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What’s Going On with Amazon Reviews?

17 Nov

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During the last three months the independent author scene was full of complaints, rumors and even petitions due to Amazon’s book review removals.  Amazon’s recent removal of book reviews has become a hot topic among authors and readers alike.

  • What happened?
  • Which books where compromised?
  • Who is behind it all?
  • Who is paying for reviews?
  • What can independent publishers and authors do about it?

With all of the attention brought about by possible “fake” reviews a group of authors got together and sent a message to Amazon called “No Sock Puppets Here Please”. They claim that authors were misusing the review process by using multiple accounts to leave good reviews for themselves. Another reason could possibly also be the fact that Fiverr.com has several offers from people who write book reviews for $5 (most likely without reading them…).

The New York Times even wrote about it in early August. The Times mentioned: ” it is enough of a problem to attract a team of Cornell researchers, who recently published a paper about creating a computer algorithm for detecting fake reviewers. They were instantly approached by a dozen companies, including Amazon, Hilton, TripAdvisor and several specialist travel sites, all of which have a strong interest in limiting the spread of bogus reviews. A New York Times article appeared: “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”. Although indie authors were reporting that they were losing reviews before the NYT article went public.

If you want to thank or comment, here are some names of the more than 400 writers who brought Amazon to remove your reviews:

Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, N.J. Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Lee Goldberg, Gordon Harries, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Susan Hill, Peter James, Paul Johnston, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, SJ Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Peter Robinson, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Tim Weaver, Neil White, Laura Wilson etc. Barry Eisler, indie author, signed first, but then opted out.
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Are they authors, published by the “Big Five”?
For sample Lee Child is published by Random House Publishing Group, Stuart MacBride published by Harper Collins, Stella Duffy published by Thomas Dunne, Steve Mosby, published by Orion, Karin Slaughter published by Random House, Helen FitzGerald published by Faber & Faber, Laura Wilson published by Minotaur Books NY, Jeremy Duns published by Simon & Schuster – not really indie authors indeed… Could it be that they or their publishers feel threatened by independent authors that are successful on Amazon? Was it all an organized move? We will never know for sure…
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Very interesting!
While randomly picking names from the above list to check if they are indie authors (I found almost all published by Random, Harper Collins and other big names) I discovered something disturbing: one author from the above list wrote a glowing review for another author in this “No Sock Puppets” list !!! Clearly a violation of Amazon review rules!  And they have the nerve to sign a petition to Amazon and point fingers at other authors!
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What Amazon did, is not just ousting someone found guilty of bot reviews, they are assuming all are guilty until proven innocent. Instead of going after these accounts, Amazon pulled many, (mostly) legitimate reviews in an effort to get rid of the possible suspicious ones – while this move by Amazon will not affect bestselling authors from the Big Five Publishers due to the sheer number of reviews they have, yet it can be devastating to indie authors.

When these independent authors complaint, they received either: a) no answer, or b) a form letter or c) were threatened to get their books removed from Amazon’s page. Interesting to see how Amazon treats it’s customer / suppliers who give them their book in commission…
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Can You Write a Review for Another Author?
Short answer: According to Amazon’s latests rules: NO

This policy not only hurts writers, but it removes the voice of readers who want to share their views. It is really hard to get reviews, and to have even one removed can be devastating. Everyone who turned to Amazon for answers, received more or less only a form letter – if at all. Bestseller author J.A. Konrath stated in his blog that some of the reviews he has written for other authors have been removed because Amazon is apparently cracking down on authors reviewing “competitors’” books. He believes that the site No Sock Puppets Here Please (NSPHP) a WordPress blog with more than 400 signatures, sent to Amazon, may have initiated it all or at least brought Amazon to over-enforce their review rules. He wrote: “A petition that named and accused three writers of “damaging publishing”, using “underhanded tactics”, and stating other authors are doing it as well. The NSPHP built a carefully constructed case showing how these writers damaged publishing. Oh, wait. No they didn’t. They simply accused and denounced.
But at least they clearly defined “underhanded tactics” and explained in detail how they are illegal and immoral.”

What Amazon did, is not just ousting someone found guilty of bot reviews, they are assuming all are guilty until proven innocent (only they don’t accept authors proofs). Instead of going after these accounts, Amazon pulled many, (mostly) legitimate reviews in an effort to get rid of the possible suspicious ones – while this move by Amazon will not affect bestselling authors from the Big Five Publishers due to the sheer number of reviews they have, yet it can be devastating to indie authors.
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When these independent authors complaint, they received either: a) no answer, or b) a form letter or c) were threatened to get their books removed from Amazon’s page. Interesting to see how Amazon treats it’s customer / suppliers who give them their book in commission…

Some indie authors have complained to Amazon about why they have had reviews removed, Amazon, in at least a few cases, has threatened to remove the author’s book. Why would Amazon do this? Why not clarify why the review was removed?

However, Amazon.com employees are not allowed to answer customers / authors questions.  Really???  Yes, read in an article of a former Amazon employee at the Seattle Weekly how answering customer emails have to be done – via a blurb.  Excerpt from page 2: “One of the first surprises you encounter on the job is that you almost never respond to these queries from scratch. Instead you learn to troll the Blurb Index—a roster of pat responses, or “blurbs”—designed to address practically every conceivable scenario a customer might present. If a genuinely new situation arises more than once, there will probably be a blurb written for it.” They really are about the money, and not indie authors. And books are in fact only a tiny part of Amazon’s business.

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Amazon Creates A New Review Policy
Who can write a review according to the newly enforced policy from Amazon:

  • Anyone who has purchased items from Amazon.com. All we ask is that you follow a few simple rules.
  • If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that you received the product free of charge. However, some authors gifted a book to a reader, it was stated in the review, and Amazon still took down the review.
  • Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package.

Amazon seems to not addressing the Big Five (legacy publishers as J.A. Konrath titles them) in this case who for sure as well paying for reviews for their big authors. Big publishers send out dozens if not hundreds of Galley copies of their books (certainly for free) to book reviewers.

The Amazon Forum provides a clear list of the review rules under “Always Remember”.  And they advice: “If authors must give gifts to Amazon reviewers who are interested in the author’s books, they should do it via another retailer such as Barnes and Noble.”

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Who else pays for reviews? And who offers paid reviews?

In an earlier blog post here at Savvybookwriters I mentioned already Kirkus Reviews (Libraries and Magazines are paying attention to them) and Book Rooster.  J.A. Konrath for sample uses Bookrooster.com. He wrote in his June 25, 2011 blog postInterview with Catherine MacDonald from BookRooster.com:  “As I stated earlier, I always give out free copies in exchange for reviews. That’s the same thing legacy publishers do, giving away galley copies. BookRooster just makes it easier.”

There are many other review companies out there who charge for book reviews: palmettoreview.com, pacificbookreview.com/BookReview and publishersweekly.com/pw/corp/DIY-FAQ.html#2 etc. Others want just two free(printed) book copies, such as http://www.midwestbookreview.com/get_rev.htm

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Comments from authors:

Ciara Ballintyne
“There seems to be no legislation preventing Amazon’s behaviour nor any consumer outlet for complaints. In Australia, a large part of what Amazon’s doing would be suspect, subject to scrutiny, and possibly penalties (Apple got into trouble for trying to play in the Australian market the way they can and do in America), and consumers would have a number of bodies they could complain to for a resolution of complaints. As it stands, it seems no one with a complaint has any hope of satisfaction unless they either sue Amazon (ha ha) or can bring sufficient media or social media attention to bad behaviour.”

Derek Haines
comment on one of the many articles was: “Publishing is tough enough as it is without having to deal with a very large and confused retail monster that changes the rules overnight and then refuses to explain to anyone why it wants to adversely affect the businesses of thousands of authors and publishers.”

Derek Blass
has started a petition to request that Amazon stops arbitrarily removing reviews. I urge everyone to sign it here. This review removals not only hurts writers, but it removes the voice of readers who want to share their views – maybe we can get Amazon to listen.
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Joni Rodgers wrote
I can’t help but notice that none of my reviews have been removed from indie authors with whom Amazon has publishing deals, and that raises some very troubling questions about the appropriateness of the world’s largest bookselling entity censoring reviews on publishing brands that could be perceived to be in competition with its own. The potential for abuse of that power is staggering in the context of past to-the-mattress conflicts between Amazon and mainstream publishers. Imagine the outcry if targeted Penguin or FSG titles were suddenly stripped of favorable reviews. Amazon could do this with ease and impunity, the same way they disabled buy buttons on over 5,000 titles earlier this year during a dispute with IPG.

I’ve said in the past and will continue to maintain that the only acceptable filter for Amazon reviews is proof of purchase. If they practice any sort of censorship beyond that, they are obligated to disclose it.

It’s my fervent hope that this damaging and ineffectual practice will stop as Amazon’s decision makers realize it’s not worth the money and effort they’re devoting to it. And I look forward to continuing and expanding a mutually appreciative and profitable relationship with Amazon in my multi-faceted role as author, publisher, reviewer and bookseller.  And as voracious reader.

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Read more at these websites / blogs:
http://dosomedamage.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/amazonreview.html
http://tobecomeawriter.com/amazon-reviews-indie-authors/
http://www.salon.com/2012/11/02/authors_cannot_review_authors_on_amazon/
http://mefrancoauthor.blogspot.ca/2012/11/amazon-flexing-its-muscles-reviews-and.html
http://lat.ms/UxJ5yO

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What can you do?
Amazon is clearly going overboard and it will not only going to hurt indie authors, it will hurt themselves as well.  Although they can do on their website as it pleases, even remove reviews.  However their statement that reviews are owned by them – another issue, which is different from the book review debate, is not conform with copyright laws as the writer of the review has the copyright.

  • Always copy every review you receive on Amazon to have a record. Try to take out snippets from these reviews (not the whole review) and add them into your publishers review (book description) for your book or in your authors site.
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  • Do not sell your books solely through Amazon, but also through B&N, Apple and Kobo.
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  • Sell books from your own website. It is easy to sign up with PayPal, if you don’t have a PayPal account already, to copy / paste their code into your website and to sell your books directly to readers. This way you also get to know your readers and you are able to contact them for new books launches.
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My next blog post will show you more choices and a list of online e-book retailers in order to “not put all eggs in one basket”.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, please feel free to check out all previous posts of this blog (there are almost 570 of them : ) if you haven’t already. Why not sign up to receive them regularly by email? Just click on “Follow” in the upper line on each page – and then on “LIKE” next to it. There is also the “SHARE” button underneath each article where you can submit the article to Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and StumpleUpon.

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And don’t forget to spread the word on other social networking sites of your choice for other writers who might also enjoy this blog and find it useful. Thanks, Doris

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3 responses to “What’s Going On with Amazon Reviews?

  1. mariacatalinaegan

    November 17, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Thank you Doris…I only lost a few reviews but it hurt. I contact bloggers one by one, I send copies of my book to reviewers and have never ‘paid ‘ for a review. It is difficult enough to get your name out there! Thanks for this post I will share and follow your advice.

     
  2. Lucy Fishwife

    November 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Or you could, you know, ask a BOOKSELLER. In an actual bricks & mortar BOOK SHOP. Yes, we want you to spend your money, but we’re not biased one way or the other. We don’t get paid to rave about particular books (well, independent booksellers don’t). We get paid to tell you what’s good or bad about all of them. Worth a thought.

     
  3. Concerned Reader

    November 22, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Interesting that you picked up on the fact that most of the original petition-signers are published by legacy publishers. In fact they are pretty much all members of the Crime Writers Association and yes, if you check their books you will see a lot of review-sharing going on, which is of course, in contravention of Amazon’s rules. Also interesting that while the CWA names condemn the purchasing of reviews, the CWA in fact offers its own review service for £350! http://www.thecwa.co.uk/critiques/index.php

     

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