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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?




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 self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


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