Since being published and finding myself checking in with my books on Amazon from time to time, I've become quite familiar with the various abuses of the system that are going on.

For starters, you can spot the author-under-pseudonym reviews a mile off. Usually they award themselves 5 stars. The review is usually only a couple of paragraphs, presumably because they fear waxing on at too great a length, they might give themselves away. But the real give-away is when you go and check the reviewer's other reviews and find, surprise, surprise, there are none. It's as if said reviewer had winked into existence just to post the one (glowing) review, and then vanished into obscurity.

Poor thing.

I think of these as 'phantom reviewers'...and they usually puff into existence, as if by magic, after a particularly negative review has been posted. And they don't come in ones. Oh no....the phantoms miraculously appear in two and threes, post their gushing 5 star opinions, and then disappeared amidst a cloud of wishful thinking.

So does seem a lot of authors are out there playing a bit of a dodgy game. I do think it's damaging the value and integrity of Amazon's review system that there is so much of this going on. As well as an author I'm a big reader and trawling for something new to read, I rely very much on what other readers have said about a book.

So bad is the proliferation of author-authored reviews, that the only reviews I'm beginning to trust are the negative ones! Even then...I suspect some of the really bad 1 star reviews are either posted by rival authors in an attempt to spoil each other's potential sales, or acquaintences from an author's distant past - perhaps some old school bully who's stumbled via Friends Reunited or Facebook onto the fact their one time victim actually managed to achieve something...or an ex-partner looking to stick an anonymous boot in.

I'd like Amazon to tighten up this system somehow. I mean, it's so open to abuse, that bigger name authors now have Web Pr companies busily heaping praise on their books no doubt hiring an army of monkeys to cut and paste generic glowing-praise reviews for their clients.


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Well, I have a number of short 5-star reviews and have never posted on my own books. I do have fans. For that matter, you don't have to post yourself; you can get friends and relatives to do it. Amazon does ask for identification these days, I think. There was a scandal years ago, of the opposite kind. Hateful reviews posted by someone's enemy. Oh, and recently Patricia Cornwell apparently has complained about that sort of thing.

As for reader reviews: Take them with a grain of salt. Not all readers are well informed and not all readers are inclined to give 5 stars even if they think and say at length that the book is superb.
For checks and balances in this kind of situation, I think we will have to use our common sense and intelligence to tell a trashy review from a legitimate one. Maybe it's because I'm not published yet; maybe when I am I will feel the same way.

But what could Amazon do? Delete trashy reviews? And who's to say what qualifies as a trashy review?
I think the merits of an open system far outweigh the negative aspects. Any halfway intelligent person will recognize the abuses to the system. You can tell a sincere review from a phony one, usually. Anyway, you knew enough about it to bring it up, and I.J. knows about it and I know about it, so I imagine most people know about the abuses going on on the Amazon rating system.

But being able to say what you want is important, and while it is true that free speech doesn't necessarily apply to a website, I think keeping the system open is better.
Another hindrance is actually letting anyone post a review. I sort of retaliated for one of our crimespace members when she posted a review of his book but her review was neither fitting, nor pertinant. She basically made it all up, and did so just to Up her reviewer status. I believe I made it fairly clear that she not only did not read the book, but was just mimicking someone elses review for another book...

I am all for readers offering a little review of titles, but it should be limited to those that actually read the book...and I see no way of ever making that happen.
Jon, I'm becoming way too cynical about the entire business to attempt to meddle with it. Amazon has only a small share (guesstimates are 14 to 18 %). Yes, I suspect bad reviews affect sales a bit (at least my only book that got flac from two flamers sells below the others), but I doubt that good reviews translate into sales.

Our real enemies are the box stores and chains. They are the king makers. They decide who lives and who dies.
I think the Amazon review process was tainted about 5yrs ago when some guy posted something like 200+ reviews about himself making it the best rated book around. I think it opened the doors for other people to follow suit. Sadly, all reviews on Amazon have been tainted as no one is ever sure who really posted the review. As to tightening up the system, I'm not sure how you'd do it. Amazon could take a leaf out of Fictionwise's book in that you can't review a book unless you've bought it.
Hah! Very good point. One of my flamers bragged that he got the book from the library.

However, I do know that the rest of the reviews on my sites are legitimate. The details as well as the reactions reveal that much. Some return after having reviewed the earlier books. Some have websites where they discuss their reading. Only one was known to me personally because I encountered him in a local men's book club. He did not tell me that he would post a review. Strangely, not one of the people who send me fan e-mail ever posted an amazon review. A great pity!
I don't think anyone is saying anyone here that there's any doubt they're real. The problem is the system is tainted--like computer voting machine in ohio. :-)
Only allowing one IP address per same book might help. There is software for that. I mean, you could still jump from computer to computer, but any little bit might help.
Integrity? I don't think that's quite the right word for it.

A formal publisher of reviews - whether in print (Mystery Scene, Mystery News, Crimepree, etc.) or online (Reviewing the Evidence etc.) tries to make sure there's no potential conflict of interest involved when assigning reviews and the reviewers are expected to approach books with an open mind. Amazon reviews (the ones not coming from a published source) are a mix of review, fan response, friends and family boosting their buddies, product rating and, on occasion, lunacy. Of course it can be gamed! It's all a game.

The only time I look at them is when I am curious about how readers respond to a book that has mixed responses. You can get an idea of what makes them either embrace or get angry at a book. (This is the same way I look at comments at newspapers now and then with horrified fascination.Man, these people really hate each other!)

Otherwise, they are as invisible as the Google ad that tell me (at the moment, since I'm looking) that I can get on online degree in CSI, hire a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney, or call a lawyer about (mysteriously) "violent crime apartments." Oh, and I can get a hot date, too.

Amazon actually has taken steps to try and make the review process more transparent, and they will take complaints, especially after the Great Canadian Amazon Snafu of 2004. What would be rather interesting is something like WikiScanner - that traced edits to Wikipedia and found corporations turning their information into PR pieces and the CIA and politicians dry-cleaning their image.
I'm still waiting for my first review at Amazon, but I have received one good review at Barnes and Noble for BEAUFORT FALLS, which is good since they have yet to post the book's synopsis. I find myself buying and reading a lot of books published by fairly new and somewhat obscure yet authors since I go to book events and am newly published also, so I'll review books when I like them.

I had a friend of mine chastise me lately for mentioning other authors I'm reading in the "other books read" section after I reviewed her book. I offerred to request they take the review down but she didn't want that. "I LOVE the review", she told me. Turns out I listed a few too many OTHER good authors for her liking. Is this a bad thing? I AM a reader.
You should mention whatever authors you want to list. It's absurd to me to tell someone not to mention others, presumable because it might detract from my own work. Selfish commercialism has tainted literature, in my opinion, and that is a much more important issue than Amazon's imperfect rating system.

Sorry, that's probably offensive to your friend and therefore maybe to you, but that's the way I see it.


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