Saturday, April 11, 2015

Amazon fight for what's right..... but why?

It's all over the news that Amazon (The internet retail giant) is taking legal action against sites that offer reviews for money - bought & paid for 4 and 5 star product reviews (including books).

Is this the first step of an Amazon mission to clean up its act? Well, lets hope so, but it has a lot to do.

To understand the 'gaming' that goes on we need to agree the true purpose of an honest review:

The review process is designed so that would-be customers have view of the honest opinions of those that have tried the product that they are thinking of purchasing, simplified by the 1-5 star grading system. This in itself is not without challenges as it relies on the 'reviewers' own thoughts, needs and motivation. "Why motivation?" I hear you ask; well Amazon runs a league table of reviewers, the further up that league a person is, the more likely a company (or author) are to want them to leave a review for their product/book. Reviewers, like authors, have fans, a group of people that have made a purchase based on a review given, and have been pleased, or in agreement with, that reviewers opinions. There is a 'was this review helpful to you?' Yes/No option at the end of each review AND by selecting one or the other the reviewer can climb or sink in the 'reviewers' chart - to the point where some Reviewers/Authors float around Amazon using this system to downvote their competition, or create 'sock puppet' accounts to upvote their own reviews, pushing themselves up the league table of Reviewers. (probably going for the double hit and using the same account(s) to push their competition down the table). What do they gain? Freebies! Like I said, people want their products reviewed by the 'best' reviewers so will happily send free  samples in order to get the higher ranking reviewers to recommend their product by way of a good review.

The average purchaser is going to look at two similar products and the one with the most 4 or 5 star reviews automatically becomes the one to beat - choice made. It's not quite the same with books as there are a lot of personal preferences that one has to consider - genre, style, content etc.but the reviews do still have an impact.

As with any system, there are people that live to game it, use it to their own advantage, and I am absolutely positive that there are people out there that make a tidy income from doing just that - a particularly famous (or infamous) one is Harriet Klausner, an American woman who claims to read between 2 and 6 books a day, every day - books sent to her for review by unsuspecting authors, but many of those books ended up on her ebay/trade me account.

But it's got a little too brazen for Amazon to continue to turn a blind eye when you have websites that guarantee 4 or 5 star reviews for pretty much any product (including books) for a cash donation - and this is what Amazon are fighting. Why? Well, I have two very different trains of thought here:

1. The more 'gaming' that goes on then the less effective the Amazon reviews become, completely devalued by the poison of fake reviews. Customers complain to Amazon, their name gets sullied and Big A gets the hump. After all, its system is designed to help its customers.

2. Big A doesn't like it when someone else is making money off the back of their system - if anyone is going to make money, it has to be Big A.

Now, you may feel that option 2 is a little cynical, possibly even harsh, but never forget that Amazon is a business, a big business that doesn't play nice with others, so don't discount that train of thought too readily.

The end result is the same, so maybe the motivation doesn't really matter, I'm ok with that.

One thing that Amazon desperately needs is more honest reviewers, more ordinary people that are willing to offer their opinions based on their own experiences of a product/book for the benefit of others, not for their own gain in terms of reward or ego tickling.

Ammy has got a long way to go, and I do hope that this is the start of a housekeeping clean up - time will tell.

As an Indie Author the honest reviews are critical to me, good or bad it doesn't matter - just so long as they are a persons honest opinions.

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