Friday, July 04, 2014

Burning books with a star

Dear Drs. Bezos and Chandler:

Facebook has no Dislike button, only a Like button, for a reason: it isn't needed. When a page or a post has received no Likes, it's as if the page or post has received numerous negative reviews. Can you see that? A Dislike button on Facebook would be redundant because not Like-ing something on Facebook performs exactly the same function. I would hope that Facebook has no plans to add a Dislike button to its interface, because Facebook has no more need of it than Amazon and Goodreads have a need for negative customer/user reviews. An absence of positive user reviews on Amazon or Goodreads is as compelling to a reader or shopper when making a decision regarding a book or product as numerous negative reviews would be. But, and this is a big but, the absence of negative reviews allows for the possibility that a reader or shopper will discover for himself a book or product he likes that he otherwise wouldn't have found. If that same book or product has several rude one-star reviews, that reader or shopper is much more likely to bypass that book or product altogether, allowing that customer reviewer to do his thinking for him, and potentially missing out on the discovery of an item he likes.

Your reason for allowing negative reviews, "[we're] taking a different approach...we want to make every book available – the good, the bad, and the let truth loose" [Spector, Robert (2002). p. 132], actually misses the point. By "letting truth loose," what you're actually doing is allowing writers of negative reviews to prevent books they don't like from being read. That doesn't sound like letting truth loose, does it. When a reviewer gives one star to a book or a product and writes something like "a waste of time" or "do not buy this _____," what is the effect of that? Potential readers/buyers ignore the negative reviews and decide for themselves whether or not a book or product is good? Hardly. There are too many items, millions of items, offered online for people to painstakingly consider each possibility. The customer-review system was set up specifically to help people navigate through the immense cloud of possible choices, to help people save time. So, when a few people prevent a greater number of people from reading a particular book, what does that end up sounding like?

Censorship? Are those few people actually banning that book? This is an extremely important issue, and it's one that I seriously wish would be thoroughly discussed throughout the hierarchy of Amazon. Your intentions for "letting truth loose" were honorable, saving people time in choosing from among millions of choices.

The actual result of it, however, is the throttling of truth.

Why don't you conduct a study on this? Select items from unfamiliar producers, and, for some customers, include negative reviews on those product pages, and, for other customers, include no negative reviews. And then observe over time the effect the negative reviews have on the sales of those items. You could even study the effects of negative reviews on bestselling items. I wonder if, with a study constructed carefully enough, you would reach the conclusion that negative reviews are actually costing you money.

Money talks, doesn't it, Dr. Bezos. If you learned, from unequivocal evidence, that providing customers with the opportunity to verbally trash books or products they don't like actually costs Amazon millions of dollars per year in lost sales, what would you do?

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