The Lunacy of One-Star Amazon Reviews

The Amazon review system is broken. When angry fans can pretty much besiege it with negative reviews of a book they haven’t read, then the reviews overall are simply useless.

Recently, fans of the late Michael Jackson posted many negative reviews of “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” a book by Randall Sullivan that explored the troubled latter years of the singer. According to an article about this in The New York Times, Jackson fans “used Facebook and Twitter to solicit negative reviews… They bombarded Amazon with dozens of one-star takedowns, succeeded in getting several favorable notices erased and even took credit for Amazon’s briefly removing the book from sale.”

Earlier, outraged fans of Robert Jordan, the late author of the long-running “Wheel of Time” fantasy adventure series, similarly posted dozens of negative reviews on Amazon, to protest the delayed e-book release of the final book in the series, written by “A Memory of Light,” by Brandon Sanderson. You’d think fans would want a book that concludes a beloved series to succeed. But no – they were selfishly protesting their inability to get the book when they wanted (apparently, the author’s widow is resistant to e-books).

Amazon, a leader in retail with a remarkable track record for protecting the confidential data of its customers, apparently cannot prevent the manipulation of its reviews by vengeful, petty and short-sighted fans. As a result, Amazon reviews are not worth consulting for guidance about a book. We all know that too often it’s been friends of the author who’ve given the glowing reviews, but the nature of the reviews – one to five stars – and the fact that someone who hasn’t even read the book in question can post a one-star takedown shows that these reviews no longer serve the purpose of helping the reader. They harm the author.

Amazon has, apparently, also been removing reviews posted by those whom it deems not up to snuff.  In policing its reviews, it hasn’t gone far enough, or has gone in the wrong direction: it misses the crowd of loose cannons for those who actually want to help a reader.

If you’re an author who is counting on good reviews to help drive sales, the answer may lie in engaging social media, through your platform, in order to engage your reader yourself, and by extension to have your audience engage others through their own social networking.

Reviews were never entirely trustworthy (even those by professional critics). But at least the well-meaning reader’s voice often got through. For now, the system has been damaged by the small-minded. Let’s hope the right-minded can fix it.

Bob Hughes
Author: Bob Hughes
Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=828032066 Michael Drew

    Amazing the power of crowds, this is also an example of “I’m ok, your screwed up”

  • Anonymous

    I watched a video of an Amazon author who received notice (and apology) from Amazon that they were stripping his book of 2000 organic, positive reviews. Something to be said for living in a time where you want to be good, but not too good.