Thursday, September 30, 2010

Amazon Reviews - An Ethical and Practical Quandary

One of the most powerful parts of the Amazon software that helps to move a given book up the list when a search done is a large number of positive reader reviews. There is not doubt that potential customers read reviews and it influences buying decisions. I know it has influenced mine.

As a self-publishing author I really want, in fact, need customer reviews and I want and need them to be positive. I want my books to come up higher in customer searches and I want potential customers to be positively influenced by the 5-star reviews they read! One or two 3-star reviews would not hurt my feelings if they were counter-balanced by 15 or 16 5-star reviews. In fact, I think it would lend more credibility to the positive reviews.

There is no doubt that negative reviews, particularly early in the life of a book, can kill any chance for success the book has. Amazon insists on allowing this practice and for the most part, I agree with Amazon's theory that for reviews to have value they have to be real. This means letting customer's give poor reviews. My issue is when the reviews are a hatchet job. I have one book, that contains lots of excellent ideas an information but is contrary to a lot of the current thinking of basketball coaches. Two coaches who disagree with my thinking gave the book 1-star reviews. Have not sold a copy on Amazon since the reviews were posted. 

My two best selling books all have positive reviews but not enough of them to influence where they come up in the Amazon searches - assuming the assumption that the total number of reviews does have any influence in the search process. Part of me thinks if you have lots of positive reviews, that really means you have had a lot of sales and that is what causes the book to be listed high on a search list. 

So the question begs to be asked, "How do you obtain positive reviews on Amazon?" It is clearly unethical to ghost write your own. Besides, you'll probably eventually be discovered doing so and I would imagine the resulting damage from that fact being disclosed would kill any sales of any book you have for sale on Amazon.

I am certain trust is a factor in a potential reader's decision to purchase a book from an author. The reader trusts the author to be ethical just as any customer trusts any businessman to be ethical. Violate that trust a single time and you will never make another sale to that customer again and nor should you. Thus, the quandary over how does one generate positive customer reviews on Amazon.

Is it unethical to send review copies to individuals and solicit reviews? I don't think so, provided you don't ask for a positive review and leave it to the reviewer to be honest. But is this a cost effective approach? How many books will you have to send to get 15-20 reviews? It is probably safe to assume that many of the books you send out with the request to be reviewed will never be read. How many do you have to send in order to generate the desired number of reviews? 

Will the reviews generated through this approach be timely enough to help engage the long tail of Amazon? Will the cost of generating reviews using this approach generate enough sales to recoup the expense? Is there a way to even measure the cost/benefit ratio of this approach?

This is a topic I shall be revisiting over the next few months as I ponder ways to boost my sales on Amazon.