Why Do People Post Reviews on Amazon?

I can understand why little-known authors and their friends post reviews of their own books at amazon. Judy Chevalier has a paper that finds that good online reviews sell a surprising number of books. (A bad review suppresses sales even more than a good review boosts sales, which also makes sense.)

More puzzling to me is why everyday people post reviews.

Take the latest Harry Potter book, for instance. It has been out about a week. So far there are 1,385 reviews at amazon, and another 385 at bn.com.

What’s in it for reviewer 1,385? It’s not at all obvious. Perhaps reviewers in general want to influence what gets read. But it is hard to believe that one review has much impact in a pile of 1,385 of them, or even among the 295 reviews of Freakonomics at Amazon.

No doubt developing a reputation for being a top reviewer is a motivation for some people. Amazon obviously likes to encourage these kind of reviewers by giving frequent reviewers titles like “Top 1000 reviewer.” But this can’t be the motivation for most reviewers either.

Maybe it just feels good to write a review?

On the flip side, of course, most people who read a book don’t post a review. For the typical book, I estimate about 1 in 1,000 book purchasers posts a review at Amazon. So maybe I’m looking at it wrong: anytime only in 1,000 people does anything, the question can just as logically be posed as why so few people write reviews.


I've posted Amazon reviews for a few rather obscure books I've liked (and one that I didn't). Certainly I have no illusions that my reviews will motivate any buying decisions. Indeed, I would be surprised if more than a relative handful of people read the reviews at all. But as you suggested, it just felt good to post my opinions on a public forum. In the case of the books I had liked, writing good reviews was a way of expressing my gratitude.

Trapper Markelz

I have posted reviews in the past not for others, but for myself... it is a way of remembering what I thought about the book after I finished reading it.

If you are an active user of Amazon and you spend time maintaining your profile, than your Amazon review list could essentially become a book journal or a reading blog.

The community aspect of writing reviews might be secondary to some people who are engaged in the site purely for their own uses.


Why is posting to amazon different than posting here?


I've written a few reviews for Amazon, but only stuff where there wasn't a review worth reading (or a posted review didn't do it justice). All of my reviews (maybe 3 or 4?) have gotten high ratings.

The reason I review things is because as a consumer, I read the ratings before I buy. Reader reviews make or break the deal for me -- especially when it comes to technical materials (finding out if I am part of the target audience), or controversial materials where a book is often one-sided. Reading reader reviews can give you perspective that otherwise one would be unable to acquire.

Since I read the reviews, I think it's only fair that I should write a review if the item warrants it.


Ego should not be overlooked. There are probably at least 1,385 people who always wanted to be a book critic but never got their chance. Reviewing on Amazon gives them a chance to try their hand at it. It even seems to apply to famous people. For example, check out this Weekly Standard story on Newt Gingrich's secret life as an Amazon reviewer.


I put the same link twice. The Gingrich review page is here


a wrote:
Ego should not be overlooked. There are probably at least 1,385 people who always wanted to be a book critic but never got their chance.

Or perhaps they did get their chance, preferred what they were doing but never lost their affection for something they cared about and enjoyed - reading and writing.


Maybe people really need to know what reviewer #1,385 thought and reviewer #1,385 is filling that gap.


I think people are different on the internet than they are in real-life. Most people will not be intellectuals but you can play one on the computer.

Maybe their is some inherent need to be an intellectual a few minutes each day.

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey

Personally I would say that 75% of my decisions over which books to buy (after I have picked a topic and am shopping for one or more books on that topic) are made based on Amazon reviews. I think there are enough people out there like Rian and me that people know by writing a review they have a lot of influence over what people do and do not read.

Even if there are already a bunch of reviews, you can also sort them by lowest or highest rating, most helpful, etc., and your review is counted towards the average.

I always sort the reviews by lowest to highest rating and see what the reviews from the people who hated the book are like. If they are obviously idiots and the book got a good average rating overall, I buy it. But if the haters seem to be pretty smart and reasonable, I tend to pass on the book even if it got a bunch of other good reviews.


I generally don't post on blogs if the average number of comments per entry reaches more than 12. I'd rather have some part of the mindshare of a small group than practically no part of the mindshare of a large group. People post on "the fray" at Slate in the hopes of becoming winners, who get their posts quoted in larger articles that are read by many thousands.

So, there is a chance of reaching a jackpot in these kinds of issues, much like why in LA there are so many SAG actors who are quite good but still looking for good roles.

I think there's a high incentive to post or review earlier in the stage, because then you get more potential for grabbing the mindshare. All the more so if you can create your own flame war. Perhaps there is something to the idea of tipping points, too. Perhaps that one last reviewer believes they could be The One who starts the process of things going their way. Making an obsure book or album a hit, where they could then say "I was a fan of it before it became popular."



They post because they want to send a message to the nervous author, who no doubt checks the reviews every day.


Like Jacqueline, I appreciate the negative reviews far more than the positive ones. My selection basically goes:
1) Review positive articles for a good synopsis of the book/it's key thoughts (see if it is the book I am looking for)
2) Review negative articles to see if it is well written/useful (is it just repeating someone else's views, is it 300 pages when it could have been 100, etc.)

OTOH, I think people post reviews because books evoke an emotional experience that makes people feel connected to the author, and writing a review on something like amazon gives people a chance to express that connection


Have you ever sat in a public place and the person next to you would tell you every single detail about his/her life?

That is the same reason why people post book reviews, movies reviews, including this particular comment.

It is our human nature to share and express, but our social "rules" tell us not to, or there might be some negative consequences, such as embarrassment, rejection, and alienation. All these "rules" can be ignored if one could express them "anonymously".

Granted Amazon.com do ask user to sign up for an account before leaving reviews, but that can be easily defeated by posting under a pseudonym.

Dr. Levitt, it is very interesting about this posting because earily today, my colleague and I was just discussing about this.


I have to admit, I've posted reviews for books and movies on occasion. Often, it is out of excitement after a particularly good experience. However, I don't think this explains it completely.

I think we have to look at Jerry Springer. Why would anyone air their dirty laundry on TV? Who would sit on air waiting for DNA results that could reveal that they are deadbeat dads?

I think it is social interaction. Perhaps not of the healthiest sort (although, "healthy" is a loaded and controversial term.) Let me put it more simply....PEOPLE CRAVE ATTENTION.


If you spend all that time reading a book, maybe you want something to show for it, some record of that time or some document that you had this opinion.


Amazon obviously likes to encourage these kind of reviewers by giving frequent reviewers titles like "Top 1000 reviewer." But this can't be the motivation for most reviewers either.

It's almost as if there is a large group at the bottom working for below minimum wage in the hope of one day making it to the top where there are large rewards. I could swear I've heard of other industries that work like that. It's on the tip of my tongue.

But for those not in the race for rankings, I would suspect what is driving them--and us--is the pleasure of expressing your ideas especially when they provoke response.


i think that a lot of people like to know that something they have written is out there on the internet and has the possibility of being read by anyone from anywhere. it gives joe shmoe your average, everyday boring guy a chance to feel like their opinion is valued as an expert, that they have an effect on strangers who read their review. it's probably similar to the reason people post on blogs; they can believe that other people value what they're writing. so it's not whether or not they actually have and impact but the feeling that they get from knowing that something they have written is on the internet.

James Kew

I find Amazon reviews almost useless. Two reasons:

a) they're usually poorly written, almost to the point of incoherency

b) they're rarely objective or measured. People are only motivated to review items they either loved or hated: so reviews are always polarized towards the end of the scale. Lots of 5 and 4-star reviews; lots of 1 and no-star reviews; very few middle-of-the-scale 2-to-3-star reviews.


Honestly, I read the reviews of books before buying too. Usually the only time I have posted a review was when the book I read was such a waste of my time that I felt ripped off for reading it, and I wanted to spare others the same pain.

For example I was reading a novel one evening and it was so boring that I began dozing and dropped the book into the full bathtub. It was torture to read it, and I only finished it because a good friend recommended it. So, I posted to Amazon as a warning (especially to those of us that occasionally read in the tub!)