this is a 5-star post!!! . . . the magic and mystery of amazon customer reviews


My God, it’s full of stars!

Yesterday, while perusing Amazon’s selection of Tom Robbins books, Evil fell into a reflective mood. Which he hates. Manofaction, he is. Not one given to pondering the ineffabilities of life.

But there it was. Or rather, there they were: the customer reviews. The stars. And this phenomenon of how we of the Information Age are learning to filter mass reviews into some kind of messy aggregate.

Take Mr. Robbins . . . around 80% of reviewers bless any given book with the full Eisenhower complement of five stars. Whereas the other 20% give it a single damning star. To the five-star people, it’s always “Another great one from Robbins!” Whereas the one-star people are split between “I’ve never read anything by Robbins, but I hated this book” and “I’ve loved everything else by Robbins, but [for whatever reason] this one was TERRIBLE.” Even with the one-star folks, the number of zealots giving everything he touches five stars makes the “average” rating of a Tom Robbins book at least in the four-point-five range.

Why is this important? Well, let’s glimpse into the future, when Kill A Man With Your Bare Hands: An On-the-Go Guide To Achieving Nietzschian Supermanhood is #1 on the Amazon bestseller lists. When the Evil checks his reviews, what will he be hoping to see?

Evil thinks he’d prefer that chasm of indifference between the five-star zealots and the one-star haters. Right? Love vs. Hate! Reverence vs. Revilement! That’s gotta be far better than a bell curve of two-, three-, and four-star reviews that say to the world, “Meh.”


Thus, Evil wonders, friends: how do you feel when you click on a product and find that, though no one really hates it, no one particularly loves it, either? How do you judge the projected quality of a potential purchase—given not just its average rating, but also the gulf between “INSTANT CLASSIC!!!!” and “WORST THING EVER!!!!” reviews?


2 thoughts on “this is a 5-star post!!! . . . the magic and mystery of amazon customer reviews”

  1. Funny, I just make a decision based on the extremes. I’ll pick reviews on either end of the spectrum, then click the “Read my other reviews” link to get an idea of what else this person likes/hates. If they happen to call something I love “a waste of time.” I have my answer. They are clearly an idiot and there opinion is worth squat.

    And on a semi-tangent, what the fuck is the deal with this kind of review on itunes, “Akon is da shit. He way hotter than Kanye. Click yes if you agree.”

    What. the. fuck?

  2. Luís Buñuel has recently been the victim of an imdb ratings terrorism campaign. In the space of a couple of months, “tens of thousands of people” have flocked in to give all his films 1 star ratings. I understand similar campaigns have crippled The Godfather series’ ratings averages.

    I blame the widespread anti-elitism of the moment. If something is identified as a masterpiece, it will garner hundreds of times more 1 star ratings than, say, Police Academy XVI.

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