Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sweeping Changes Planned for Amazon's Review System

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.


Anne Gilbert said...

It's nice to get positive comments, but I honestly don't think it's doing the book business any service to just write "nicy-nice". I realize negative comments, presented the wrong way, may just discourage some writers. But if a book is truly badly written, and has glaring mistakes of one sort or another,I don't see any reason not to point this out. I've read some really bad books I"ve ordered from Amazon and elsewhere -- I don't mean "dull", I mean really badly written and researched. I just don't think a writer should be allowed to get away with this. There's enough bad writing around as it is.
Anne G

Marg said...

Maybe the next version of the program will be "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"!

Anonymous said...

Ah, a very helpful post! LOL!

Gabriele C. said...

The scary thing is that some authors would really welcome the new system.

Lady D. said...

Susan - you're a legend! Great post lol!

Anonymous said...

"if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"!

Nah, we've already got that going with Harriet :o

You had me going for a minute there until the bit about the cat toys.

Alianore said...

Doh, I thought this was real until the 3rd paragraph! Oops! I'm veeeerrrry slow today...;)

Marie Burton said...

omg You had me steaming for a minute!!!
SO funny!

Michele @ A Reader's Respite said...

I haven't laughed this much in a looooong time...thanks, Susan!

seaside book worm said...

To spare the feeling of the author is ridiculous. This is censorship. If that is the case, I probably would not read reviews for books I was going to buy. I would rely on bloggers opinions for now on.

Alabama Book Worm said...

I totally forgot to ask earlier but if you want to do a guest post on my blog for the re-release of the book, I would be honored.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, folks! Alabama, I'd love to do a guest post. Just let me know the details at