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.