Monday, September 10, 2012

PAYING FOR IT (putting the go in your algorithm)

The blogosphere has been all afire over the recent revelation of some authors paying for reviews.

It happens.

I know some of you are like: "So what's the big deal?"

Well, here's the big deal. The main bookselling website is Amazon. This is where the majority of books are bought in the world. That's not an exaggeration, it's just the fact. Amazon is also where the majority of reviews are placed.

Well, the thing you should know about Amazon is that they have this nifty little thing called an algorithm. We all know what it is conceptually, but no one who doesn't work at Amazon understands it fully. It's the Matrix. It's the ghost in the machine. It is the Wizard in the Oz. It is the selling peanut butter to your buying jelly.

You've been on Amazon. You've seen the items they recommend for you to buy. You get their emails suggesting books. This is all the work of the faceless, all-knowing, mysterious and strange algorithm.

There is one thing we know about the algorithm. It is driven in part by reviews.

Because the algorithm assumes honesty it actually weights reviews pretty heavily in its ranking and recommendation system. So when some asshat comes along and buys a ton of reviews they are gaming the system. They are pulling a shell game on you. They are feeding you a lie masked by your trust of the Amazon system.

If you buy their book based on the recommendation or the paid for reviews, then they are STEALING YOUR MONEY.

Now you might try their book and like it. If so, then win win. But I find that if you have to pay for it, then it's because you know you can't get it on your own.

So rest assured loyal readers. I have not and will not pay for a review. The reviews you see on my books are honestly given by folks who either liked (Yay!) or disliked (Boo!) my writing.


It really does mean the world to them and it could be the tipping point for them to get a boost in the algorithm's arcane machinations. It is the single best way you can support the writers you like besides buying their books.


  1. I was on a panel that discussed the Amazon algorithm thing back in August, and one of the things that came up wasn't so much the reviews themselves (although I think I heard that 25 reviews is some sort of magic number as far as Amazon is concerned) but the "LIKES" and the tags. So reviews are always excellent, but it's the tags and the likes that seem to drive up visibility on Amazon itself (which would hopefully drive up additional sales.)

  2. I love this post, Tuck. Such a great way to put the case. It will be interesting to see how Amazon handles this in the future. Really - all sites that rely upon the "honesty" of consumer reviews. They'll have to find ways to prevent the marketers, etc., from trying to game the system, which casts doubt on the whole thing. Alas.

  3. Unfortunately the only way I see to curtail this is for these corporations to start tracking IP addresses which makes the Libertarian in me all squicky.

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  4. Imma try this again...

    Yes, great post on the madness that is The Algorithm!

    Two non-government intervention ways they could improve review integrity are:
    1) Stop sharing review databases (ever notice how one review shows up on multiple sites)
    2) Retailers, such as Amazon, start tying purchases to reviews. You no buy that product through that Amazon account, you no leave review...and you only get one review per product.

    They'll do neither until some bizarre litigation forces their hands.

    1. oh - those are good ideas, KAK. ~waits for bizarre litigation~

    2. but what about reviewers who receive an ARC from a publisher or author. Then we can't leave our review on amazon cause we didn't buy it from there...maybe reviewers/bloggers should have to register with amazon to get special posting rights...

  5. Great post, James. I never thought about the algorithms, but now I totally see how that works. I don't typically post my reviews to Amazon - because even on Goodreads I feel like I come off all squealy fangirl. I'll try to do better in the future.