Select Page

Robert Frost said there was something in nature that does not like a wall. I’m here to tell you there’s something in Amazon review readers that loves a negative review. There must be, because negative reviews attract “helpful” votes five, ten, even fifteen times more than positive reviews.

That’s not fifteen more helpful votes. That’s fifteen times more helpful votes.

I have all sorts of questions about this phenomenon, starting with why is this more prevalent at Amazon than any other ebook store? (A possible answer to that one comes below.)

Why would so many Amazon review readers consider a negative review more “helpful” than a positive review? Is this part or societal bias that only unhappy endings are “reality”?

Are these “helpful” clickers five, ten, even fifteen times more often negative than positive in their real lives?

Do Amazon review readers believe in the negative five, ten, even fifteen times more than the positive?

Are Amazon review readers so much more afraid of encountering a book they might not like than hopeful of finding a book they might like?

Or are they more willing to take the word of someone being negative than someone being positive? (Oh! Is this why attack ads in politics work? Oh. Dear.)

Do those who click “helpful” on negative reviews equate that with true critical thinking?

Do these review readers find it more satisfying, safe, fun, or something else to give negative reviews a “helpful” vote than a positive review?

Do the rewards of such a higher rate of “helpful” clicks encourage reviewers to go negative, since it’s lonely and isolated in positive territory?

Why do authors care if these Amazon review readers overwhelmingly go to the dark side?

Oh, wait. I know the answer to that one! Because Amazon puts the reviews with the most “helpful” votes at the top. And seems to me to be a highly probable answer to the question of why this phenomenon occurs more at Amazon than elsewhere.

Here’s one small example among my 50-plus published books:

I have a title with 30 reviews.

Eighty-four percent are positive. Eleven percent are negative.

The most “helpful” positive review has four votes.

The most “helpful” negative review – abounding in spoilers – has fifty-seven.

That means more than fourteen times as many review readers trusted the negative over the positive

Why is that, huh?

Oh, and that negative review, in addition to the spoilers, eventually acknowledges that the reviewer was completely wrong about what the review stated as the reviewer’s major issue … but the reviewer stands by the review.

Overall, there are twenty-seven positive reviews to three negative reviews. That means nine times as many positive reviews as negative ones.

Yet, the first two reviews listed by default by Amazon as “top reviews” because of their “helpful” clicks are two of those three negative reviews. (Apparently the remaining one, being a three-star, wasn’t considered truly negative enough by those clickers to be “helpful.”)

Being listed first, no doubt, helps those negative reviews gain more attention and ever more “helpful” clicks, which keeps those review first, with attracts more “helpful” clicks… You get the picture. They keep circling, more and more negative, like water down a drain.

The first positive review is the one with four helpful clicks. Many of the remaining 26 positive reviews have no “helpful” clicks.

I’m truly curious about why so many more people consider the negative reviews “helpful.”

I’m also concerned. I researched this a while back because I found latching onto the negative in a similar fashion was detrimental to my well-being. The research backed that up.

But – author megalomania aside – I know I can’t get other people to be more positive. (Even though it would really, really be better for them.)

Nor can I, alone, persuade Amazon to stop automatically featuring negative reviews. I’m NOT saying remove negative reviews, nor to regulate the negative “helpful” clickers, but, rather, to not push them to the top. Readers can already read “all critical reviews” or go directly to the one- or two-star reviews with a single click. Leave that option. But otherwise list the reviews by most recent. That would give review readers a more accurate picture of how their fellow readers are reviewing a book.

What can you do?

  • Join me in commenting to Amazon that, as a reader, you don’t find “featured” reviews helpful, particularly since they push negative reviews to the top and that you’d prefer “featured” to be removed, leaving reviews listed by most recent.
  • Click positive reviews “helpful” when you agree with them.
  • Consider whether that negative review truly is “helpful” before clicking.

What are your thoughts about the dominance of negative reviews?