Amazon Reconsiders Reviews?

One reason Amazon has been so successful is the product reviews that its customers generate for free. Lately, though, it seems like Amazon has focused more on preventing reviews than encouraging them. I started using Amazon in 1998. Not exactly from its very inception, but only three years after they started selling books. I’ve been pretty happy with them as both a reader and a writer. I rated the (hundreds of) books I bought, but only occasionally posted reviews, mostly of albums by the best rock band ever.

One reason In 2012, I joined Goodreads – then an independent, crowdsourced book review site. I liked it, and I started writing and posting reviews. Since I was writing the reviews anyway, I posted on Amazon as well.

[Then came Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads (and the subsequent growth of BookLikes and resurgence of LibraryThing), but that’s not what this story is about.]

I recently read the three books of a trilogy in moderately rapid succession. I posted to Amazon the review of Book 1. The Book 2. When I tried to post Book 3, however, things got a little weird. Amazon told me I had already reviewed the book. Since I had just finished reading it for the first time about ten minutes before, that seemed pretty unlikely. I tried again, with the same result. Mystified, I searched through some pages of reviews for Book 3. I found instead my review of Book 1. Mystery solved – somehow, the system had misattributed the review, and I wrote to Amazon to have them fix it.

Some time later, I got a response. Amazon said, essentially, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” They said that they deliberately link reviews from earlier books as an aid to customers. — [Why they think that a review of book 1 would help someone shopping for book 3, I can’t say. What I want from a review is guidance about books I haven’t read. When I buy book 3 of something, it’s generally because I’ve already read books 1 and 2; I have my own opinion of them, and I don’t need a review to tell me whether they were good.] — This seemed downright bizarre. Amazon seemed not to have thought through the fact that, as in my case, linking to earlier books would prevent reviews of later books. In other words, there will be lots of reviews of books 1 and 2, and very few of book 3.

I wrote to Amazon a couple more times. No answer. I don’t go to the top right away, but I had just recently read an article about Jeff Bezos receiving direct complaints, and assigning them to troubleshooters. So, I wrote to him, and (politely) told him what a dumb policy this was.

It took a couple of days, but I did in fact get a response from a troubleshooter, who agreed that the policy existed, that it was dumb, and saying that she had recommended a change. Of course, there’s a difference between “We’ll look into that” and “We’ll fix that right away.”

Amazon has had problems with its review system before. The best known issue (related to potential ‘fake’ reviews), I understood better. This, new one, however, is just a bad decision through and through. So, for the time being, I’ve stopped posting reviews on Amazon. When they fix the system, I’ll reconsider. Until then, I’ll stick with Goodreads.

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