Viewers and Reviewers: the YouTube Challenge to Amazon

When Amazon started its website in 1995, it was meant as a place to build a community of like-minded souls, pooled together by the passion for books (Pinch and Kesler, 2011). In this context, selling books wasn’t the only point of Amazon. The mission was to recreate the atmosphere of local bookstores, where customers feel “at home” and receive advice. Amazon wanted to offer specific suggestions for books, exactly as local bookstores do. So, professionals were hired to write book reviews. In accordance with the idea of building a community, Amazon encouraged members to write their own reviews, sharing opinions and feelings. Then, Amazon realized users were indeed providing reviews of the books for free, and they could provide many more reviews than paid editors. So, Amazon dismissed his professional editors, and let users do all the work. But why would users do that?

Malone et al. (2010) indicate three main motivating factors, namely love, glory and money. All three factors play a role here, even though to different extents.

– Love: is the most important factor. People write review because they love the product, for enjoyment, to help others, and to develop a sense of community.

Glory: since Amazon ranks its reviewers, a part of the motivation to write a review lies in desire for glory. The more helpful reviews you write, the higher in the rankings you will find yourself.

Money: top reviewers are often sent products. The higher you are in the rankings, the more likely you are to get freebies.

Looks great, and everybody wins. But success attracts copycats, and competitors try to outplay Amazon by improving its recipe. In fact, nowadays people increasingly go to YouTube to find reviews for a growing number of products. Product reviewing on YouTube is very simple and relatively cheap, and many people make a review video about a specific product. Some users have made a job out of it. All the aforementioned motivating factors that work for Amazon work (sometimes even better) for YouTube. For love, it is self-evident. For glory, users can keep track of the subscribers to their channels, to the number of views and “likes” of their videos, et cetera. For money, if successful reviewers put advertisements on their videos, they can earn very well on YouTube (check these ones out).

Will YouTube steal Amazon’s crown? It’s not unlikely. Yes, written reviews are better than videos in certain regards. For instance, they are less time-consuming: if you read a review on Amazon, you are generally done within a minute, while generally video reviews last at least four-five times longer. But videos have advantages compared to written reviews. In the first place, in general people prefer watching than reading. People are impatient to closely see how the new gadgets look and work, beyond tables of technical details. Compare for instance two reviews of the flexibility of the smartphone LG G Flex.’s best review says:

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 23.42.12

Now, check this video.

Pretty cool, right?

Group 10: Lianka, Mirte, Ben, François, Tiberiu and Riccardo


  • Malone, T.W., R. Laubacher, and Chrysanthos Dellarocas. “The Collective Intelligence Genome.” MIT Sloan Management Review 51.3 (2010): 21-31.
  • Pinch, T. and Kesler, F. (2011), “How Aunt Ammy Gets Her Free Lunch: A Study of the Top- Thousand Customer Reviewers at”

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