The Tyranny of Amazon Ratings

Authors all crave Amazon ratings. A string of good ratings really can establish a book. This is especially true for ebooks. An ebook with an initial bad rating will die a sudden death. If the first rating is bad then it can kill free downloads. Let alone sales.

Most readers do not give a rating. Even those who really enjoy or significantly dislike the work usually just let it pass. Most of those who do give a rating do so because the book has had an impact upon them. They try to fairly judge the work on what they got for their money. Which is fair enough and what we all want.


Regrettably though, some people use Amazon ratings as some form of ego boost. They sit in judgement on somebody else’s work. A thumbs down can really give them a thrill. They become author by proxy. A person of importance. They crave attention and seek to enhance their own ego and self worth by exploiting the hapless author of the book they sit in judgement on. It’s a bit like Münchhausen by proxy.

Ratings and Faux-Critics

The rating and associated comment of the faux-critic can have little relevance to the book they have supposedly read. If you are lucky and they are feeling magnanimous they’ll pompously give it a five star.

But depending on a whim it can be a two or one. It will hardly ever be a three or four. You can spot them all over Amazon. Multiple ratings. Often in quick succession on multiple books or items. Like they are doing a batch processing exercise.

You have to do a little psychology on folk who are so cruel as to give a one star rating for a free ebook that has just been released. Do they think it is “clever” to be the first to rate the book and kill it with a 2 or 1 star? Sadly you see it all the time.

The faux-critic’s ego demands that their opinion matters. They want to use it to cause the biggest impact they can. A freshly published ebook, especially put out for free (so they don’t have to actually spend anything) is a prime target.

I am sure that every author holds their breath on publication. A few five or four stars, even a couple of three stars up front deter the faux-critics. They are after all, inconsiderate bullies. To have to give a rating significantly different from that of the majority intimidates them. But still some persist. But by then the potential reader has a number of viewpoints so the all encompassing ego of the faux-critic is somewhat punctured.

Ratings: Here’s a few examples

The first ebook I published was a short story. It hit the spot with some and got a string of five and four star Amazon ratings. But it also accumulated over the years a couple of one stars. But they came late enough not to detract potential buyers. I complained to Amazon about one of the reviews which was disgusting and abusive. But I got nowhere. In this case the short-story was “saved” by early reviewers who liked the work. The faux-critic got nowhere.

A sadder fate awaited an American friend of mine. He wrote a Zombie horror novella. I put it together for him. To be fair it wasn’t Tolstoy but it wasn’t that bad either!

We put it up as a three day KDP giveaway. On the first day a faux-critic came in and within hours of the books publication declared they found the book “Weird”. He gave it a two star rating.

That was it. KDP giveaway or not, the book sank down the ratings. Soon it was lost in the morass of dead ebooks that infest Amazons hard drives.

I felt bad. But mostly my friend felt bad. Shortly after this he asked me to pull the book. Which with regret, I did.

What a waste.

I looked up the individual who killed this book. He made numerous reviews. They were all either gush-gush-gush or hateful negativity. He obviously thought himself to be some form of “expert” on Zombie novellas. I can imagine his excitement when he found a fresh new publication which nobody had beaten him to review. It was at his mercy. He could do the thumbs down. I wonder if the saddo got a thrill.

I have tried to encourage my friend to re-publish but he has lost confidence. As well as that there is the problem of the single two star rating. It would be a killer for the book today just as it was a few years back. I could re-format for him, rename it and push it out under another title but it would still have to endure the Tyranny of Amazon Ratings and he just does not want to go through that again.

Frankly I am bereft of a solution. But one day I hope to get it out there for him. It is a worthwhile ebook and deserve better than to be killed by a petulant faux-critic.

Ratings: Paperbacks & Faux-critics

Finally I must just mention a final nastiness that infects Amazon ratings. This time it relates to paperbacks. An individual can give a rating when they haven’t even bought the damn book! This does seem to have been fixed by Amazon USA (see here) who now allow the review but do not include it in the overall rating. Sadly, it seems that this has not yet been implemented in the UK

Amazon (quite sensibly) puts up a little logo against a review when the reviewer has actually purchased the book. But there is nothing preventing a person reviewing a book without being a verified purchaser.

While it is fine that non-purchase reviews can be made, they should be treated differently and clearly identified. Simply put, Amazon needs to make it clearer when a review is by someone who actually bought the book and when it is not.

Excluding the non-purchase reviews from the over-all rating is a first step (yet to be implemented in the UK.) But tackling faux-critics on KDP free books is more difficult as the give-away still counts as a purchase.

Reviews are important. A single early bad review can kill a book stone dead. But later bad reviews have less impact on an established and reviewed book.

I don’t have any solutions or any ways of countering vindictive or ego-centric reviewers. I wish I did.

It seems we will just have to live with the faux-critics.

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