Who Are Amazon’s Citizen Reviewers?

Cornell professor Trevor Pinch recently set out to study 166 of Amazon’s top 1,000 citizen reviewers. He found they are “making a second life, a second career” out of writing reviews–and it’s a life that comes with some perks.

Some 85 percent of the reviewers Pinch surveyed had received free products from publishers, agents, authors, and manufacturers. And 78 percent of them often or always reviewed such free products. 70 percent of the reviewers were male; 40 percent identified themselves as writers; and 11 percent were retirees.

Here’s how Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) explains its reviewer rankings: “We rank customer reviewers based on the opinions of customers like you. Each time you indicate that a customer review was helpful or not, we use that vote, along with votes from other customers, to determine how helpful a review is. A reviewer’s rank is determined by the overall helpfulness of all their reviews, factoring in the number of reviews they have written. More weight is given to recent reviews.”

Peter Durward Harris, a top-50 reviewer, has a long speculative entry on how he believes Amazon’s review ranking system actually works.

Pinch found, not surprisingly, that the top reviewers placed a great deal of importance on maintaining their rankings. “Most reviewers write for enjoyment, self-expression or personal reward,” Pinch said. “But once they get a ranking, they have to maintain their ranking, and some of them told us that their motivation changed. They became hooked on it, almost addicted. Because if you stop, your ranking drops.”

The full results of Pinch’s survey will be included in a chapter of the forthcoming book Managing Overflow in Affluent Societies, which Routledge is publishing later this year.