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If you like it, tell a friend…

September 29, 2009

amazon-logoRecently, I was the recipient of a note from someone in our sales group asking about why Amazon reviews for our books were dwindling.  Not in quality, in quantity. 

You see, as a book publisher, we actively encouage our authors to ask their friends to write Amazon reviews.  We ask bloggers and other key influencers to write Amazon reviews.  We ask our mothers and fathers who enjoy our books to review them on Amazon.  You name it.   It’s one of the most key things you can do to sell a book – have a positive review on it in the place of purchase.  But it’s happening less and it’s giving many of us cause for concern.

It’s simple to blame it on laziness, whether it’s on the part of the marketing team, the editor working with the book, or of the author.  But I really believe it is more than that.

I posed this very question on Twitter and Facebook some time ago and got really good feedback on why people think we are seeing fewer Amazon reviews for books.  I’ve summarized them below.

* There are too many other places that are book focused to review books.  GoodReads, WeRead, iRead and many other sites that are communities of book lovers have usurped Amazon in many cases as sites where people will review books.

* I’m more likely to review a book on my blog than to put it up on Amazon.  It’s not a step I think about.  In a sense, the process is more selfish – you review the book and you have content for your site.  You use Twitter to promote the review, but also to drive traffic to your site.  There really isn’t a similar benefit that Amazon offers. 

My ex-colleague Deb expands on that…

I do think that people are caring less and less about what strangers have to say about products and more and more about what their friends/ family/ colleagues have to say. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and things like Get Glue let us do this in new ways.

Tracee Sioux agrees:

People no longer feel the need to comment on blogs, Amazon, etc. b/c they can recommend or comment on their Facebook pages where their own intimates will know what they think and how they feel. Their compulsion to share is satiated.

* My colleague Graham from our UK office suggested that the novelty in writing these reviews and getting the recognition on the Amazon site has worn off. 

Writing a great review doesn’t get you a free product, notoriety, or necessarily kudos amongst your peers, so why bother??

* It can be complicated and annoying – Graham again…

I’d also add that the Amazon reminder system for writing reviews can actually get a bit annoying with several emails telling you to go review a product… and may actually have deterred some people from posting a review, just because they junked the email and didn’t follow up.

My dad adds:

A lot more than a little bit annoying. I buy 3 or 4 things at a time & they want a review from each seller. Also they will not let it go with just checking the number of stars.
Additionally, I’ve heard from international authors that they cannot post reviews on the US site unless they have an account and have made a purchase from it.  Vice versa applies as well.
So what can Amazon do better here?
1. Make it easier to write the reviews.  I know they put in a lot of roadblocks to verify the users as real customers, but it’s made it too difficult to write them.  Allow users with one Amazon account to post on different international sites. 
2. Enable ways to share reviews across sites.  No reason a great review from someone’s blog couldn’t go up on an Amazon page.  I’d love to see blogger with an Amazon button next to their Digg, Facebook, and Twitter buttons, that enables a review to be shared on the bookselling site.
3.  Find some way to reward people who write the reviews.  I know they have a “helpful v not helpful” vote feature – what about allowing people who write reviews to somehow get traffic back to their sites, even if it’s just on their reviewer profile page?
 Those are just a few – what ways do you think Amazon could encourage reviewers to write more reviews on their site?  How can authors and publishers work to get more reviews up on their books?
6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2009 3:30 pm

    Not sure of the answer to this but good suggestions here. Great post, Ellen.

  2. September 29, 2009 4:25 pm

    I identify with people who say they would prefer to write the content on their own site. I review all kinds of random things on my site. One of the coolest collaborative efforts I’ve seen is on Urbanspoon. Say I review a restaurant on my blog, I can include a snippet of code at the end of my blog post that displays the Urbanspoon logo and links to the restaurant on their site. Then I get included in the reviews on the Urbanspoon site with a link back to my site.

    If Amazon would do something like this, I would use it. I think it could drive traffic to Amazon and back to blog authors as well. And if it could tie into the Amazon Associates program as well, that would be even better.

  3. Tim Shaffer permalink
    September 29, 2009 11:28 pm

    Took a crash course on the book review sites you mentioned. Had never heard of them. (I think weread is the most intuitive and will spend more time exploring it. ) Then I returned to Amazon and noted related lack of features; I actually noticed them before and this experience just added to the whole view. On Amazon you have the option to click on the username. On the next screen you can click a button that says “add as an interesting person.”. What does that mean? Is it just another part of Amazon’s ranking system for placing comments? What I’d really like to do is “Follow this person” -as in somehow get a notice every time they post a review. This is me declaring this person as a trusted source and I will gladly follow them through the wilds to find those rare books that I find to be gems.

  4. October 9, 2009 10:19 am

    I don’t know why other people aren’t putting reviews on Amazon any more, but I can let you know why I am doing it less.

    I used to put every review straight on to Amazon, but now I only do it if asked by the publisher. This is because I have found Amazon to be an unfriendly place for a reviewer. I have found my reviews (even the positive ones) to be subject to abusive comments. It is a very political place, where you are voted “unhelpful” whenever you dare explain that you didn’t enjoy the book – or even when you did.

    I much prefer to post reviews on my blog where I get a friendlier reception and can discuss books without abuse.

  5. October 12, 2009 12:02 am

    Hi Ellen,

    During the summer Amazon instituted a new policy that prevents users that haven’t bought a book from reviewing it. If your sales person saw a decline in reviews over the past couple of months this might be the reason why. In part the new policy was enacted so that publishers and authors can’t game the system by asking their friends and colleagues to inflate the positive review count. I know you say…

    “We ask bloggers and other key influencers to write Amazon reviews. We ask our mothers and fathers who enjoy our books to review them on Amazon. You name it.”

    but maybe that, in itself, is the reason the overall count is down. The reviews that are there aren’t genuine, which makes them less useful to buyers, which leads to less reviews and so on.

    I wonder if less reviews but more meaningful ones might be better for sales in the long run? I am curious to know why the sales person thinks more is better?

    best regards,


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