Warning: This is another one of those "soapbox" posts…well, sort of. I promise I’ll get back to gratuitous potshots and general silliness soon.
Last year Steve Salerno got taken to task for writing so much on his SHAMblog about apparent irregularities in Amazon.com’s reader review process. Some of Steve’s faithful readers told him he was beginning to sound like a man obsessed, and Steve says he’s pretty sure that Amazon wasn’t too happy with him either. Many of his posts centered around a suspicious reviewer writing under the name Marilyn R. Barry and a certain bestselling author who goes by the name Dr. Phil; you can read the saga for yourself.
The larger point, of course, was the lack of integrity in a system that would allow the planting of positive reviews – and the systematic culling of negative ones – for the works of a bestselling author. What was even more disturbing was that so many of us (and I was one of them, for a while) just seemed to accept that as "the way things are." More than one person wrote to Steve and implied that he was naïve for ever thinking that Amazon’s reader review system was, or should be, on the up-and-up. What they were really saying was that expecting total integrity from Amazon reviews is sort of like expecting politicians to be honest.
Supposedly Amazon cleaned up their act a bit and tightened up their reader-review policy (perhaps partly in response to Steve's relentless prodding? Who knows?). But apparently there’s still a problem, and it has reared its head again in the wake of the stupendously successful infomercial and companion book, The Secret. The problem seems to be related to something we’ve known for some time now: you can poke and prod at the cash cows – of which The Secret is emphatically one of the most productive in recent history – but you can’t do anything that the milkers fear would seriously impede the milk flow.
I’ve had some private correspondence with people who have first-hand information about certain successful self-help authors and the underhanded way they play the Amazon reviews. In fact, just about everyone who has any experience with authors and Amazon probably has a story.* I’ve also received some public posts, such as this one from a new supporter named Paulette who wrote in response to one of my (fairly) recent blog posts:
Dear Cosmic Connie,Paulette has also drawn my attention to some of the behind-the-scenes info about Amazon’s "top reviewers," citing an article on Forbes.com about the "secret life" of an online reviewer.
Thank you so much for your incredibly informative Blog on those behind The Secret.
I borrowed the book from a friend after having been completely disgusted by the DVD (which I managed to see on-line before they pulled it) - I found the book is equally disturbing.
I'm usually not one for conspiracy theories but have to mention that I have tried (unsuccessfully) to post a 1 star review of The Secret (book) on Amazon.
First I was informed that I cannot include URL's (yet Janet Boyer did - Her "spotlight" review is the one you've posted here). So I edited my review, removing the URL. It never posted.
A week later, I inquired as to why it had not and was told my review was "too long". I was advised to edit and resubmit which I did and it still did not post.
I would like to add that my review fell well within the guidelines of Amazon. In fact, if you notice Boyer's review is close to 1,000 words (maybe more) and she has a URL included in her review. Yet her glowing review (which is actually in large part for the DVD - she's quite critical of the book but her review is confusing imho) was permitted.
So I tried again. My review is about 500 words, contains no profanity and I list several quotes directly from the book itself. Yet again - it did not post.
So after asking why this was I was now informed that my review is an "opinion" piece and not a "critical" review of the book.
I cannot help but think that if I am having difficulty submitting a 1 star review of the book then so too are many others. I also think that perhaps the editor (Byrne) or the publishers are planting a lot of the positive reviews.
Someone who managed to get his 1 star review of the book posted emailed me saying he knows for a fact that Joe Vitale pays reviewers to write positive reviews of his books and that he wouldn't doubt if something similar isn't happening with The Secret.
However, their are quite a few negative reviews of the dvd on Amazon. I believe both spotlight reviews of the dvd are extremely negative. So I don't know?
I've submitted reviews in the past and while all my 5 star reviews immediately post my only other 1 star review (of the ridiculously pathetic book The Isaiah Effect by Gregg Braden) took a week too and only posted after I emailed Amazon asking them why it wasn't up yet.
If anyone is interested I just posted my review in the "Discussion" section of The Secret under the title 'My Censored Review of The Secret.'
I’m not one for conspiracy theories either, but something does still seem a little off-kilter about this whole thing. I popped on over to an Amazon discussion on Secret star Joe Vitale’s book, The Attractor Factor (currently ranked at #767 in Books) and saw evidence of the same patterns that had Paulette and Steve so riled up. A reviewer named Danielle Adams wrote:
I also posted my 2 star review on this book and it lasted a week. When I could not find it, I contacted the customer service with the request to explain this matter to me and provide me with the name of the person who was actually responsible for removing my post. Within a day my review was back on the list but with partially removed content. In that "forbidden" for public eye content I suggested that most of the positive reviews here on Amazon were actually posted by J.V. affiliates who support him. Large network of supporters and cross promoters who plant 5 stars reviews make this book a bestseller.Then there was this, from John Frost:
Anyway, I suggest you do the same. Contact the customer service.
(Added on Apr.20)
Amazon has a policy about review content and there is a thin borderline between "permitted" opinion and "forbidden" one. Basically, if you want your negative review to last, you gotta check against the policy. And again, if it gets removed - do not let it go, ask customer service.
I too wrote a 2-star review, which was posted, and then removed within a day. I posted another one, and it has now been up close to 24 hours.One reviewer going by the name of NotoriousSEG wrote:
I never contacted customer service about the first one, but I suspect it was pulled after someone read it and complained about my suggestion that Vitale was "suckering" customers into paying $1500 and up for his e-mail courses whenever he needed a new car, or a new country estate. It would probably be more accurate to say that the students were suckers, not that Vitale suckered them, since I have no reason to believe JV is dishonest.
I find it hard to believe, though, that an amazon employee just happened to read that post and decide it was inappropriate--they cannot possibly post a vast enough staff to screen every single review, and, indeed, most of my reviews are posted immediately. It seems to me more than a little probably that there is a persistent and organized effort on somebody's part to get negative reviews pulled. A devious way around this, of course, is to write a fairly good review, and just give the book one star. Devious...but no more devious than trying to influence Amazon into keeping the star-rating up.
i wrote a one-star review of this sham of a book and suprise! it's gone. this makes me VERY skeptical of amazon's rating system in general.In response, a reviewer named David Houk wrote:
The Amazon rating system is being gamed by professional marketers-Vitale, Mark Victor Hansen Jack Canfield to name only very few. How do I know -I have been on the receiving end of their marketing campaigns to set up their books for bestsellers & to get 5-star ratings. There is even a course offered on how to do this.I should note that although this discussion was begun nearly a year ago, the last two remarks were posted in February and March of this year.
Pay close attention and you will start to notice the same names as testemonials (sic) in/on various books and on Amazon- many of these are authors or marketers who cross promote each other. As marketers they seem to feel anything is fair game to sell more of their products. As noted on another post- now while setting up their marketing campaigns they are advising to give a mixed but positive review so as not to appear so obvious!
This isn’t a new issue, of course, and I suspect it’s not going to be resolved overnight. But maybe if enough folks wake up to it Amazon will clean up their policies even more. (Oh, please don't send me missives about flying pigs and frozen devils; let me cling to the precious little bit of idealism I possess.) When shopping for a book, CD or DVD, I still peruse Amazon's reader reviews myself, but now I read them with an eye for possible agendas. And I think that’s something we all should do.
Recognizing that this blog post is based largely on speculation (though there's a large body of public opinion in support of that speculation), I welcome dissenting opinions or corrections from Amazon or from any of the bestselling authors whom others have suspected of "gaming" the Amazon reviews.
One more point before I close: I do not condone the slurs about the physical appearance of the Secret star mentioned in some of the Amazon discussions. In my opinion these comments detract from the debate. Actions and teachings, products and books, are fair game, but I draw the line at making fun of people’s weight or other appearance issues, particularly when they have seriously tried to do something about their problem (and in this case, have succeeded). Yes, I do occasionally make fun of hair and clothes and general weirdness, but these are things people can usually control much more easily than weight.
* And many of us have written positive reviews for friends' books on occasion. That's a fairly common practice. But that's not where my complaint lies. Doing an occasional or one-time favor for a friend is not the same as systematically "planting" good reviews, censoring bad ones, and doing other underhanded things to increase the average rating of a book or other product. Conversely, planting bad reviews for the product of a competitor (or someone you just don't like) is just as bad; I've seen evidence of this as well.