Amazon’s Corrupt Review System

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With ebooks making up an estimated 30% of all book sales these days and the barrier of entry to self-publishing being so low, it’s hardly surprising that competition has driven people to pay for any edge they can get in the market.

Planning to self-publish on Amazon myself in the near future, I often find myself skimming through the Kindle Book store. It doesn’t take long before I start stumbling over clearly fake reviews littered around the place. Terrible cash-grab books, churned out with little regard for quality, are catapulted up in popularity due to their falsely glowing reviews.

It’s a simple task to find people offering these reviews. A quick google search will turn up everything you need to know about the services. Even has listings that painlessly offer five star reviews for a fiver, as Andrew Shaffer wrote about in the Huffington Post.

It seems like a bleak future for anyone honest who is looking to enter the self-publishing industry. Unless writers are willing to buy reviews to gain exposure for their writing, or have already built up an audience for their work, it seems like they’re doomed to be buried under the fake marketing of others cheating the system.

Is there a solution then? Not one that I can find if you want to self-publish and still sleep at night.

Amazon seem to be making an effort to curb the problem. They were in the news earlier this year when they sought to shut down some paid review sites. Even last week, they filed a lawsuit against more than 1,000 people who the company claims have posted fake reviews on its site. The problem is still pervasive though. And at the end of the day, Amazon make money from every ebook sold on their platform so while any action they take is commendable, it’s never going to be entirely in their interest to remove reviews on books if it means preventing possible sales.

I always believed that decent work speaks for itself. If you create something worthwhile, it’ll naturally gain popularity through word of mouth. If I read something I enjoy, I always try and encourage friends to take a look. Depressingly though, I’m starting to feel that unless Amazon’s system changes somehow, quality will always lose out to dishonesty.

EDIT. Harriet Klausner, a woman who reviewed over 31,000 books on Amazon, recently died. According to the article, she was a speedreader and managed to read two books every day. I find it hard to believe that anyone could keep that up for so many years, and think it’s probably more evidence for fake reviewers on Amazon. But I could be wrong. Maybe she just mastered the art of reading.

© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Seth Anderson licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

14 thoughts on “Amazon’s Corrupt Review System”

  1. It’s pretty depressing. As is much of what goes on in the publishing world — and in all ‘businesses’, whatever their nature. Always dodgy tactics employed. It takes ages to get real reviews, so I don’t know how so many new e-books seem to get a very high number right from the start. Some will be legitimate, but others clearly are not. Buying reviews makes a mockery of the whole thing, but I’ve got a feeling that’s been going on — in various forms — for a very long time. Not only with e-books — traditionally published too, though I doubt they go down the Fiverr route.

    1. With Amazon it’s starting to feel like you need that boost of good reviews at the beginning just to be on an even playing field with the less honest sellers.

      It seems that to stand any chance of successfully selling a self-published book these days, you need to split your time equally between writing and marketing.

      1. Seems that way, but maybe not — I’ve heard some books do well with no reviews. Does mean you can’t get listed with most book sites, though — and listings on those can boost sales. And the marketing — this is where I fall down badly. I don’t want to be a whiner but I hate it for all kinds of reasons. But you don’t do it and your book is invisible. So got to be done and I’m trying to figure out the best way to do it without using up what little writing time I have. This whole game has never been easy, I know that, so I guess we just have to do the best we can to make it work.

        1. I hate the required marketing too. I started writing because I love to write, not because I want to spend hours promoting my work on social media. I need to start looking in to it soon though since I’m planning to release my first book before the end of the year. So if you find any useful information on marketing when it comes to self-publishing, let me know, because I have currenly have no idea.

          1. Will do — but I’ve only been doing this (social media) for about a month and I don’t have a clue. Tons of ‘advice’ out there, but trying to find out what works without wasting time. Not putting my novel up until have some type of ‘platform’. If I do, it will just vanish into the pile (mountain).

  2. I’ve always wondered how so many new ebooks gets lots of reviews so quickly. I’ve had my first book out 18 months now, and reviews are very slow in coming. I’m hopeless at self-promotion, which is part of the problem. But I always assumed that many authors just got lots of family and friends to write reviews for them. But perhaps some are buying them, too. I’m not sure how you could tell though, since even some genuine reviewers write very short reviews which say little about the book.
    Interesting read.

    1. It’s a fine line to tread, for sure. I’ve heard of people who are prevented from leaving reviews on some books they’ve read as Amazon wrongfully thinks they are friends with the author. At the same time you see no end of suspicious reviews that are either factually wrong or are so general they could be talking about any book.

      I just read of a woman dying recently, who reviewed over 31,000 books on Amazon. Even for a speedreader, I find that number unbelievable. Here’s the link to the article if you’re interested in taking a look.

      1. Thank you for the link. I’ve just had a quick glance and will read it properly shortly. I’ve heard of the ‘Big Brother’ approach that Amazon is taking over reviews, and understand that some kind of bar should be put on obviously ‘dodgy’ reviews. I know you’re publishing soon, so I hope it goes smoothly for you. Are you planning to publish with otherretailers, too, or just Amazon.At the moment, I’m on Amazon Select, so not with anyone else. Once the third book of my trilogy is finished, I’ll have a rethink.

        1. My plan is to do what you did by the sounds of it – stick with Amazon exclusively for the Select program. Once that ends, I’ll probably expand in to other retailers as well. It sounds like you’re undecided on the Select program, in your experience would you say it’s worth it?

          1. I’ve always had lots of downloads, but very few reviews resulting from them. I have noticed that sales of Book 2 pick up after book 1 has been free, though. But I’d really like more reviews! The ones I’ve got are all good – on both the UK and .com site, but just so rel;atively few. Ithink Amazon do try to help promote books on the Select programme – and, of course, your book will automatically go on to Kindle Unlimited, and I’ve had a fair number of pages read on that. Not enough to work wonders, mind you, but my overall sales have gone gradually up each month.

          2. That sounds generally quite positive. I’m guessing number of reviews will always be an issue. All of your ratings seem favourable though so you must be doing something right. Glad it’s working out well for you.

            Thanks for the information, it’s helped to reassure me a little about publishing on Amazon.

          3. I’m happy with Amazon in general. It isn’t their fault I’m rubbish at promoting my books myself. Reviews on goodreads have tended to be more mixed – not all have been as good. But overall, the average out OK, I suppose. A couple of low ratings were a surprise, and with no reviews to go with them, I’ve no idea why those ratings were given.

  3. This is true. Although, there’s books with thousands of GOOD reviews, then I buy the book just to be disappointed (Currently reading an awful book with great ratings). I tend to always search for the one star reviews. There’s always SOMEONE saying: “The others MUST be the author’s friends or family, because the book is terrible.”

    1. Agreed. I find the negative comments are usually the best indicator of the quality. You can quickly figure out something is amiss if there’s a disconnect between the high and low reviews. I ignore any suspect high ratings completely, especially if they’re non specific or emotional.

      As for a popular book being awful, I’ll quote Bukowski, ‘Wherever the crowd goes, run in the other direction. They’re always wrong.’ That piece of advice hasn’t done me wrong yet.

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