Round Up: Amazon Crushes Authors’ Careers Beneath the Boots of a New Review Policy

5127915331_c06043a7f0_bOver the past couple weeks Amazon has enacted a new policy for reviews posted on its site. This has resulted in a slew of older reviews getting culled and new reviews being blocked when posted, leading to screams of outrage from many quarters.

Many have commented on the story,  most have approached it from entirely the wrong angle, and few have understood that the new policy is really nothing new. What follows is a short round up post which makes several simple arguments on this story.

Amazon changed their policies in part to squash authors taking part in scam review circles. You can find one example spotlighted over at The Passive Voice.

Unfortunately, the change in the policy required new algorithms to detect reviewer-author relationships. And as Gizmodo pointed out, real reviews have gotten caught in the algorithm and spat out with the scammers.

However, Gizmodo and and DBW are both wrong in viewing this change in relation to authors; the new policy was made to serve the interest of consumers, not authors.

Furthermore, Gizmodo is also wrong in saying that this is creepy; the algorithms and tracking Amazon now uses to watch authors and reviewers alike are not new.

Instead, as Teleread explained, Amazon was already using similar algorithms to detect relationships between customers and affiliates. And as Writers Beware explained when expanding on Teleread's post, Amazon has been working for several years now to combat fake reviews (including suing sellers of fake reviews).

That said, many authors, including Lori Otto, are correct in that authors are expected to build relationships with readers. That is SOP now, and if Amazon continues to fight against that then they will only end up hurting themselves.

The new policy is intended to serve consumers by making a better marketplace.  Swatting readers for posting real reviews is by definition not a good thing, so Amazon is going to have to improve their ability to discern between an author-friend relationship and an author-consumer relationship.

image by Stijlfoto

About Nate Hoffelder (11224 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

12 Comments on Round Up: Amazon Crushes Authors’ Careers Beneath the Boots of a New Review Policy

  1. Well, part of the issue is that Amazon review policies aren’t just for books.
    And people in publishing keep confusing Amazon reviews (that exist for the benefit of consumers, as you point out) with traditional publishing reviews that exist to serve the publisher.

    Different world, different rules.

  2. In my opinion, and I’m a reader, reviews are for readers benefit. They help me understand what to expect from a book so I can make a better buying decision. I do understand that reviews benefit authors as well and I have no problem with that, but some authors have abused the review process and that’s why this is happening. I think it’s far more important that the review process be fair to readers than that it be fair to authors. I hope Amazon continues this process. Hopefully they’ll smooth things out over time, but smooth or not, it’s something they need to do.


  3. Except books, where fake reviews are often more than 50% — sometimes even 100%, other products are much better. Amazon, in my opinion, needs to do more to cull fake reviews. It’s OK if a few genuine reviews are getting blocked too. I have suffered enough buying books based on glorious all-4-5-star reviews!

  4. The notion of the wholly objective, arms-length review is a fantasy, at least if you want a reviewer with any qualifications. Pick up a copy of New York Review of Books or the Sunday book review section of the NYT and ask yourself how many of the reviewers know the authors they are reviewing, in the extended sense of “knowing” that Amazon appears to be applying. Well over 50 percent. Everyone in the NYC literary scene, for starters, knows everyone else.

    And in many fields everyone who is conceivably qualified to review a book on the subject knows everyone who is conceivably qualified to write one. For instance, I wrote a book about (in part) the “Schlieffen Plan.” I am called upon by academic journals to review other books about it. I have corresponded with everyone now alive who has written anything worth reading about it. I am glad when they review or comment on my book, even if they take issue with my interpretations. There is no possibility of an absolutely sterilized but knowledgeable review of a book on the subject.

    It sounds as if Amazon has constructed itself an algorithmic Don Quixote, that has mounted its horse and ridden off in all directions.

    • See, that is the whole point:
      Amazon doesn’t want reviews from “qualified” reviewers in the publishing industry sense. Those are in fact suspicious and tainted given the incestuous backscratching habits of the establishment.

      They want honest reviews from consumers who *bought* and read the book.
      If the only people interested in reviewing your book are your friends and relatives then the problem lies in the book, not the review system.

  5. The policy doesn’t deal with the true “fake” reviews, the ones written by unaffiliated people who sell reviews on FIverr and other places. It doesn’t deal with the “fake” reviews on most mainstream “big” traditionally published books that may be written by friends and associates of publicists and agents — who aren’t directly associated with the author. Factually, a lot of the barriers between readers and writers have changed. Writers may have a small or large social media following. This doesn’t mean they “personally” know the reviews. While facebook may ask if we “know” our “friends” often we don’t know them in real life or even how they got to be our “friends.” Additionally, a lot of self-published books are SOLD to people who also write self-published books. There’s still a stigma. So a lot of the people reviewing those books are writers (because they are customers and they are the customers most likely to write reviews).

    The new Amazon policy assumes a bias and guilt where there is none. It’s an over-reaction to a few reviewers who feel strongly that consumer reviews most be pure and people who review in ways they consider non-objective should be purged. But books are a form of entertainment, if not art, and book reviews are NEVER objective. They are always about an individual’s taste and judgement, their biases.

    I tend to write mostly positive reviews. I tend to write reviews of books I’m enthusiastic about. As a rule, I write reviews of books I’ve finished, which weeds out a lot of reviews of books I didn’t like. I also tend to review books that I like AND that aren’t getting a lot of attention. I have no financial interest in reviewing the books I choose to review. The idea that I can’t have nice things (self-expression) because some other writers may be gaming the system is irksome.

    This is an especially big blow to self-published books which depend on word of mouth and don’t have large publicity machines supporting them. Through the years I’ve become facebook “friends” with people who’ve reviewed my books. I also have become “goodreads” “friends” with some of those people. Will I now lose reviews because I clicked “follow” on someone’s profile because I like their book? Or I clicked “accept” when they tried to “friend” me because they liked mine?

  6. There has been far too much abuse of the review system and I’m glad that Amazon is stepping in and doing this. I strongly disagree with Lori Otto. When you send out a free advanced copy to a fan unlike a professional critic, you are essentially buying a good positive review no matter what you say to the contrary.

  7. Also, Amazon is NOT suing sellers of fake reviews. Plenty of people are still selling fake reviews. They are suing a group that was selling fake reviews that was illegally using Amazon’s logo while doing it.

  8. I think it’s creepy. They really don’t need to be digging into people’s relationships that much. I get it for the associates–they don’t want friends and family to be helping anyone make money/cut off an Amazon purchase. I don’t like the “Big Brother” there either, but I understand it.

    But reviews? That’s crossing the line and invading privacy with no good reason, namely because they are NOT solving the perceived problem. Some authors are going to have “Friend” reviews left up there. Some reviews that are legit get taken down. So the reader still has to wonder if a review is legit or not and ends up having their privacy invaded by Amazon lurking around–whether guilty or not.

    A small case in point:
    A review disappeared from one of my books. I have no idea WHICH review; I tend to only notice how MANY reviews there are for a given book. So I don’t know WHO left the review or WHICH review is gone. I have no idea how the reviewer was somehow tied to me (and know of no ties.) I have not asked any relatives to leave reviews. I do ask reviewers/review sites to leave reviews and I follow some reviewers on FB. I send out free copies to reviewers and I follow and friend them on Goodreads. If that is how Amazon is determining “friendships” that is going to cull a lot of legit reviews. I can’t even say if the review that was culled was from a review site. I simply don’t know. But if it was a review from a friend of mine, I’d probably know because, well, they are friends with me.

    Now I’m not going off shouting and crying over it; it doesn’t matter all that much to me. I don’t even know if it was a good review or a bad one. For all I know, maybe Amazon did me a favor by deleting an average review.

    I don’t think that “guessing” about friendships is the way to cull reviews. If they want to somehow restrict reviews to “legit” reviews, then they need to offer those reviews via some kind of review site they have vetted. They are the ones who ask people to leave reviews. Just because a few authors figure out a way to get a few people to leave fake reviews, doesn’t really give Amazon leave to start netting across the web looking for some kind of “connection” between two people. It’s invasive, doesn’t solve the problem and doesn’t help readers.

    I’ve had people I barely know from forums leave reviews that make it sound like they know me well. I’m okay with that. It’s not like I know them well enough to hunt them down on the forum and say, “Hey can you make this sound less personal in the review? I don’t want people thinking we’re friends.” How rude would that be????

    I think it’s ridiculous and as a reader, it makes it far more likely I will stop reviewing on Amazon. I don’t need them scrolling through FB or any other public spot thinking they are clever and determining friendships. If it actually WORKED and did the reader a favor, maybe I’d rethink it (maybe. But I’m really not all that into the government or some entity like Amazon spying all over for their own gain).

    Invasive without merit.

  9. Also, someone on FB posted the “letter” they got when their review was removed. Gads. It was rude. Amazon basically said, “We’ve determined your review isn’t worthy.” Sure they said they didn’t allow reviews based on this and that per rules, but to send a letter telling someone “We spied on you and we decided you’re friends with this person so we’re deleting your review.” That’s just…weird.

  10. After having an interesting experience with Amazon reviews lately,I happened across this article and although I know it’s a bit dated, I’ll throw in my 2 cents anyway.

    Amazon’s latest review policy has been pretty much a disaster. After hearing stories firsthand from many readers (reviews randomly taken down for no discernible reason, on books by authors they’ve never met), I think there’s less incentive to review on Amazon than ever. On the flipside, I pay less attention to reviews on Amazon. When the company you’re buying from seems to be censoring review content in a nonsensical manner, that’s almost the logical response, isn’t it?

    I think Amazon’s big problem is that they are assuming that their customers can’t think for themselves. People can usually tell when a reviewer is being overly biased one way or another (either positively OR negatively) by the way a review is written. Reading comprehension is a beautiful thing.

    I think ultimately Amazon will make the right decision and have some type of disclosure option before someone posts a review so that 1) They don’t have to censor people and 2) People can still have their voices heard in an informed way. Hopefully sooner rather than later…

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