This is something I’ve only recently become aware of and, naturally, I noticed the problems first. Here’s my breakdown on what’s going on:
Amazon, apparently activated a new feature where users can leave a rating without a review. Meaning, you can have a book with 37 ratings but only 33 reviews, like my Wolfen:
On the surface of it, it seems like a good thing. A lot of people are shy about leaving a review, but don’t mind leaving a star rating. Plus, Barnes & Noble has been doing it for years and years so it seems like this is just Amazon catching up their review game.
But, of course, this being Amazon, it’s not quite that simple.
Amazon doesn’t show you the extra ratings like Barnes & Noble does. There is no way to see who left them (even if they were anonymous) or what they were, so the only way you have of knowing you got an extra rating is by looking at the percentage breakdown and, as I have recently discovered, those ain’t exactly what you’d call “good math”…
Here’s what happened…
While scrolling through my books on Amazon, I noticed my novella duo, The Beast Series only had a 2.7 star rating. :O Now, vanity aside, I knew for a fact that wasn’t the case because my reviews there hadn’t changed in months, and the last time I’d checked, I only had one 1-star review. The math didn’t add up so I clicked it to see what was going on, and I saw this:
5 ratings, 52% of which were 1 star, according to the breakdown. To say this was upsetting is an understatement, so I scrolled down to check on the reviews and saw this:
I know that’s a lot of tiny text to read, so let me break it down for you, with actual math. The book had 5 ratings and 5 corresponding reviews, so right off the bat I knew there weren’t any “extra” ratings screwing with the stats. What I saw was what I was supposed to get:.
- Three (3) 5-star ratings, which accounted for 60% (not the 24% shown in the breakdown)
- One (1) 4-star review, accounting for 20% (again, not the 24% shown)
- And one (1) 1-star review, accounting for another 20% (definitely not the 52% shown in the breakdown)
The average rating, therefore, should have been 4.0 / 5, which is quite different from the 2.7 rating Amazon was showing on their storefront.
Now, math may not be my strong suit but I can still count to 5, and there is no way that a company as huge as Amazon could have goofed on the math, so the only other explanation is that this was done on purpose.
As someone commented on that Facebook post of mine, apparently, this is Amazon’s way of combating the growing problem of authors buying floods of 5-star reviews to game Amazon’s algorithms and improve their visibility/sales. Amazon decided to face this issue head on by devaluing 5-star ratings and increasing the value placed on low star ratings in some twisted attempt to level the playing field, I guess… (insert a cartoon WTAF?! face here)
And you might say to yourself, “Oh, okay, well we know the star ratings have been getting abused by unscrupulous authors. At least Amazon is doing something about it.”
Nope. Nope. Hell to the no.
What Amazon actually did was render their own rating/review system obsolete and turned it into false advertising (if not outright fraud) with two easy steps.
- You can’t trust the reviews because you can no longer tell whether they’re genuine and organic, or just something the author paid for
- You can’t trust the average star rating, because it’s not what it actually says
- You can’t trust the number of ratings/reviews because there may or may not be hidden ones that Amazon won’t show you–and that means you can’t even verify what they are.
In short, YOU CAN’T TRUST AMAZON.
But it gets worse…
For one thing, the ratings and reviews don’t show in your Author Central account, either, to verify from that end. You have to go by what’s displayed on the main storefront. So many ways to rig the game when no one can see you doing it…
For another, Amazon shoppers don’t know this. No one looking for a good book to read is going to whip out a calculator and double check the math on the star ratings. They’ll take what’s there at face value. How many people do you think will click on a book with a 2.7 star rating when there are literally millions of books with 4-5 star ratings? Do you think that might hurt an author’s sales?
You might say to yourself this is a necessary move. You have to fight fire with fire.
No. It’s one thing for a player within the system to game the system to their advantage. It’s another for the entire system to be changed to everyone’s disadvantage. This punishes authors who never had anything to do with fake reviews. Authors who worked hard to get a handful of ratings and reviews, who can’t afford to advertise on the platform and rely on those reviews and star ratings as a promotional tool.
I sincerely hope that this is still in beta testing and Amazon will eventually fine tune the rating-only system so they are seen and verifiable. At the same time, I don’t really think they will. And I have little faith they have any interest whatsoever to maintain a fair rating/review system.
Update on The Beast Series
As of my typing this paragraph, I received a new 5-star review and my average star rating for this title has, indeed changed. But the math is still wrong (should be 4.167, or 4.2, properly rounded up):
Just something to keep in mind going forward. I will be keeping an eye on this, and you should, too, whether you already have books published on Amazon or you’re still in the planning/prep stage.
One way to combat this:
If you use your ratings/reviews to promote your book, use individual reviews rather than the average rating. Keep choice reviews on your blog/website. Have a page dedicated to each book and show off your best reviews, and don’t forget to include links to all stores where readers can buy them, not just Amazon. Remember, your website is the only place where you control the content and how it’s presented.
If you have a note in your books asking readers to leave a review, or if you regularly ask your readers to review, give them multiple options (i.e., Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.) because those places count, too. You can also ask for testimonials on your website and use those to promote your book (this is something I just thought of now and will look into implementing on my own website).
Good luck, and…
May the odds be ever in your favor…Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)