Sweeping Changes Planned for Amazon’s Review System

SEATTLE—APRIL 1: Concerned over customer and author complaints about its reader reviewing system, Amazon is planning drastic changes in the way customers will be allowed to review books.

The centerpiece of the new plan, called “Twice as Nice,” which is to be unveiled formally later this month, requires reviewers to leave two positive comments for each negative comment they make in an individual review. An anonymous company executive explained, “If you say, for instance, that an author couldn’t write her way out of an open paper bag, you will have to balance that by making two positive comments like, ‘But her male characters were really HOT,’ and ‘At least she didn’t have anyone eating potatoes in medieval England.’”

“We think this will lead to a more pleasant and congenial atmosphere at Amazon,” explained a public relations representative. “It won’t eliminate negativity altogether, because, let’s face it, some people just can’t be satisfied with anything. But at least anyone who leaves a negative comment will have to think hard about doing it, because they have to leave those two positives or the system will reject their comment. And looking for two positives will ultimately tend to enrich the reading experience, we think.”

The PR representative added, “To be frank, this decision was a business necessity, because authors are very sensitive, fragile sorts and will be more productive if they’re not spending three days in bed with their cats each time they get a bad review. By easing their pain, we’ll be increasing their output, and in the long run, we’ll have more product. It’s really a win-win situation all around, even for the cats, since the more the author produces, the more cat toys are involved.”

Under the new system, reviewers inclined to be critical will be encouraged through online tutorials to find creative ways of softening their remarks. Explained the company executive, “You can write, ‘This book put me to sleep,’ but then add, ‘But you know, a soothing sleep was just what I needed last night.’ Or the reviewer could say, ‘This writing is sophomoric,’ but add, ‘And I really had a blast my sophomore year.’ There are so many ways reviewers can be nicer. It’s mind-boggling, really.”

Also targeted will be the way in which customers vote on the helpfulness of reviews. The current system, under which readers can rate a review “helpful” or “not helpful,” will be changed to eliminate the “not helpful” option. “Our philosophy is that every review is helpful in some way, even if it’s by the author, her mother, or her best friend, because it at least gets a dialogue going,” explained the PR representative. “So readers will now vote ‘helpful,’ ‘very helpful,’ or ‘extremely helpful.’ It’s a small thing, granted, but it really will make life on Amazon a lot more pleasant. It just sets a more genteel tone.”

Asked whether the new system might simply mean that “helpful” becomes the new “not helpful,” the representative said, “We have an algorithm to take care of that, I’m sure.” Asked to explain precisely what an algorithm is, the representative said, “I’ll get back to you about that. I was an English major.”

When asked whether the discouraging of negative reviews would stifle open discussion, the executive was philosophical. “It’s true that Amazon might become a little less lively, but I think in the long run, the new, nice Amazon will suit people just fine. And if reviewers have these pent-up urges to be snarky, they can always start blogs, can’t they?”

For more details about this new program, visit this site.

20 thoughts on “Sweeping Changes Planned for Amazon’s Review System”

  1. It’s nice to get positive comments, but I honestly don’t think it’s doing the book business any service to just write “nicy-nice”. I realize negative comments, presented the wrong way, may just discourage some writers. But if a book is truly badly written, and has glaring mistakes of one sort or another,I don’t see any reason not to point this out. I’ve read some really bad books I”ve ordered from Amazon and elsewhere — I don’t mean “dull”, I mean really badly written and researched. I just don’t think a writer should be allowed to get away with this. There’s enough bad writing around as it is.
    Anne G

  2. Maybe the next version of the program will be “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”!

  3. “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”!

    Nah, we’ve already got that going with Harriet 😮

    You had me going for a minute there until the bit about the cat toys.

  4. Doh, I thought this was real until the 3rd paragraph! Oops! I’m veeeerrrry slow today…;)

  5. seaside book worm

    To spare the feeling of the author is ridiculous. This is censorship. If that is the case, I probably would not read reviews for books I was going to buy. I would rely on bloggers opinions for now on.

  6. Alabama Book Worm

    I totally forgot to ask earlier but if you want to do a guest post on my blog for the re-release of the book, I would be honored.

  7. That was a wonder piece, Susan. it kept me chuckling and my wife chortling throughout as I read it to her. 🙂

    The comments you’ve received are things we’ve discussed for many years in the Amazon Top Reviewers Forum … yes, that den of iniquity and sadism so despised by Mrs. Rice.

    There isn’t anyone there who revels in writing a critical review. I’ve never hit page one of a book (and I’ll bet this will strike true with almost every reader) without the optimism that I was about to experience something interesting and entertaining. Sometimes those expectations are violently dashed.

    We simply have a glut of people self-publishing who are not prepared to be authors. Subtracting the levels of professional critique and correction results in a failure to weed out those without ability or sufficient experience, and robs them of an opportunity to learn from their mistakes … if they can.

    Very simply, a hefty percentage of people who would love to be successful authors will never produce anything worth a second person’s time to read. If I loaned my car to a poor driver who returned it full of dents, I would hardly spare their feelings. But that is for some reason an expectation of unprepared writers.

    Here’s what really mystifies me. In virtually every profession, those seriously involved are very keen to establish professional standards and minimize the impact that hacks can have on the reputation of the profession. Yet myriad authors seem not only content, but eager, to support would be competitors who can’t produce a competent product.

    Isn’t it more kind to inform those who are not and most likely never will be authors that even GOOD writers need a break to earn a living at it? Bad writing is simply not going to get there (and yes I know there are lottery odds exceptions) no matter how coddled and protected from truth they are.

  8. PS. I just noticed that this blog and the comments are from five years ago. LOL It was linked elsewhere and I didn’t pay attention to the date, as the subject was so topical concerning the current petition effort.

    1. Hah! Things have only gotten worse, haven’t they?

      I would love to know whether this attitude of entitlement is prevalent just among writers (and I see it in both traditionally published and self-published writers) or whether it’s infected musicians, actors, and visual artists as well. I’d say it was a generational thing–the “everyone gets a star for showing up” syndrome–except that some of the most hypersensitive authors I’ve encountered are well into their sixties.

  9. I can testify that it extends to some musicians. They self publish on YouTube AND Amazon, and some of the noise is only useful to encourage recalcitrant dogs to howl.

  10. This hilarious post is a milepost in the SP cultural evolution. It tells me that in the past 5 years, we haven’t come very far. I suspect there are still too many writers who would fail to get your irony.

    (Someone dropped a link to this in a forum thread devoted to those authors who signed the anonymity petition.)

    http://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cd_rvt_np?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdPage=49&cdThread=Tx834OENQYWMIZ#CustomerDiscussionsNew

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