Amazon Frowns on Authors Giving Reviewers Vouchers (?)

Amazon Frowns on Authors Giving Reviewers Vouchers (?) Amazon Earlier this year Amazon changed their policies to forbid any relationship between authors and book reviewers, and now word is coming in that they've taken the policy international and may have forbidden even more connections.

SelfPublisherBibel.de reports that author Micheal Meisheit was received a warning email from Amazon:

Good day, we noticed that you may have manipulated some product reviews. Authors at amazon.de may not manipulate reviews and feedback. If this problem continues, we can not let you continue to sell at amazon.de. For more about this policy please refer to the Author Central Help pages.

Sincerely, Amazon Services Seller Performance

Meisheit insists that he was not buying reviews or otherwise scamming Amazon, making him one of many authors who have been caught up in Amazon's algorithmic sweeps.

Instead, he thinks that Amazon has decided to take a dim view of the vouchers that authors sometimes send to proofreaders and reviewers. (I have yet to find confirmation in the four days since I first read this report, so I can't confirm it.)

Just to be clear, we're not talking about 50-euro vouchers with a message to the effect "five stars - as always", but vouchers which just cover the cost of the ebook.

Update: An author has clarified this issue in the comments, and explained that Meisheit is probably referring to gift cards, not vouchers. Amazon has long had a policy that an author can't send a gift card to a reviewer to cover the price of the book.

Admittedly, a voucher sent to a reviewer does come close to smelling like a paid review, but let's not forget that reviewers have long received free copies. That's how NetGalley works, and in fact book reviewers been getting free copies since time immemorial. (Free copies are such a standard practice that I usually pick up a dozen discarded ARCs at BEA every year.)

So is this story true? Did Amazon decide vouchers are on the no no list, or is this just another wrinkle in Amazon's inconsistent review policies?

I don't know. I can't find similar reports at Kboards, and the several authors I queried had not encountered this issue.

And that's why I am posting this as a question, in the hopes that authors could confirm the report from personal experience.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

9 Comments

  1. Anne16 November, 2015

    So why is he sending vouchers rather than a copy of the ARC? Is he publishing the book, sending reviewer a voucher for $5.00, reviewer buys book on Amazon for $5.00, reviewer provides review with a disclosure?

    If so, that seems like a pretty convoluted way to go about things. Is the benefit to the author that a sale is recorded? I don’t know if that’s against any policies but I do think any disclosure is going to read like money was paid by the author to the reviewer. It’s not like he can say “a free copy was provided by NetGalley or author or publisher”, can he? Well, I guess he can but you know what I mean.

    Reply
  2. Barry16 November, 2015

    I think in the situation Amazon is facing this is fair. They’re having a problem with authors buying reviews and they want their reviews to be valid and they’re doing something about it, which I think is a good thing.

    If the concern is consistency, and that is a valid concern, I think the answer would be to no longer allow vouchers or even free copies to users who do reviews. These are user reviews. Let them be from people who bought the book because they wanted to read it and want to share their thoughts about it.

    I realize that this breaks with tradition but ebooks break with tradition. We’re not living in the same old world anymore.

    Reviews are important to me. I don’t really pay much attention to how a reviewer feels about a book. I look for what they tell me about what to expect from the book. But I’m very much affected even though I try not to be by their feelings and I need to trust them.

    Again, they’re user reviews. They shouldn’t come from professional reviewers. There’s a separate section for that.

    I appreciate you writing on this subject even though we might not agree. I think it’s an important topic and it’s worth talking about.

    Barry

    Reply
  3. Hayden17 November, 2015

    I always thought that the big publishers (or any forward thinking author) would have a budget for marketing this way. Have a load of people buy the book and then write a review, most likely a 5 star review. On Amazon. it would come up as a verified purchase review which gives a review more credibility.

    It would be very difficult for Amazon to stop this

    Reply
  4. Mark Williams - The International Indie Author17 November, 2015

    “Manipulating reviews” may have nothing whatsoever to do with vouchers and simply be Amazon picking up on authors asking/begging for reviews from friends and followers on Facebook and twitter.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder17 November, 2015

      @ Mark

      That is a distinct possibility, yes. Also, the author might not have done anything wrong, and was simply caught in the gears.

      Reply
  5. Miss M17 November, 2015

    Not sure why the term ‘voucher’ is being used–my interpretation of the German article is they mean authors using Amazon gift cards…at one point the author of the article specifically uses the term ‘Amazon Gutscheine.’ As far as I know, that’s been a no-no for quite a while now, though they may just have started enforcing it in Germany/internationally.

    There is a somewhat free-ranging discussion in this TRF thread when the enforcement first started, including a quote (apparently) from one Amazon CS email:

    “Anyone who has received a gift card to purchase a book for an unbiased review will have their reviews removed since providing funds to purchase a product is considered a form of compensation by Amazon.”

    http://smile.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdMsgID=Mx4COSH8FQP2LQ&cdMsgNo=1&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=TxSTT2G20RWWXD#Mx4COSH8FQP2LQ

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder17 November, 2015

      I called it a voucher because that’s what came through Google Translate. Thanks for setting me straight.

      Reply
  6. Chris Syme17 November, 2015

    I think we are marching towards the day when Amazon will allow only reviews from verified purchases or verified reviewers. I welcome that day actually, even though it might deter my advance readers as they will have to buy a copy to review. Sometimes, we offer a 48 hour review price of the book before we hard launch the title. That lets them at least get in on a discount. If it’s the only way to get rid of fake reviews, I think we have to embrace it. Fake reviews hurt us all.

    Reply
  7. Rich Land17 November, 2015

    The bottom-line assumption that Amazon is making is that the reviews on its site are credible to the point where paying someone somehow impinges on that credibility.

    That’s a whole lot of assuming because I, for one, expect that *every* review on that site is tainted; JUST like I expect Amazon to fib to me in their marketing of their own products. It’s called marketing, after all, not truthing.

    This is just Amazon being their typical dictatorial selves, bossing people around for the sake of bossing people around. Sooner or later, it will catch up to them but probably not tomorrow or the next day.

    Reply

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