Amazon Improves the Integrity of the Customer Review System

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.


What makes customer reviews helpful to other customers, and thereby also helpful for sellers, businesses, authors, and even Amazon?

It’s when other customers can trust the review system. Without that trust, reviews become utterly useless.


Amazon made its first major improvement to the customer review system in late 2012.

That’s when Amazon blocked and removed countless reviews from probable friend and family members of authors.

Whatever Amazon did in 2012 was highly effective—perhaps not perfect, but definitely effective. If you watch indie community forums regularly, you know that on a weekly basis new authors complain about missing reviews, and it almost invariably turns out that the reviews were left by friends or family members.

Prior to the Great Purge of 2012, Amazon’s customer review system had been getting out of hand, with the problems publicized in the WSJ and NYT. Starting in 2013, the customer review system improved immensely. But it took much longer for word of the improvement to spread.

It’s now fairly well-known that customers who are friends or family members of authors generally can’t leave reviews no matter how hard they try, and Amazon is very good at discerning probable relationships. Occasionally, Amazon is a little too good, blocking or removing a review of a stranger who proceeded to interact in the author’s social circles. A casualty of war.


Amazon has recently gone a step further toward improving the integrity of the customer review system.

Now that friend-and-family reviews are very much under control, the next major problem is the paid review.

It’s a clear violation of Amazon’s terms of service for authors to pay for reviews.

Examples of reviews that Amazon doesn’t allow.

Unfortunately, unethical authors have done this anyway, which hurts the integrity of the customer review system for everyone.

Authors often feel pressured into seeking reviews. For one, if the book isn’t selling, an author’s first thought is that maybe it’s because the book doesn’t have any reviews. For another, many popular book promotion sites require a minimum of 20 or so reviews just to receive consideration.

The reality is that the best way to get reviews is free and low-cost marketing combined with compelling content. Nothing is better than the natural variety of reviews that you get from just getting sales. Drive sales and the reviews will come with them.

But since there are authors seeking reviews, there are also services looking to fill this need.

Including unethical businesses and people looking to sell reviews. Again, this is a clear violation of Amazon’s terms of service. Both the business or person selling reviews and the author paying for reviews should fully expect to have their reviews removed, their accounts suspended, and to be at risk for a potential lawsuit from Amazon.

And that’s finally happening.

Amazon has begun the process by suing 1100 fake reviewers.

Who’s at risk?

  • Companies selling paid reviews.
  • People selling paid reviews thru sites like fiverr.
  • Authors paying for reviews.

Who benefits from this?

  • Customers will be able to trust the review system more.
  • Authors who adhere to the review guidelines will benefit from this improved trust.
  • Companies selling products on Amazon benefit similarly.
  • Amazon benefits, too. It’s a win-win-win-win situation, with the sole exception of those who have been violating the review guidelines.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

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

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38 comments on “Amazon Improves the Integrity of the Customer Review System

  1. Tough for new writers who don’t know very many reviewers!

    From some people I’ve heard that Goodreads and blog tours and such can be quite ineffective. I’m not going to do anything – too much energy for too little return.

    But I do know a lot of people; I’m hoping enough of them will be curious about what the heck I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life writing.

    They will probably be acceptable – our relationship is from many years ago, and would not likely show up on Amazon.

  2. Chris, I just wanted you to know I bought your Volume one on publishing and formatting and was totally impress as to the accuracy and completeness of the volume. I took the book ans walked step by step through both Create Space and Kindle. Thank you for helping so much.

  3. Good idea. Glad they’re doing something about this issue. Although to be honest, I dont take reviews into serious consideration when buying a book… its so subjective. But if a book has a lot of good reviews, its normally a safe bet. The only time I wouldnt trust that is if the book is by a popular trad pubbed author… too many sycophants who will gush even if the book is poor.

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  5. Hello Chris,
    This is one more issue where Amazon favors the Big Five and other major trade publishers: They are practicing “paid reviews” since decades – not only in editorial reviews but also in their general book reviews…
    Ever wondered how Kirkus Reviews (just to name one of the expensive review-for-pay companies) could grow so large? For sure not from indie authors!
    I doubt that Amazon goes after them – also I haven’t seen the list of review companies that Amazon is suing. The question is: Why uses Amazon a two-tier system, not only for royalties but also regarding paid-reviews?
    I am all for honest, unbiased and unpaid reviews – however, it must be the same for EVERY publisher, no matter if Big Five or self-publishers!

    Cheers, Doris

  6. I had about 20 reviews removed in 2012, none of which were from family and friends who haven’t really read the book – I don’t have any of those. Sadly, they were from genuine readers.

    What Amazon doesn’t ‘get’ is that writers tend to be avid readers, too. Like many readers everywhere, I’ve got to know some writers because I love their books; thus, we have contact through the internet. I promote their work on Twitter and my review blog because it’s good; I don’t promote anything that isn’t. I know some writers indulge in review swapping, sometimes without reading each others’ books; I have never done this, but still I had reviews from other writers taken off, whereas lots of them from Facebook review swapping sites remain – it’s so annoying, though I do realise that no system like Amazon’s can be faultless.

    Great news re the clamp down on the paid sites. It’s a gloomy indication of the standard and current situation of self-pub, though, that these sites exist; if there was no demand for them, they wouldn’t! I keep hoping that one day all the bandwagon jumpers who thought publishing any old thing would make them a mint, would give up and go back to the day job; alas, when one does, another three pop up, it seems! Thanks for this article, retweeting it.

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  9. I think you’re giving Amazon too easy a skate on the friends policy. Many of the friends who were removed weren’t friends in the traditional sense, but writers who knew each other professionally who did not “swap” reviews but who were familiar with each others work.

    Likewise, if I “provide” a reviewer with a hard copy of my book through a site like BuView in exchange for a review, will Amazon count this as “paid” the way they counted some writers who corresponded on Goodreads as “friends?”

    Amazon’s intentions may be good, but their methods are often Draconian and while I have to few reviews to notice or suffer, I know other writers with whom I correspond, who are not friends, who have had reviews by legitimate authors purged because Amazon decided they were friends (I know this because I also correspond with the reviewers in question).

    • That’s a good point. We know that such reviews have disappeared in Amazon’s effort to block and remove friend and family reviews. On the one hand, it seems like it may be a challenge to develop an efficient improvement, but it would be nice to see such an improvement. I expect the review system will continue to evolve.

  10. Thanks for this, Chris, guess I can stop sweating now about lack of reviews, on which I always thought there was too much emphasis anyway. I had no idea about the cull but looks like it was long overdue …

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