Amazon Changes its Review Policy (but not enough)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are five suggestions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Review Factory (August 21st, 2011)

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


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

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