Oops. That Book Review’s Not Verified

verified review on amazon hook-881444_960_720Way, way back in September of 2013 I wrote an article about verified reviews. In the world of Indie publishing, especially where anything directly related to Amazon is concerned, three-and-a-half years is a lifetime. Much of what I wrote then is either no longer true or suspect. In this article, I’m going to talk about some of the changes and why you, I, or a random reader might care. (Or maybe not.)

At the time I suggested that the only reason someone might care about whether a review was verified was if they thought the review seemed questionable. Then the “verified” flag would indicate the reviewer had actually bought the book or other item from Amazon. For someone looking at reviews and trying to decide on a purchase, the verified flag might still not be that useful. I suspect some people who are more attuned to happenings regarding Amazon might be concerned about fake or paid reviews, and pay a little more attention. But if they’re aware of these issues, they’re probably aware that reviewers who were willing to write a glowing review for a price have options to make sure those reviews showed as verified purchase reviews anyway.

However, authors who are trying to get selected to run promotions using Bookbub and other hard-to-get-selected advertising options want not just good reviews, but they’d prefer a lot of them with that verified flag.

see all verified purchase reviewsIn my original post I talked about a way that someone who had previously reviewed a book could subsequently “purchase” it (probably by grabbing it during a free run) and by editing the review get it to show as a verified purchase. It appears that no longer works. I suspect if a reviewer was motivated enough they could delete the original review, purchase the book, and then probably get the verified purchase flag to take by entering the review again. But that’s a big hassle that most won’t be bothered with. A reviewer who is actively trying to boost his or her ranking in Amazon’s reviewer ranking game might care enough to do this, but deleting the review would also delete any up votes the review had already received. It is rumored that verified purchase reviews are being weighted higher in these rankings, so it might still be worthwhile if that’s the reviewers goal.

Of possible concern to reviewers, authors, and maybe even some readers, is that Amazon has changed the default criteria for choosing which reviews to show. It appears that when the number of reviews on an item is low, that verified reviews will be shown first (ordered based on helpful/not helpful votes) followed by unverified reviews, ordered in the same way. For example, one book I looked at has 16 total reviews, 5 of them verified. In the review section on the page it shows 8 of the reviews, the 5 verified reviews in order based on positive votes, followed by 3 unverified reviews in the same order. The top verified and top unverified reviews each have 5 positive helpful votes. The four other verified reviews have between zero and two helpful votes, but are still higher on the list than the unverified review with 5 helpful votes. If no additional reviews are added to this book, I would expect the other verified reviews would tend to get more helpful votes by virtue of position.

mr pish verified reviews
Verified reviews top the list.

It gets worse. At some point, I’m guessing when a book gets a specific number of verified purchase reviews, the default now becomes to show only verified reviews. (The exception to this is if the top ranked positive or critical review is unverified then it will still show as such.) Amazon has had the option of filtering to show only verified reviews for some time, but that is now the default. Once an item gets this many reviews someone will have to dig to see the unverified purchase reviews. It’s easy enough to do, but takes an extra step or two.

Is this change good? It depends on your point of view.

These are “customer reviews” and those customers who actually bought a product from Amazon get preference. That seems reasonable.

Customers probably won’t care. But authors and reviewers might.

If you’re an author who uses ARC readers to get a quick jump on reviews at release time, unless you make arrangements for those readers to purchase the book before reviewing it, they’ll quickly drop off the reviews that people are going to see. (Of course that assumes you sell a bunch of books and that those purchasers write reviews.) The ARC reader’s reviews still serve their initial purpose, but don’t have as much long-term value as they did before.

It seems that the value of trying to get reviews from book blogs is also going to become less important as you get beyond release. A positive review may still sell a few books to the review site’s readers or have a slight advertising effect that may pay off down the line. But posting those reviews to Amazon is going to be less helpful than it was before. These reviews that are typically going to be more detailed than most will get bumped out of view by “I loved this book” and “This relly sucked” reviews from the verified purchasers. (Yeah, I let a little attitude sneak in there.)

What are your thoughts?

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

48 thoughts on “Oops. That Book Review’s Not Verified”

  1. It’s a puzzle. An author who has good blog reviews or really well-thought out customer reviews posted on Amazon would be well-advised to find pithy quotes from them and use them in the sales copy in the product description or Editorial Reviews section. (Granted, this gets a little weird when you still have so few reviews that the repetition is going to be obvious.)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sandra. I think you’re right. Maybe wait until the number of reviews hits a tipping point of some kind, but that’s probably only 10 or 20 reviews.

    1. Right, Lucinda. If you don’t have any verified 5 star reviews, that’s what would happen. If with just a few reviews they’ll be getting buried to some degree.

  2. It’s a moving target for sure. Thanks for the update, Big Al. One idea for ARC-based reviews that might work: Ask your ARC readers if they would accept a gift certificate from you to buy your ebook. Maybe set the price at $.99 for a few days (if you are in KDP Select, for example) and arrange the buys at that time. A little complicated but may help boost ranking two ways. A burst of real purchases and reviews from same. Costs money, of course.

    1. Very true, Michael. The only thing you can depend on is that the target will always be moving. 🙂

      I think you’re on the right track, kind of. If you’re in KDP Select you could actually set the price to free for a day or two immediately on release, but not do any promotion at all, The goal would be to get your ARC readers to “buy” the book for free. If they follow instructions to do so, then post their review, they should show as verified. (I’m assuming that a free book still shows as a verified purchase as long as you post the review after getting the book. You’d want to verify that is still true before, but I suspect it is.)

      The problem with paying 99 cents is that if you send a gift certificate to use to make the purchase there is a possibility that Amazon will see that as a connection between you and your ARC readers. I’m not sure about this. I know that I’ve received gift certificates from authors whose books I’ve reviewed and never had a review deleted. But the gift certificate and review on the book were unrelated and the timing was off for it to be a payment or reimbursement to buy the book. Also, I don’t buy the book in that situation. But I’ve heard stories of reviewed being deleted when the only connection they could see that Amazon might have seen was a gifting of the reviewed book or a gift certificate that was used to buy the book. They might be wrong and there may have been no connection, but there is also a possibility that it could backfire.

      1. Thanks. I knew that the FREE promotion purchases counted as verified but thought I read somewhere that was no longer the case. I hope I’m wrong and you are correct about it.

      2. I like the idea of having the book free for a day or two without any promotion to pick up a book I’m reviewing an ARC. I also don’t mind spending 99 cents. If I am gifted a book for a review from the author. I generally just cash the gift card, for a credit on my card, and then buy the book separately so it won’t look connected.

  3. I’ve been doing what you advise – I soft launch, make it free for two days, ask my ARC reviewers to download while free, then put it up to normal price and launch. It’s a bit of a dance, but it does allow me to put up a decent number of Verified Reviews.

    The killer to me is that Amazon doesn’t count books read through KU as Verified. I have one book that does a lot of business through KU, and so it is accumulating a lot of unverified reviews, six months after it launched. That should be an easy fix for ‘Zon, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to implement it.

    1. Yeah, a bit of a dance and I’m sure a pain to get people to do it. Plus, people don’t follow instructions very well anyway. But that should at least work and there doesn’t appear to be a way I can see for it to break down without Amazon going to a lot of trouble and crossing a line or two. (For example, they could see that you didn’t actually read that file and act on it in some fashion.)

      I’ve wondered about reading books via KU and whether it is verified or not. On the one hand, they aren’t actual purchases, so I guess technically there is some logic there. I know for sure that at one point someone could gift a book to someone else, post a review of that book which technically Amazon would have no reason to think they’d read, and they would get flagged as verified. I don’t know for sure whether the person getting the book gifted to them shows as verified or not if they review the book.

      It seems to me that, at least in the case of a book, what is of value is verifying a book has been read, but Amazon isn’t doing that or even claiming that.

    2. This is the thing that bothers me. KU should count as Verified or some iteration of verified because the person actually read the book. Buyers don’t even have to read the book. They just have to have paid for it. With KU, the person has likely actually read the book.

      1. RJ, I tend to agree. But then I can see the argument against it. That person didn’t purchase the book which is what the flag says. They’d have to change it to something else and at that point it becomes something they can’t actually verify happened. If a book (or something else) is purchased using my account, then a review from my account saying I purchased it is reasonable and verifiable.

        But just because someone read the book on a Kindle registered to my account doesn’t mean I read it, whether it was purchased or borrowed via KU. Plus, that would put them in a situation of having to track things they don’t currently have to about what got read on a purchased book and might make some people feel strange to know that they’re tracking their reading that closely.

  4. Thanks for the update and for having thought about this in such detail. I’ll have a look at mine… Actually the people I feel most sorry for are those nice bloggers. All that effort and commitment and then to end up at the bottom of the list…

  5. It gets even worse if you are a non-US author. I sell books here in my home country of New Zealand, books that I have purchased from Createspace, because the postage costs from Amazon.com are too restrictive for my buyers. In my mind, this should be a verified purchase because it is a genuine sale of a genuine Amazon-produced book but of course these are not counted because they didn’t pass through the .com site. On top of which, even if my readers wanted to leave a review, many of them can’t because they have either never bought from Amazon.com or they haven’t bought enough to qualify to leave a review – and many people here don’t use .com because there are cheaper ways to buy books for us. Trouble is, for me at least, the US is my target market but even getting reviews in the first place – from genuine readers and enthusiasts – is nigh on impossible.

    1. That sounds like a pain, Keitha. The minimum amount of purchase is a fairly new qualification that was being used to raise the bar on some of the reviewing scammers that would setup a slew of fake accounts to use in their “reviewing.”

    2. Yep, @Keitha – that’s the $50 threshold. People who haven’t spent $50 at Amazon can’t review there. This problem was create by the political posters/reviewers in the US. First they tore apart candidate Clinton-Kaine’s book, then Meghan Kelly’s (former FOX now NBC anchor), and by the time the “let’s award Ivanka Trump’s shoes with bad reviews”-phase started, Amazon had already changed the guidelines.

      You have to imagine thousands of people who had a grievance with one of these politicians posted nasty reviews on Amazon. So, this way, only actual Amazon shoppers can post.

  6. As a reviewer, I am shown as a verified purchaser even though many of my “purchases” are when then books are free.

    As a reader, I often ignore 5☆ praise reviews because they are so often sycophants of the author; I look for substantive comments. I also seek out and am particularly persuaded by 3☆ or 4☆ reviews that provide positive points about the book’s content. I am also acutely aware of comments about bad proofing, prevalence of typos, and editing issues; this discourages my purchase because an author who doesn’t care enough to provide clean copy doesn’t deserve my readership — it is easy to reupload corrected copy, and authors of books that have old reviews with bad editing/proofing comments should note that corrections have been made in the blurb copy.

    1. I agree with all of that, Kae. 🙂

      The specific thing I mentioned about free books and reviews is different. There was a time when I, as a review blogger, might have reviewed a book based on receiving a copy submitted by the author for review consideration. Then I’d see the book was available for free and could buy it, then based on that change my review so it would show as verified, just by editing the review. That no longer works.

  7. Nice to see this update here. I wonder if the verified review getting precedence is what has made it harder to look at the one- and two-star reviews as a group. Used to be, you could click on the link to those and see them displayed. Now when I do that, I keep getting reviews on my screen that are for different numbers of stars than what I just selected.

    1. Yes Malcolm, what you’re describing is a side-effect of the verified reviews being shown as default. In fact, what got me looking closer and determining there had been a change and exactly what it was that had changed was because I wanted to see what the 1 star review on a book said, so I clicked on the link that at one time would do that and didn’t get what I expected because the 1 star wasn’t a verified review.

    2. Mr. Campbell, after clicking on the 1, 2, or 3 star reviews and you don’t see those reviews because they are unverified, if you scroll down just a bit you can adjust the filters to view those unverified reviews. Just in case you over looked that option. I had. 🙂

  8. I just tried to leave a review for a book that I was given an ARC for, and I can’t even do it. Every time I click on “write a review,” it takes me to a list of all the things I’ve bought lately. Not happy about this. They’re really boxing us in, aren’t they?

    1. Hmm. Is the book released (as in not just “available for pre-order” status)? If it won’t let you review a released book that you didn’t purchase that would be a monster change.

  9. I have occasionally posted reviews of books I have bought from sources other than Amazon. I post them in order to let others know what I thought of the book, and guarantee that they are honest and unsolicited. I don’t post them to boost Amazon’s narcissistic, self-congratulatory desires, nor to curry favour with the authors of the books concerned, or to increase my own profile and visibility.

    So who’s going to ‘verify’ my review? Nobody bothers to ask me if I actually wrote it. Nobody enquires where I obtained the book, or if I actually read it, although I can assure you I’ve never posted a review of a book I haven’t read. So what does ‘verification’ mean? Does it simply mean the book was bought from Amazon? Perhaps they should have a small box where things like this are declared, alongside each review. Then the public could judge for themselves on the value of the review.

  10. Geez. I had to go look at reviews on my units to learn what you were talking about. For months I’ve noticed verified reviews being at the top on all ranks from 5 to 1 star. I know reviews have slowed because one now has to have spent $50 on Amazon before posting a review…buying a KU subscription doesn’t count…nor a buy for Kindle under $50. I don’t send out ARCs or do blog reviews. I did submit to Big Al my first 3 releases. After that I just publish and wait patiently for reviews. But here is something: I’ve been building my followers on Amazon and when I released a new unit last May, Amazon sent out a notice to my followers. That and a mention in my newsletter helped the book snag the #1 slot in HOT New Releases without a single review. A nice learning curve. After a few days, reviews starting posting.

  11. Hello @BigAl, how are you doing? Long time no contact ; totally my fault.
    I have noticed the same issue a while ago; I noticed it because I reviewed a KU book; and, of course, I pay for KU. Ten minutes later I wanted to go back and rephrase one sentence of my review… alas, I could not see the LAST posted review (mine). The funny thing was that since this was a KU book the thought that it would be counted as “unverified purchase” didn’t even occur to me.
    Here is what I believe: This has nothing to do with Amazon top reviewers such as you and me, it has everything to do with the various “review exchange groups” on FB and elsewhere.
    *
    Amazon revoked the review privileges of 13 Hall-of-Famers and who knows how many top reviewers, which means, they looked at all of us. You and are still there, we are clean, we didn’t violate Amazon’s Community guidelines.
    At the same time you have dozens of groups where author A reviews author G’s book, and G reviews D’s book, and D reviews C’s… etc… in other words everybody gets reviews but nobody does a direct review exchange. They don’t buy books. Because there is so much activity (measurable in gigabytes) Amazon noticed it and took action. I am not sure how many starter reviews (unpaid) they allow, and if these reviews will disappear later on, but I am guessing that that’s the reason.
    Amazon does not make any money because the authors send each other pdf and mobi files, but Amazon hosts the platform. I bet an Amazon accountant measured the data and evaluated it against the value. 10 years ago they didn’t care b/c they wanted to build up their review platform, today it’s a whole new ballgame. (How much does it cost us to host these reviews?)
    Case closed.
    Do you think that my thoughts make sense?

    1. Gisella,

      Does what you’re saying make sense? Yes and no. 🙂

      I definitely think one of the things Amazon has looked for and cracked down on is as you suggest, instances of review groups where a group of authors write glowing reviews of each others books. These reviews are, almost by definition, phony. To be in the group you have to write reviews that praise the other books, deserved or not. Whether explicitly laid out as such or not if you want good reviews on your book, you don’t have to be too sharp to know what you need to do when you review the books of the others in the group.

      However, I think the reason for Amazon cracking down on these is obvious. They don’t want their review system getting cluttered up by phony reviews, that the reviews are there to help potential purchasers, and phony reviews make the review system less valuable to their customers and thus less valuable to Amazon. This is the reason they’ve gone after the phony review mills that were out there, filing lawsuits against them. I’ve also heard there are some games being played by non-book vendors to get positive reviews in ways that are suspect and technically against Amazon’s rules. I’ve heard some top reviewers have been caught breaking those rules. Keep in mind that Amazon has a lot of products and many (probably most) of the top reviewers do reviews on things other than books.

      Space is a non-issue. Gigabytes of space cost next to nothing. I’m not sure exactly how many books Amazon has for sale, but know it is millions. But even if we assume 20 million books which is way high, and compute the space needed to store 100 reviews of 300 words each it would take less than 3 terrabytes (2.79 terrabytes if my math was right). That’s a lot of reviews, but not really that much disk space. I bought an external hard drive for my computer from Amazon for about $60 that holds a terrabyte. While I’m sure Amazon’s drives cost more, we’re still talking a few hundred dollars, maybe a couple thousand, for the storage they would need for an excessive number of phony reviews. It would cost them less to store these reviews than it does to police them.

  12. One of the biggest problems is going to be that kindle unlimited reviews are not verified. How can that ever be fair to both the reviewer and the author.

    1. Thanks for the computer course, Al.
      Yep, quite a few of these clubs wanted to recruit me. LOL

      @Caroline, I see the same problem. I reviewed Guy Kawasaki’s APE, which is not as good as he claims it is, because he hasn’t updated it since 2012.
      All of us know how many changes Amazon made to their user guidelines since then, hence some of the book’s content is outdated.
      An industry expert like Kawasaki out to know that if he gives instructions regarding Amazon he has to expect that the book will have to be updated.
      Naturally, I worked a bit harder on this review than on others, alas, since I “rented” the book with Kindle Unlimited my review does not come up unless somebody pulls up unverified reviews. Kawasaki’s book received over 1,000 reviews. Nobody is going to notice that mine did not show up

      I find this concept totally irritating. I pay for KU, hence I am a paying customer; in contrast to getting a pdf or mobi. I “rented” the book using an Amazon recommended program, their own.

  13. The question I have to ask is what about the BIG publishers? They send out ARCs to reviewers and bloggers for every title they are releasing.
    Does this apply to them? If it applies to other authors (indies and small/medium publisher books) than it should apply to them.
    If Amazon does apply it to the BIG publishers than I have to imagine they aren’t going to like that one bit.
    So either Amazon applies it to everyone and get the wrath from the BIG publishers or Amazon plays favorites. Either way it doesn’t seem like something Amazon can keep up for very long. Something will break and a lot of people won’t be happy.

    1. It is the same for big publishers, more or less, Elizabeth. I’ll expand on that a bit though.

      You can view there being two kinds of reviews in Amazon world. What they describe as customer reviews and what is usually described as editorial reviews.

      What we’re talking about here are those that they call customer reviews. Customer reviews are the reviews that anyone who meets certain criteria can enter on their own for any product that Amazon sells. Amazon is giving a visibility boost to those reviews where the customer reviewing the product bought it from Amazon.

      Editorial reviews are those reviews that are published elsewhere, say a magazine or newspaper. Sometimes an author or publisher will quote a portion of some of these reviews in their book listing on Amazon in the book description area. (Some will even label them “editorial reviews” when they do so.)

      Book bloggers could be considered editorial reviews. However, many book bloggers will enter their reviews after they’ve been published on their blog other places including as a customer review on Amazon. When they do, since the book wasn’t purchased from Amazon, the review won’t get the visibility that a review from an Amazon customer will. It doesn’t matter how the book was published. If a big publisher got a review from a book blogger that normally enters their reviews on Amazon as well as their blog, it will work the same. I think there are probably even some people who don’t even have a blog, but get books from publishers through Net Galley and post their reviews on Amazon and other retailers or review sites. There is no reason to believe they’ll get treated differently and I don’t think Amazon is going to care what the big publishers think about that.

      There is another route where the big publishers have an advantage if they choose to take it. Amazon has what they call the “Amazon Vine Program” which is a group of reviewers Amazon has selected/recruited to review stuff. The publisher or vendor (for a non-book) has to pay Amazon to be a part of that and they distribute the product to their reviewers. These are identified as a part of the Vine program and I believe are handled the same as a verified purchase (maybe even having that flag as well as the Vine flag on the review).

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