Amazon’s review dilemma

deleteAmazon has decided to start deleting reviews they consider fake. What possible criteria could they use to do this?

Like many independently published authors, when I finish a writing a book, I send it to a group of beta readers to get their feedback. Once the book is published, after several rewrites and line edits and the like, I’ll send it to several more people to request honest feedback and an honest review. I’ve never paid anyone a single penny for a review. At most, like giving a gift to a friend, I’ve given titles away.

I have gifted books to people and received no reviews in exchange. I can only assume those folks either didn’t think the book was worth a review or simply didn’t like it. Rather than give me a bad review, they didn’t review it at all.

I can’t afford to pay Kirkus or Writer’s Digest for reviews, and don’t kid yourself, traditionally published author and some independently published authors pay those publications for reviews and pay hundreds of dollars a pop. There are a long list of “respected” reviewers who will only write the review after you pay them big bucks, sometimes in the thousands to put their mark of approval on the book. So, don’t they have a financial interest in the books they review?

It’s just like that big table in the front of the book store, the one where all the “best sellers” are lined up and ready for you to purchase. Books don’t end up on those front end displays or facing forward on the New Titles shelves unless a publisher pays for that to happen, and it’s not cheap.

Here is what Amazon say’s to people who they deem an inappropriate reviewer:

“We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.”

Wait what? Does Kirkus not have a financial interest in encouraging authors and publishers to continue to pay them for the reviews they write? Does Writer’s Digest not want authors and readers to continue to purchase their publication? And how could Amazon possibly know who is paying for a review or not?

They go on to say this:

“This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.”

So, does this mean as an author, I can no longer review books written by my friends? I read constantly and make it a practice to always leave a review if it’s a book I like. Will all of my reviews be deleted just because I’m a writer? And how the heck is Amazon going to know if this person is a friend or not?

More importantly, am I no longer able to ask author friends for blurbs to use on my covers. Are those “illegal” too.

The “the third-party merchants” part…isn’t that… AMAZON? Amazon KDP and Createspace are Amazon subsidiaries, and the mechanism through which we are publishing these books. They take a cut for every book sold, so doesn’t that mean they are making bucks from the sale of my books and could benefit from the reviews I get?

But finally, here’s the kicker. The threat that could ruin an indie author:

Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website.

The removal of THIS item. So if I get a few reviews Amazon deems illegal, the book will no longer be sold by Amazon. To that I can only say WTF!

I don’t know how this new crackdown is going to play out and so far, I’ve not had any reviews recently removed although it has happened in the past. But these threats along with the seemingly random nature of the take downs makes me feel it is only a matter of time. The helplessness one feels in an ability to argue the legitimacy of a review with the behemoth that is Amazon is distressing. The truth is, 99% of the time, I don’t even know when a review is posted or who is posting it. I do know that often times, the reviewer could be a writer or could be someone I know and if their review of my book is now a threat to me as a writer, what is a writer to do?????

2 thoughts on “Amazon’s review dilemma

  1. I read this a few days ago either through an email I received from Amazon or on the site itself. At the time, my first thought was that Amazon is trying to make all of the reviews be only from “verified purchasers.” But now that I just read your post I have to agree with you and admit that I didn’t notice the last few sentences regarding the money and removal of the title. My suggestion would be that authors start a petition and send these concerns to Amazon because they are valid and a clearer explanation is warranted.

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    • Thanks for the comment Jeanette. Yeah, that last line is the most alarming to me. Usually Amazon listens to writers and will make changes, but it takes time. I think their issues with reviews are valid, but I hope they find a better way to vet them. They seem to have fixed the Kindle Unlimited payment issue. We’ll see if they get this one right too.

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