The Fakery Behind Amazon's "Top 10 Reviewers"

Amazon reviews, especially the effusive ones, have always been suspect—you never know when a five-star review came from an employee, publicist, or marketing type. Slate describes the dishonest world of Amazon’s “Top 10 Reviewers,” where a small group of writers churn out purple-prosed blurbs and jacket-ready compliments at an astounding rate, sometimes for a fee. In turn, these reviewers are inundated with a sort of fame as well as free merchandise—mostly books in the past, but now electronics and other goods. Because good reviews sell more books, Amazon has no incentive to weed out the reviewers who have turned the system into a cottage industry. We suggest you disregard any review with a “Top 10 Reviewer” label on it.

Their rankings, which are determined largely by the number of “this was helpful” votes, are kept high through “you scratch my back” arrangements and swarms of adoring fans who blindly vote for their favorite reviewer while voting down other Top 10 Reviewers.

The author of the article grew interested in Amazon’s Top 10 Reviewer group when he saw an over-the-top positive review of his debut fiction novel. He felt the praise was a little “packaged” and didn’t read as genuine, so he asked his publicist about it—she admitted she’d “solicited Grady Harp’s review.”

“Who Is Grady Harp?” [Slate]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. MissPeacock says:

    Very interesting. For the first time, I came across the #1 reviewer on Amazon while searching for a book to buy. I was astounded at her output. She said she reads two whole books a day. Hard to believe for me.

  2. mgyqmb says:

    All I am certain of is that all the brand new 1-star reviews on Cooper Lawrence’s book are legitimate. Definitely not related to her belligerent rant about Mass Effect on Fox News.

  3. PropCulture says:

    This post is a real tour de force. It’s highly recommended, even for casual readers!

  4. Morgan says:

    @MissPeacock: Not impossible; there were days, back when I was in school and had free time, that I’d read two books in a day every once in a while. If reading and reviewing were her only obligation it wouldn’t be too odd. Of course, the books I read tended to be around 300 pages and light fiction, so they were fast reads; if she’s claiming this for heavier material I’d be less inclined to believe it.
    I’m not saying she does actually read that much, just that it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that she could.

  5. redx says:

    I look at the 1 star reviews to figure out if there is anything seriously wrong with the product. It works for electronics if I see a consistent problem in the 1 star reviews.

  6. dgcaste says:

    @redx: I’m more of a two and four star reader. Something that has a big concentration of high reviews gets more weight on its fives. Ones often involve trolling, but I still do read them to find out if there’s a solid and logical review. Maybe what the guy didn’t like I will.

  7. cindel says:

    I remember when Anne Rice posted her review and cause all kinds of drama. Good Times.

  8. William Mize says:

    Wow. Looks like I need to crank up my PayPal account to get these folks to review my two mystery novels.
    It’s like Play for Pay, only different.

  9. acherusia says:

    I’d seen other articles like this about Amazon’s top reviewer. While I can attest to reading two books a day definitely being within the range of possibility, since during the second half of my senior year in high school, I averaged about the same. However, 45 books a week definitely strains the belief. That’s a little over six books a day.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe in saying that it’s impossible, either. If you assume an average book is 300 pages in length (probably a little on the short side, but if you’re trying to maximise books you read, you don’t read the long ones), that’s 13,500 pages a week. My reading speed is 100 pages an hour. I’ll assume that Amazon’s top reviewer can read at half again my reading speed, 150 pages an hour. She’d have to be reading 12 hours a day, every day. And a new book, every time.

    I could do that, I suppose. Barely. But I’d want more payment than a few free books and the accolades of a few people with way too much time on their hands. On the other hand, if I had no morals, I’d happily write a bunch of fake reviews for the same thing. I have to wonder just how much money they’re making off this scam.

  10. dgcaste says:

    @cindel: That was CLASSIC. It actually sparked my interest in her, with all of this going on with fake reviews and replies it’s good to see some soul and emotion in some of these authors. Then again, she has little to lose being so popular. Claiming to be the embodiment of Lestat makes her that more appealing to fans of her Vampire novels.

  11. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I read the reviews for entertainment purposes. Most are just random drunk posting. But when I come across a review that seems too polished and the reviewer is using their real name, I have to wonder if it’s a paid advertisement. Or possibly an aspiring writer/editor using the Amazon reviews as a way to fish for job opportunities.

  12. jimv2000 says:

    I usually tend to pay more attention to the more critical reviews anyway…they tend to be the more honest people.

  13. ndkchk says:

    Slate says 45 books a week. She says two books a day. I say there’s a problem.

    Also, can anyone find a review by Klausner that’s less than four stars? I went through twenty pages of her most recent and saw none.

  14. UpsetPanda says:

    I skip reviews that have spelling errors…I’m a spelling snob, I can’t help it. I also usually don’t read a lot of book reviews because I get the books from the library and if I don’t like them I can return them, and I haven’t paid a cent.

  15. Funklord says:

    The article fails to point out the profit motive behind all this–selling used books. It’s a great deal for all involved, the publisher gets a 5 star review, which certainly drives looks at their product, the reviewer usually doesn’t read the book at all and just paraphrases the promotional copy, and gets a brand new copy of the book to re-sell through Amazon’s used book system. Everybody wins, except, of course, the consumer.

  16. MissPeacock says:

    @Morgan: Oh yes, definitely possible. But the amount of material she was reviewing on a daily basis was staggering. Certainly it’s possible to read two books a day or to have several going on at once; in any case, the Slate article was a real eye-opener.

  17. MercuryPDX says:

    @mgyqmb: And they are SO helpful too. I made sure to check off yes for each one as I went down the list.

  18. IrisMR says:

    Am I surprised? Nope, I’m not. This always smelled fishy to me.

    I prefer to read all the reviews, especially the ones that look underdog.

  19. mgyqmb says:

    @mercurypdx: They really helped me decide against purchasing the book. Not that you need to actually experience something before you can levy claims against it.

  20. TangDrinker says:

    I wonder if any of these top 10 have posted in the review for David Hasselhoff’s Looking for The Best. I understand that “Hot Shot City” is particularly good.

  21. theblackdog says:

    I’m not surprised, my uncle published some crap book, and every time a bad review of it went up on Amazon, he would cry to his buddies at an online forum, and they would immediately run over and say the review was unhelpful, along with some of them posting positive reviews.

  22. theblackdog says:

    @theblackdog: and Amazon would then remove the bad reviews because of the high “unhelpful” score.

  23. KJones says:

    It’s not the first time amazon has been caught doing something unethical.

    In 2000, amazon were found to be ripping off customers who had bought from them previously. People who had amazon cookies on their computers were seeing higher prices for the same product than new customers were seeing.

    “Amazon’s old customers ‘pay more'”

    “Amazon charging different prices on some DVDs”

    “Customers Balk at Variable DVD Pricing” claims it was part of a test

    Yeah, it’s a test alright…of customer loyalty and ignorance.

    “Outrage Prompts Amazon to Change Price-Testing Policy
    Retailer will also refund some customers”

    “Web sites change prices based on customers’ habits”

    The gist of it: if you buy expensive things, companies will charge you more money, and they’ll share the information with each other.

  24. Mr. Gunn says:

    I prefer the reviews for Tuscan Whole Milk.

  25. nardo218 says:

    So you can get paid for being a Top 10 Reviewer? Starving artist willing to sell out, here.