Friday, November 26, 2010

Amazon Kindle Customer Reviews - Self-publishing Authors Pay Attention

It would appear from a quick glance Kindle readers are much harsher critics than the average Amazon reader of traditional paper and hardback books.  The graphic below comes from the home page of Amazon when you simply ask the Amazon search engine to pull up the book department page. Negative 1-star reviews outnumber the positive 4-star & up reviews by 18%. As dismal as this number is for traditional print authors, it is worse for Kindle authors.

Avg. Customer Review*

Compare the numbers below from the Kindle Book store home page. The negative 1-star reviews outnumber the positive 4-star & up reviews by 21%.

Avg. Customer Review

Some quick math tells more about Kindle books and traditional paper books. Amazon reviewers have written 8.5 times more customer reviews of paper books than readers of Kindle books (5,319,948 reviews for paper books and 616,441 reviews for Kindle books). Given the short life span of the Kindle reader though the total number of reviews already posted is impressive.

A three percent difference in the total number of negative 1-star reviews may not seem like a big deal, but given the fact a 1-star customer review can be a sales killer for a title, it is something authors hope to avoid unless a large number of 4-star and up reviews have been posted to counterbalance the sales destroying impact of the negative review.

Are there that many more bad books being published on Kindle? Some might argue  this is the case given the ease with which Kindle books can be brought to market. Others would argue there is something else going on because of the large number of classic works available on Kindle and other time tested public domain works available.

For the sake of discussion, let's say the percentage of bad books for both Kindle and traditional paper books is the same. What could explain the difference in the numbers of bad customer reviews? I would argue pricing and a more hostile attitude on the part of Kindle users towards the publishing industry is the cause.

Price point seems to be a big issue with Kindle readers. Kindle readers understand a paper book must cost more to purchase, even if the book is published using print-on-demand technology. A paper book is a physical object, it has to be physically printed, assembled and shipped to the customer. All of these stages incur costs that have to be paid for.

A Kindle book on the other hand consists of electrons that fly through the air to the Kindle reader. The actual book exists only as a computer file somewhere on a server belonging to Amazon. Other than the cost of the use of the wireless network and storage space on the server, the book has not production and almost no shipping cost.

Kindle readers probably don't object to the author making money for the time and creative effort required to create the book. Rather, it is what Kindle users view as an attempt to price gouge the customer by the publishing companies. A hard argument to disagree with from a certain perspective. If the cost of producing the actual book is so much lower, why is the price not lower by a commensurate percentage?

Much has been written about so-called Kindle price police who will post 1-star reviews to punish companies for pricing deemed to high or some other perceived offense. Eric Engleman writes a blog about Amazon and published a blog piece about how Kindle readers will punish publishers for perceived offenses.

Given the importance of customer reviews in the entire Amazon sales process, self-publishing authors need to be aware of trends among reviewers. Price point, always an important consideration for self-published authors, truly needs to be carefully thought out when dealing with Kindle sales.  Too low a price point and the author cannot make any money. To high a price point may result in bad customer reviews which can be a sales killer.

How big a factor are the 1-star reviews from the Kindle price police? I don't know. Many customers are smart enough to see one of these reviews for what it is and if the book contains information the reader needs or wants or the reviews for a work of fiction not based on price are positive, the customer may go ahead and purchase the book. Still, how many 1-star reviews does it take to kill a book's sales?

Update: There is an excellent post on Brandon Simpson's self-publishing blog Small Town Press about the value of negative customer reviews on Amazon.

*data for November 26, 2010