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.

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  1. Peter says:

    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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Why is posting to amazon different than posting here?

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  4. Rian says:

    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.

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  5. A says:

    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.

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  6. A says:

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

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  7. Anonymous says:

    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.

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  8. Thomas says:

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

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