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Amazon: Authors Can't Review Books 248

In an effort to step up its fight against astroturfers, Amazon has barred authors from reviewing books. It's not simply that authors can't review their own books — they can't review any book in a similar genre to something they've published. "This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books. Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels." British author Joanne Harris had a simpler solution in mind: "To be honest I would just rather Amazon delete all their reviews as it... has caused so much trouble. It is a pity. Originally it was a good idea but it is has become such an issue now. The star rating has become how people view if a book is a success and it has become inherently corrupt." How would you improve the online review system?
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Amazon: Authors Can't Review Books

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  • by Jace Harker ( 814866 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:53PM (#42397861) Homepage

    One blindingly obvious way to cut down on fake and artificial reviews: only allow reviews from people who have actually purchased the product.

    Amazon already highlights reviews by people who have purchased the product, so the functionality already exists. Why not take the next step and only allow those people to write reviews in the first place?

    Alternately, Amazon could allow anyone to write a review, but would only calculate the star rating based on purchasers' reviews.

  • by CyberKnet ( 184349 ) <slashdot@@@cyberknet...net> on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @04:59PM (#42397939) Homepage Journal

    I'm reminded somewhat of two pertinent XKCD comics:

    TornadoGuard/937 [xkcd.com]

    Star Ratings/1098 [xkcd.com]

    Interesting how they're kind of at odds with each other, but both true.

  • Re:Who cares (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:00PM (#42397955)

    I like Newegg's system of Pros/Cons/Other Thoughts. For items with just a few reviews, the words are more important than the egg/star system. For items with hundreds of reviews, I usually lump all of the 4 and 5 egg/star reviews together to compare products but I still like to read the Pros/Cons... especially the cons given by the 4/5 star reviewers and the pros given by the 1/2 star reviewers. There have been a number of poorly rated products that I bought anyway because I found the main con people mentioned was something that I didn't care about (IE: a power supply with excessive fan noise has knocked many a decent PSU down to 3 eggs or less. I'm half deaf, so even the loudest fans are barely audible unless there's something actually wrong).

    Other decent rating systems I've seen given four or five criteria, such as value, quality, support, etc, and the reviewer rates it on each category. If an item is rated on value, quality and support and it's a great item with crappy support then it only gets a 67%. If you are a a techie and prefer to support yourself, you won't care about that rating and will just look for items with high marks in the other categories.

    There's no perfect rating system, especially when you're dealing with a marketplace selling thousands of different things. The star system works for weeding out the crappiest and the reviews usually give you an idea of why people rated an item like they did so you can tell if it is crap or if poor reviews are the result of a quality that doesn't matter to you.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:12PM (#42398111)

    Stross's blog said it all a couple days ago. For those living under a rock, he's a pretty good modern sci-fi / horror type author. Disclaimer, probably biased toward him for having similar religious beliefs.

    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/12/understanding-reviewers.html [antipope.org]

    TLDR poorly done summary interpretation:

    Dumb people don't like feeling dumb, so most 1 star reviews are illiterate trailer trash... and the writing quality clearly reflects it. Ignore.

    Hard core fans will rate everything you do as 5 stars. Meaningless. Ignore. So he doesn't like my reviews. Whatever.

    A U shaped curve indicates nothing about quality and everything about high impact, also the opposite n shaped curve indicates apathy and low impact.

    So.... applied to the article, first, analyze the shape of the "star" curve. Next, toss out any reviews that appear to be written in crayon by illiterates. Toss out any review where everything the author has ever written gets 5 stars. Analyze the remaining reviews by content... "apathy words" in the 3-star column of the histogram are bad news, etc.

  • How to fix reviews: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:13PM (#42398121) Journal
    Simple: Reputation of the reviewer.

    First, don't let anyone review until they've had an Amazon account for at least six months and made at least three purchases (on different days) in that time.
    Second, post the reviewer's name (their real name, not a handle). Don't like that? Don't review anything.
    Third, don't allow people to review products they haven't bought through Amazon.
    Fourth, if someone has more than ten percent of their reviews deleted as spam or abusive, block that account from any more reviews.
    Fourth-and-a-half, if a product has a large percent of its reviews deleted, "lock" it to only allow reviews by much more reputable users.

    I would relax those a little for simply giving a star rating rather than writing a review, but not by much. I would also use a weighted rating system, based on the user's average rating. Not only would this get around the "No-star Nancy"s, it would work to avoid the useless inverse-exponential ratings we see on 99% of products, thus moving the "real" average rating to a three - So a five-star product would really mean a five-star product.
  • Not sure about books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jimmyswimmy ( 749153 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:19PM (#42398161)

    But reviews online are certainly corrupt. I don't use the star ratings for anything, unless an item only has a few reviews and all bad, and rely almost entirely on the BAD reviews for everything I purchase. If the bad reviews follow a common theme, it's a believable problem, and if I care about that problem vs. the price of the item, then I look for another item. Honestly I put less faith in the good reviews than the bad ones, especially when they're all glurge - no book, no product is perfect.

  • by cpm99352 ( 939350 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @06:59PM (#42399061)
    Unfortunately Amazon does not. I recently got in an argument with someone who (IMO) gave out 4/5 star reviews. The reviewer countered that no, she had given out 1 star reviews. She had reviewed hundreds of items, and Amazon's lame interface displays 10 reviews at a time, with no ability to sort by number of stars (or other useful filters). I finally found her 1-star review of a self-published e-book, but by that time didn't have the energy to pursue it further.

    A histogram of reviews by star would be extremely useful. Obviously Amazon doesn't care about the consumer's ability to rate the reviews, though, given how little thought they've put into it.

    Elsewhere I posted about bogus five-star reviews. I suspect publishers simply hand out money to shills to create bogus Amazon accounts and post 5-star reviews of their books that suck. I'm not why so many here think that limiting reviews to purchasers would solve things. Also, I always read books at libraries before I buy them. So, you'd cut down on the number of negative reviews from people like me.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments