Why You Can’t Trust Negative Reviews (New York Times Article)

 

ONE-STAR REVIEWS—CAN YOU TRUST THEM?

The New York Times recently published the following article (click the link below to read it) entitled,

Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews

The article is fascinating—and not what I was expecting.

From the headline, I was expecting to see research into ulterior motives (like products being slammed by competitors).

Rather, I learned a few things about the habits of people who write both positive and negative reviews.

And it really makes you question whether we should place so much trust on the opinions of a very small percentage of product users.

If you’re going to read Amazon reviews, the article included a few tips to help you utilize them better.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Amazon: Experimenting with Review Changes..?

Amazon Review Changes

If you’ve shopped for Kindle e-books recently on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, you may have noticed some changes to the way that search results are displayed.

Or maybe not. Not all shoppers have been affected.

Apparently, Amazon is testing something out with many customers, but not all customers. That would make sense, actually. Then Amazon would have data for two groups: a control group, shopping like normal, and an experimental group, experiencing the changes.

What’s going on?

This doesn’t apply to everybody. Many customers are observing the following:

The review tally and average star rating are not showing up next to Kindle e-books in search results for many (but not all) customers.

Just to be clear:

  • Reviews are showing, but only on the product page. Normally, you see the total number of reviews and average star rating before reaching the product page, but for those who are experiencing the change, you don’t see any review information until reaching the product page.
  • Print books are not affected. Only Kindle e-books are affected (and only for some customers).
  • Some customers who aren’t seeing the review info in search results were able to switch web browsers (e.g. from Internet Explorer to Mozilla FireFox) and then see the review info. The browser switches haven’t been consistent (e.g. for one person, going from Explorer to FireFox works, but for another, it’s FireFox to Explorer that does the trick). Some customers report that no browser changes resolved the issue.
  • The test applies to shopping for Kindle e-books on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. (There are other ways to shop for Kindle e-books, such as right on the device. Most people shop for Kindle e-books from Amazon’s home page.)

The way we “know” this (of course, only Amazon “knows” for sure) is from various customers (including myself) observing this firsthand, and some authors (this time, myself excluded) contacting Amazon to inquire about this and receiving similar responses.

Will the World End?

Predicting the end of the world doesn’t come with many rewards. Whether you’re right or wrong, either way you seem to lose.

Right now, it’s evidently just a test.

Here is my pure speculation. I don’t have any evidence of the following; I just tried to reach a logical conclusion from what data I have. It might be like watching a news story break out: You hear eight theories for what happened, some of which seem reasonable, and they all turn out to be wrong. But sometimes it’s still fun to play along.

  • Amazon is probably looking at (A) sales data between the control group and experimental group and (B) any impact the changes may have on creating a positive shopping experience.
  • A positive shopping experience may include data on returns, review activity, customer complaints, and average review ratings, for example. Maybe they are also listening to publisher feedback.
  • If the changes lead to (A) increased profit or (B) improved shopping experience without any decrease in profit, it would seem logical for the changes to become permanent.
  • If the changes instead result in a decrease in profit or adversely affect the shopping experience, this will probably be a temporary change and things will soon return to the way they were.
  • It could be a long delay. It might take time for affected customers to get accustomed to the change before they return to their usual buying habits.

What’s going to happen? Would you like to call heads or tails?

I’m interested in the outcome, but I don’t feel strongly one way or the other, either as a customer or as an author.

I sort of like browsing through titles and thumbnails without that review tally in search results. I sort of feel that it may (at least, in principle) encourage authors to worry more about writing and marketing and much less about reviews (but in practice…). I believe there could be a few small benefits. But again, I don’t feel strongly about it. Either way, I won’t lose sleep over this.

Some books may benefit from the changes. Some books may be hurt by the changes. Probably, it will balance out to a large extent. If the changes persist, it probably means that it’s helping more books than it’s hurting.

Sales do fluctuate for all books. So any author whose books are presently on the downward part of a typical fluctuation are presently pulling out their hair. It might be pure coincidence that their sales are down, but if they noticed these review changes, they will surely blame the reviews. But those authors whose books are presently on an upward swing will be thinking that evidently the changes are helping them out. One author isn’t a good statistical sample. Even a handful is not a sufficient indicator.

Personally, I don’t expect things to change much if the changes are here to stay. Right now, you still see the reviews on the product pages, so it’s not like reviews have vanished; you just have to get to the product page before you see them.

Maybe some books that are getting clicked frequently because their ratings are really high won’t be clicked quite as frequently. Maybe some books that aren’t getting clicked as much now because the review ratings are really low will get a few more clicks. Maybe not.

Constant Change

There is only one constant in the publishing business: change.

Several months ago, Amazon eliminated the 4-for-3 program for print books. I expected that to hurt sales, but my paperback sales actually improved significantly after that. Perhaps it’s because Amazon started discounting CreateSpace paperbacks more after discontinuing the 4-for-3 program. Or maybe my sales were about to rise for other factors, such as new releases and marketing. It’s a complicated analysis.

Amazon changed the FREE Super Saver shipping price and the fee for Amazon Prime, but these don’t seem to have affected my sales.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • The change is fair because it affects all Kindle e-books. It’s not like they just did it to your e-book, but left all others like they were.
  • People still want to read Kindle e-books. Your book is still available. Customers are still shopping for books.
  • Reviews generally have much less impact than authors realize. Sometimes a negative review improves sales, sometimes a positive review deters sales, very often reviews don’t affect sales at all, and when sales do change, it might very well be because of some other hidden factor and a review just coincidentally showed up at the same time.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Just read and write more books.

You can’t change the change.

It may not change at all.

If it does, don’t sweat it.

There are probably more important things that you should be doing right now than worrying about this. 🙂

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Anonymous Reviews… Going to Court

Free Speech

The Battle

There is an interesting court battle in progress on the subject of anonymous customer reviews. In my humble opinion, each side has something important at stake:

  • If you, as a customer, are dissatisfied with a product, shouldn’t you have the freedom to express your opinion publicly without having to worry about backlash from the company? If so, reviewing anonymously helps to avoid possible backlash.
  • If you, as a business owner, have your reputation destroyed by fake anonymous reviews, shouldn’t you have the opportunity to defend your reputation? If so, competitors or enemies can abuse review anonymity in an effort to tarnish your reputation.

Pros and Cons

Personally, as a customer, I only review a product if I’m pleased with the product. If I’m dissatisfied with a product, I simply don’t review the product, don’t use the product again, don’t advise anyone to use that product, and don’t ever buy that brand again. I don’t say bad things about the product or company. I’d rather spend my time saying good things about products and companies that I like.

But, also as a customer, if I were about to make a major purchase, I’d really appreciate a heads-up from prior customers who were dissatisfied with a product. When valid, those critical reviews can be quite helpful. Customers are less likely to post honest bad reviews if they can’t do so anonymously or if they may be subject to lawsuits from the company that manufactures the product.

On the other hand, as a customer, I don’t want to be swayed by fake negative reviews from competitors. Anonymous reviews allow for this type of abuse.

In today’s world, business owners need honest customer reviews because consumers are consulting online reviews prior to making purchases. The customer review system only has integrity when it allows for both favorable and critical reviews. Anonymity helps to encourage honest critical reviews.

Unfortunately, anonymous reviewing also invites review abuse.

To me, it seems like a tough call. You can eliminate much review abuse by eliminating anonymity (or allowing the business to find the customer’s identity through subpoena when warranted). But then you lose review integrity because customers will be discouraged from saying anything bad due to possible legal repercussions.

Lawsuits

A case of a business versus Yelp is currently headed to higher court. You can read an absolutely fascinating article about this at Yahoo! Finance with the following link:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/yelp-reviews-brew-fight-over-233100483.html

While it is possible to abuse review anonymity, some people have been caught. The following New York Times article tells the story of people paying very hefty fines for planting fake reviews:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html

These legal battles represent the extremes; these are the worst-case scenarios.

Many businesses see the wisdom in avoiding such lawsuits. Suing customers doesn’t look good for a company’s image and may call attention to valid criticism.

Trust

Websites like Amazon.com have taken great strides toward removing and limiting fake positive reviews. Amazon, Yelp, and other customer-review-oriented websites have a strong incentive to remove and minimize review abuse: Their future success relies on customers being able to trust the customer review system.

Customers are becoming more aware of previous review abuse, both positive and negative. Therefore, customers are learning to be suspicious of all the reviews they see. They are suspicious of favorable reviews coming from friends and family, of critical reviews coming from competitors, and even neutral reviews that may have been planted by either party.

Businesses and authors have an incentive to avoid “recruiting” reviews. Such reviews often seem suspicious and may thus deter sales. When all the reviews are glowing, when the number of reviews seems high for the amount of sales (this can be gauged by comparing the sales rank and publication date to the review tally), or just the way recruited reviews are often worded may trigger buyer suspicion.

Competitors have incentives to avoid trashing the competition, and this goes beyond karma or possible litigation. For one, adding a negative review often results in increased sales. A negative review may add balance and create legitimacy. A negative review raises the overall review tally, making the product appear more popular. Critical reviews may arouse buyer suspicion. However, if a competitor succeeds in bringing down the competition, in many cases this hurts everybody’s sales, not just the company whose image was tarnished.

Such is the case with books, for example. When competing similar books sell well, their sales help to stimulate sales of other similar titles through customers-also-bought marketing tactics. When a foolish author succeeds in deterring sales of similar books, that author actually hurts his or her own sales by limiting the potential of customers-also-bought marketing.

Customers have the opportunity to help make the customer review system trustworthy. Take the time to post honest feedback of products and services that you use. The more customers who take the time to post honest reviews, the less effect abusive reviews will have.

Recently, I’ve noticed on Amazon that Kindle e-books aren’t showing the review tally and rating until I click on them. I’ve heard from others who’ve seen this too, shopping at Amazon.com, depending on the browser (which may not be consistent, i.e. one browser may work for one customer, but not another, and may be opposite for another pair of customers). I kind of like not having the reviews influence which books interest me. Whether Amazon is testing this out or if it’s a temporary glitch, it’s been an interesting experience.

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Amazon Customer Reviews—Simple Survey

Reviews 3

I’m curious how you, as a reader, feel about customer reviews at Amazon. I made this simple survey hoping to find out.

Please answer how you feel as a reader (not as an author).

This survey is just for informational purposes only.

Here is your chance to review the review system. 🙂

Pros:

  • You can learn about experiences that other customers have had with the product.
  • The number of reviews give some indication of how much a product has been purchased.
  • Feedback often includes a variety of opinions to consider.
  • You get to express your opinion about products where thousands of other shoppers can read it.
  • Critical reviews can help to prevent the sale of products that really aren’t fit for sale (though returns and complaints could achieve the same outcome).
  • Honest customer feedback has the opportunity to determine the success of a product.

Cons:

  • Opinions are often contradictory, making it a challenge to judge what to believe.
  • The system can be abused, both with favorable and critical reviews (though Amazon has made it much more difficult to do this compared to a couple of years ago).
  • There are sometimes spiteful remarks in the review section. This is one feature that seems to contradict Amazon’s focus on creating a positive shopping experience.
  • Customers aren’t required to either buy or use a product in order to review it.
  • Reviews can be posted anonymously. This is a pro in terms of internet security, but leaves room for occasional reviews that abuse the spirit of the review system.
  • Some external advertising services require a minimum number of reviews and average star rating, providing an incentive to recruit favorable reviews rather than encouraging reviews to come about naturally.

Overall:

  • Do you feel it’s beneficial, as a reader, to have customer reviews on the product page? That is, do the pros outweigh the cons?
  • Do you like the comments, the ratings, or both?
  • Do you feel that you could improve the customer review system? If so, how?

Vote:

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Recent Fines – Another Step toward Customer Review Integrity

Did you see this recent New York Times article, “Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You”?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

(Funny how it says 5 in the title, but 4 in the link. I guess even NYT can goof.)

If you read the article, you’ll see that several businesses were fined large sums of money for using phony online reviews to make their businesses look more appealing to customers.

Most people are aware that there are phony reviews. What needs more publicity is the ongoing effort by various companies (and law enforcement) to remove, prevent, and punish the phony reviews.

For example, Amazon cracked down on phony, family, and close friend reviews a couple of years ago, and this has greatly helped to reduce the number of phony 4- and 5-star reviews. Most customers are aware of the problem, but aren’t aware that it has improved significantly. (Yes, it would be nice if Amazon also cracked down on the phony critical reviews to the same extent, but at least Amazon has made big strides.) Surely, there is still some review abuse, but it is appears to be much better than it was a few years ago.

Many other websites are similarly working to remove and prevent review abuse. Some are even eliminating critical review abuse in addition to favorable review abuse, which is another good sign.

The above article shows that steps are even being taken on the legal side of this issue. When any business senses that a significant amount of money is being lost due to review abuse, this becomes an incentive to help bring action against it.

Don’t lose any sleep over people who may be gaming the system. Things will catch up with them eventually.

Related Article:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/508801/20130925/google-fine-yelp-fake-reviews-schneiderman-ny.htm

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)

Did You See These Funny Reviews Featured on Amazon?

Did you notice the new advertisement for funny reviews at Amazon? On the homepage, there is an ad that says, “You Guys Are Really Funny.” It’s not an external ad; it links to an Amazon page. The page features 10 different products (only the last one is a book). Each has 3 funny customer reviews.

If you haven’t seen these funny reviews, you should check them out:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1001250201

They are pretty hilarious.

Why did Amazon do this?

  • Perhaps to share something funny and put customers in a good mood.
  • Maybe to help try to improve the perception of customer reviews.
  • Possibly to encourage customers to write product reviews – showing that you can be creative and have fun with it.
  • It could be to generate more reviews of products other than books, since 9 out of 10 of the products featured weren’t books.
  • There might not be just one reason. Or it could just be the first point and we shouldn’t overanalyze this.

Regardless of the motive, this advertisement for funny reviews could have any of these effects. None of which would be a bad thing, really.

In the spirit of these reviews, maybe the real reason is to get more guys to buy products on Amazon, hoping the products will help them with the subject of women. 🙂

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)

Amazon Customer Book Reviews: Recent Improvements (?)

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)

Comparing Book and Movie Reviews

I buy books (both paperback and e-book) at Amazon and rent movies from Redbox. As an author, reader, and movie watcher, I find the comparison interesting.

When I pull up Amazon’s home page, I see a customized list of thumbnail images of books. Every book has the average star rating beneath it. However, when I pull up Redbox’s home page, I see just the thumbnail images of the movies – no average star rating. Also, when I shop for movies at a physical Redbox, I don’t see the reviews at all.

The strategy is a little different. Amazon wants you to see the perceived popularity with other customers before you click on a book that looks interesting, while Redbox wants you to decide which movie looks interesting before seeing what other customers think.

At a physical Redbox, they evidently don’t want you to be influenced by reviews at all. Perhaps including highly visible reviews on the machine would slow down the process. Have you ever stood in line just to return your movie, but had to wait twenty minutes for someone who was shopping? If so, just imagine how long the wait would be if customers could read through hundreds of reviews there.

I like how – online – Redbox wants you to first select a movie of interest, and then check out the reviews. I prefer this to Amazon’s method of showing you the average star rating first. I kind of feel that I’m being told what to read: Buy what’s most popular… what everyone else has… we know what’s best for you…

Things become more interesting when you check out the reviews themselves. Movies tend to have very many reviews, and the critics can be harsh. It’s tough to find any movies – even with popular actors and actresses – that have very high average star ratings at Redbox. Sometimes a pretty good movie has an average star rating of around three.

The average review rating can actually be less than one star. Fortunately, the minimum customer review at Amazon is one star. I once clicked on movie that had a really cool cover and looked professional, but had a point-something star rating with over a hundred reviews. What? How could it be that nobody liked the movie?

Authors can gain a different perspective on customer book reviews by checking out some of the Redbox movie reviews. I’m glad I haven’t produced any movies.

Yet even if the movie has many of bad reviews and hardly any good ones, it still has numerous reviews. That is, many people watched it regardless of all those lousy reviews. If a book has many more bad reviews than good ones, customers probably won’t buy it. Its sales rank will plummet.

Ah, there’s another point. Amazon tells you the sales rank. So if a book that was selling regularly suddenly has a dry spell, the sales rank climbs up to a million and shoppers think, “That book must not be good.” If the book is lucky enough to get a sale, the sales rank improves to the hundred thousands, and sometimes that one sale triggers a couple of more sales. If the sales rank climbs to the low thousands, customers perceive it as popular. If it gets on the bestseller list, it must really be good, right? That’s the perception.

Redbox doesn’t tell customers the ‘rental rank.’ Redbox doesn’t tell you which movies are more or less popular. I like that it’s not a popularity contest. It’s just about what interests you.

At Redbox, you sort movies by release date or alphabetically. The order of search results is a little more… interesting.

Of course, Amazon has tens of millions of books to choose from, whereas Redbox can only fit so many recent movies in the machine (Netflix doesn’t have that limitation). A movie is also over in a couple of hours, while you may spend weeks reading a book.

I realize I’m comparing apples to oranges. Actually, the supermarket sells apples pretty much the same way they sell oranges. The difference between book sales and movie rentals is fairly significant.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Thank You, Reviewers

Thank You Pic

Thank you, Readers

For taking the time to review books,

To express what you enjoyed,

To suggest what could be better.

 

Thank you, Shoppers

For reading customer book reviews,

For trying to sort out which comments are helpful,

For comparing feedback to the Look Inside.

 

Thank you, Customers

For not being afraid to share your feedback,

Despite the few who don’t handle criticism well,

For realizing that most authors aren’t this way.

 

Thank you, Bloggers

For investing so much time to read many books,

For posting book reviews on your blogs,

For helping out so many authors.

 

Thank you, Authors

For not reviewing your own books,

For not blasting the competition,

For not lashing out at reviewers.

 

Thank you, Everyone

Who has taken time to post a review,

Who hasn’t abused the review guidelines,

Who supports the wonderful world of books.

 

We need you,

Readers, Customers, Bloggers, Reviewers.

We would be nowhere without you.

Thank you so much.

 

Chris McMullen

Publishing Is not a Dog-Eat-Dog Business

I debated with myself whether or not this article would be worth writing. I feel that the majority of writers already realize this, and the minority who exhibit the dog-eat-dog mentality aren’t likely to read this article – and, if they do, be influenced by it. Then I considered that it may provide a little reassurance to the majority, if nothing else. So I have written this article with this possible benefit in mind.

Unfortunately, there are a few unscrupulous authors and publishers out there who incorrectly believe that they can become more successful by making their colleagues look worse by planting negative reviews on similar titles and other unethical practices. We see it happen occasionally. Most of the one-star reviews are from actual customers who simply didn’t like the book, but a few are actually from competing authors or publishers – sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly by persuading or even paying others to do it for them.

We know it happens from the times that that the author was caught red-handed. Reviews have been removed, accounts have been suspended, and a couple of such authors have been featured in high-profile articles.

Let me stress again that the vast majority of authors do not behave this way. Most authors – both indies and traditionally published – are much more ethical than this. Most authors support one another. I don’t mean to suggest a bad image for authors or books in any way. I hope that you will keep in mind that the vast majority of authors behave professionally and supportively and that almost all books provide much value to readers, and not let the behavior of a few bad eggs adversely affect your image of books and publishing at large.

What I really want to point out is why the dog-eat-dog approach is foolish in the publishing industry: Similar books are generally much more complementary than competitive. Buyers usually buy multiple books (if not all at once, then over a period of months or years). It’s usually not a case of, “Should I buy Book A or Book B?” but, “Where can I find more books like Book A?”

Similar titles help one another through Customer Also Bought lists, word-of-mouth referrals, etc.

If an author succeeds in hurting sales of similar titles by blasting the competition, this author is very likely shooting himself or herself in the foot. Every time a customer buys a similar title, that author’s book shows up as a suggested add-on. So hurting the sales of one book tends to hurt the sales of similar books.

Similar titles tend to feed off of each other’s successes.

Another important point is that a negative review sometimes actually helps sales, instead of hurting them. This is a second reason that the unethical dog-eating-other-dogs mentality is likely to backfire.

No author wants to receive a bad review. But sometimes they help sales rather than hurt them. First of all, every review adds to the total number of reviews. More reviews is a sign of greater popularity. Second of all, a negative review among good reviews may help to provide balance. Occasionally, a negative review does hurt sales, but many times it doesn’t.

We must also give credit to the customer. Shoppers can often tell that there is something funny about an unethical review. If they suspect that the competition has blasted a book, customers are inclined to feel supportive toward the poor author who was blasted. They might even buy the book when they otherwise wouldn’t have.

If a customer recently read the book and was about to post a negative review, upon seeing a harsh negative review already there, the customer often reconsiders this. Thus, a malicious one-star review might not result in more negative reviews, just more obviously malicious ones. When customers see a harsh negative review, sometimes they post a positive review when otherwise they wouldn’t have reviewed the book.

Of course, it takes much time for the author to see what effect, if any, a review has. Occasionally, bad reviews do deter sales. It’s just that the assumption that a bad review will always deter sales is clearly false; sometimes it does, but often it doesn’t.

The vast majority of authors who are scrupulous have a great deal of support on their side. Those few unscrupulous dog-eat-dog authors are missing out on this wonderful opportunity.

Most authors help one another in various ways:

  • We discuss ideas with other writers for writing better, marketing better, publishing better, etc.
  • We provide support through comments and emails.
  • We share recommendations for cover artists, editors, etc.
  • We reveal tricks of the trade to authors we interact with and trust.
  • We support one another emotionally.
  • We offer advice from our experience.
  • We give critical feedback when it is solicited.
  • We buy, read, and review many books.
  • And much, much more.

The self-publishing community is very supportive and resourceful. It’s an amazing team to be on. The community is far stronger than a stray dog going around eating other dogs.

Finally, a few bad authors shouldn’t be casting a bad image for dogs. When I think of dogs, I think of wonderful, furry, loving creatures, who win your love with sad eyes, slurp your face with a salivating tongue, stand up on hind legs and throw their front paws on your chest, and faithfully follow you wherever you go. We could learn a lot by studying the natural goodness exhibited by the vast majority of dogs. 🙂

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