Saturday, November 14, 2009

The order of Amazon reviews

On any given Amazon page, every square pixel is a sellhole. No matter where you are on the site, it feels like you're only one click away from a "place order" button.

So I was all the more surprised to find a chink in that force-to-buy field. (And before I proceed, let me state that I am routinely impressed with Amazon's innovations and experiments.)

A book's Amazon home page includes a section called "Editorial Reviews." At the bottom of that section is a link "See all Editorial Reviews."
Here is that page for Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

Boys of Steel
had the good fortune to earn starred reviews from three publications. On its "See all Editorial Reviews" page, you can scroll to a one-line excerpt from each of those reviews (submitted in that tidy format, I believe, by the publisher).

In other words, good marketing—short, bolded, positive.

However, the review listed first (and therefore visible before clicking "See all Editorial Reviews") is longer and not starred. While it does come across as positive, and while I do greatly appreciate it, actually only its last line is subjective; the rest is summary.

So I asked Amazon what I thought was an easy question with a win-win answer: Would you please move those three starred review excerpts to the top so customers will see them on the book's home page? (Many customers, I'm sure, don't click through to "See all Editorial Reviews" and instead go straight to the customer reviews.)

I felt my request was clearly expressed, yet at least four Amazon reps either misunderstood or gave me misinformation.

One said we cannot edit or delete any reviews; I clarified that I'm asking only to rearrange them.

One duplicated two of the starred reviews and inserted them above the original three. (It may be the only time in my career I can point to five starred reviews in a row, so I won't quibble.)

One did say, essentially, no problem, but then did precisely nothing.

Finally one told me that, if I understood correctly, the publisher needs to enroll a book in the Advantage program before the author could make such changes.

This request had already taken too much time and I didn't want to bother my publisher with such a small issue. However, because I figured it would be a one-time procedure, I did ask.

Random House kindly looked into it and reported back that we can't change the order.

This means Amazon told me to involve the publisher even though Amazon knew (or should have known) that the review order must stay as is (almost certainly due to contracts certain publications have with the site).

What this seems to say is that Amazon prioritizes doing what's best for a review publication over doing what's best for the products to be reviewed (and sold).

Above I mentioned that every Amazon page is packed with sales tools and incentives. It can overwhelm a customer, and the more incentives they add, the harder it is to focus on any one of them. Yet here is an obvious one that they dismiss.

I realize that, for many books, simply leading with excerpts from starred reviews is not going to stimulate a dramatic spike in sales. But it will most likely make some difference, and certainly have more of a positive effect for any particular book than negative effect for any particular review publication.


Anonymous said...

Did you invent the word "sellhole"? That's a new one for me.
I've added you to my
Connecticut Children's Authors & Illustrators webpage.
Enjoyed meeting you and hearing your presentation at the CT Children's Book Fair.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks for adding me and for the kind word about my presentation.

I used "sellhole" impulsively without first checking if anyone else ever had. Other words in that category: "pionerd," "funconventional." Neither of which has caught on.