I was glancing at the reviews of various books that I’d posted on Amazon, looking to see whether they are particularly helpful or not based on on the feedback that people can give. The results seem mixed and I decided to take a look at reviews by others for a book I’d recently reviewed to see why some are rated very helpful and others not very helpful. In doing so, I looked at reviews that rated the book itself very highly and very lowly. And I made a discovery which surprised me:
People rate books low (e.g. 1-star) because of the price of the book.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. This is probably old news at this point, but there were dozens of people who, for instance, gave 1-star to Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for the sole reason that they felt the Kindle version of the book was overpriced. People are free to express their opinions as they see fit and I have no problem with that, but it did bother me that a rating system was being used as a kind of protest mechanism against the publisher and not to rate the book on its actual literary merits.
I gave this a bit of thought. People should be able to express whatever opinion they have about a book (or any product) for whatever reason they choose. But a rating system should also be designed to be helpful to those interested in the quality of a product above and beyond just the price. Giving a book a 1-star rating because of price alone games the system in a way that makes it difficult for people looking for opinions on quality to easily find them. I wondered if there was a possible solution and thought of at least one:
Why not two scales for ratings: 1-5 stars for quality and 1-5 stars for value. The quality rating would be used (in theory) to rate the book on its merits, completely separate from how it is priced. The value rating provides a mechanism for someone to rate the overall value (including price) of the book. In this way, a person could say that they thought a book was phenomenal (5-stars for quality), but thought it was outrageously overpriced (1-star for value). This seems like a perfect compromise but I suspect it has two fatal flaws:
- People would still protest overpriced books by hijacking the quality rating. That’s just human nature.
- Publishers might balk at such a rating system (although its hard to imagine what they could do about it) because it would expose too much about their pricing practices.
In the end, it is easy enough to simply filter out the noise of 1-star reviews based solely on price. And I’ve been marking these reviews as “Not helpful” as I find them, because for me, they aren’t helpful at all. They tell me nothing about quality. I just wish there was a better mechanism for separating out quality from value in these reviews.
I read today that Amazon finally caved to Apple’s in-app purchase policy. I can understand Apple’s desire to get its cut, but the desire to enforce this policy puts an unnecessary burden on customers and creates usability issues that are extremely annoying. For instance:
Right now, if I want to buy a book from the Kindle app on my iPad, I can click the Kindle Store button and it will open a web browser to the Amazon Kindle site so that I can make my purchase. If I decide to upgrade to the latest version of the tool, the button will no longer exist, meaning that I will have to navigate to Safari, and then navigate Amazon. This adds two additional steps to a process that was almost as efficient as you can get. Adding steps to a process? Really?
This might be good for Apple’s bottom line, but I have a question for Apple: how it this useful to consumers?
It is by no means any secret now that Amazon in Germany screwed up and shipping about 180 copies of George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons to people who had placed orders. Martin is furious about this, as he should be. A Dance with Dragons is book 5 in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and a long-awaited addition to the series, particularly after HBO completed its airing of the first season of Game of Thrones. I have read the first two books (my thoughts here and here), and I’m partway through the third book, A Storm of Swords, and I am enjoying the series quite a bit. Like many people out there, I don’t to know what is coming next until I have the book in my hands and can read it myself. Put another way, I want to avoid spoilers.
But what I find most interesting about this recent Amazon debacle is that it feels like regardless of what Amazon’s responsibility is in the matter, it will be the fans who have received the book early that we will depend on to hold their tongues for another couple of weeks. It seems as if it is implicit on fans in this situation to keep their mouths shut, despite the fact that mistake that was made was not their own. Should one of these fans write a post about the book, others might react negatively to it, and I’m not sure that is right.
Continue reading Where does a fan’s responsibility lie? Amazon’s screw-up with A Dance with Dragons
As I promised in the earlier post, I have also made my first published science fiction story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” available on the Kindle for people who want to read it there. You can find it in Amazon’s Kindle Store. It’ll cost you $0.99 there, but remember, the story is also freely available on my website.
This is the first thing that I’ve made publicly available on the Kindle so if you notice any formatting issues or other problems, let me know and I’ll try to correct them if I do this again in the future. I used Scrivener to do the conversion to Kindle format, and with the possible exception of a reference to a page header which I didn’t catch, it looks like it came out pretty good as far as I can tell.