Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Go ahead and leave reviews on Amazon for books you haven’t read—no problem! Give a scathing 1-star review because an author dared to include Christian content, that’s okay too.
Just don’t leave a 1- or 2-star review for another book in the same genre in which you write. That’s clearly biased and motivated by your competitive nature! And don’t dare write a positive review for any book written by an author whom you’ve ever met online, heard of through the grapevine, or shared a planet with. Amazon frowns on that.
Yes, things are a little wacky over at Amazon, and several Books & Such authors had a lively online discussion about it yesterday.
What’s going on?
About a year ago, the publishing industry erupted when it came to light that online book retailers, particularly Amazon, were riddled with “fake reviews.” Some authors were creating false online personas and giving their own books multiple positive reviews. Others were purchasing positive reviews in bulk from enterprising entrepreneurs willing to write them. Add this to the well-known practice of systematically sabotaging an author by posting negative 1-star reviews, and you can see that the review system was becoming highly unreliable.
Amazon cracks down.
Eventually Amazon began removing book reviews it deemed somehow suspect. But this is where the controversy comes in. They’re using algorithms to determine if a review was posted by someone who “knows the author,” and if so, they’re removing the review from the site and sending the reviewer a note explaining they’ve removed it “because your account activity indicates that you know the author.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
In many cases, the reviewer didn’t, in fact, “know the author.” But when the reviewers appealed to Amazon to reverse the decision, Amazon didn’t change their mind and didn’t reinstate the review. Several people report that further correspondence with Amazon elicited a threat that any further violations of the reviewing policy would result in the book in question being removed from the site.
Can they do this?
Amazon’s Customer Review Guidelines outline a number of things that are not allowed. They specifically disallow reviews “by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.” Using this guideline, Amazon is within its rights to remove certain reviews.
Houston, we have a problem.
Using that guideline from Amazon, every single author writing in the same genre (say… Christian fiction. Or Christian non-fiction…) could be considered “competitors” writing “directly competing products” and therefore, be ineligible to review each other’s books.
Another problem: Amazon is removing reviews with the stated reasoning of, “you know the author.” But I can’t find anything in the Customer Review Guidelines that spells out, “You may not review a book if you know the author.”
An additional problem: Amazon is removing reviews claiming “you know the author,” when in fact, the author and reviewer are complete strangers. And Amazon is not listening to any challenges to their protocols.
And one more: Amazon is removing suspicious reviews, but still leaving plenty of fake and/or damaging reviews all across the site.
Hold on, there might be another way to look at this.
Amazon’s crackdown is certainly not “all bad.” There’s a real need to bring integrity back to the reviewing process. When I’m considering a book on Amazon, I’d like a measure of confidence that those reviews are real—not purchased, not written by the author’s best friend, not written by a jealous competitor. So I do appreciate Amazon’s taking action. However, the uproar is happening because fake and purchased and pernicious reviews remain all across Amazon, while many legitimate reviews are being removed. Many online articles have addressed this, but Amazon doesn’t seem to be responding.
So what should we do?
First, I think it’s a good idea to remind ourselves not to waste energy worrying about the things over which we have no control. So let’s not stress out too much over Amazon as a whole. Let’s concentrate on the areas in which we have some control.
Second, when reviewing fellow authors’ books, always begin your review with a disclosure. For example, “Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from the publisher, but this review consists of my honest opinions, not influenced in any way by the author or publisher.” Or you could say, “Disclosure: I have met this author [or I am represented by the same literary agency as this author], but this review consists of my honest opinions, not influenced in any way by the author or publisher.”
Third, when asking your friends and acquaintances to review your books on Amazon, ask them to use a similar disclosure.
There is some evidence that the reviews containing a disclosure are less likely to be removed than the ones with no disclosure.
Fourth, if you believe your review was wrongly removed by Amazon, write to them and appeal their decision. I think it’s important that Amazon hear from us as much as possible, so that they can work to refine their process.
Want to read more?
What are your thoughts? Have you noticed the lack of integrity in the reviewing system? What are your ideas on how we should respond to this whole situation?
Let’s take a look at the Amazon customer review controversy. Click to Tweet.
Have you tried to post a review on Amazon of a book written by your friend? Beware! Click to Tweet