume.

    As for the vine system, I think Amazon doesn’t send them directly. I can’t recall for sure, but I think the parent company does. Case in point: when I reviewed a Disney DVD that was a favorite of mine, coupled with my good ranking (top 2k), I started getting free DVDs in the mail from Disney, along with polite requests that if I loved the DVD, to please review it.

    I’m actually really in favor of Jane’s suggestion that only items that you buy on Amazon can actually be reviewed on Amazon. I think it would break the Klausner-effect or the others of reviewers simply trying to ‘gain’ on the system, since I imagine a good share of their books are freebies. I think it’d also take care of the problem of the reviews that say “This book’s ink was smeared when I bought it” Or “It took Amazon 2 months to ship this one to me.” Doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but if I’m buying it, I sure would like to know.

    As for the spoiler reviews, maybe a simple check-mark when you click ‘Submit’ on a review that says “Does this review contain spoilers?” If it does, it still goes up, but it could be collapsed (not revealing spoilers) and only show the name of the review, the reviewer, and the star rating. You can choose to click and read the spoiler-filled review, or ignore.

    IMO, that would be ideal.

  21. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:37:59

    As for the spoiler reviews, maybe a simple check-mark when you click ‘Submit' on a review that says “Does this review contain spoilers?” If it does, it still goes up, but it could be collapsed (not revealing spoilers) and only show the name of the review, the reviewer, and the star rating. You can choose to click and read the spoiler-filled review, or ignore.

    Ya know… that’s is that IS a very good idea. It could just have a ‘spoiler warning’ and those who choose to read it, fine, otherwise… they don’t have to read it.

    And that couldn’t be that hard on Amazon’s part to arrange.

    Edited-my grammar is apparently off this morning.

  22. Diana Peterfreund
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:39:26

    My suggestions:
    1)Get rid of the reward system for reviewers.
    2)Get rid of the ranking system. Somebody already said a reviewer with one or two reviews can have opinions every bit as helpful as somebody with 500.
    3)Removal of reviews should only happen if they contain major plot spoilers, personal attacks against the author or other reviewers, or inappropriate language
    4)Only allow reviews on books you've purchased from Amazon

    I agree with Shiloh. One of my books was the recipient of a slew of “nastygram” reader “reviews” the day it came out (in other words — no one had read it), I think there are people who abuse the system to deal with personal grudges. Look at all those people who go around trashing book Harriet Klausner reviews — just because she reviews them.

    That being said, I do not believe that the value of Amazon lies in the customer reviewing system. As someone else said most people who buy on Amazon do not review, and most of the reviews do not come from Amazon.

    There are a lot of schools in fact, which require students to post amazon reviews as part of a book report! You can see them on children’s books’ pages and they are sometimes incredibly strange.

    I use Amazon a LOT — I’m an Amazon Prime member, and — well, I’ve just done my taxes, and it’s probably my main source of book-buying. This is becuase, being in the industry, I usually know what books i want. I never look at the customer responses. I’ll look at the reviews posted from the professional reviewing sites, like School Library Journal or Publisher’s Weekly, but there’s too many personal agendas and flamewars going on on the customer review section for me to give any credence to it.

  23. Keishon
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:54:28

    I also agree, reviews should be written by those who have purchased items from Amazon. I buy most books elsewhere and I have a blog to post my thoughts on and don’t feel the need to post all my reviews on Amazon.com. They really should implement this.

    Make the system hard to abuse, make it more difficult for reviews to be taken down.

    I’d also get rid of the not helpful button and get rid of the comments section of every review. I am not a big fan of Harriet Klausner’s reviews but I don’t find it funny that people heckle her.

    Get rid of the reviewer ranking system. Like anything that keeps up with stats, people get competitive and out of that competitiveness, people start to figure out the system and cheat. It’s the nature of the beast.

  24. Krista
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 09:57:30

    Regarding the “Report Abuse” function. I don’t know if it would be possible but maybe they could add a second step where you had to pick from a list of reasons (i.e. contains spoilers, abusive language, etc) as to why you are reporting it. If they keep it to where a certain amount of “Report Abuse” clicks causes a review to be taken down and the reviewer questions why, Amazon can retrieve the review, see the reasons why the abuse was reported and read the review themselves to see if the reasons given are actually in the review.

    If it turns out there isn’t anything in the review to warrant the “Report Abuse” clicks, Amazon can then investigate the people that reported instead of punishing the reviewer who then has to constantly get their review reposted, Amazon can take it up with the people that reported falsely.

    Just an idea.

  25. Keishon
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:00:47

    I do not believe that the value of Amazon lies in the customer reviewing system. As someone else said most people who buy on Amazon do not review, and most of the reviews do not come from Amazon.

    I disagree. People tend to want feedback on items they want to purchase and use those reviews as a guide along with other research and word of mouth from family and friends. Especially on purchases people are on the fence on which is an investment for them. I look at product reviews outside of books on Amazon and never thought that the system manipulation would extend to other products outside of books. Book reviews I take with a grain of salt as I’ve been burned myself buying a book that had glowing five star reviews while the sales said differently.

    Just edited to add this as well, I’m pretty sure Amazon doesn’t want to police the antics of nefarious people who abuse their system. I suggest recommendations to make it more DIFFICULT for their system to be abused but as for monitoring or investigating people – I know that’s not even feasible and goes beyond their resources.

  26. sistergolden
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:10:40

    As for the spoiler reviews, maybe a simple check-mark when you click ‘Submit' on a review that says “Does this review contain spoilers?” If it does, it still goes up, but it could be collapsed (not revealing spoilers) and only show the name of the review, the reviewer, and the star rating. You can choose to click and read the spoiler-filled review, or ignore.

    Really excellent idea!

    I’ve always used the ratings and remarks on Amazon as part of my decision-making process to consider purchasing a book. Mostly the remarks because reviewers will usually clue you into what triggered them to give a book a low rating –and if it’s not a hot-button for me, well, I disregard the low rating. Example: someone gave Nora a 1-star rating because she used the Lord’s name (and the review stands to this day!) Not a big deal to me, so I mentally strike that review and read on….

    This alone makes me glad I’ve got a Kindle on order, although I ordered it for other reasons. Now that I cannot trust reviewers to be honest I will at least have the option to read the first chapter or so and decide for myself before I plunk down the dinero to purchase the book.

    I’d been wondering how a few books I’ve read recently got such high marks, and now I know. Silly, trusting me!

  27. Keishon
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:18:13

    Amazon and glance at the reviews there without having major plot points given away. What do you (Jane or anyone else reading this) think of authors (and publishers) asking for a review to be removed because of spoilers? Obviously, I support this (both from a reader point of view, and a publisher point of view) but I would guess there are those who might feel quite the opposite

    Hey Angela – I would agree with you on that. My suggestion was to make it difficult for reviews to come down but there should be some exceptions for their removal for reasons already stated. Having said that, spoilers really don’t bother me.

  28. Jackie L.
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:18:28

    I rely on the reviews at Ammie when I am being indecisive. And they can be very helpful sometimes. I need a new keyboard. One of the reviews said, “Ack, this is a PS2-only keyboard!” So happens I need USB. (I know this, because I asked my son the geek.) None of the data posted on the site, even the tech-y jargon indicated PS2-only. This was a helpful 1-star review.

    Books are much more subjective, of course. But if someone had posted “Ack, this book contains sexual harassment on the job and by the hero, no less!”–I wouldn’t have wasted my hand-earned cash on a crummy re-release of an old Stephanie James.

    When I complained about a review at Amazon–it was about the wrong book and not even the right author–they said they cannot possibly police their reviews–just way too much data. And that was 3 years ago, and the site is even busier now I’m sure. So Amazon is likely to stay busted. Which is a bummer, because like Diana PF, I am a Prime Member and an Amazon-aholic. Maybe I need a good 12-step.

  29. Anne Douglas
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:37:08

    How familiar this all sounds, having just come off a run in with the same feedback issue with ebay. I have to wonder how close to eBay’s stance of shafting their customers they come? Because frankly, my dear, eBay doesn’t give a damn, and Amazon and eBay definitely echo each other in their company purchases that are driving toward a market monopoly – Amazon with Mobi/Kindle/Booksurge/Audible?(sorry I always forget this one) and Ebay with Paypal/Skype/shopping.com and others/invested in Craigslist.

    (If you’re not in the know, ebay just changed their feedback system to help curb ‘abuse’, unfortunately they decided not letting a seller give neg feedback was the way to go about that, then tied sellers into the feedback system with penalties for bad feedback left by vindictive and fraudulent buyers.)

    Here’s hoping Amazon listens and does look at their feedback system, and actually fixes it – unlike eBay who broke it further, only further isolating the small seller who made eBay what it is today.

  30. Jane
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:37:56

    What do you (Jane or anyone else reading this) think of authors (and publishers) asking for a review to be removed because of spoilers? Obviously, I support this (both from a reader point of view, and a publisher point of view) but I would guess there are those who might feel quite the opposite.

    I like the idea of having a review “marked” as having spoilers. I think that each person has a different idea of what is a spoiler. Some people believe that whatever happens in the first third is open season. In some books, like the Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne, a big spoilerish event happens in the the third chapter I think. And, it is super hard to write a review without someone deeming it to be a spoiler so I think if you could have the option to mark “spoiler” that would help.

  31. Angela James
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:38:52

    I disagree. People tend to want feedback on items they want to purchase and use those reviews as a guide along with other research and word of mouth from family and friends. Especially on purchases people are on the fence on which is an investment for them. I look at product reviews outside of books on Amazon and never thought that the system manipulation would extend to other products outside of books. Book reviews I take with a grain of salt as I’ve been burned myself buying a book that had glowing five star reviews while the sales said differently.

    Yes. I purchase quite a few things on Amazon that aren’t book related, because I’m an Amazon Prime member and the two day shipping is a sweet deal. I’ve bought everything from electronics to tea to clothes on there. I use the reviews for those other products to understand limitations of the products, size differences (maybe the clothes run big or small) and a number of other things. I tend to read the two and three star reviews the most, because they’re not glowing and they’re not trashing. They’re in the middle and often tell the pros and cons.

    But I don’t do the same with book reviews. I’ll only read those if I’m on the fence about a book or have never heard of it before, and then I’ll still Google to see if I can get some blog returns for it.

  32. Karen
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:47:34

    I agree with most the suggestions that Jane had, except I strongly feel that people should be able to post reviews that didn’t buy their books on Amazon. New books by big name authors may have lots of reviews all over the internet, but when you’re looking for information on older books, you may not be able to find anything. I was cleaning out my TBR pile recently, and I was looking for information on some Regencies and series books from the 80′s and early 90′s. The only place I could find any reviews (or even plot information) was at Amazon – and I’m sure a lot of the books weren’t bought on Amazon. (Many of them were published before Amazon existed.) Amazon may not be a “reviewing service” but it’s one of the few places where you can find information about older books, lesser known books, books that aren’t reviewed or discussed on the blogs and review sites. I take their reviews with a big grain of salt, but at least it’s something.

    I rarely post reviews at Amazon, but when I do, it’s usually for a book that’s older, probably out of print, that no one is reviewing anywhere else. And it’s probably a book that I bought at a used bookstore.

  33. Bernita
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 10:56:44

    Since, as a reader, I’m one of those cautious people who always checks the last few pages of a book before I buy it, I like “spoilers.”

  34. Volsfan
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:03:37

    The Amazon system is pretty good. I am still angry that MacGillivray and her gang chose to exploit it. I did most of my Christmas shopping on Amazon and rely on those ratings. It bothers me ALOT that someone like Deborah MacGillivray chose to take advantage of my naive shopping habits. The fact that she had her friends click until reviews she didn’t like were taken out is wrong. Scarier still is that she and her group stalked reviewers and threatened them and their children. I have reviewed Amazon’s products and I would like to know that people who behave this way will be dealt with severely, not given more goodies, badges and presents. Jane’s recommendations are good, spoiler tags would be helpful with books. Since I believe Ms. MacGillivray will go into hiding and then come back under another name, I would like Amazon to have a better system for addressing people like this, a fraud department or something, call it what you will.

  35. readerdiane
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:16:29

    I too am a Prime member and most of my book buying is through Amazon. I read quite a few blogs that review books too. I do like the suggestions that Amazon gives on other books I might like. I will go to the reviewers if it is a new author that I haven’t read.I really appreciate the reviews on the cameras & technology stuff I bought from there. (Isn’t it amazing what they have for sale.:)

    One of the hot topics we are trying to teach our students is not to cyber-bully or how to not be a victim of cyber bullying. I think Amazon should take harsh measures against anyone who is guilty of that. Of course it would be easy for anyone to change their name and continue their attacks.They could block IP addresses if they chose.
    My tastes might not be the same as others but I would like to have my voice heard as I have seen from many of the rest of you.

  36. Diana Peterfreund
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:20:16

    I do not believe that the value of Amazon lies in the customer reviewing system. As someone else said most people who buy on Amazon do not review, and most of the reviews do not come from Amazon.

    I disagree. People tend to want feedback on items they want to purchase and use those reviews as a guide along with other research and word of mouth from family and friends.

    Let me clarify. I think if the review system were to disappear from amazon tomorrow, Amazon would not lose any business from it. People would STILL buy from Amazon just as much as they did before.

    Maybe people use Amazon for the reviews (whether they buy the book there or not) but I don’t think the reviews are helping Amazon sell anything. To judge solely from the comments here, people seem to read bad reviews (or reviews that clue them into a defect) and then NOT buy the product. That doesn’t help them!

    I think most people who buy from Amazon do so because they have already decide to purchase the product, and Amazon provides lower prices and free shipping.

  37. Alyssa Day
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:34:00

    Any trust we had in the review system is broken now. I strongly hope Amazon takes steps to fix it. I’m one of the many authors who include buying links to Amazon on my website for each book. We are actively helping you sell our books; please help us by repairing your easily manipulated review system.

    Any reviewer who harasses or bullies a reader on your site should be stripped of privileges. This will almost certainly take more work on Amazon’s part; it will definitely be worth it. The credibility of your review system is at stake.

  38. Just A Reader
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:40:42

    First off, the Vine system needs to go. That whole system is whacked.

    Take a look at this:
    http://thethinkingmother.blogspot.com/2007/11/amazon-vine-conundrum-book-reviewing.html

    The above blogger on reviewing books she doesn’t want to finish (I think she mostly reviews children’s books, btw):

    So should I rate it 1 star then say I never read it (that will surely get me a bunch of negative ratings). Also is that fair to the author to slam the book when I didn't even read it?

    Should I rate it 3 of 5 stars as an attempt to give it a middle of the road rating?

    Or 2 stars because it is so bad in my opinion that I can't even finish it?

    Or keep plugging away and spend precious hours of my life on this book?

    I am so torn about this!

    I don’t think I could make a more eloquent argument against the Vine system:P

    And the “Helpful/Not Helpful” tabs on reviews need to go. A product’s ratings should be based on reviews and individual customer ratings, not on somebody’s opinion of somebody else’s opinion. That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of anyway.

  39. Keishon
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:53:20

    I think most people who buy from Amazon do so because they have already decide to purchase the product, and Amazon provides lower prices and free shipping.

    Not necessarily true or at least that’s not true for me. But again, reviews and their usefulness to consumers remains a big mystery. I don’t think there are any stats up stating what people do with product reviews or if they find them helpful or not or helped make the sale. I browse through their catalog looking for something different upon occasion. Or visit them when I’ve read an intriguing review and want to learn more but often come away without buying a thing.

    I promise this my last post on this and I’m not picking on you but you do offer some interesting points that I just happen to disagree with. [g] Have a good day everybody.

  40. Rosario
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 11:59:31

    So say someone reports abuse and says that it’s because the review contains spoilers. How would the amazon employee looking at this decide whether it’s a legitimate complaint or not, without having read the book? I mean, if the review says something like “and then, on the last page, the protagonist is killed”, yeah, pretty clear. But otherwise?

  41. Diana Peterfreund
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:00:42

    Actually, there *are* stats about the reviews. What I’ve heard from Amazon employees is that the number of reviews correlates to a stronger sales, but not the quality or star rating. I think that’s a definite point to correlation, not causation. Naturally, a product with 300 reviews is likely to have larger across the board sales than a product with 1.

  42. Mad
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:03:37

    What’s the Vine system?

    (completely in the dark here)

  43. Robin
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:07:41

    I think most people who buy from Amazon do so because they have already decide to purchase the product, and Amazon provides lower prices and free shipping.

    I buy A LOT through Amazon, thanks to Prime. And by “a lot” I mean that I buy things in all categories — heck, last week I bought a toilet seat because with free 2 day shipping it turned out to be cheaper than if I drove to my local OSH or Lowe’s. And for everything except books, I read the reviews and rely on them. Or did, anyway.

    So it seems to me that Amazon is facing three scenarios at this point:
    a) a review system that means nothing,
    b) a review system no one trusts,
    c) a review system that everyone knows is flawed but is constructed with the greatest integrity possible under the circumstances.

    In the case of either a or b, the system is either a joke or a detriment to building consumer confidence. As a consumer myself, I am more than willing to accept that a conglomerate the size of Amazon does not want to be babysitting reviewers on its site. I am more than willing to accept that their primary goal is to sell product. But if some of the new corporate structures (i.e. Costco, Starbucks) are any indication, soulless corporate bleeding of consumers is not *necessary* for even the largest business entity.

    So if Amazon cares at all about building its profit margin through satisfied consumers, then IMO it’s in the company’s best interest to at least create disincentives to gaming the system. Right now there are only incentives to do so, IMO. I agree with all of Jane’s suggestions, especially that of getting rid of reviewer rankings and the unhelpful button. I would frankly argue for the removal of both buttons, because I think they invite abuse, basically mooting the value of the “report abuse” button itself.

    Here’s the way I see it: any reviewing system that places authority in the notion of popularity (i.e. reviewer rank or most helpful review) will ultimately corrupt the system. I understand that under the current system it’s easier to pull a review than to edit it for content, and in general I agree with the premise that it’s creepy to have someone at Amazon vetting reader reviews. But I don’t agree with the idea that reviewing should be a measure of popularity or pay.

    I really like Amazon, even though I’m 100% blue and they’re like only 40-something% blue. I’m also a somewhat lazy consumer, who will tolerate a certain level of unfairness in the marketplace. However, I know that it would take merely one move for me to settle in to another online retailer, whether that be Powell’s or BN.com, and that Overstock and other venues could easily absorb what business I now throw Amazon on non-book purchases. And knowing that Amazon allowed one of its reviewers to basically threaten a reader with impunity makes me very, very angry, because IMO it goes far beyond the acceptable realities within a big conglomerate. Those who abuse the system and against whom credible evidence can be brought should be banned from Amazon. This seems like a no-brainer to me, not just because it’s a baseline measure to protect readers, but also because it’s a baseline measure to protect the integrity of Amazon.

  44. Mad
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:10:01

    Spell “MacGillivray” right and don't couple her name with Harriet Klausner, or make it clear you aren't lumping them both in the same boat. For all her positivity, Klausner reads the books she's sent and doesn't charge for them, and she doesn't have any ulterior motive (like only putting positives up for her cronies).

    Completely off-topic, but for me, I stopped reading her reviews (Harriet’s) years ago. I’d always question myself if we even read the same book after reading one of her reviews.

  45. Helen
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:26:25

    Rather than revise the entire system – most changes in business happen incrementally – keep everything as it is BUT simply list the email of the person requesting the review be removed. The real email, tied to the account.

  46. Leah
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:45:56

    You know, until I read this thread I had no idea the Amazon review system was so involved! I honestly thought that people read books and just enjoyed writing reviews of them, whether out of a desire to provide a service, see their names online, or play NYT reviewer. I also thought that the mess with authors clicking on good reviews and trying to get rid of bad ones was also just an amateur-hour gaming of the system. I had no idea “cash and prizes” were involved. Wow I just fell off the turnip truck!

  47. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 12:46:33

    Well, I do understand Amazon’s “Buy from us or take your opinions elsewhere” policy. I don’t like it, but I understand. It’s their party and they can invite whom they want to. A petty, power-trippy tactic? Yup. But it’s a sad reality of our economic system — among the corporate big dogs, anyway — that rarely is a premium placed on honesty, fairness, reason, or what’s best for employees and/or consumers.

    The only way to get through to an operation like Amazon or eBay (or countless others with questionable practices) is to stop doing business with them. You can appeal to their ethical sense all you want, but as long as they’re happy with their bottom line, they’re not going to give a rat’s ass about the high ground.

    (Sorry for my cynicism, but I’m currently reading a book about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the early struggles of the ILGWU, and it’s soured me all over again on big business. Maybe I should dump some sugar in my coffee.)

  48. Kim
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:00:35

    I have to say, that I agree that Amazon should only allow reviews from people who have purchased the book from Amazon. I also think they should do away with the comment section altogether, as well as the voting system on the reviews. Most authors have websites and blogs that fans can go to and comment on, but Amazon is a business and I think that those reviews need to come from their(Amazons) consumers.

    Before I purchase a book I go to several sites to read reviews, including the authors, so I can usually get well rounded advice. I do not however, trust Amazon reviews specifically because anybody and their brother can leave a review, comment and vote on a review.

    Most other businesses that I buy from online, for example, Overstock.com, only let you review products that you have bought from them. You get an email from them a few days after your shipment has arrived asking you to please review the product. I can tell you that those reviews are very helpful. When it is a business transaction, I find it more helpful to hear from people who have the product in their hands purchased from the same business I am buying from.

  49. Jackie L.
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:09:25

    Diana, I don’t know what I said to make you think that I DON’T buy from Ammie’s. The UPS guy and I are on a first name basis. But the only system changes that are practicable are automated and folks would just learn to game the system again.

  50. CourtneyCarroll
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:15:16

    Color me naive but this was the first I heard of this scandal (or of Amazon removing negative reviews) or of Amazon paying folks for reviews. I’m surprised only because a lot of books that I’ve checked out had negative reviews (1-2 stars). I rely on Amazon’s reviews for books a lot-particularly where I’ve read or heard conflicting reviews and want more voices from actual readers (as opposed to professional reviewers, other authors etc.) and this as a consumer and a reader saddens me greatly.

    Great letter Jane. I can only hope Amazon takes it seriously.

  51. limecello
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:32:17

    I agree with Mad as to her comment

    I stopped reading her reviews (Harriet's) years ago. I'd always question myself if we even read the same book after reading one of her reviews.

    In fact, I just read one of her reviews for a book yesterday, and thought “what on earth is she talking about?” while staring at the book she “read.” Because of this, I think the Vine system needs to go. I don’t know too much about it, but all I do know is that it doesn’t seem to be helpful at all.
    I’m not a fan of only people who bought the product from amazon being able to review it, but I’ll understand if it happens. I agree with what Ann Somverville said in her comment (the first.) A review should be removed for a reason – not just because it’s negative. Some books out there really are bad and it’s wrong for an author to manipulate the system. I also feel that there should be consequences. The reviewer ranking system should be removed, and I’m absolutely horrified as to what happened to Reba Belle and how people went after her personal information due to a “negative” review.

  52. Linda Rigel
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:39:12

    Responding to the idea of pulling reviews with spoilers:

    I enjoy reviews with spoilers — after I’ve read the book! So I think it’s just basic good manners for a reviewer to give a spoiler alert at the beginning of the review.

    Amazon screens the reviews anyway, so why couldn’t there just be a spoiler alert tag on the reviews? Then we could enjoy the reviews twice: once before reading the book, and again afterwards to match everybody else’s take with our own experience.

    As far as having to purchase the book from Amazon, that seems unnecessary. The purpose is to create a data base of reviews, and a lot of authors send out review copies. If someone is going to give their time and effort to write a review, why should they also be expected to pay for the privilege of donating their efforts? I have reviewed a few books at Amazon, and I am glad to do it for free — but I don’t really want to have to pay to do it. Does that make sense?

    EDIT: gah. I commented immediately after reading Angela’s comment. Of course others had already thought of a spoiler label!

  53. Bev Stephans
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:39:17

    Amazon, get your reviewing act together! There shouldn’t be the abuse by Deborah McGillivray or by Patricia Cornwell. Authors should not be allowed to skew the reviews just because they don’t like them. It’s time you took care of this.

  54. TFW
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:43:01

    As a frequent Amazon buyer, I have to say that this is very disappointing to me. I use the reviews section for almost every purchase to help me make a decision.

    Ensuring the impartiality of the reviews speaks to Amazon’s trustworthiness as a business. After learning this, I will probably have to go to other sites to get a reality check of the reviews on Amazon and potentially make the purchase on other sites.

    Anything that pushes buyers to other sites opens up the possibility that the buyer won’t return to Amazon finish the transaction.

    I would think Amazon would want to correct this ASAP.

  55. Marianne McA
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 13:44:55

    Let me clarify. I think if the review system were to disappear from amazon tomorrow, Amazon would not lose any business from it. People would STILL buy from Amazon just as much as they did before.

    Got to say, I’ve both bought books from Amazon due to reviews, and not bought books from Amazon due to reviews.
    It would change the way I purchased from the company if the reviews vanished. I’d very much want reviews to be retained.

    I like the report abuse button – I’ve only used it once, for a review that was a plug for a different book, and that review was removed. In fact, as I wouldn’t have thought Amazon could possibly police all the content on it’s sites, I’d have thought a degree of customer feedback would be necessary. The helpful/not helpful buttons I could live without – I don’t need someone else’s judgement on how useful a review is.

    I think the idea of customer-only reviews has merit, because I can’t think what Amazon could do to punish non-customers who abuse the system. If you don’t think the customer should have had to buy the particular book, which I agree would affect reviews of older material, then perhaps you could have a system whereby people had to have spent so much at the store in the past year before they reviewed books. That’s most unfair in a different way, but it’s trying to ensure that anyone who participates in the system has something to lose by undermining it: that if Amazon ultimately bans them, it will be a punishment.

  56. cecilia
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 14:38:55

    From what I gather, the older books are on Amazon because they have been sold by used booksellers through Amazon (otherwise, why would they be listed at all?). Therefore, buyers could still review them.

  57. katiebabs
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 14:49:43

    I am still in total shock about someone being paid to review for Amazon and in the tune of $20,000!
    I know some authors will reach out to Amazon reviewers to review their books, because it has happened to me. But regardless, I am not going to sugar coat my reviews, and always give my honest opinion about the book or product even if it means a less than 3 star review.
    I am also part of the Vine program, and I am not going to lie, I love receiving freebies, but yet again I give my honest opinion and for some of the products I have reviewed I have stated my disappointment with the product and told buyers beware and not to buy. And guess what happened with those? I have received some negative votes for my reviews. OH well, I am still going to post what I am going to say and if they want to silence me by removing my reviews, so be it, because I will not remain silent.

  58. Denise Lynn
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 14:54:10

    I realize times have changed, but I'd like to see the rankings for the reviewers and the books removed. Reviews used to be a way to have a brief critical dialogue about a book, not about grading the work. Now it seems that dialogue is a bad thing. Yet critical dialogue is what helped mainstream genre fiction.

    When I'm looking at reviews all I'm looking for is mention of the setting, a brief plot summary, what the reviewer thought of the story and his/her reasoning for that opinion. I realize it's just an opinion, but after a while it's pretty easy to identify which reviewers share my tastes in stories.

    While I can't do anything about a book once it hits the shelf, it is interesting to see what other people thought of the story. A negative or so-so review isn't always a bad thing. Whether I agree with the reviewer or not, sometimes it's the prod that gets me looking at another aspect of storytelling. I may or may not change anything, but it gets me looking.

    Besides having the ranks removed, I'd like to see a better way for the author to communicate with Amazon about a review. There was one review that had the names of the characters in my book wrong and the date the story took place was off by over 200 years. The plot summary was dead on though. I emailed Amazon asking if that specific information could be changed. Instead of changing the info, they just took the review down. So it appears that I had a so-so review removed when actually Amazon sort of ticked me off because there was something in that review I was keying in on at the time.

    I've never paid attention to the helpful or not buttons because I always assumed those were basically for friends, family and fans to use. Cynical? Never.

    Leah, you weren't the only one falling off the turnip truck. I fell right next to you. I knew nothing about the incentives for reviewers either. Haven't had much time to think about it, but it just feels…squicky.

  59. Mel
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 15:14:31

    Completely off-topic, but for me, I stopped reading her reviews (Harriet's) years ago. I'd always question myself if we even read the same book after reading one of her reviews.

    You know, Harriet mentions having an MLS and library experience in the bio on her website. Taking that into consideration, I sort of understand why she “reviews” the way she does. Her posts on Amazon aren’t critical reviews and shouldn’t be taken that way, in my opinion. They’re closer to readers’ advisory/book recommendations – techniques she should have learned in library school. But even then, not every book is appropriate for every reader and her reviews, if intended to be taken as book recommendations or R.A., should mention which readers would most enjoy the book in question and which readers should steer clear.

    That said, I had no idea how complicated and manipulation-friendly the Amazon review system really is. I definitely feel that reporting abuse should be a more involved process. And I love the idea of a spoiler alert option.

  60. An Honest Reviewer
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 15:17:04

    I am a reviewer for both a book review site for several years and for Amazon Vine since its inception. Neither organization works much differently regarding distribution of items to be reviewed, although Vine is still tweaking their system a bit. Mostly, they each list the products they have received requests for review for and the first reviewer to request that item receives it to review, providing they are fairly up to date with turning in their reviews. Too many outstanding reviews at either place will prevent you receiving new items.

    That’s it. No rewards system – the reviewers at each place do receive a complementary item for review purposes, but at Amazon Vine, that is with the understanding that they may require some items to be returned. That hasn’t happened yet that I have witnessed, and would be difficult in the case of consumables such as food items and toiletries, but it is a clause in the Amazon Vine agreement that it could happen.

    Of course, some of the items Amazon Vine receives are of considerable value, including electronics ranging from computer peripherals to health and beauty aids.
    Perhaps this is where the perception that Amazon Vine reviewers receive ‘rewards’ has come from. This exchange is no different from the book reviewer who receives a complementary copy of a book for review, with the notable exception of the item’s cost.

    Regarding the reviewing of ARCs, it is standard operating procedure at any review house to ‘forgive' the typos and other errors in the book, since it has not yet gone through final edits. If a reviewer cannot look past this, then it is best that they wait until the final version is ready before reading the book. The only exceptions I can see are authors who generally have many such errors in their final copies. But as a reviewer, I would hesitate to accept for critique anything but the final version of books by these authors, or I would simply add a line to the review stating that the review was based on an advance copy of the book that had not finished edits and does not consider technical/grammatical errors in the critique.

    The biggest problems I have seen in the Amazon Vine program is a shortfall of products for review vs. the number of reviewers in the program and the lack of education or misguided expectations that many of the Vine members seem to have. Amazon works each month to work out the issues plaguing them with the shortfall. What remains a more difficult problem is the continued perception on the part of many reviewers that they do not HAVE to review every item they request. The deal is simple: Vine is a review program. You aren't receiving something for nothing. Amazon sends a product for review, and you owe them a review. The fact that they allow you to request new items each month even while you still have an outstanding review due doesn't negate the fact that you still owe that review.

    Each month, however, there are those that maintain they don't have to review everything if they choose not to. Which is true, they don't have to. But these same reviewers bemoan the fact that they ‘can't get more stuff' if they haven't turned those reviews in.

    I do think it would behoove Amazon Vine to institute a ‘return' policy wherein a Vine member can return an item they are just not comfortable writing a review for. Perhaps it was an item they found wasn't compatible with their PC once they received it, or maybe it is a food item they found an ingredient they were allergic to once they received the package. There should be a criteria that determines when a return is valid, and allow it under certain circumstances.

    Amazon has encouraged honest critiques of all Vine products, and so far I have not heard that any less than favorable reviews for Vine products have been deleted or edited by Amazon. They do, however, hold us to the same requirements they enforce for the general reviewing population. Copied directly from Amazon.com without paraphrasing these policies include:

    Amazon is pleased to provide this forum for you to air your opinions on the products we feature. While we appreciate your time and comments, we request that you refrain from including any of the following in your review:
    * Spoilers! Please don’t reveal crucial plot elements.
    * Other people’s material. Your thoughts and opinions are what matters.
    * Time-sensitive material (i.e., promotional tours, seminars, lectures, etc.).
    * Commenting on other reviews visible on the page. Other reviews and their position on the page are subject to change without notice.
    * Profanity or spiteful remarks.
    * Obscene or distasteful content.
    * Single-word reviews. We want to know why you liked or disliked the item.
    * Phone numbers, mail addresses, URLs.
    * Advertisements, watermarks on videos, or promotional material.
    * Availability, price, or alternative ordering/shipping information.
    * Solicitations for helpful votes.

    Violation of any one of those rules can be cause by deletion of a review by Amazon, whether it is a Vine review or one posted by a general customer. Do they catch every policy-breakers? No, of course not. If a review goes to their review queue for any reason, it will receive scrutiny, as it will if customers report it as inappropriate.

    On to my opinions regarding if and what Amazon should change in their reviewing community…

    I do not agree that Amazon should limit review posting to products that customer has purchased from them, although as another customer who has been part of their Amazon Prime Club for years, the majority of my purchases are with Amazon, where I generally find lower prices. I enjoy reading reviews at Amazon when I am making purchases on all products, be they books, electronics, movies, or more. I would greatly miss the reviews of many honest and well-meaning reviewers were they to be prevented from posting reviews at Amazon unless they purchased directly from them. I have greatly admired the openness with which Amazon welcomes all reviews in the past and would not like to see this changed.

    I do agree that the current ranking system stirs dishonest reviewers/authors/manufacturers to abuse the system, creating new and inventive ways to subjugate any opinion that differs from their own, and boost their own ranking falsely. To answer the question some might ask: I happen to enjoy a decent ranking currently, and have done so without the ‘clickies’ and such that have apparently run rampant. I have also been the victim of ‘neggie’ campaigns where speaking my mind on various forums has earned me a rash of negative votes within the next 24 hours with more trickling in during the following week. I have become somewhat resigned to the fact that these people use their ‘clickie’ power in retaliation for whatever I have done to upset them, but the authors and manufacturers of those products that are simultaneously victimized do not deserve that.

    I also have several authors who I review every new release for. These are authors I have enjoyed reading long before I ever started reviewing, and am lucky enough that I now receive their books for review. With a few, I’ve noticed that every positive review posted for that author consistently gets negative votes, usually simultaneously and across the board, indicating that the ‘negginator’ is someone with an axe to grind against the author. Again, the current ranking system causes the reviewers to be ‘penalized’ by these childish aggressors alongside the author.

    While the ranking system is a nice idea in theory, I agree that there are simply too many loopholes that currently allow it to be abused. Doing away with the ranking system and the review comments altogether may be the best way to curb the issues that currently surround that system. Perhaps there are ways to fix this without abolishing it altogether, but I don’t know what those are. I do think that if it is fixed or abolished, then there would be fewer issues involved with whether or not a reviewer received the item from Amazon or not.

    I've long wondered if simply removing the ‘not helpful' button from the review voting would help, but this recent situation with Deborah McGillivray shows that hope to be naiveté on my part. It is blatantly obvious that DAM's purposes would not be foiled by the removal of this button, as she has availed herself more productively with the ‘helpful' vote buttons.

    For this reason, I maintain that the only way to prevent this occurrence in the future is to completely abolish the ranking system.

    Actually, now that I am thinking all of this through and typing it out, another possible solution occurs to me. You cannot post a comment on a review unless you have purchased at least one item from Amazon using the account you are trying to comment with. Why not make the same true of voting on the helpfulness of reviews? Prevent users from voting unless they have purchased something from Amazon and also make their Amazon ID visible to other customers who want to see who has voted on that review, and which way they voted. Bring the same accountability to the voters that the commenters currently have, and perhaps the abuse will be less rampant, although the potential will still be there.

    Concerning the ‘report as inappropriate' button, I have innocently assumed that when it is used, it simply flags Amazon with the need to scrutinize that review or comment. I would hope that reviews and/or comments are not simply deleted without human intervention when that button is clicked a certain number of times on the same review. Again, perhaps that was stupid of me to assume such, but it seems so insensible that a number of malcontents could cause the automatic deletion of another customer's review or comment simply by ganging up on them and clicking enough times. If this is possible, then it is a serious issue that should be corrected immediately. Have every review or comment that has this button clicked a certain number of times routed to an Amazon employee for review and let them determine if the review should be deleted. Simple enough. Perhaps they can even mark the review as approved by Amazon after this happens, so their customer service isn't bombarded with repeated requests on the same review. If marked thusly, the ‘report as inappropriate' button could be disabled, unless the reviewer edits the review, which would make that button active again.

    I can't end without discussing the actual review ranks. This is all so subjective, and while it may be inconceivable to me that someone may find a book less than stellar, the next reader may not enjoy it as much as I do, and vice versa. My best friend and I generally have the same opinion regarding most of the common books we read, but occasionally there are those on which our opinions are polar opposite. At those times, neither of us quite understands why the other didn't see it the way we do, but we chalk it up to differences in personality, life experiences, and all the other elements that contribute to how a reader perceives a story. It doesn't mean either of us are wrong, simply that we have different opinions.

    When I write my own reviews, I write them with honesty and fairness. I keep in mind that I have a responsibility to readers to tell them why I feel the way I do about that story, and to the author to fairly represent their work and provide any criticism as constructively as possible. That said, it is obviously much more pleasant to write positive reviews than it is to write negative reviews. I don't shy away from writing negative reviews for books and other items I receive for review, but I am less likely to spend time writing negative reviews about those items I have purchased personally and am under no obligation to write a review for. I would wager that many reviewers are like me, and simply don't take the time to write reviews for products that they didn't enjoy.

  61. Angela James
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 15:20:41

    You know, Harriet mentions having an MLS and library experience in the bio on her website. Taking that into consideration, I sort of understand why she “reviews” the way she does. Her posts on Amazon aren't critical reviews and shouldn't be taken that way, in my opinion. They're closer to readers' advisory/book recommendations – techniques she should have learned in library school.

    I’m just guessing, but I think people are more referring to how often she gets facts wrong in her reviews (character names, events, story line, plot…). As in…really wrong. Really, really wrong. I think that’s where the “what book did she read?” feeling is coming in.

  62. Robin
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 15:28:03

    I'm just guessing, but I think people are more referring to how often she gets facts wrong in her reviews (character names, events, story line, plot…). As in…really wrong. Really, really wrong. I think that's where the “what book did she read?” feeling is coming in.

    IIRC, she indicated in an interview that she is a “speed reader,” averaging something like six books a day. Now I am a very fast reader, but six books a day with comprehension of details? Sorry, it’s not convincing to me, ESPECIALLY with the marked errors her reviews contain. She claims not to skim, but I find that a semantic conflict, not a substantive one.

    While the ranking system is a nice idea in theory, I agree that there are simply too many loopholes that currently allow it to be abused. Doing away with the ranking system and the review comments altogether may be the best way to curb the issues that currently surround that system. Perhaps there are ways to fix this without abolishing it altogether, but I don't know what those are. I do think that if it is fixed or abolished, then there would be fewer issues involved with whether or not a reviewer received the item from Amazon or not.

    With all the forums now on Amazon, it seems to me that perhaps those forums could have a much more liberal posting policy with regard to people who haven’t bought their item from Amazon or with comments not tied to a particular account.

    But I think what’s essentially happened with Amazon is that the reviewer has exceeded the review in prominence, and the fundamental intention behind facilitating reader/user reviews has been warped.

    I don’t know if there’s a system around that can’t be “gamed” to some degree, but I think the Amazon system practically, if unintentionally, invites this gaming, and that the gaming is tied explicitly to the ranking of reviews and reviewers.

  63. katiebabs
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 15:33:26

    6 books a day? Sorry that is BS. Unless she got up at dawn and read straight through the day, even taking her books in with her to the bathroom.
    I think of myself as a speed reader and I had one good week where I read 8 books. Four of those under 200 pages the rest around 300-350 pages.

  64. CourtneyCarroll
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 15:50:50

    Katiebabs-I agree.

  65. romsfuulynn
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:03:43

    Even skimming there seem to be places on Amazon where the “not helpful” has merely caused the review to be hidden with the option of choosing to read it if you want.

    On the “abuse” it would seem that if the reviews are now tied to a “real name” that it would be fairly trivial to tie the “abuse” reports to a real name as well.

  66. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:15:29

    I have absolutely no interest in romance fiction, but I am a so-called “top Amazon reviewer” in both Britain (where I was born and have lived all my life) and America (where I also post reviews, because in the days when I had money to burn, I imported a lot of stuff from America, so I feel I have a vested interest in the American website).

    I am basically a fan of Amazon, but there are a lot of things wrong with their system and I’ve never been afraid to say when I think Amazon have got it wrong. However, I don’t agree with all the ideas put forward here and I guess you wouldn’t expect me to. But let’s focus (at least to begin with) on things we can agree about.

    I first came across DeborahAnne MacGillivray in (I think) October 2002, when Amazon’s UK site started to use reviewer rankings. I’d only just started to take reviewing seriously about three months before that, but she quickly came to my attention because I was curious about the rankings and she was near the top of the list as it then was. It quickly became obvious to me and some others (but never to Amazon) that she was remarkably good at getting votes on her reviews. So I knew that she was cheating with votes as far back as 2002, but I was never able to prove anything against her to Amazon’s satisfaction. Indeed, at one point (June or July 2003) she managed to get me banned from Amazon’s customer reviews discussion board, though that ban was later overturned. However, as a result of that ban, I had to be careful what I said about her, at least within any webspace under Amazon’s jurisdiction. So the idea that she is cheating in other ways does not surprise me.

    On the issue of Amazon’s computer system, it seems that we are unanimous in our contempt for the “Report this” button, in which if enough people report a review, it disappears without warning. Perhaps the worst aspect of this feature is that the reviewer who originally posted the review isn’t even notified. Amazon knows all their reviewers’ e-mail addresses (unless any reviewers have changed their addresses and not updated their Amazon details), so it would be quite easy for Amazon to generate an e-mail containing the contents of the deleted review and a covering note. At least then the reviewer has a chance to contact Amazon and/or re-submit the review. As things stand, it is usually by accident that people notice that reviews have disappeared. The most popular review on Amazon, based on votes cast, is Steve Gibson’s review of the Amazon Kindle. Somewhere around 23,000 people voted YES to that review, yet because a few (5, maybe?) people hit “Report this”, the review vanished last week. It happens that, precisely because it is such a popular review, I’d linked to it from my “Amazon topics” blog. When I tried to access it yesterday via that link, it wasn’t there. I then looked it up via the standard way to confirm it was gone, then reported it to Amazon. Because of my link, I was able to give them precise information that allowed them to restore it quickly. Of course, this was just one review. I can’t even begin to guess how many other reviews disappear into Amazon’s ether.

    On the subject of purchase requirements, I am completely against the idea that you should have to purchase a product before reviewing it. Some of you have already pointed out some of the reasons, but there’s more that I can add to the list. Amazon’s different websites work independently to some extent, so if the purchase requirement were enforced, somebody could only review the product at the actual Amazon website from which they bought it. And of course, Amazon might be seen as trying to coerce people into buying from them in order to have the privilege of reviewing on their website. Sorry, but this is a very old suggestion that just wouldn’t work. However, Amazon did eventually bring in a rule that if you want to write reviews, you have to buy SOMETHING from Amazon – even if it’s only once in your life. In theory, those that want to review internationally like I do have to buy something from each Amazon website where they want to post reviews, but I’m told that it is possible to request the privilege to review in sites where you haven’t bought anything as long as you can prove that you’re an Amazon customer elsewhere.

    On the subject of reviewer rankings, I agree that the way rankings are calculated is unsatisfactory, but abolition is not the answer. Any type of reform is controversial so I’d be surprised if anything happens on this front any time soon.

  67. DS
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:17:59

    I’m a Vine reviewer. You can turn the vine badge off. Mine is turned off so the only idea anyone would have is reviews specifically marked by Amazon as vine reviews which are posted from the Vine list. I’ve written two star reviews and five star reviews about Vine products and no one has ever asked me to moderate my opinion.

    The Vine group, at least the ones who post on the board, are usually diligent about their reviews. They are also whiny-butts. Vine reviews collect a lot of negative votes and there is always an ongoing thread about ZOMG, the PAIN of getting negatives.

    I have reviewed on Amazon since their program began– when I was just “A Reader” and I enjoy it. Before there was places like this it was somewhere to post all of the things I wanted to enthuse about or roll my eyes at that none of my friends really cared about.

    The comments section allows dialogue. And if enough people report a comment as not helpful it goes behind a cut but you can choose to read it still. It can even be rehabilitated.

    One last thing as I wander into tl:dr territory– I read a study done at Cornell (I think) that reported a one star reveiw reduced a product’s appeal more than a five star review increased it. This report came out originally in 2005. If anyone wants to hear a recent NPR short of Amazon Reviews go to:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18873262
    click on the little red loudspeaker.

  68. An Amazon Customer
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:36:12

    Deborah MacGillivray is corrupt and must go. Any system that allows her and her group to trash others has room for improvement. Amazon needs better safeguards.

  69. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:41:56

    I see a suggestion that all voters should have to post a comment or at least have their names and vote type listed on the comment page. I originally thought something like this would be a good idea, but the consequences would be dire. As a reviewer, I would never vote against somebody else’s review knowing that they might be spiteful enough to seek revenge by voting against my reviews and perhaps not just one of them. Maybe they’ll get some of their friends to vote against me too, especially if those friends are paying customers but not themselves reviewers.

    When it comes to YES votes, imagine if, within your circle of friends, some are more generous with their votes than others? Questions like “Why have you only voted for 5 of my reviews when he’s voted for 25 of them?” arise and could cause all sorts of problems.

    Another problem with YES votes would be that if another reviewer voted for my review, they might expect me to return the favor (since I’d know their identity) and if I didn’t, they might seek revenge (see earlier).

    All in all, the idea of identifying voters would be a complete disaster.

  70. azteclady
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:48:19

    I am someone else who just fell off the turnip truck–I had no idea the Vine system existed.

    But of course, that explains so much, doesn’t it?

    Amazon needs to eliminate a system that rewards people who are playing the system–and further, there have to be consequences for people who use amazon’s own system (forums, etc.) in order to intimidate, bully, threaten other users/customers.

    I am an amazon customer, primarily for books and DVDs but also for other products, some of them rather expensive. I don’t much rely on reviews of books or DVDs there because taste is subjective–but I do rely on product reviews for most other things, and now I’m wondering whether I can trust these reviews at all. After all, it’s the same system that rewards behaviour such as Deborah Ann MacGillivray’s, isn’t it?

  71. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 16:52:01

    I see a comment that “Amazon screens the reviews anyway”. No they don’t, unless their software detects “trigger words”. So if a reviewer uses certain words in a review, then that review will be scrutized by a human. Otherwise, it’ll be posted automatically. The “trigger words” have varied over the years. At one time “Amazon” and “death” were included in the list, but I believed these were later removed.

  72. Shayne
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:00:20

    It depends, really it does. I’ve been avidly reading for 36 years, and I don’t speed read.

    More than twenty years ago, I averaged 21 Harlequin size books a week (and I didn’t spend all my time reading). I’ve read a Harry Potter in less than a day. *shrugs*

    Of course, I don’t review, and I don’t read as much as I used to since I write now. But I can believe somebody could read six books a day and still retain comprehension of the book.

  73. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:10:51

    On the question of whether reviews make a difference to sales, I can verify in a small way that they do, especially for obscure products.

    I own a Glenn Miller boxed set and decided to review it in 2002. I noticed that the sales ranking in America was somewhere around 115,000 or 116,000. This surprised me because although it was a British compilation, other boxed sets in the same series had a much better sales ranking. Not long after I reviewed it, the sales ranking improved markedly, becoming a four-digit number and staying that way for many months. It slipped back a bit since then and had dropped to 22,288 when I checked in 2006. But that is still a vast improvement on the earlier ranking. It rose again, standing at 8,320 on September 27, 2007. (I haven’t checked it since.)

    On another occasion, a relatively unknown singer sent me a message telling me that sales of her album had noticeably increased after I included it in one of my Listmanias – so it wasn’t even a review that had done the trick, just a list.

    Maybe it’s harder to find evidence relating to popular products, but reviews and lists on Amazon are a good way of drawing attention to obscure stuff.

  74. Chas
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:13:06

    While I’m not a serious reviewer, I have left a few comments when I felt sufficiently moved to do so. Although reviews don’t carry a lot of weight with me, I like to read them for insight into how I personally might respond to a book. For example, I might buy a seriously negatively reviewed book, if I felt the reviewer’s rationale was flawed, or vice versa. That reviews might be less than candid either positively or negatively affects the point of the thing. I will still order books from Amazon. But perhaps I just won’t be as quick to buy. I’ll just wait until I get more reliable information from other sources to help me decide to buy.

  75. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:47:05

    On the subject of “comments on reviews”, I urge people not to judge this feature by the way this is used on Harriet Klausner’s reviews.

    I don’t know if you are aware, but there is a blog sarcastically titled The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society (you’ll find it via Google easily enough), who are a really nasty bunch of people. While I share their contempt for Klausner, MacGillivray and one of their other targets (Harp), I don’t share their views about how to deal with the problem, nor do I share their contempt for all their chosen targets. Still, I keep track of their activities because they occasionally highlight something worth looking at and it was they who unwittingly alerted me to this page. No doubt they’ll read this post in the next day or two.

    Anyway, members of that society are at the core of all the commentary on the reviews of their chosen targets. The vast majority of reviewers don’t have their reviews subjected to that kind of treatment. Maybe I will once they’ve seen this. I’ll take the risk, but so far the comments on my reviews have mostly pointed out errors of one kind or another. In that way, they have been very helpful.

    I wouldn’t like the “comments on reviews” feature to be abolished, though I would like the ability to delete comments on my reviews posted by others.

    As for Harriet, I guess she’s to busy skimming books and writing pseudo-reviews to read any of the comments.

  76. Kayleigh Jamison
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:47:08

    Everything I would suggest has already been said, so I post only to show my support and agreement.

    As a frequent customer of Amazon, an occasional reviewer, and an author with work for sale via Amazon.com, I would like to see a change that holds people accountable for their actions, prevents manipulation of the system, and protects reviewers from inappropriate and unconscionable backlash.

  77. DS
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:48:41

    Something is being heard. Between today and yesterday DAM lost 3,287 positive votes. I have screen shots of her profile today and yesterday.

    Edited to add that sometimes Amazon does adjustments but when that happens usually a lot of people lose votes and there is mighty scream from the Reviewers’ board– sorry if I sound harsh on the Boards but they seem to encourage people to be overly serious about things like negative votes and ranking.

  78. Anne Douglas
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 17:56:10

    Katiebabs and courtneycarroll – I can easily read 3 singles or 4-5 categories in a day titles in a day if I do nothing else. I regularly read 2 single titles a day (like today :)) and 3 categories a day.

    So while I too call bs at 6 books per day and be able to review them fairly, I can easily believe it possible to read them in that amount of time. (Of course, since my book reading is comparable to another person’s OCD, my productivity as an author is just a weeeee bit down at the present time ROFL!)

  79. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:04:26

    This brings back memories

    Also, Amazon *used* to edit reviews. I know mine didn't go up for a full 24 hours or so, and I'd usually find that some of my comments were edited out with an ellipses (…) to show that something had been removed. Sadly, I think this system has gone by the wayside due to volume.

    I used to suffer from this – here’s my worst case, preserved for posterity. I give you the cautionary tale of Appalachian Journey – a CD of classical music with other influences

    This is how it appeared (unedited) when I posted it on Amazon.com
    ——————————————————————

    Musically speaking, my tastes are wide-ranging and very eclectic but my first love is country and my second is pop. I enjoy listening to classical music occasionally but have never really got into it. However, I am always on the look out for something different and when I found this in my recommendations I was intrigued, because although classical music and country music both evolved from folk music, they did so at different times and in completely different ways. On the face of it, blending them together might seem impossible. This album, while essentially classical, has definite country influences. Some might say Celtic rather than country, but I think their previous album, Appalachia Waltz (which I also own) has a much stronger Celtic feel to it than this one.

    Mark O’Connor originally made his name as a Nashville session musician playing the fiddle but gave that up to pursue a career as a violinist. Of course, the fiddle and the violin are actually the same instrument but the style of playing is very different. Mark teamed up with Edgar Mayer (bass) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello) to record this album. The album is mainly instrumental, but there are two songs, one featuring James Taylor (Hard times come again no more, on which he also plays guitar) and the other featuring Alison Krauss (Slumber my darling). James also plays guitar on Benjamin. Alison plays violin on Fisher’s hornpipe, but not on Slumber my darling. No other instruments are used anywhere on the album. Stephen Foster wrote the two songs. The other tunes were all either traditional or written by one of the performers.

    I’m not sure who this music is primarily aimed at – it may too country for classical fans and too classical for country fans – but if, like me, you are looking for something different, give this a listen.

    ———————————————————-
    Now, here’s how it originally appeared on Amazon.co.uk, as butchered by Amazon’s “editors”
    ———————————————————-
    (…)This album, while essentially classical, has definite country influences. Some might say Celtic rather than country, but I think their previous album, Appalachia Waltz has a much stronger Celtic feel to it than this one.

    (…) The album is mainly instrumental, but there are two songs, one featuring James Taylor who plays the guitar and the other featuring Alison Krauss (Slumber my darling)whoplays violin (…). No other instruments are used anywhere on the album. (…)

    I’m not sure who this music is primarily aimed at – it may be too country for classical fans and too classical for country fans – but if, like me, you are looking for something different, give this a listen.
    ———————————————————-

    Note that I eventually succeeded in re-posting the review a couple of years later after several unnsuccessful attempts, at which point I asked Amazon.co.uk to remove the old one. They did.

    I definitely do NOT want to see the ellipses return en masse. I think they still appear occasionally in reviews that include “trigger words” that I mentioned earlier.

  80. katiebabs
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:09:20

    Anne,
    I can totally believe that because I can read a few category reads myself in a few short hours. :)
    Harriet K tends to read books that are longer than categories and if she really can read multiple 300+ page books everyday maybe she does have super speedy eyesight like Superman.
    I get annoyed when her reviews have multiple mistakes in them such as dates and even a character’s name. :(

  81. Robin
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:17:05

    All in all, the idea of identifying voters would be a complete disaster.

    I agree that voters shouldn’t necessarily be revealed publicly, but Amazon could surely keep track of them, yes?

    I have enjoyed reading all the comments here, including yours, those of “An Honest Reviewer,” and others who review a lot for Amazon, because they help me refine my own focus on what is and isn’t working in the Amazon reviews for me as a customer, not to mention reminding me that there are plenty of honest, conscientious Amazon reviewers.

    As consumers we have to expect that Amazon is all about sales, but I think they need to understand that consumers HATE to be scammed. So it seems to me that the solution is in finding the balance between what sells best and what makes customers have the most faith in Amazon. Consistently I think feedback has indicated that a) reviewer ranking, b) review ranking, and c) the buttons are the most troublesome to those of us who want the most honest reviewing system possible under the circumstances.

    Amazon surely understands their system, including how it can be and is gamed, and they are obviously in the best position to make any changes that can maximize its integrity (understanding that there is no perfect system), but I think the feedback here has been remarkably consistent in regard to the three issues above, and hopefully it is helpful for that reason, as well.

    We readers may be naive sometimes in trusting where we shouldn’t, but for the most part we are not stupid.

  82. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:22:47

    OK so lets get to the core of the issue

    reviewers don't need to be ranked – it just serves reviewers' egos and not the customers' interests.

    Ah, but if reviewers have their egos boosted, they’ll write more and better reviews. Of course, there will some who take it to extremes, but I know that although I have other purposes in writing reviews, the existence of the ranking system encouraged me in the early years. It doesn’t now, because I rarely move up or down in America and I’ve been in the same spot in my own country for three years and I don’t see that changing in the next three. But if I hadn’t been encouraged by the ranking system initially, I wonder how many reviews would I have written, and of what quality? I know that writing a lot of reviews has, as a by-product, improved the quality, so the idea that quality and quantity are mutually exclusive isn’t so in my case.

  83. azteclady
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:23:43

    I still don’t understand why it is considered necessary to rank reviewers–we have seen that doing so encourages them to manipulate the system, so any credibility the ranking could lend their reviews is tainted.

    I am all for a ‘report abuse’ button, but that should be it–and clicking on that should involve checking specific reasons for abuse, as well as the system keeping track of who is reporting for those inevitable cases where the only abuse is dislike of the review or the reviewer.

    ETA: Mr Durward Harris posted while I was typing, but I’m still of the same mind.

  84. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:27:56

    I agree that voters shouldn't necessarily be revealed publicly, but Amazon could surely keep track of them, yes?

    Actually, Amazon do this already and have done so for many years. While we only ever see totals, Amazon records every vote individually – the date and the account ID, as well as the IP address.

    The problem is that Amazon’s anti-campaign voting software only detects certain types of voting abuse and Amazon won’t accept anything as cheating that the software doesn’t identify as such.

  85. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:33:58

    any credibility the ranking could lend their reviews is tainted

    Yes, not least because the #1 reviewer on Amazon.com is a poor representative. But the fun of the rankings for me was to see how high I could go while sticking to my principles. I know (or at least suspect) that certain higher-ranked reviewers are cheating and that the way to beat them is to overtake them. I accept that some are beyond reach but that doesn’t matter. I know that there’s always a chance that they’ll be found out one day.

  86. azteclady
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:39:14

    But the fun of the rankings for me was to see how high I could go while sticking to my principles.

    I’m probably going to come across as less than diplomatic here, but…

    It is not about fun but about credibility. While I’m glad some people are enjoying themselves, as a consumer I don’t particularly care a fig about that. I want to know whether I can trust the system or not–and so far all I get is a “not at all.”

  87. Robin
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:50:24

    The problem is that Amazon's anti-campaign voting software only detects certain types of voting abuse and Amazon won't accept anything as cheating that the software doesn't identify as such.

    And that is a problem. But Amazon can, of course, design the software differently to filter the votes more diligently, and that would be a good start, IMO. Now all I have to do is click on one of those buttons. What if people actually had to do something more affirmative to identify themselves to Amazon, like be logged in to their account before voting?

  88. Mad
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 18:54:52

    What if people actually had to do something more affirmative to identify themselves to Amazon, like be logged in to their account before voting?

    Unless I’m wrong, you do have to be signed in to be able to cast a vote. It will automatically take you to the sign-in screen when you click on the “Was this helpful?” link.

  89. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:01:47

    It is not about fun but about credibility.

    Yes, but if reviewers don’t think the process is fun, they won’t write reviews. Although I see allegations that certain people are paid for writing reviews, the vast majority (including me) are unpaid amateurs.

    The only way in which my credibility has been questioned is that almost all my reviews have 5 stars. There’s a simple explanation for this. With only 5 grades to choose from and with 3 stars meaning indifferent, if I like something I can only choose 4 or 5 stars. And because I tend to know what I like, I’m not going to bother with other stuff. So I can’t take the actual star ratings seriously. I understand that Amazon once tried a 10-star system way before my time, but they found that most customers couldn’t cope (they didn’t use the middle range), hence the system we have now.

    I hope that people reading my reviews can tell whether it’ll suit them from what I write. We all have different tastes and it’s a question of providing sufficient information.

    Those reviewers who enjoy what they do are also likely to be the most credible. If rankings help in that enjoyment, so be it.

  90. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:06:54

    I also agree that Amazon (if it hasn't already) needs to have dedicated staff who deal with review-based issues/complaints.

    They do, but I don’t know how many.

    People like MacGillivray who abuse the system should be stripped of their reviewer status, and all previous works by them, books as well as reviews, should be removed from the site.

    People have been punished in some or all of these ways by Amazon, depending on the severity of their crimes. But Amazon require a high level of proof. They don’t want to end up with lawsuits that they might lose.

  91. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:15:46

    you do have to be signed in to be able to cast a vote.

    Correct.

    Now I’m off to bed, because it’s after 1am where I live. But keep posting comments or questions. I can respond while you’re asleep.

  92. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:18:07

    OK so lets get to the core of the issue
    reviewers don't need to be ranked – it just serves reviewers' egos and not the customers' interests.

    Ah, but if reviewers have their egos boosted, they'll write more and better reviews.

    Mostly just skimming here, but this line caught my eye.

    Sorry, Mr. Harris, while I appreciate your input and where you’re coming from, people like DAM prove your theory so very wrong. Will some reviewers work like that? Yes. The ethical, honest ones.

    But we know this isn’t a fairy tale world and not everybody is ethical or honest. Considering how ‘fake’ or exaggerated reviews have duped people, I think the ranking thing is one of the most flawed issues here. Call me cynical, but I can’t believe that only a small percentage of the reviewers are ethical. I do believe the majority probably are, but there’s going to be a decent percentage that probably aren’t.

    Since there’s no way of knowing unless they are being constantly supervised, I think the ranking thing needs to be addressed. It’s already been mentioned, but you can get an opinion from somebody with just a few reviews that is every bit as valid, and worth every bit as much, as a ‘top’ reviewer.

  93. Donna Marshall
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:27:39

    Harris – Your explanations have been quite helpful. It would also be helpful if you would use your connections to make Amazon aware of this foray. (You are one of Amazon’s Top 20 Reviewers). Dear Author/Jane will be sending them this information, but the more they hear the more likely they will pay attention. You just said they require a high level of proof.

    The first is one about Highland Press, a published where DAM is the co-publisher. It is accused of causing problems and scare tactics with its writers. The thread quickly goes into the charges and conversations about DAM abuses against an Amazon reviewer by the name of Reba Belle. http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/04/07/highland-press-warnings/

    The second is the one discussing how Deborah MacGillivray abused and threatened a reader, other abuses, lies and more fraud.
    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/04/10/author-deborahanne-macgillivray-harasses-amazon-reader/

    Throughout these threads, you will find names and links, authors and other reviewers whose names you will recognize. They have spoken in frustration, disgust and outrage. You will find quite the proof and much much more, more than you ever wanted to know. I suggest you read on an empty stomach. It is nauseating.

  94. Robin
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:30:06

    you do have to be signed in to be able to cast a vote.

    Correct.

    Hmm, I don’t ever remember signing in to cast my votes, but then I’ve got some cookie to recognize me as a Prime member every time I go to Amazon, so perhaps that amounts to the same thing. Well that just brings me back to my original belief that those buttons have got to go. As long as readers can sort reviews by stars (I liked it much better when Amazon simply listed reviews by most recent to least recent) or whatever, then that should be good enough, IMO.

  95. Patricia Briggs
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:36:15

    First of all, I’m doing taxes, so I can’t afford to read all the posts (I’ll do so later, I promise). If I’ve misread something or am repeating people, please excuse me.

    Let me say that Amazon itself is not removing reviews on its own just because they are negative. How do I know? Because I have negative reviews on my books that have been there for a long, long time.

    I also am not sure how good the “helpful” button is on the reviews. It is certainly useful on discussion boards. But the click of a negative button is way too easy. I have noticed that the negative reviews on my books gather a lot of “unhelpful” votes. I’m not doing it. Some of them deserve it — let’s face it folks, a review that says, “this was boring” isn’t much of a review. Happily the ones who just say, “What a great book” also seem to gather unhelpful votes. However, even the very good, well written negative reviews gather negative votes. I know I’m not doing it, so it is probably being done by fans.

    I have had Amazon remove two reviews, both by the same poster. He posted using different “reviewers” names. I had them removed because this man was bootstrapping — posting a review and then advising readers to try George R. R. Martin, Self-published Auther, and Terry Goodkind (or some other high-selling authors). It was to me, who reads a lot of fantasy, an obvious ploy, but appartently it was working for him, judging by his sales ranking at the time.

    The first one was a relatively positive review — he’d at least read the back of the book — I let it go. The second was a one star review that said (as I recall) This book sucks. For a good book try Tolkien, Self-Published Author, or Terry Brooks. I prefer Self Published Author. He didn’t even bother reading the book. He’d done that to a number of other midlist authors (who like me, had ten or fourteen reviews and a book just out that seemed to be doing well) — I reported the reviews of my books (before the Report Button — I wrote an email) and wrote to the other authors and advised them to do the same. Amazon pulled the reviews very quickly. And he seemed to learn his lesson as I haven’t seen him post negative bootstrapping reviews since (though he’s certainly doing other things I would consider unethical — mostly along the lines of DM).

    I don’t think it is possible for Amazon to completely shut down the conartists — and it isn’t fair of us to expect it of them. Being able to read a few pages is useful — and most authors post excerpts on their websites.

    I don’t think Amazon is wrong to do its best to encourage good/active reviewers to review. Harriet used to not be so untrustworthy — back when she wasn’t reviewing quite so many books. She still gave mostly five star reviews, but they were well-written, thoughtful reviews of books she enjoyed (many reviewers just don’t finish books they don’t like, and so don’t review them). I think that some of the responsiblity remains on the shoulders of the readers — if you get upset buying a book you don’t like, use your library/used bookstor or physical bookstore. Read reviews — but realize that most reviewers, being human, are prejudiced in one way or the other. And no book is going to appeal to everyone.

  96. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 19:43:01

    My books don’t have a slew of reviews on them, and I am usually thankful to those who do review, even those who have been vilified in above posts. What is weird, though, are the comments, the concerns that come up about the posts. It seems very strange to have conversations about the posters under the books that the posters reviewed. I appreciate amazon a great deal, and I wish more people posted reviws, honest, true reviews. Vine? I had no idea. Rewards system? Who knew. All eye opening.

    Jessica

  97. Chrissy
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:20:51

    Just a word about speed reading and fast reading.

    Speed reading IS skimming. A lot of people take courses over the summer before starting grad school (or they did when I was in college) and speed reading is a skimming technique. It involves chunking and the removal– through scanning– of extra words like “the” and “but” and some common phrases. But a high-rate speed reader (around 1500-2000 words per minute) only gets 30%-50% comprehension.

    I don’t speed read. Took a course once and it was just not viable for an English major. BUT… I read and type extremely fast. I am a little hyper-kinetic. And I read 2 to 3 novels a day on a jag– can go as high as 4 on a marathon– with no problem. If I have time and feel like it I can blow through an average paperback romance in 3 or 4 hours without rushing.

    My big issue is that if she is speed reading she is not giving proper attention to the work, and therefore has no business reviewing it. I was a movie reviewer for quite some time. I wouldn’t even review a movie I saw while tired, or without a notebook handy.

    Anyone giving an opinion of somebody’s hard work owes them more than 50% comprehension. You really owe 110% or silence.

  98. Samantha
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:30:15

    There are some good suggestions here. I can tell you that at Goodreads.com they:

    1. Do not have a “No” I didn’t think this review was helpful button. And it was talked about–in detail–in their Feedback Group. If you didn’t like the review, don’t click “yes.” Period.

    NOTE: Reviews marked with the most “Yes” it was helpful should be placed FIRST. In descending order.

    2. If the review contains spoilers, there is a box to check before you post the review, that indicates spoilers are present. The review is then condensed to a “spoiler alert” text and a person must click that text to open it.

    3. There needs to be an active Amazon.com Group where people can visit, post and get responses within 24-hour time frame. This group should be solely dedicated to problems people are having within the Amazon Community.

    — The current customer service system is…well…it’s awful.

    — The current customer service system does not involve “review issues:” problems with authors, problems with readers, etc. There needs to be some source or group that members/customers can turn to and GET A RESPONSE. They do this on Goodreads.com. They listen, weigh the others comments, decide. THEY LISTEN AND RESPOND.

    4. Stop promoting people for the number of reviews they write. Period.

    5. The “Report Abuse” should flag an amazon employee to READ and DETERMINE if it is valid. Just because 30 people click on report abuse, Amazon needs to actually read and determine if that was valid. And, if it is not, those who constantly click “report abuse” should be flagged and notified accordingly.

    – Come on. You know who clicks the report abuse button!

    6. A review should not be allowed to be removed unless is has a PERSONAL ATTACK on the author or other readers. Period.

    7. Communication, Communication, Communication: In this day and age of emails, there is no excuse for NOT notifying someone that their review was removed and why. In addition, allowing them a time period to correct or change and have the review resubmitted. No excuse.

    If you receive “report abuse” cliques from the same individuals that should send up a red flag alert on bullying.

    8. Deborah MacGilvray’s books should be removed from Amazon and all her reviews deleted.

    — An example needs to be established and her open disregard to the guidelines should be addressed.

  99. Samantha
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:46:16

    And I’m going to say one more thing to everyone here about Goodreads.com.

    I love it!

    I can sort my books by author, reviews, anything I want. I can create bookshelves for my books and file them anyway I want to. I can print out my wish-list and take it to the store or click on the Amazon link and order it!

    I can recommend books to my “Goodreads Friends” and they get an email and vice versa. My “home page” allows me to see my friends comments in groups (if they choose to have that feature turned on) and they can see my comments in groups (if I choose to have that feature turned on or can deselect prior to submitting and that one comment will be for that group only).

    I can select friends I want to see all their stuff on my home page as “top friends.”

    Goodreads DOES NOT sensor. Period.

    There was a controversy over a review that a lot of people found offensive. Because they listen to us in the Feedback Group, they implemented a “block this person” feature. You will not see any reviews or comments from a member you have blocked.

    Isn’t that nice?

    And their groups are 100% better. They all have moderators! A person abusive in a group will be removed by the moderator. The group topics are organized and dated, so can easily see what the latest posts are without nightmare scrolling until your eyes are glazed over.

    Anyone can create a group!

    When there is a problem member. *Poof!! They are gone*

  100. CJ England
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:52:31

    I do like the idea of warning notices for spoilers. That way the readers have a choice.

  101. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:54:22

    A review should not be allowed to be removed unless is has a PERSONAL ATTACK on the author or other readers. Period

    Samantha, I agree with most of your points, but I think there should be something else besides abuse of readers/authors. Profanity should be a viable reason for a review to be pulled, IMO.

  102. Tracy
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:55:18

    Here’s my issue with the “not helpful” button. Someone way up in comments mentioned that a review giving a book a 1 star b/c the book used the Lord’s name in vain excessively. They clicked “not helpful”. Okay, it wasn’t helpful to that person but it may be helpful to someone else that cares about that.

    See what I mean? It may not be helpful to one person, but it may be to someone else. The button is useless.

    A review should only be removed if it attacks the author or breaks whatever other rules Amazon has set up for reviews.

  103. Samantha
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:57:52

    One last thing, the group that tracked down Deborah MacGilvray in the other forum should consider hiring out with our government. I feel certain they could locate and find a recent picture of Osama in 48 hours!

  104. Samantha
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 20:59:13

    Please tell me what IMO is? And, thank you in advance, so I don’t have to clutter the forum with a “thank you” post.

  105. azteclady
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 21:00:07

    IMO = in my opinion

    IMOH = in my humble opinion

    IMNSHO = in my not so humble opinion

  106. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 21:00:12

    I don't speed read. Took a course once and it was just not viable for an English major. BUT… I read and type extremely fast. I am a little hyper-kinetic. And I read 2 to 3 novels a day on a jag- can go as high as 4 on a marathon- with no problem. If I have time and feel like it I can blow through an average paperback romance in 3 or 4 hours without rushing.

    I don’t speed-read either but back before I had kids on days I wasn’t working, I could easily put away 4 category to full length romances. The longer, more ‘epic’ stuff, maybe 1-2 a day. But I use to gobble romances, and I ‘absorbed’ like you wouldn’t believe. Days when I was working, I could read half a category during lunch hour and then finish it at home while I cooked dinner.

    I’m just a fast reader. Sigh. I miss those days sometimes. So much harder to read when you have little hands tugging on your arm…

    “Mama, play?”

    Edited.

    And edited again… *G* I feel the need to mention that as much as I miss my binge-reading, I wouldn’t give up the

    Mama, play? requests for all the books on Amazon.

  107. Stanley H. Nemeth
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 21:10:40

    Mr. Beros:
    I think it will be better for business in the long run if you omit the easy opportunities for gaming your system which currently exist. The “does not contribute to the discussion” tab as well as the “unhelpful” one on reviews would not be missed, since they’re so easily open to group abuse, as the letter here indicates. It would be a good idea as well to limit votes only to persons with actual Amazon accounts, rather than to leave them open to anybody who sets up fraudulent hotmail accounts and then votes repeatedly. Very likely using this method, one of your top reviewers, the notorious Grady Harp, amasses surreal vote totals within seconds of his reviews being posted and similarly covers over any negative criticism of them with improbable numbers of very likely his own “does not contribute to the discussion” votes. Reviewers of quality have left the site owing to Amazon’s failure to monitor the pretty openly fraudulent behavior of the Harpster in his Captain Ahab like obsession with becoming Amazon’s # 1 Reviewer. Your attention to the problems set forth here would be much appreciated.

  108. Mel
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 21:36:12

    I'm just guessing, but I think people are more referring to how often she gets facts wrong in her reviews (character names, events, story line, plot…). As in…really wrong. Really, really wrong. I think that's where the “what book did she read?” feeling is coming in.

    You’re absolutely right, and I didn’t intend to gloss over that issue. I was in the throes of a Harriet-related epiphany. :-P

    It’s possible for a librarian to do R.A. for someone without having read the books she’s recommending. Librarians and library staff are trained for that. But R.A. and reviews are two completely different things. As someone who does both, I think it’s unfair to Amazon customers and the authors whose work Harriet writes about for her to pass off R.A. attempts as critical reviews because there’s no real opinion there. You can’t really get a sense of whether a book is worth your hard-earned money or not because everything is wonderful in Klausner land. Not that I think she should be trashing people either, but there should be at least a little thought behind a review. As a reader, I want to know WHY she thinks the book is so wonderful. (Which is why I value the reviews here so much.)

    But Harriet’s reviews aren’t effective as R.A. either because of the aforementioned inaccuracies. I wouldn’t want to recommend a book set in Phoenix to a person looking for something set in Philly because I didn’t take the time to read close enough.

    Those are my two cents, anyway.

    Anyone giving an opinion of somebody's hard work owes them more than 50% comprehension. You really owe 110% or silence.

    Couldn’t have said it better, Chrissy.

  109. sistergolden
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 21:45:43

    Here's my issue with the “not helpful” button. Someone way up in comments mentioned that a review giving a book a 1 star b/c the book used the Lord's name in vain excessively. They clicked “not helpful”. Okay, it wasn't helpful to that person but it may be helpful to someone else that cares about that.

    See what I mean? It may not be helpful to one person, but it may be to someone else. The button is useless.

    I think you’re referring to a comment I made. Nope. I did not click the “not helpful” button (heck, I never noticed it until this debacle surfaced). I disregarded (read “ignored”) the negative review because it’s a non-issue for me and the only concern the reviewer noted about the book.

    Even if I had noticed that button before I wouldn’t have used it because I do realize this is a concern for others and I respect that. I actually find these types of reviews very helpful because I get a better sense of the reviewer’s POV and decide if I may have a similar reaction. I’d never want to see them taken down because it’s another’s opinion and I appreciate that they took the time to do it.

    My point is that I’m perfectly able to discern for myself which reviews are helpful and don’t need others ‘votes’ to filter the info. I understand and agree with the essence of your point, but please don’t attribute this type of behavior to me.

  110. Brenna
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 21:57:13

    Oh, wow, I feel so naive after reading all these. I used to order from Amazon for years but eventually stopped when I learned that they are a big contributor to the Republican Party even though I’m not an American myself. And that boycott stands to this day even though I feel tempted to order sometimes. But I always go to their site to look at reviews if I am not quite sure whether I want to buy a book or not. Now, it feels that reader’s reviews are something that I can’t even trust anymore. Or that some unscrupulous author/s are manipulating reviews.

    I’m curious to know as to what Amazon has done to this Deborah MacGillivray “cheating” issue. I can’t understand why an author would choose to go this path. It’s like fooling ones own self. Makes me glad I haven’t read nor bought a book that she’s written.

  111. cecilia
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 22:10:01

    Here's my issue with the “not helpful” button. Someone way up in comments mentioned that a review giving a book a 1 star b/c the book used the Lord's name in vain excessively. They clicked “not helpful”. Okay, it wasn't helpful to that person but it may be helpful to someone else that cares about that.

    See what I mean? It may not be helpful to one person, but it may be to someone else. The button is useless.

    I think you're referring to a comment I made.

    Actually, I think it’s referring to a comment I made. I agree that someone could make book-buying decisions based on whether an author uses language they consider impious, and therefore a review that states what kind of language an author uses may be helpful to them. However, I have to say that I still appreciate being able to say that I consider a review based entirely on one observation – trashing the book for one element – to be a poorly written review. I don’t advocate taking that review down. The response is part of the “conversation” – I feel that this review doesn’t (or does, as the case may be) give a fair assessment of the book; I like the ability to publicly register that opinion. If Amazon continues to allow anyone to post reviews (as opposed to limiting it to people who buy the book from them), then I think people should be able to respond to reviews without having to post a whole separate review. I’m not advocating censorship based on “helpful” or not, and clearly, just as we can with any other information out there, consumers can ignore it.

    That said, what I remain opposed to is any kind of reward or extra authority (top 50 reviewer!!!111!!!) being given to people on the basis of these votes.

  112. Ester Mish
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 22:13:11

    I refuse to even look at the reviews or post reviews because of the manipulation of the system. I don’t trust it. I go by recommendations from friends instead.

  113. Tracy
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 22:51:30

    SisterGolden~I was actually referring to Cecilia’s comment(#15). Sorry for the mix-up.

    Cecilia, I understand if the review ONLY focused on that, you don’t find that as being helpful, but again, it could be helpful to someone else. If I understand correctly, Amazon will take down a review if it gets enough “Not helpful” votes? Is that right? if it is, then clicking it can contribute to it being taken down. If it doesn’t contribute to it being taken down, then I apologize, I misunderstood.

  114. Kaitlin
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 22:58:43

    Someone said earlier that reviews should be taken off if spoilers are added. I’d say instead of that, they should be asked to either take the spoilers out or make it VERY clear that spoilers are part of that particular review.

    I stopped reading amazon reviews almost as soon as I came across the site. So many of them are simpering kiss-ups. It makes me annoyed and sickened that I can never find anything honest about books. I want honesty & if a book isn’t loved, we should be able to hear why!

  115. Tracy
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 23:35:07

    Cecilia I want to clarify too~I’m not accusing you of anything (re: getting reviews taken down. I see where you said that you don’t agree with them being taken down for things like what you found not helpful). I’m just saying I struggle with the “not helpful” button and what it means. It seems to not be clear what it’s for. (or I’m just an idiot that doesn’t understand LOL that’s certainly possible! LOL)

    Is it to just say the review is poorly written? Doesn’t include enough information? Or is it “votes” to get the review taken down?

    Okay, onto Spoilers. I LOVE spoilers. I’m a spoiler slut!! *wink* I don’t mind spoilers in reviews, but I know many people don’t. If a reviewer has a section of their review that is a spoiler, they should warn the reader first so that the reader can decide to continue reading or not.

  116. Mary Winter
    Apr 13, 2008 @ 23:35:10

    I’m an Amazon.com Prime member, a Vine Voice, and also post reviews (plus an author). However, I am really slow posting reviews, mostly because I believe if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, which means even if I didn’t like the book, if I can’t comment about SOMETHING I liked/found constructive then I don’t post. Lately, I haven’t posted any, just because my reading has slowed down considerably.

    I agree with the comments here, except the one about buying books on amazon. If I bought a book in ebook form and it later comes out in paperback, I’d love to be able to post my reviews on the paper version if I loved the book.

    And I’ve certainly given poor reviews for stuff received in the Vine program and as far as I know my reviews haven’t been taken down. The books I were getting were clunkers, so I started reviewing products (this month I got to try some coffee, hooray!Free!Coffee!) because I could use them and get my reviews up in a much quicker timeframe.

    Edited to add: Just checked Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki, which is one of the first books I received in the Vine program. My review (a 3 rating, because see above for if can’t say something nice…) is still there with a lot more worse ratings, so I don’t believe at least in my case that Amazon.com is censoring all Vine Voices. And really, it’s the Vine books that I’ve given the worst reviews to, sadly.

  117. Mary Winter
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 00:12:42

    However, I am really slow posting reviews, mostly because I believe if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, which means even if I didn't like the book, if I can't comment about SOMETHING I liked/found constructive then I don't post. Lately, I haven't posted any, just because my reading has slowed down considerably.

    I just read through all the comments and realize I need to amend this to say that this is my personal policy, mostly because I’m afraid if I do give an honest opinion of a book that people will be afraid that I’m doing it because I’m an author and “out to get them” or some such nonsense like that. So that’s just what I follow personally to try and keep myself out of trouble. *grins*

    I also will add that I try to “explain” any reviews. For example, one of the vine books I just read starts with alternating first person POV which was driving me nuts. In spite of that, and in spite of the fact that it read like a Lifetime movie, I still found myself drawn in (and needed a tissue a time or two). So I put all of that in my review — the good and the bad.

  118. Nadia
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 00:14:18

    I think negative reviews are incredibly helpful. When someone takes the time to write what they don’t like about a book, then you have insight into whether that person’s taste agrees with yours. Then you can click on other reviews from that person, and see what they did like. Do you see what I mean? Somebody who is honest enough to post a bad review is probably being honest about the good reviews too.

    I think the Amazon review system is brilliant. Yea, there are a few snags and glitches, but overall, it’s one of the coolest things in cyberspace. I’d give it 5 stars.

  119. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 04:22:05

    Sorry, Mr. Harris, while I appreciate your input and where you're coming from, people like DAM prove your theory so very wrong. Will some reviewers work like that? Yes. The ethical, honest ones.

    As in every aspect of life, the bad people are the ones who hit the headlines. A lot of people are criminals who end up in jail. Does that mean that all people are criminals? No, of course not. But the amount of publicity given to real-life crime makes some people afraid to leave their home at night. It’s the same with Amazon. I could provide you with more names of reviewers who I suspect of dirty practices and I’m sure other reviewers could too, and theiur names wouldn’t always be the same as mine. With over three million reviewers listed in the Amazon.com rankings table (albeit most with only a few reviews), those reviewers inevitably reflect society as a whole. Mostly good, but some bad. And it’s the bad who grab the headlines.

    I am as frustrated as anybody by Amazon’s inaction (although they have taken against some reviewers, as I mentioned earlier), but all this stuff just doesn’t register with the wider public. I know that Amazon has a higher profile in America than in Britain, but my personal media experience shows that Amazon is a non-story. Yes, I was interviewed about my Amazon activities last year and a badly butchered version of my story appeared in a British national newspaper. After that, a less bad version appeared in my local newspaper and a different article about Amazon, mentioning my name, appeared in another national newspaper. Finally, I was interviewed live on my local radio station. But the result of all this – nothing. And none of the media did any more than skim the surface. Any hopes that I had of raising issues through the media were unfulfilled. I have occasional contact with one American reviewer who occasionally appears in the American media (Rebecca Johnson) but again, the interviews she does are generally superficial.

    Getting the media interested in reviewing scandals is going to be difficult, whether in your country or mine. It’s not a sexy story.

  120. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 04:31:21

    I think the ranking thing needs to be addressed.

    I don’t like the ranking system either. On my “Amazon topics” blog, I provide a detailed analysis of the ranking system and some ideas for changing it, but although Amazon have been known to change it in the past, they are very reluctant to do so any more. We know from past experience that there would be a huge backlash from reviewers.

    Unfortunately, I think the present system unwittingly encourages cheating, because it is so hard now for any new reviewers to reach the top 100. That’s because ranking points are accumulated in perpetuity, so those who got in early have a decisive advantage over late starters.

  121. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 04:37:09

    It would also be helpful if you would use your connections to make Amazon aware of this foray. (You are one of Amazon's Top 20 Reviewers).

    I wish I had the influence that my ranking would suggest. I don’t, but I’ll send them the information.

  122. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 04:41:04

    I've got some cookie to recognize me as a Prime member every time I go to Amazon

    I never have to log into Amazon at home because when I first set up the PC, the first time I logged in, I selected the “remember password” option. If I go to a public computer, I have to log in – and I make sure I log out before the session ends. Amazon doesn’t have a log out option as such – you just ask to log in again, whereupon doing nothing means you are logged out.

  123. C. Vowels
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 04:45:09

    I actually totally agree with Nadia. I think Amazon’s review system is awesome, and for my money, unmatched. I think the fact that the reviewer themself gets reviewed for their review with helpful and unhelpful votes actually completes the circle of life, so to speak, for Amazon reviews.

    Also want to say I appreciate the reviewer ranking system. Say what you want about reviewing for the good of humanity, but it’s nice to be appreciated for doing something well and the ranking is recognition. There are some phenomenal reviewers on Amazon who I read faithfully, some because their tastes tend to be in line with mine, some because they’re just incredibly clever reviewers. They should be lauded and appreciated for being good at what they do–especially since, despite what you may hear, the vast majority of them get absolutely nothing out of it.

    I use Amazon reviews to make decisions on purchases all the time. Positive or negative, I love hearing what the man on the street has to say about a product–because it’s just plain honest. The thing that irks me is that joe blow’s honest opinion is being repressed by some authors’ organized hit squads. Gaming the review rankings is just going to be par for the course; not that I agree with it, but someone’s always going to cheat. It’s the idea of sellers repressing product reviews, not to mention threatening reviewers, that has me fried. That’s what feels the most sinister.

  124. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 04:56:04

    For a good book try Tolkien, Self-Published Author, or Terry Brooks. I prefer Self Published Author.

    People who want to do this sort of thing often do so via Listmania – Amazon’s option for customers to provide lists of products for people to look at. Some all you use “So you’d like to ….” guides, which can be used as glorified Listmanias.

    It is really quite easy to provide a list containing a lot of popular products, mixing in some obscure products that wouldn’t otherwise get attention. I’ve used this technique myself and know that it works (see earlier) but I’m not doing anything other than alerting others to some of the obscure stuff that I like.

    At least if you see something in a review that is blatant self-promotion, it’s easy to spot. Lists are what they are, so policing them would be impossible.

  125. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 05:24:15

    I also am not sure how good the “helpful” button is on the reviews. It is certainly useful on discussion boards.

    Apart from any direct effect they have on rankings, they are also used to determine which reviews get spotlighted. With the way that Amazon’s pages are now laid out (since the two-column layout was implemented), spotlights are more important than ever. Many reviewers have realized this and those that are inclined to cheat have exploited the system to ensure that their reviews are invariably spotlighted.

    Grady Harp (who I generally refer to as Greedy Harp) is the most famous example, but there are others. Greedy actually has more YES votes than Harriet, having overtaken her in January. Some of the products he reviews are popular while others are obscure, but they all get plenty of votes. Despite his abundance of votes, he still “only” ranks at #7. With all its faults, the ranking system still acts as a brake on the ambitions of some. If we had a nice, simple system where the reviewer with most votes were crowned #1, things would be much worse than they are now.

    But the click of a negative button is way too easy. I have noticed that the negative reviews on my books gather a lot of “unhelpful” votes.

    What you have to remember about Amazon is that isn’t a brick-and-mortar store, nor is it a magazine. People find what they want on Amazon using search commands, which means that most of what they find is stuff they like. As such, the majority of people who look up any given product are fans, who easily outnumber neutrals and critics. So just as most amateur reviewers only review what they like, most fans are happy with that because they don’t want their heroes criticized. One clear exception to this appears to be movies. This isn’t my area of expertise, but it seems that movie fans, both as reviewers and as customers, have a different outlook to book and music fans.

  126. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 05:42:10

    He posted using different “reviewers” names.

    This practice has been largely stamped out since Amazon implemented the purchase requirement. Originally, reviewers were opposed to the idea that only Amazon customers could post reviews, but the problem of shill reviews eventually became so bad that the need for change far outweighed the legitimate reasons for not having such a restriction, the prime one being that children and most teenagers can’t buy directly from Amazon – somebody else has to do it for them. I don’t know if a solution has been found to this last problem, but I see that Amazon still asks me to say that I’m over 13 every time I post a review. Maybe kids’ reviews don’t require a purchase, but that leaves the question of those aged 13 to 17. Have they been disenfranchised? I don’t know.

    So if somebody now wants to use multiple reviewing accounts, they have to purchase at least one product from each of those accounts. The actual cost of those purchases may not be important, but the effort of setting up a duplicate set of account details is a deterrent. If they use the same address for each account, Amazon can spot this. If they use a fake address, any purchase they make won’t reach them if it has to be sent by post. And if they use a friend’s address, it’s only of benefit if that friend isn’t an Amazon customer, otherwise they may as well just get the friend to write the shill review. The friendly shill may still happen, but the wholesale reviewing from multiple accounts has gone.

  127. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 05:46:20

    a high-rate speed reader (around 1500-2000 words per minute) only gets 30%-50% comprehension.

    Most people don’t believe Harriet comes close to 30% comprehension.

  128. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 05:55:42

    If you didn't like the review, don't click “yes.” Period.

    This is an old argument on Amazon too. I hope the NO button stays, because there’s a world of difference between “10 out of 10 people found this review helpful” and “10 out of 500 people found this review helpful”. Even if you disagree with the 490 in the second case, at least it makes you think. And if the review really is misleading, seeing “10 people found this review helpful” will compound the problem.

    Another point is that, if there’s only one review, will people bother voting if the only option is YES? It’s not like having a choice. Nobody knows the answer, at least on Amazon. Maybe other websites can offer clues, but that doesn’t mean that Amazon customers would behave the same way.

    Maybe abolition will come eventually. You can never tell with Amazon.

  129. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:08:47

    There needs to be an active Amazon.com Group where people can visit, post and get responses within 24-hour time frame. This group should be solely dedicated to problems people are having within the Amazon Community.

    The customer reviews discussion board was intended to be this forum. Unfortunately, it is dominated by people who just want to be there for social reasons. Amazon long ago gave up any idea of trying to police it. In my “Amazon topics” blog, on a page titled “Delve into my personal Amazon history”, I explain my thoughts on that board in detail. Although I was banned and re-instated as I said earlier, I eventually quit regular posting altogether more than three years ago, but I continue to monitor the board because some serious Amazon news does emerge from it. These days, I post only if I am mentioned and if I feel the need to respond, which is about seven times over the three years including one yesterday, although that post was the first for many months.

    I think it is too late for Amazon to do anything about the existing board, but maybe they could rename it “Customers social discussion board” and set up a different board for the serious stuff. But then they’d have to police that one and they probably don’t want to spend the money.

  130. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:22:40

    A review should not be allowed to be removed unless is has a PERSONAL ATTACK on the author or other readers.

    In my early days as an Amazon reviewer I came across this review. I knew that Amazon would delete it if they ever found out about it, so I saved it for posterity before they did (and that didn’t take long). So here goes …..

    0 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
    What a Disgusting Retched Putrid Bunch of Ghetto Drivel
    December 9, 2002

    What a sad state of affairs it has become when someone would utter the words Country Music and unFaith-ful Hill in the same sentence, page, or book for that matter. She never was a coutry singer and her disgusting also non singing husband were passed over by the CMA again this year. I am so glad to see that the people who committed “Murder On Music Row” were found as conspirators in the death. This is one of those so charged with aiding and abetting in the MURDER ON MUSIC ROW.

    This hussy and whining harlot non singing ghetto moaning tramp can take her like and go back to motown and record her drivel up there. Leave the Country Music to real Country Music singers. Women that would include Patty Loveless and Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, the Carters, and the Stoneman women, and the ladies still on the ‘Opry stage every Saturday night.

    The harlotry reeked upon the buying public in the guise of Country Music is exhibeted here with the utmost prostitution.

    This albumn left me breathless correct. From retching and regurgitation. The best way to describe this is feculence.

  131. Jules Jones
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:25:23

    “For a good book try Tolkien, Self-Published Author, or Terry Brooks.”

    The person who does this doesn’t like people drawing attention to it and regularly Googles on his name to make sure he can hunt down and destroy the enemy, which is why I’m deliberately not posting his name here and presumably why others haven’t. But there’s a short but interesting tale to be had elsewhere.

  132. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:29:54

    Goodreads DOES NOT sensor. Period.

    So would they allow a book review similar in tone to the music review I just posted to be shown on their site? In these cases, I don’t think “Block this person” would suffice.

  133. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:41:00

    If I understand correctly, Amazon will take down a review if it gets enough “Not helpful” votes? Is that right?

    No. You’re confusing “Not helpful” with “Report this”.

  134. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:49:44

    The person who does this

    Do you mean him?

  135. Stacie McClellan
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 06:52:45

    As an Amazon Prime member who probably paid most of Mr Bezo’s car payments for the more years than I care to think of, I thought I was pretty savvy about the site. Apparently, though, I’m a naif. I had no idea that reviewers were receiving free products.

    I was also unaware that people were “gaming” the review system. I feel betrayed. I now understand why after buying a highly rated book I am sometimes very disappointed. Color me disillusioned. I nearly always use the reviews to help me to decide whether to purchase items. Now not knowing if I can trust these reviews is depressing.

    I have strong feelings about cyber buying and I hope that Amazon will take steps against the perpetrators.

    I agree with the above posters that changes are indicated. I’m not sure exactly what should be done but Amazon stands to loose a lot of their customer’s faith if things aren’t changed.

  136. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 07:04:39

    Finally, at least for now, here’s a direct link to one of my “Amazon topics” blog pages. It’s very topical and contains a lot of advice on how to expose cheating on Amazon.

    Also a link to the customer reviews discussion board.

    The thread “Weird neggie action” is particularly interesting. It’s where I made one of my very rare (these days) posts.

  137. Jules Jones
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 07:14:47

    Peter @134: Yes, him. And Amazon is not the only place he’s tried this — he used to do this on Usenet as well, although I think he’s given that up because he’s got no way to censor the replies which explain in careful detail what a sockpuppet is.

  138. Lauren Stephenson
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 07:16:37

    I’m not very internet savvy. Amazon was one of the first sites i learned to use thanks to my daughter. I thought these reviews were honest for the most part. I assumed Amazon looked after their customers. I am really upset to find out that people like Deborah MacGillivray are able to get away with this. Reading the other reviewers explain what they do, I have no problem with them getting stuff to try. They should try it before they make a review. But from what I read this writer told people to vote for her even if they hadn’t read her book. They hadn’t even bought it. They were just voting to up her score and going after anyone who hadn’t. Amazon needs to go after this woman and do something about her. As for the rest of the review system, there are several good ideas that I would like to see and I hope Amazon will consider them. First things first – the ones who abused the system need to be dealt with, starting with gang leader.

  139. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 07:23:40

    I thought these reviews were honest for the most part.

    They are, as long as you remember that most of them are fan reviews. It’s just a few people like Klausner, Harp, MacGillivray and others who play dirty tricks.

  140. Lauren Stephenson
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 07:47:53

    With respect Mr Harris, what Deborah MacGillivray did goes far beyond ‘dirty tricks’. She threatened a reviewer’s family and stalked the poor woman because she dared rate her books three stars. I don’t know these other reviewers but I have yet to hear of them going after someone with a private investigator. I also read where she bullied other writers. She is a menace. It seems to me that there are some other grips with Amazon and I’m glad they are being addressed, but I won’t lose perspective. As a mother, I find it offensive to group ‘dirty tricks’ with hiring a private investigator and stalking someone with not being diligent or abusing ‘clicks’. One is annoying and fraudulent, the other is nightmarish.

  141. DS
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 08:45:40

    Peter, thank you. There was some of this I didn’t know and I thought I was fairly Amazon savvy. I do know that I had a conversation with someone at Amazon via email about negative votes and she explained to me that the theory was that this was a release valve. The person gets the satisfaction from voting negative and doesn’t write an angry, ranting opposing review although opposing views are always welcome. I believe she meant the “This Book Sucks” sort of review.

  142. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 08:53:47

    what Deborah MacGillivray did goes far beyond ‘dirty tricks'.

    I am well aware of this and following what I’ve seen here, I’ll be spending a lot of time assembling the case against her and bringing it to Amazon’s attention. I hope maybe that one or more lawyers who also happen to be Amazon reviewers can be drawn in, but I won’t mention any names because I haven’t even contacted them yet.

    But the point about Amazon reviews being honest for the most part still holds, which is the specific point I was addressing.

  143. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 09:03:00

    … a release valve. The person gets the satisfaction from voting negative and doesn't write an angry, ranting opposing review although opposing views are always welcome. I believe she meant the “This Book Sucks” sort of review.

    Nice theory but ranting opposing reviews are usually stronger than “this book sucks”. I posted an extreme example earlier although I’ve never come across anything that strong since – however, I’m sure it’s by no means unique. The “comment on reviews” option is another alternative, but it’s a relatively new thing in the history of Amazon. It was introduced partly to reduce the ranting reviews that you describe. Whether it has done, I don’t know, but it’s certainly generated a lot of ranting that wasn’t there before.

  144. DS
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 09:26:43

    I don’t mind the negatives– I get a little bit of evil glee out of the fact I was able to provoke someone that much, I don’t mind the comments, in fact sometimes a productive conversation can arise. But I hate the idea that opposing opinions can be effectively silenced by hitting the “Report abuse” button.

    I think that the the release valve statement was the reason Amazon gave their employees for quarries, but it makes a kind of sense. I had in fact written about something entirely different and we ended up chatting a bit about other things including negative votes.

    I am in awe of the review you posted as an example of invective by a reviewer against an artist.

    I think it’s great that you are willing to help with this particular reviewer. I had sent a letter but I didn’t think it would do much by itself although I hope it will add to the cumulative effect.– it was just pointing out a few things rather than making the whole case. I wouldn’t know how to go about it. I think mentioning specific situations where she gave a 5 star review to a book when she was a co-author/cover artist/”secret co-publisher” would only result in that particular review being yanked and do nothing about the underlying situation.

  145. Anon76
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 09:38:40

    Okay, after reading numerous posts–under different topic headers and over the last few days–I’ve formed an opinion on at least one thing; the Vine program at Amazon does not disturb me in the least.

    Let’s be real here. Do you honestly believe in your heart that every review system is based on the reviewer personally buying those items? Breaking it down even smaller, that reviewers you find at major magazine or newspaper houses BUY the items to be tested? And breaking it down even further, that romance or other genre review sites require that their reviewers purchase the items?

    NO! This is part of the reward system for your time and effort. Freebies. (Yes, yes, some big name mags and such hire you on staff, meaning a salary or weekly paycheck, but that is not the norm.)

    So I personally think that the Amazon Vine system holds weight. Where it breaks down is in the rating of reviewers, be it a normal consumer, a Vine participant, or a top reviewer.

    Is there a way to fix that? I dunno.

    It could be as simple as (without naming the voter, something kept for Amazon only) that a positive or negative vote about a review requires a why. Just a short sentence, perhaps replacing the current comment section which is arbitrary at best. There is no counting vote to that.

    However, to vote on the review would then require further review. Should we then have the right to vote if the positive/negative vote and comment are helpful?

    I dunno.

    I’m sorry if I’m so anal. I spent fifteen years as a Quality Engineer and statistics and how to better handle them tweak my fancy. You try to figure out ways to get the clearest numbers without being cluttered by the human tendency to add personal opinion. A million miles away from writing novels, I know. LOL

  146. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 10:16:15

    statistics and how to better handle them tweak my fancy

    In that case, go to my Amazon topics blog where you’ll find my detailed description of Amazon’s ranking system as best we know it, together with analysis, options for change and statistics. For most people, it makes mind-numbing reading.

  147. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 10:23:14

    example of invective by a reviewer

    The curious thing is that the writer appears to be a highly intelligent person, based on the final word (feculence). I had to look it up in a dictionary and I’ve never seen it used anywhere else but in this review, or in discussions about it. You’d think that such a person could have expressed her thoughts clearly without resorting to a personal attack.

  148. Robin
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 11:58:14

    I don’t think the Vine program per se is problematic; I think it’s the Vine program + review and reviewer rankings that = more problems than necessary.

    Same with the “unhelpful” button on reviews. I may not object to it AS LONG AS it’s not used to rank reviews or to banish reviews to some cyber-basement on the Amazon site.

    Any time you link the popularity of a reviewer — however indirectly — to these things, you’re asking for people to try to cheat the system, IMO.

  149. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 12:52:49

    To “Just a reader” post #38

    The extract you quouted from “The thinking mother” misses out the bit before ….

    I have a personal policy of not reviewing books which I don’t read cover to cover. I don’t think it is fair to review a book if I haven’t actually read the whole thing, to see if the story gets good by the end or whatever.

    …. and the bit after ….

    A pressing issue is that my status as a Vine reviewer is tied up until I review this.

    …. which then goes on to explain that deadlines have to be met.

    The inclusion of these lines changes the impression somewhat. I don’t know anything about the Vine program, nor do I know “The thinking mother”, but I do recognize deliberate quoting out of context when I see it.

    FWIW, I don’t qualify for the American Vine program anyway, but I’m not interested in the British program either because I don’t like reviewing to deadlines and I like the right to veto anything that I’m offered.

  150. Mark Baker
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 13:08:17

    Another top 100 reviewer chiming in here.

    The rankings are what got me posting reviews back in 2001. I wanted a spot in the top 10,000. By the time I reached it, I was hooked and am still doing it 7 years later.

    I can tell you from personal experience that I used to hardly buy anything from Amazon. Now I buy lots from them (about half my books). Why? Because I am there every day and they are recommending me more things.

    And I think it is the same for other customers. They go to Amazon to look up information and end up buying something, whether it is the item they intended to buy or not. So the reviews are good for Amazon’s bottom line.

    But please don’t take away my ability to review stuff I haven’t bought there. (Yes, I know it is just a proposal of those on this site.) See, I don’t buy music there because they never discount it. I will often review movies I saw in the theater but never buy. And I buy books at book signings that I still review. That would drastically affect my reviewing life, and wouldn’t provide any information to Amazon’s customers.

    Yes, there are serious cheats in the top 100 (and lower, I’m sure). It makes those of us who got their honestly look pretty bad. But it generally don’t take more then a minute or two to decide if the review is written by someone you can trust or not. Just look and see what else they have reviewed. That should tell you a lot. If they only review one author, there might be a connection there.

    But eliminating the review ranking system still wouldn’t get rid of DAM’s nasty attack on Reba. DAM and her ilk could still harash honest reviewers who wrote less than 5 star reviews of their books. The only thing that will help in that situation is if Amazon actually looks at reported review before pulling them. And they need to start doing that because I am hearing more and more stories of authors getting negative reviews pulled.

  151. None
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 13:09:31

    Full disclosure: I am an Amazon top-something reviewer, who gives reviews ranging from 1-5 stars, averaging around three stars. I say mean things about books. I try to say helpful mean things about books, and if I don’t like an element, but never like an element, I try to disclose and say, “you may feel differently if you like stories about amnesiac cowboys.” I am also a member of the Vine program.

    I actually think that community moderation is a very well-explored problem, and it has a simple solution: meta-moderation. Amazon doesn’t have the time to meta-moderate, so–based on some scores–allow community members to meta-moderate in tiny amounts each, at random. Say, you can moderate at most five scores a day. If someone is consistently abusing the “report abuse” button, ban them from reporting abuse. And you know what? The higher someone’s reviewing rank, the more moderation should be required before abuse is reported.

    I can almost always tell when authors are using (I hesitate to say the word “abusing”) their circle of friends to punish harsh comments. Typically, if I post a negative review, I will–within hours–get a bunch of comments berating my personal taste. People will post vigorous replies. Ten people will say almost instantly that my review was unhelpful. (Nobody’s ever called them abusive, though, as far as I can tell–and if the practice of abusing the “report abuse” button spreads, Amazon really will have to start some kind of meta-moderation.)

    And you know what? In the long run, it never matters. People read the review, and even those that don’t disagree will say it’s helpful. If I were trying to maximize my reviewer rank, by the way, I’d give every book I read three or four stars. Nobody takes the five-star reviews seriously, and three or four stars makes people think you’re “moderate” in your praise.

    This is a separate problem from that of giving perks to high ranked reviewers. To be honest, my reviewer rank is high enough now, and based on a large enough number of books, that I doubt I’ll fall significantly if I gave up reviewing entirely. I earned my high rank before Amazon instituted the Vine program. Back then, it was really just a matter of cataloging what I liked and didn’t like, so that when I was confronted with an author I remembered reading, but didn’t recall anything else, I could just look up what I said on Amazon and say, “Oh yeah, I like her” or “Ugh… gonna pass.”

    Now I get free stuff. Maybe some people will be super-motivated to buy and read several hundred books a year just so they can have the chance to receive, once a month, a foil packet of Bertolli’s pasta sauce or some similar benefit. Those people, though are completely irrational. Are people going to cheat to get their free foil packeted pasta sauce? Probably. But honestly…. WHO CARES?

    ETA: Agree completely with Mark Baker. I buy a lot through Amazon–heck, I’m a Prime member–but I also pick up a ton of my reading through browsing bookstores.

  152. Peter Durward Harris
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 13:48:06

    I have found Reba Belle’s profile on Amazon. She has six reviews and it’s not difficult to spot the one that has caused all the trouble. It is listed as having 30 comments, but all those posted by Reba have been deleted by Amazon. If I’d gone looking an hour earlier than I did, I’d have been able to read them. Further research showed that Reba had posted a comment on one of her other reviews, but Amazon also deleted this. Reba – or anybody else – can contact me via my contact page. I’m willing to help if requested, but some of this stuff needs discussing offline and not on a publicly visible blog.

  153. Krista
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 13:56:42

    Even Reba’s comments on the Amazon forums have been deleted…

  154. amberwitch
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 14:20:36

    It appears that amazon is doing something about the recent controversy with DAM, Reba Belle, and the three star review. I am just not sure it is the right thing…
    If you follow the url below, you’ll see that amazon (at this point an hour ago) has deleted Reba Belles responses to the critical comments to her ‘controversial’ review:
    http://www.amazon.com/review/R3QAMUQP2POZ2O/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?%5Fencoding=UTF8&ASIN=0821780379

    That was not the kind of reaction I expected from amazon, and I am wondering what kind of response this lettercampaign can elicit – perhaps the amazonprofiles of all the letterwriters erased ;-)

    ETA: redundant post. Sorry about that.

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