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Amazon Reviews and Ratings

Amazon_blackThe Bivings Report recently wrote a very insightful blog post where they ask the question, "Are Amazon Comments Truly Helpful?"  It caused me to stop and realize that I've rarely, if ever, used reader comments to help decide whether or not to buy a particular book.  I'm not even sure the overall 5-star rating influences my purchase decision.  Btw, every time I write a book review here on the Publishing 2020 blog I cut-and-paste it onto the book's Amazon page.  Now I'm wondering why.

Perhaps my problem is that I tend to be a destination buyer.  I generally know what I want, I find it, and I buy it.  I'm more swayed by the description the author/publisher provided than the opinions of seven strangers who (might have) read the book.  That said, I often wind up reading books that have been recommended to me by friends and colleagues, people I trust.

So where's that filter option on Amazon?  Why can't I provide a list of trusted friends and colleagues and have a separate system that just shows their reviews and ratings?  Sure, it works best with larger numbers of friends/colleagues, but I'll bet there are plenty of reviews from people I know that I've never come across on Amazon.  That's a shame (as well as a lost sale).

One last point about the Bivings post...  It's funny how the vast majority of customer reviews are 5-stars.  I'll bet the reviews I posted follow this same pattern, partially for the first reason cited.  In fact, if I don't enjoy a book after 20 or 30 pages I generally put it aside and never pick it up again.  I can only think of two times that I've actually written scathing reviews of books on my blog (and Amazon); in one case I suffered through the entire book and in the other I couldn't make it past chapter 1.


Eric Anest

Joe, perhaps there's room for collaboration on this between Amazon and social networking tools like Facebook. For example, Amazon could display ratings and reviews only from people who are my friends on Facebook, my contacts on LinkedIn, etc. They could also develop an RSS feed so that I'm instantly aware of reviews my friends and colleagues have posted.

Joe Wikert

Hi Eric. Yes, I think that's an excellent idea. No need to reinvent the wheel as it would be better for Amazon to partner with and leverage an already-existing model like Facebook. I wonder if it will ever happen...

Atilla Vekony

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so why not have Amazon team up with Facebook to provide a more robust social networking capability to what's already there on Amazon?

I bet however, that Amazon will want to reinvent the wheel because they can afford to. They are already doing what LibraryThing and other similar sites do: you can show people what books you own. Google is launching Google Friend Connect. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon spend their days reinventing wheels in an effort to compete with each other. There is nothing wrong with that, however!

Joe Wikert

Atilla, yes, I would imagine Amazon could feel like they could create a "better wheel" for something like this, and maybe they can. I'd just like to see them implement *something* for this rather than not addressing it at all.

On a related note, a colleague sent me an e-mail noting how more good reviews generally equates to more sales. I don't doubt there's a cause-and-effect at work on this; I'm just not convinced we know which is the cause and which is the effect. Do more good reviews drive more sales or are more sales simply driving more reviewers and therefore reviews?



Great post. I actually do use the reviews on Amazon when I'm buying books (or other items). Generally I go to Amazon knowing what I'm interested in, but the reviews often help me narrow down my search. I think your idea of making the reviews more "social networking" centered is a necessary one. It only makes sense to allow people to share their reviews more easily. I'd like to be able to subscribe to certain reviewers, in fact.


I usually don't pay attention to star-ratings or user comments unless I notice that a title is carrying a high number of <3-star reviews. Then I'll go through the comments of the low-raters to get some perspective.

But, this is a very time-consuming process as I find myself needing to (attempt to) gauge things like the objectivity and maturity of the commenter.

I mean, do I really need to be that risk-sensitive when buying a freaking book?

Definitely an M.P. not a Y.P.

Bob Meade

I've got some esoteric reading interests (which are not shared by my friends) and was considering purchasing a book about Naval Gunnery. The Amazon comments, especially the negative ones, helped me quickly decide NOT to buy the book:


since it turned out to not be what I expected from the blurb.

On the side topic, I'm astonished that Amazon did not move to capitalise on the social networking potential of its community of reviewers, even before the Facebook phenom took off.

Now, they'd be mad not to hook up with Facebook - in fact if they become a third party developer, there's no reason why they can't immediately get involved, is there?

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