Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Was This Review Helpful?" An Amazon Rant

I don't profess to be the world's greatest reviewer. I do it because I love to read and I love to have a dialogue about books. Ask anyone what makes a good review and you'll get answers that span the spectrum of possibilities. Some people want you to write reviews that are spoiler-free, so they can decide whether to buy a book they haven't read yet. Others read reviews after they're finished with a book. They want you to talk about the plot; they want to compare their reading experience to yours. Some people want to know about the writing style, the grammar, or the story structure; while others want to know about the emotion the story sparked in you. I understand that you can't please everyone with every review and in the end, you have to talk about what speaks to you.

But that doesn't make me feel any better about a stupid little feature at Amazon.com. Below every review, it asks, "Was this review helpful to you?" I know I shouldn't care. Hell, I stopped caring what people thought about me somewhere around the third grade. But for some reason, this irritating question sticks in my craw all the same.

I understand the principle of the thing. I've read reviews on Amazon that gave a book a poor rating because it took too long to ship. Others complained that it was too expensive and they refused to buy it, then went on to give the book one star based on the price. Those aren't reviews and shouldn't be counted as such. A book's rating shouldn't be dragged down based on things like that. And there should be a way to flag things like that. But if you've ever spent any amount of time and effort putting reviews on Amazon, you'll find out quickly that people abuse the feature.

What could anyone possibly get out of that? you might ask. Hmpf. Every book or product on Amazon has three featured reviews. They are the ones people have found most helpful. Theoretically, those would be the most worthwhile to casual web-surfers who just want the flavor of the book. But this doesn't mean that the person with the highest votes is featured first. Oh no, you're penalized for each unhelpful vote. Which means if someone wants their review featured, the quickest way to do it is find the other reviews unhelpful.

In moments of reflection and introspection, I've asked myself, "Jen, are you sure you're not being paranoid? Maybe 14% of the people who have read your reviews really didn't find them helpful." But then I think about the release days on any highly anticipated book... how if I go to Amazon, I'll see "0 of 3 people find this review helpful" on all 5 or 6 reviews already posted. And we're talking perfectly good reviews. And it pisses me off. For the most part, these are fellow booklovers like me, who are excited to share their thoughts on the book they've just finished reading. But they're getting voted down so others can make sure their review will be placed higher when it's published. I end up asking myself, "Is it too early to post? Will the trolls be done yet?" Then I shake myself and just post the damn thing, because for crying out loud, it's a book review not international politics.

So what does it all really mean in the end? Not a whole lot. It just bugs me. Those of us who write reviews do it to share them with others. I get to do that on my blog and on Goodreads, without the drama. I think Amazon's important too, though, because many casual readers never make it to the bloggosphere or even Goodreads. **sigh** I feel like a tool for letting it bother me. But I might as well own it.

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14 Comments:

At Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 8:49:00 PM CDT , Blogger Diana (Book of Secrets) said...

I hear you! The "Was this review helpful to you?" irritates me too. Like you said, reviews should be flagged if they're really not about the book, like 1-star because it's not available on Kindle. I wish Amazon would change it to where you can "like" a review, the way Goodreads does it.

 
At Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 8:53:00 PM CDT , Blogger DJL said...

I find it especially disheartening when a book is given a "poor review" because of price, delivery time, or even font in the case of ebooks. A book I found to be a wonderful story had received 1 review (on Borders.com, not Amazon) and it was a 1-star review. The reviewer was complaining about how the font was so small, she couldn't read it on her Kobo. She was right, but I didn't let that get in the way of me reading and enjoying a great story. I almost wish reviews of that nature on any site would be removed, but I suppose they are entitled to their opinions even if it isn't about the story within. Best thing to do is to just keep spreading the word and your thoughts on the books you've read and enjoyed. Those who find those reviews useful will be glad you did. :)

 
At Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 10:48:00 PM CDT , Blogger HighlandHussy said...

oh I avoid amazon like the plague for that reason. I think I have 2 reviews posted there and just gave up

 
At Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 10:51:00 PM CDT , Blogger Sara said...

I'm a top 1000 reviewer on Amazon and review for Amazon vine. It seems totally random as to if one of my reviews is marked as helpful or not. I have a review that I don't think is terrific that has like 800 helpful while ones that have been great have floundered to the bottom because of random reasons.

With book reviews people frequently mark a review unhelpful if they don't agree with you (and people will vote down your review so theirs will get bumped up). Post a negative review early and you'll probably get it marked as unhelpful even if it's well written. I had someone comment and mark a review as unhelpful because I said that a book was great for teenage boys (she said she didn't agree because she was an adult female and loved the book -- not that had anything to do with the book being great for teenage boys).

And yes the reviews that are obviously targeted at a secondary seller drive me nuts. I like knowing if an audio book is read badly or an e-book is hard to read but commenting on shipping speed, that's absurd.

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 1:48:00 AM CDT , Blogger Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I don't post my reviews on Amazon. But I will say that before I started blogging, I used Amazon to research books almost as much as I use google. However, it is interesting because I never noticed that feature of Amazon. I never notice it so I don't pay it any mind. I guess people like me make the problem worse because we aren't noting and thus not giving feedback about the reviews that are helpful. I will start using that feature myself (in an honest way).

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 2:41:00 AM CDT , Blogger Maloup said...

That's why I signed up on GR, Jen! If you want to read a book because you read a good review, or you want to find a good book based on a review, you shouldn't be reading Amazon's reviews. They are merely marketing targeted- meaning they don't go for book content, or targeted audience, it is mainly about their Amazon experience. It's product review rather than a book review. You do an amazing job, so keep up! I love reading your reviews! :)

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:21:00 AM CDT , Blogger Laurie (BittenbyParanormalRomance) said...

I know what your talking about. The only reason I started posting at amazon was because some authors asked me to. I hate posting there period.

Goodreads has the same feature, but I think just about everyone there looks at how the person loved or like the book not to be top reviewers.

The way I look at it is Amazon is just a market place versa goodreads a place that loves books bad or good.

No you cant please everyone and your reviews are fine, so unless an author ask I wouldn't post there.

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 11:28:00 AM CDT , Blogger Aimee said...

I agree. I post to Amazon and I'll see a huge amount of negative marks on me reviews and I think it is so other people can have their review on the main page. I tend to take the likes on Goodreads more seriously than the dislikes on Amazon. I don't read reviews from Amazon really. I go off of Goodreads because I think the people on Goodreads are more easy going and don't get offended when someone doesn't like a book they loved.

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 3:05:00 PM CDT , Blogger Tracy G. Fragassi said...

As a reviewer on Amazon, I've often had the same grievances, Jen. And yes, it's frustrating as all hell when you post a review that you spent time on and get a "not helpful" just because you rated it higher/lower than someone else, or for whatever other inane reason. In that regard, I wish they'd be more like GR and ONLY have a "like" button, doing away with dislikes period.

But Amazon is Amazon, and while I do gnash my teeth, I'm also not going to stop posting my reviews there. I write reviews for similar reasons to Jen - I LOVE to read, and I LOVE expressing my opinions on what I've read. Okay, and I got sick of that dazed, glazed look in the eyes of family and friends when I finally cornered them and started spouting my opinions, so I started writing them down instead.

That opinion doesn't change if no one likes it or agrees with it. So I try not to get TOO annoyed with Amazon, and take truer pleasure in my blog or GR for genuine book discourse.

And if I OCCASIONALLY revel in the harmless yet gruesome fantasy of squishing all those negative ninnies' heads like pimples...well...I'm still a work in progress. ;-)

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 3:28:00 PM CDT , Blogger Under the Covers said...

I rarely bother reading Amazon reviews anymore, and I especially won't anymore if that is what happens, it is very petty and childish!! I think GR and blogs are much more accurate, as you know the people who are reviewing and what their tastes are compared to you.

Suz

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:12:00 PM CDT , Blogger Alleged Author said...

The Amazon reviews thing bothers me, too. The haters out there find a way to take down people they think are better than themselves. I also hate reviewers who don't even read the DANG BOOK and you can SO TELL! Sing on, sistah!

 
At Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 1:29:00 PM CDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your thoughts. I'm in the 1500 reviewers on Amazon and I'm in the Amazon Vine Program. Recently, I believe that I have an "unhelpful" stalker as everytime I write a new review the next day it will have an unhelpful review. Also, if you are a member of the Vine Program many people hate that you get free items to review and vote against your reviews just because, they have the Vine Program designation.

It won't stop me from reviewing on Amazon or on GR because, I do love to share my thoughts on books and other items.

Though, I'd like to find my "unhelpful" stalker and make him clean my toilet with his/her tongue LOL!

 
At Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 1:49:00 PM CDT , Blogger Jen said...

Ha!! Too funny. People suck. Just today, someone posted on Amazon that I must get paid to write my reviews because too many are positive and they are posted the day of release. Grr.

 
At Friday, July 22, 2011 at 7:12:00 AM CDT , Blogger Patti (Caught in a FAB Romance) said...

Love this post - I wholeheartedly agree! It's frustrating...

 

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