Amazon Reviews Are As Reliable As Media Critics, Says Study

While there are some dubious reviews floating around on Amazon, the system has one thing going for it: power in numbers. In fact, a new study from Harvard suggests that Amazon reviews are, taken together, just as trustworthy as those from professional critics.

The study, carried out at Harvard Business School, analysed the top 100 non-fiction reviews from 40 media outlets, including the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post, between 2004 and 2007. The researchers then compared data from review aggregator to that from Amazon.

On the whole, there was broad agreement -- when reviews were taken in aggregate -- between critics and Amazon reviewers.

The subtle differences, however, are interesting. Amazon reviewers tended to give debut writers more favourable write-ups -- which the Harvard academics point out is in fact a weakness on the critics' parts. They are, according to the researchers, a little closed-minded and "slower to learn about new and unknown books". Conversely, paid critics are more likely to write positive reviews about prize-winning authors. That also, if anything, reflects badly on the critics.

On balance, though, at least we now know that wading through the New York Review of Books isn't essential if all you want to do is end up with something worth reading. [Harvard Business School via The Guardian]

Image: Kamil PorembiÅ"ski/Flickr


    From my own experience this doesn't surprise me, but I find the same goes for User scores on the likes of Metacritc and Gamespot too.

      Second that on metacritic. The numbers aren't great, but often amateurs will point out issues in games that are absolutely glaring.

    The difference is that I can watch The Movie Show, for example, and because I know what the tastes of David and Margaret are like, I can extrapolate upon their reviews to determine whether or not I might like something. But on places like, I have to assume I have the same taste as the idiots who review things, which is highly unlikely and therefore makes those reviews far less useful to me.

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