Amazon: Experimenting with Review Changes..?

Amazon Review Changes

If you’ve shopped for Kindle e-books recently on or, you may have noticed some changes to the way that search results are displayed.

Or maybe not. Not all shoppers have been affected.

Apparently, Amazon is testing something out with many customers, but not all customers. That would make sense, actually. Then Amazon would have data for two groups: a control group, shopping like normal, and an experimental group, experiencing the changes.

What’s going on?

This doesn’t apply to everybody. Many customers are observing the following:

The review tally and average star rating are not showing up next to Kindle e-books in search results for many (but not all) customers.

Just to be clear:

  • Reviews are showing, but only on the product page. Normally, you see the total number of reviews and average star rating before reaching the product page, but for those who are experiencing the change, you don’t see any review information until reaching the product page.
  • Print books are not affected. Only Kindle e-books are affected (and only for some customers).
  • Some customers who aren’t seeing the review info in search results were able to switch web browsers (e.g. from Internet Explorer to Mozilla FireFox) and then see the review info. The browser switches haven’t been consistent (e.g. for one person, going from Explorer to FireFox works, but for another, it’s FireFox to Explorer that does the trick). Some customers report that no browser changes resolved the issue.
  • The test applies to shopping for Kindle e-books on or (There are other ways to shop for Kindle e-books, such as right on the device. Most people shop for Kindle e-books from Amazon’s home page.)

The way we “know” this (of course, only Amazon “knows” for sure) is from various customers (including myself) observing this firsthand, and some authors (this time, myself excluded) contacting Amazon to inquire about this and receiving similar responses.

Will the World End?

Predicting the end of the world doesn’t come with many rewards. Whether you’re right or wrong, either way you seem to lose.

Right now, it’s evidently just a test.

Here is my pure speculation. I don’t have any evidence of the following; I just tried to reach a logical conclusion from what data I have. It might be like watching a news story break out: You hear eight theories for what happened, some of which seem reasonable, and they all turn out to be wrong. But sometimes it’s still fun to play along.

  • Amazon is probably looking at (A) sales data between the control group and experimental group and (B) any impact the changes may have on creating a positive shopping experience.
  • A positive shopping experience may include data on returns, review activity, customer complaints, and average review ratings, for example. Maybe they are also listening to publisher feedback.
  • If the changes lead to (A) increased profit or (B) improved shopping experience without any decrease in profit, it would seem logical for the changes to become permanent.
  • If the changes instead result in a decrease in profit or adversely affect the shopping experience, this will probably be a temporary change and things will soon return to the way they were.
  • It could be a long delay. It might take time for affected customers to get accustomed to the change before they return to their usual buying habits.

What’s going to happen? Would you like to call heads or tails?

I’m interested in the outcome, but I don’t feel strongly one way or the other, either as a customer or as an author.

I sort of like browsing through titles and thumbnails without that review tally in search results. I sort of feel that it may (at least, in principle) encourage authors to worry more about writing and marketing and much less about reviews (but in practice…). I believe there could be a few small benefits. But again, I don’t feel strongly about it. Either way, I won’t lose sleep over this.

Some books may benefit from the changes. Some books may be hurt by the changes. Probably, it will balance out to a large extent. If the changes persist, it probably means that it’s helping more books than it’s hurting.

Sales do fluctuate for all books. So any author whose books are presently on the downward part of a typical fluctuation are presently pulling out their hair. It might be pure coincidence that their sales are down, but if they noticed these review changes, they will surely blame the reviews. But those authors whose books are presently on an upward swing will be thinking that evidently the changes are helping them out. One author isn’t a good statistical sample. Even a handful is not a sufficient indicator.

Personally, I don’t expect things to change much if the changes are here to stay. Right now, you still see the reviews on the product pages, so it’s not like reviews have vanished; you just have to get to the product page before you see them.

Maybe some books that are getting clicked frequently because their ratings are really high won’t be clicked quite as frequently. Maybe some books that aren’t getting clicked as much now because the review ratings are really low will get a few more clicks. Maybe not.

Constant Change

There is only one constant in the publishing business: change.

Several months ago, Amazon eliminated the 4-for-3 program for print books. I expected that to hurt sales, but my paperback sales actually improved significantly after that. Perhaps it’s because Amazon started discounting CreateSpace paperbacks more after discontinuing the 4-for-3 program. Or maybe my sales were about to rise for other factors, such as new releases and marketing. It’s a complicated analysis.

Amazon changed the FREE Super Saver shipping price and the fee for Amazon Prime, but these don’t seem to have affected my sales.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • The change is fair because it affects all Kindle e-books. It’s not like they just did it to your e-book, but left all others like they were.
  • People still want to read Kindle e-books. Your book is still available. Customers are still shopping for books.
  • Reviews generally have much less impact than authors realize. Sometimes a negative review improves sales, sometimes a positive review deters sales, very often reviews don’t affect sales at all, and when sales do change, it might very well be because of some other hidden factor and a review just coincidentally showed up at the same time.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Just read and write more books.

You can’t change the change.

It may not change at all.

If it does, don’t sweat it.

There are probably more important things that you should be doing right now than worrying about this.🙂

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

8 comments on “Amazon: Experimenting with Review Changes..?

  1. Thanks for drawing these changes to my attention. Why do you believe that positive reviews may actually decrease sales? Is it because people may be sceptical of what they construe as an overly fulsome review believing that it was, perhaps written by a friend or relation of the author? Kevin

    • Most customers have heard stories of review abuse and hence approach both good and bad reviews with suspicion. Too many glowing reviews without balance, or too many reviews given the sales rank and publication date, can arouse this suspicion. In most cases, one review probably won’t impact sales one way or the other.

  2. I haven’t seen this yet, but something else you mentioned caught my attention. That some authors go after reviews more than writing another book or marketing. I see a lot of people focusing almost exclusively on getting reviews as if they’re the central part of a writing career. Was there ever a time where all you needed for marketing was a handful of positive reviews?

  3. I suppose we must all learn to adapt and fill the different roles. We could be unhappy as authors when Amazon or goodreads makes a change that affects us, but happier as customers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s