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In which I rant

Today I did a search on Amazon, asking to see books in a specified genre based on average customer ratings.
So far, so good. A sure-fire way for me, as the customer, to choose how I selected a book. Just like going to a bookshop and looking through the Top 10 in a section and deciding if they appealed. A way of not having to trawl through reams of reams of books but use a search to narrow that.

Then I looked at the search results. The top book was a 3.5 star, followed by the 5 star book. There was a 4 and a no-rating on the front page. Turning to page two, there were more no-ratings, with some 4s and 3s mixed in there. That wasn't what I had asked for as a parameter to make my choice.

So, I looked up my own book. It's sitting on a pretty good star rating - 4.75 across 3 reviews on Amazon UK, 4 across 2 reviews on US, and 5 across 4 ratings on Goodreads. Pretty consistent. A good parameter, maybe, as to whether the book is worth picking up. (There are others, of course, many of which are detailed in the reviews.) Above my book were myriad 2 stars, no stars, 3 stars and some 5 stars.

Now, the thing is I don't mind odds stacked against me. I don't mind a fair fight. But this isn't fair - it's arbitrary, whilst pretending to give customers choice. So, I emailed Amazon and asked, politely, what I was missing and, kudos to them, they responded. With this:

"I have checked and the search algorithm will display results that are the most relevant for customers. This may mean that the results may not adhere strictly to the filters.

To perform a more deeper search, you may wish to use the "Advanced Search" facility using the below link:

Please be assured that your book is treated exactly the same by the search as another with the same sales rank and metrics."

So, hold on. Those reviewers (none of which are my mum, or my brother, but who all bought the book and who chose to give a fair review off their own bat) didn't matter, despite that I'd chosen a search where they were supposed to. What mattered was what Amazon deemed as most relevant to customers - not what a customer deemed most relevant.

This isn't just about choice, although it partly is. We should have a choice to decide how to make our own selection. Just as we can choose to look at new releases, or top sellers, we should be able to choose based on what others, publicly, wanted to say about the product.

This is about someone choosing for us. Someone deciding that they, for whatever reason, know best. And that makes me mad, because that means it's not a fair playing field. It means the reviews kindly given aren't making the difference the reviewers maybe hoped they would.

It's about, actually, the right to be a consumer and get our own insights into a product and choose how to do it. Frankly, I don't want to be given a choice based on a company's assessment of its relevance. I want to choose my own relevance. It seems the least a consumer should ask for. But maybe I'm the only one who feels that way? I really, really hope not.


Anonymous said…
You should do a bit of brief research to turn up whether people have already written about this. It would strengthen your argument and I'm sure others have touched on this.
Joanne Zebedee said…
Yes, I will when I get some time, I think. I have asked in a couple of forums and I'll see what comes up.

Thanks! Jo
Loreli Toxx said…
I've noticed this exact problem when doing a search on Amazon. It also crossed my mind that it somehow was preventing a potential reader from reaching certain books.

What is most insidious to me about this is that I've given up trying to do exact searches such as this because I never get the result I want. I only get searches where Amazon wants to take me and on top of that the results is peppered with specifically targeted items Amazon wants to sell above others. I say this because they bear no correlation to my search-what so ever.
Joanne Zebedee said…
It steikes me as putting amazon very much in the driving seat, rather than the readers. Having looked into it, though, I'm not sure there is much that can be done. :(