It goes against the conventional business wisdom to make an online product harder to review. But that’s what Amazon is doing with its book reviews, and it’s a welcome change.
Oh, not to some authors. Some of my fellow writers seem to be in a tizzy at the new rules, which says a customer must have spent at least fifty bucks before being allowed to leave a review. Given that most of us are building reader relationships, and trying to sell books, anything that gets in the way of a review, goes the thinking, is harmful.
Ooooh, you are so wrong! And as someone who has wrestled both with Amazon and scammers for the better part of the last four years, let me tell you why this is good news.
Up until now, scammers have taken advantage of the ability to ‘price match’ a book to free on Amazon; they’ve downloaded that book as their first review on a new account, so that it shows up as a “verified purchase” in Amazon’s algorithms.
Amazon runs at least two algorithms simultaneously, a sales algorithm that helps determine positioning as with any search engine, and an anti-cheating algorithm which helps determine if someone’s results are “off” what they should be and then attempts to compensate by lowering a book’s ranking or visibility. This second algorithm — which I believe was originally developed by researchers at UC Berkley but I could be wrong — is an attempt to limit the damage done by people ‘gaming’ the system.
Both of their algorithms take into account whether a review is verified when determining visibility and ranking for the associated book AND they flag the reviewer, initially, as credible for having made a purchase.
Under the new system, reviews won’t be able to be left unless the person has spent fifty bucks on Amazon; what this means is that a scammer attempting to open a hundred “ghost” or “sock puppet” accounts and then use them to increase “page read” totals in Kindle Unlimited or rankings via cheap sales would have to spent $5,000 just to establish the fake accounts’ credibility. The vast majority (those not using stolen credit cards to fund their schemes) won’t be able to do that. Their crappily reviewed existing KU books will, over the next few months, be deprecated by Amazon’s system until ranked too low to see.
This is a major commitment by the company to preventing cheating, a big boost for readers looking for genuine reviews and a shot in the arm for those of us who have been frustrated by trying to compete for visibility with ‘sock puppet’ authors. If authors take the time to build an ongoing relationship and mail list with their readers, and offer them good value, they’ll still get the reviews over time.
It may take people a little longer to build up their sales, but it will lead to a much more stable and massively reduced marketplace.