Have you noticed a few subtle changes, recently, to Amazon customer book reviews? Find any book on Amazon with several reviews and look closely.
First, let me back up a little, time-wise. On the product page, customer reviews show in two columns. The wider left column shows the top-rated customer reviews in full, while the narrower right column shows the first sentence (or so) of the most recent reviews, with the newest reviews at the top.
This has changed somewhat.
Until several months ago, Amazon used to only show the three top-voted customer reviews at the left. Now, more reviews show up in full at the left; the exact number depends on how many reviews there are all together. This was a nice improvement that many authors and customers had requested.
Another change that occurred several months ago was the inclusion of a few selected excerpts just above the review section. Until very recently, these quotes appeared one above the other in a list, and included a note of how many other customers made similar statements.
Very recently, this changed for one of my books. The excerpts now appear in callouts, and it no longer shows the number of customers who made similar remarks. If you click on one of the three callouts, Amazon takes you straight to that review.
Another of my books has the old list system instead of the callouts, and still shows the number of similar remarks. Maybe they are testing the callout system with selected books, maybe it will take time to change this for all books, or maybe only select books will feature the callouts.
Anyway, there is an interesting issue with the two-column format with more than three full-length reviews showing at the left. For any book that receives a bad review, this comment always carries weight while it’s the most recent review since it shows up at the top of the reviews in the right column. When eventually a good review comes in, it appears above the old bad review.
Unless… customers vote on the new good review, moving it over to the list at the left. Then the bad review reclaims its position at the top of the right column. When there were only three full-length reviews at the left, it wasn’t easy for a new good review to become popular enough to move onto that exclusive list. But now there may be several reviews on the left, so it’s easier for a review to make the transition.
It’s a rather subtle point, and probably not worth much consideration. I just thought it was interesting.
Another change that occurred several months back is what happens when you click the link to see all of the customer book reviews for a given book. Presently, it shows the top-rated favorable review and the top-rated critical review. In the old days, all of the critical reviews (or all of the favorable reviews) could potentially be buried at the bottom of the list, depending on the circumstances. This feature helps to show some balance. Customers are probably trying to weigh the pros versus the cons, so this may be helpful.
What I like most about the recent changes is that Amazon is evidently constantly assessing their customer review program and striving to improve it. The steps may be small, and it may not seem like an improvement to everybody, but I appreciate the effort – both as an author and a reader.
Amazon has made very significant changes in the past. One of the most notable occurred a few years ago when Amazon altered its program to help block suspected shill, sham, and household family member reviews. This change was implemented when they removed thousands (probably, millions) of suspicious reviews. The revision wasn’t perfect, I’m sure; there are probably a few still out there that didn’t meet the criteria of the program, and there were probably a few removed that should have stood. However, this was a significant change to improve the customer review system, and it appears to have made a marked difference.
Have you seen any other changes recently? What are your thoughts?
Who knows what will come in the future? Since Amazon is making periodic changes, we have reason to hope that it will continue to get better.
Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)