TechCrunch reports on a new study from the Harvard Business Review that suggests that Amazon reader reviews of books are, on average, at least as good as those of professional book critics. The professionals, the report suggests, may not always have incentive to be completely objective, tending to give better reviews to authors who have written for the same publication, and giving worse reviews to novice than established authors.

Of course, that’s not to say that all Amazon reviews are necessarily objective either. A Cornell professor found a great deal of corruption among the top 1,000 Amazon reviews, with many being given perks in return for posting good or not posting bad reviews. (And, of course, you also run across non-content-related one-star protest review, which can throw the tally off as well.) But on the whole there are just so many Amazon reviews that, while individual reviews may not necessarily be valid, when averaged out and taken as a whole they can be surprisingly accurate.

It just goes to show that Jeff Bezos really knew what he was doing when he refused to remove negative reviews of products sold through the store. "We don’t make money when we sell things, we make money when we help people make purchase decisions,” Bezos said. Undoubtedly he’ll be glad to know just how well reader reviews are doing exactly that.


  1. A book review only needs to tell you two things: whether the reviewer likes the book, and whether the reviewer is anything like you. Most of the reviews on Amazon meet those criteria perfectly well:

    “This was a fantastic book! I loved it when the vampire impaled the werewolf on the steel spike!”

    Yep, that’s one for the bit bucket.

  2. Jon: “whether the reviewer likes the book, and whether the reviewer is anything like you.”

    This is why I find the Amazon and other reviews useless on the whole. And they will always be so.

    As you, correctly imho, say I have to know if the reviewer is like me and here is no way of knowing that from the reviews.

    This is why I believe strongly that the future is the social reading sites where people can find others who really share their taste, share their reading lists and follow each other.

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