Sunday 10 February 2013

The Problem With Amazon Reviews

There is no magic involved in getting honest and legitimate reviews. It's called: the hard work of good writing on the author's part, and integrity on the reviewer's part.

Unfortunately some authors and reviewers don't play by the rules of integrity, especially on Amazon.

Author Michael Drakich has the same view as I do in regards to gathering honest and legit reviews. Micheal is talking about his
self-published books, but the information he provides has to do
with any and all published books.

The following is a re-post from Live Write Thrive

Today’s guest post is from Michael Drakich, and although he shares only 3 things, they’re detailed and insightful:

I’ve been asked to describe some things I’ve learned in the past year as a self-published author. The truth of them is they all involve the school of hard knocks. There is no easy path to success. Here are three major things with a number of other tidbits of advice mingled in.

1. Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. Everyone knows the joke: Where does a 900-pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to.

The Gorilla in the Room

When it comes to the indie publishing world, Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. Self published authors have no choice but to accede to the whims of this monster. Because most self-pubs rely on ebook sales only and Amazon has the giant share of that market, they are forced to compete within that marketplace.

What does this mean? On Kindle Select the number of free novels every single day of the week (over 5,000 the day of this post) makes trying to sell your product a challenge. I mean, why should a book buyer look at your reasonably priced product, most ranging from $.99 to $4.99, when they can get a competitor for $0.00!

But it doesn’t end there. Let’s say a buyer decides to actually shop because he wants to search for quality. So they search a category and the default search is by popularity. Well, unless you can generate a lot of sales quickly, your book will be so many pages in, the buyer will never look that far.

Let’s say they change the search to average customer review. Again, unless you have had any luck garnering reviews in a massive amount, your book will be buried deep. What is purportedly happening is authors are buying five-star reviews by the hundreds to give them a high rating. Amazon’s algorithm’s kick in and, voila, a top-rated book. No effective system is in place to stop such abuse.

So how do self-published authors get their books found on Amazon? The simple answer is—they don’t. As long as Amazon is happy with the current system, they will have no motivation to change it. After all, buyers want to find the most popular or the highest rated. Why would they introduce anything that would be counterproductive to that?

The 900-pound gorilla is sitting and you can’t move him.

buyers want to find the most popular or the highest rated. Why would they introduce anything that would be counterproductive to that?
The 900-pound gorilla is sitting and you can’t move him.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions . . .

2. What price do I set for my ebook? One of the more difficult decisions I needed to make was what price to set my ebook at. Looking at the market, prices were all over the place. From a vast quantity at $.99 up to paperback prices of $11.00 or $12.00.

The major player, Amazon, with its pricing policy, urges the writer to consider $2.99. But their rating policy pushes you higher because higher priced books, when sold, move you up the rating list faster.
So what is a writer to do? I considered making a dartboard with prices on it but realized that was a bad idea. It came down to asking what am I worth? I opted for $4.99. Not the highest price, but definitely far above the average. It was probably pretty close to the median.

So am I saying my writing is only median? Not exactly. When examining those prices above $4.99, they belonged to writers with a greater established record than mine. Allotting a variance for just such a reason seemed only fair. So when comparing against other first-time self-pubs, I’m right near the top price. After all, I think I’m worth it.

Honestly . . .

3. Is honesty really the best policy? My marketing plan is one of seeking out bloggers to give me honest reviews for my latest novel. Hopes, of course, are to get all five-star reviews. Reality is a bit of a mix. To date I’ve received a combination of five-, four-, and three-star reviews. I think there was one in there that featured an extra half star, but I digress. Now, three stars is still not a bad review, and those reviews did include positives about my book. So, all in all, I’m not too disappointed.

My only disappointment arrives when I stop to examine the reviews and ratings of my fellow authors. Many feature scads of five stars and little else. When one takes the time to examine where those reviews came from, almost exclusively the review is the only one ever posted by that particular individual.

Now I may have been born at night, but I can assure you, it wasn’t last night. Either all these authors are exceedingly lucky that people reading their work post a raving review for their work and no one else’s or it’s fixed. I’m going out on a limb here and will side with the latter. If I’m to guess at what is going on, these authors are convincing friends and family to write glowing reviews. What you usually see is this trend continues for the first ten to twenty and then dies off. It’s the later reviews that tell the true story, whether a five star was deserved.

In the meantime, what has happened? The author, possibly by false pretext, manages to mislead the shopper that the work is quality based on reviews. They garner sales, which improves their ranking, which garners more sales, and so on. So why am I taking the high road? In hindsight, damned if I know. 

Well, I do, but I’m wondering whether I did the right thing. Does the average consumer out there question the reviews they read? Do they bother to follow a modicum of investigation? Probably not.
Still, I intend to soldier through. There is so much more to bloggers than the review. It’s the word-of-mouth campaign they run for you. I read once somewhere (I can’t recall) that new authors need to be heard of six to ten times before a buyer thinks, hey, I’ve heard of that guy before, so maybe I’ll buy his book.

I hope these stories give an idea of the challenges facing a new writer. To all who try, I wish them the best of success.

Now that is an author with integrity.     


  1. Hi Diane,

    I'm pleased you found my remarks informative. I've dedicated my blog at Goodreads to the trials of authors today. Wishing you well in your writing endeavors.

    Michael Drakich

    1. Hi Micheal,

      Yes, your article was very informative and true. These things I already know about Amazon and thought my readers should know also.
      Thanks for allowing me to share.
      Take Care.

  2. HiDiane, I simply love your blog and have nominated you for a Very inspiring Blogger Award. To collect it's simple, click onto my blog
    and follow the rules. Have a great day

  3. Hi Jennie,

    Thank you so much for thinking of me for this award. And congratulations!

  4. I find myself agreeing with everything Michael Drakich wrote. The reviews part is most distressing, considering I am a children's book reviewer. Just recently, I was asked to review a book and at the bottom of the email were links to three reviews. The author invited me to read the reviews to help me decide to accept the book. It was good advice but caused me to reject the review request.

    Two of the reviews were written by the same person who was paid to write a positive, 5 star, review. The third was, according to the website, written by the author. The author denied, but the terms of service clearly stated that each book must be reviewed by the author to get on the top page. Needless to say I refused the request. I have plenty of books from legitimate authors that I have no desire to waste time on those that cut corners to cut out competition.

    I have known for a long time that authors are writing their own reviews, or simply 5 star rating their books after uploading them to places like Library Thing, Goodreads, Jacketflap and the like. Doing so is not against any official policy on any of those sites. Still, what about ethically? Is it fair to give yourself a false leg up by giving yourself a 5?

    Sure the author believes this is true, or they should if they believe in their writing. But to take 5 stars from systems that are relying on reviews from outside sources is, to me, unconscionable.

    Honesty is important, especially in children's books. Kids view some authors like movie stars or super heroes. They need those authors to be good people, honest people, people the kid can look up to and emulate.

    Cheating is wrong. "Only trying to make a living," is no excuse.