Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Seven Reasons Why the Amazon AVP Badge is Meaningless

By Iola Goulton

For as long as professionals or members of the public have been able to write product reviews (including book reviews), there have been people attempting to work their way around the system. Amazon is no exception.

What is the AVP Badge?

AVP stands for Amazon Verified Purchase, and is supposed to be a way for Amazon users to judge the veracity of the review.

Amazon introduced the AVP Badge in an effort to curb fake reviews. It has been successful, to the point where many Amazon users claim they ignore reviews that don’t carry the AVP Badge. But just like any reviewing system, the AVP Badge can be gamed—which means it’s no longer a good way for Amazon users to judge reviews.

Why not?

1. The AVP Badge is Optional

When you write a product review for a product you purchased on Amazon, you have the option to include the AVP badge or not. A reviewer who has purchased the product at Amazon may choose not to display the AVP badge (for whatever reason), which means there are a number of reviews of products which were purchased at Amazon, but which do not display the AVP badge.

2. The AVP Badge is Country-specific

While Amazon.com (the US site) is the best-known, Amazon also have sites in Australia, Canada, England, and several other non-English speaking countries. Many reviewers, including myself, cross-post reviews at two or more Amazon sites. However, the AVP Badge only shows up on the Amazon site the product was actually purchased from.

3. Free Downloads show the AVP Badge

Free Kindle downloads earn the ‘purchaser’ the AVP Badge. But just because someone downloaded the book doesn’t mean they’ve read it. I currently have close to 1,000 free downloads on my Kindle, and have probably read less than 10% of them. But I could publish reviews for each of those 1,000 books, and they would display the AVP Badge. Even though I haven’t even opened them since I bought them, much less read them.

4. ARCs Don’t Show the AVP Badge

ARCs are Advance Reviewer Copies (or Advance Reader Copies). As the name suggests, these are advance copies of the book sent to influencers including reviewers, bloggers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, educators and the media in an effort to promote sales and get book reviews, both online and in print. ARCs may be electronic (delivered through a website such as NetGalley or Edelweiss) or paper (an unproofed manuscript, either printed on A4 and spiral bound or, more commonly, a low-quality mockup of the final book).

ARC reviews are easy to spot. Some reviewers will disclose they received a free copy of the book (or other product) in exchange for a review. This disclosure is required by Amazon in order to comply with Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Others will be labelled by Amazon as Vine Voice reviews. Vine Voice is a programme operating in the US, UK and Canada that allows selected reviewers free products in exchange for an honest review.

Around 75% of the books I read each year are ARC copies, so none of those get the Amazon AVP Badge. But I can assure you, I have read the books, and if my reviews weren’t considered to be of sufficient quality, the publishers wouldn’t supply me with the electronic ARCs.

5. Borrowed Books Don’t Show the AVP Badge

The AVP Badge only shows for books purchased through one Amazon country site:

  • If you borrow books from the library (or friends), your review won’t show the AVP Badge.
  • If someone gives you the book (even if they purchased it from Amazon), your review won’t show the AVP Badge.
  • If you purchase the book from another source, your review won’t show the AVP Badge.
  • If you purchase the book second-hand, your review won’t show the AVP Badge.

These are all perfectly acceptable, even normal, ways to acquire a book. Is your review somehow less relevant because you didn’t purchase the book from Amazon?

6. Fake Reviews Do Show the AVP Badge

If you want a host of glowing five-star reviews and are a little short on character traits such as honesty and ethical behaviour, then you fake your reviews. The two most common ways of doing this are:

  • Set up an Amazon account in a fake name, purchase your book and review it (so getting a wonderful review, and the AVP Badge);
  • Contract a series of reviews from a “reputable” website (choke) such as ffiver.com, who will purchase your book and provide you with a five-star review within a day or two. Hey presto, a five-star review with an AVP Badge.

Neither method is recommended. It's cheating.

7. Fake the AVP Badge

Yes, the AVP Badge can be faked. I’m not going to say how on an open forum (for obvious reasons), but a couple of my online friends have tested this and report it can be done with little effort. I suspect that any reviewer who goes to the effort of faking the AVP Badge almost certainly hasn’t read the book (or used the product ) they are reviewing. The only reason to fake the badge is to make a review look legitimate. Real reviewers wouldn’t bother.


So there you have seven reasons why the Amazon AVP Badge is meaningless. In a nutshell, the AVP Badge tells you nothing about whether the reviewer used the product. In the case of a book review, an AVP Badge is no guarantee the reviewer read the book—and surely that’s the basic criteria for a reliable review.

If the AVP Badge isn’t a good way of judging Amazon reviews, what is? I’ll look at that in a future post, but meanwhile, do you look at the AVP Badge? If not, what criteria do you use to judge the veracity of an Amazon book review?

By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (www.christianediting.co.nz), or follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christianediting), Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog (www.christianreads.blogspot.com). I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500.

46 comments:

  1. Iola, I am staggered that a reviewer would review a book they haven't read! Wait while I pick up my jaw from the floor. :) Do they just fake it by reading the back cover blurb? Do they read others comments first? And wouldn't potential buyer readers be able to pick this?

    As for those AVPs and ARCs well, you sure have let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Thanks for this very relevant info.

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    1. Hi Rita - I'm not staggered at all. I have been asked to be an influencer for books I've never read and the author isn't prepared to send me a copy. I've had authors send me quotes and ask me if it's ok to say I said that. Like: NO!
      Although this is not reviewing, it's the same kind of thought system. Plenty of people rate books without reading them - two months before anyone could possibly have read God's Panoply, there were 5 ratings there, ranging from 1 to 5 stars. I note 3 of those 5 ratings have been removed since.

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    2. There is one Amazon reviewer who claims in her blurb that she reads two books a day.

      I could believe that at a stretch, but if that's the case, how does she have almost 30,000 Amazon reviews? That's an average of five books a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, for seventeen years (since Amazon began allowing reviews). On a 'good' day, she can post over thirty reviews.

      Yeah, right.

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    3. I am an extra virgin olive oil reviewer. Even though I've been writing for years, I hadn't even heard about getting or writing reviews! I am sorry that I hadn't reviewed many fine Australian books I've read in the past. This is my apology to those who might have wondered why I emailed them to tell how much I enjoyed their novels but never gave reviews. I am trying to make up for it now. There...I feel better at confessing!!!

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    4. Rita you dont have to review book you read. Not all readers do and some authors struggle with it. Also its best not to review books by the same publisher. I know Rochelle prefers her authors to review her other authors books. I know this is the same for some of the other lines also. Infact Its either Goodreads or Amazon will take down reviews done by author who write for the same publisher.

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    5. I don't know about Goodreads (which is now owed by Amazon, who also own Shelfari), but author circles and badly behaved authors are plentiful on Amazon. Customers complain about reviewers behaving badly sometimes rightly so) but authors are a worse problem.

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  2. Useful information as usual, Iola. I didn't know about the AVP badge at all. Thank you, even though it is sad to think that readers, reviewers and writers can't just be honest about their work and their feedback. As writers we soon learn that reviews, feedback and support from readers is vital, so I can only pray that we have a culture of honesty and encouragement within our Christian readers and writers.

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    1. Hi Carol
      I agree honesty is vital. How often have I thought that the biggest spiritual battle is not between good and evil but between good and friendship. It's easy to be honest with people we don't know - not so easy with friends.

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    2. Hi Anne - Yes, I often struggle with that dilemma too. I'm reluctant to give a book less than four stars if I know the person, so I tend to just not review that books. But then that's not being totally honest either.

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    3. We'll get into some reasons why some reviewers feel they can't be honest with their feedback in a later post. It is an issue, and it's something each reader and reviewer has to determine for themselves. In a way it's easier for me, as I'm not an author.

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    4. Thanks Iola. I'll be interested in that one.

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  3. Iola, great post! I've never paid attention to AVP badges because I know many reviewers receive ARC's. I don't really pay attention to ratings, either. I'm more interested in the content of the review, and whether or not the reviewer makes references to the characters and story. Does the reviewer reveal specific information (not spoilers) that's not included in the back cover blurb? That's one way I try to discern the difference between a 4 or 5 star general rave vs. a useful review from a reader who has obviously read the book.

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    1. I agree, Narelle. I've never paid attention to AVP badges either - but now I've got seven good reasons not to!

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    2. Thanks, Narelle. I agree that the content of the review should be the most important thing, but I'm often surprised by the number of people who rely purely on the star ratings. They are the easiest thing to manipulate.

      For example, I recently saw a statistic that the average Amazon star rating is higher for self-published books than for traditionally-published books. I don't want to get into a debate on the relative quality of self vs. traditional publishing, but that seems off to me.

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    3. Anne - there were originally only five reasons, but once I got writing another two sprang to mind.

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    4. http://www.amazon.com/review/R3K8T8DR81Y47S/ref=cm_cr_rev_detmd_pl?ie=UTF8&asin=B00I97HYZ0&cdForum=Fx1MD4641GZTB86&cdMsgID=MxZH4RBBE71GND&cdMsgNo=1&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx2GQWZ5BEPVQG3&store=digital-text#MxZH4RBBE71GND

      http://www.amazon.com/To-Sir-With-Love-Lulu/product-reviews/B0012LD00I/

      http://www.amazon.com/review/R291694JECZX1I/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0061939897

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    5. Three good examples, Peter. Thanks for visiting.

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    6. Thanks

      If self-published books have a higher average star rating than others, it'll be because it's all about mutual admiration.

      Given that I'm going to become an author, I think you should too. You write well and you have plenty to say - enough to fill a book, I would think :-)

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  4. I haven't paid attention but then I don't really read reviews either. If I want to buy a book and am not sure I will go straight for the 3 star reviews 5 stars are normally by friends, and 4 stars are similar but 3 stars will give more info. (I will read a review from someone I know and trust) If a book has mostly 5 stars and isn't just released I instantly think fixed. But its mainly non fiction I will read the reviews of as I stated starting 3 star. Then some of the others.

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    1. I'm another one who tends to ignore the five-star ratings. I know authors like them, but a lot of them aren't useful. The three-star reviews (or lower) are often a lot more helpful.

      Having said that, I also don't read a lot of reviews. Most of the books I review are ARCs, so I'm getting them before they release, and Amazon only allow Vine books to be reviewed before release date.

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    2. I have a friend I met who reviews and is proud to be a top reviewer but she mostly gives 5 stars and I think its more cos she likes the authors and is friends with them. I saw a few 4 star but nothing below and I saw no 3 star reviews. While some wont put a 3 star up you would expect more 4 stars.

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    3. Hi Iola

      I agree that three star reviews are often so much better. I think the reason is that it's the explanation of what you didn't like that's so informative. Five stars reviews tend to be fluffy "wows" of not much substance. But a 1 star review tends to be hysterically funny... and informative in the process.

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    4. The reasons why most Amazon reviewers give mostly five stars boils down to the fact that people tend to buy or borrow what they expect to like. I make no apologies for mostly giving out 5 stars, but I'm 62 and if I haven't figured out what I like ad don't like, especially in my main reviewing area (music) I never will. That said, I am not afraid to criticize when the nee arises and have doe so. I am posting this on my yet-ureviewed 1-star laptop. I will post a review, and it will happen before I publish my book, but I won't do it until I'm ready.

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  5. I admit I've always taken AVPs with a grain of salt. Interesting, as always, to find out about some of the less honest habits which may go on behind the scenes.

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    1. I do believe that most Amazon reviewers are honest, perhaps as many as 99.9%. But Amazon has 20 million reviewers, so 99.9% still leaves 20,000 reviewers who are less than honest—and a handful of these are in the Top 1000.

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    2. Were you wearing rose-tinted glasses when you posted that?

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    3. I was trying to be nice. And I don't know as many reviewers as you do.

      What do you think the percentage would be?

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    4. Tricky question, not least because it depends where you draw the limits. Amazon allow people to wash their reviews by deleting and re-posting, thereby getting rid of votes and comments. Personally, I think it's dishonest although there was a time when I washed reviews in moderation. Some people disagree. I have reviews showing 0 of 3, 1 of 4, 2 of 5 or whatever that I might once have considered washing, but I long ago realized it was pointless. We now have ARAT, a piece of software developed to help reviewers track their own votes but which is a godsend for trolls, who have another stick to beat reviewers with. Using ARAT, anybody can track what's happening on my reviews, your reviews or anybody else's reviews. Washed reviews each show up as a deleted review plus a new review, so the old idea of waiting until a review was buried a few pages back won't work if a troll is watching.

      There are may other aspects of honesty. One UK top ten reviewer has got lots of votes for posting CD track listings, but he doesn't seem to have any interest in the music. This is sometimes clear from the comments o those reviews.

      And there's the issue you touched on about the woman who reads two books a day.

      And so on - so what is honest and what isn't?

      Apart from the honesty question, there's the issue of bots that can automatically generate bogus accounts to use for voting. Each account has to buy something from Amazon to be able to vote or write reviews, but even if Amazon require an actual purchase, some downloads are very cheap.

      With the speed at which new accounts are being created, Amazon.com customers could exceed 25 million later this year.

      Leaving aside bots and casual reviewers, I think there are probably fewer than 10,000 reviewers who are both active and serious about reviewing on Amazon.com, but it's hard to tell. It seems that a lot of top reviewers wash reviews and don't worry about trolls using ARAT. What else they get up to, who knows? But if you regard washing reviews as dishonest, I'd say that the % of honest reviewers I the UK or USA top 1,000 is probably under 50%

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  6. I've heard, read and been told AVPs effect the Amazon algorithms. Therefore to an author, especially an indie author, having loads of AVPs is helpful. Has anyone heard, read or been told another story?

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    1. There is no evidence that I've seen to suggest that AVP affects the algorithms directly, but plenty of customers admit they won't look at reviews without AVP. That being so, AVP has an indirect effect.

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    2. Michelle, Peter is someone who I know has spent a lot of time studying the Amazon algorithms, particularly around reviewers. If there was a relationship, he'd have noticed it.

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    3. I haven't yet bought the book you recommended, though I get the impressions it's more about the algorithms used for sales rankings, etc. However, if the author mentions AVP or anything that might impinge o it, I may revise my thinking. The one thing I can't do is publish a book that contradicts what another author says without convincing myself that he is wrong :-)

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    4. Yes, Let's Get Visible (and Let's Get Digital) are about the sales rankings. I looked, and couldn't find anything about AVP, and no mention of reviewer rankings.

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    5. I actually bought both and they arrived today, The section on seeking Amazon reviews, p129/30, contains two glaring errors

      p129 - He says reviews from Amazon US don't get posted to Amazon UK ad vice versa.

      The vice versa bit is correct, but if the Amazon UK page has fewer than 3 reviews, it will show the US reviews, but it won't check to see if there are any duplicates. However, I'll continue to post on both sites whatever, because once a third review on Amazon UK appears, it no longer shows the US reviews.

      p130 - He doesn't know that giving a gift to a reviewer is against Amazon's rules. If the author bought the copy, it is no longer regarded as a free review copy, but as a paid-for review..

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    6. In which book? I did notice a few things in the first book which were out of date. Gifted books were accepted for a time, but Amazon appear to have clamped down on that once since the debacle with the puzzle company.

      I ask that authors send me review copies direct, although some prefer to gift through Smashwords, which I don't have a problem with, as Amazon don't own Smashwords.

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    7. Book - Let's get digital. I know the book was published a while ago, but the UK (and Canada) have been showing reviews "Published in U.S." for ages. The point being that authors who want an international presence will get reviews in the UK and Canada by default, if they focus on the US. Whether to cross-post is more of a concern to reviewers than authors.

      I haven't forgotten Grabarchuk Puzzles. I didn't accept any of their stuff because I didn't have the equipment to do the puzzles, but I certainly got involved in the forum debate.

      Amazon don't own Smashwords? Yet :-) I don't know what their future buying plans are.

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  7. AVPs are helpful because they represent sales. Sales are the main thing that count in the Amazon algorithms.

    The best source of information I've found on the Amazon algorithms is Let's Get Visible by David Gaughran. Here's my review: http://christianediting.co.nz/book-review-lets-get-visible-by-david-gaughran/

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    1. One thing that people forget or maybe just don't realize to begin with is the fundamental difference between Amazon and other retailers (though it's clear from Brad Stone's "The everything store" is that Amazon needed reviews to build its customer base. Rivals already had a customer base and added an online alternative. Alas, the alternative was too little, too late for some.

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  8. Yes, he was one of the presenters at IndieReCon recently :D

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  9. Your article is an eye-opener, Iola. The comments that follow too are most interesting.
    Hazel

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  10. Good post,Iola. I truly think people have no idea of all the different ways that the system can be gamed.

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    1. The AVP thing is just oe aspect. My book, whenever it appears, will cover a lot more.

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    2. *Reviewer wonders what she has to do to get an advance review copy*

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    3. I took my e-mail address off Amazon because of authors spamming me. I do review books, but mostly non-fiction. I review for the fun of it, which is why I'm still a reviewer. I take breaks - even long ones - when it suits me.

      Reviewing free copies of stuff I don't choose sounds like unpaid work to me.

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