Amazon Has Banned ARC Reviews, and Forgot to Tell Anyone

Amazon Has Banned ARC Reviews, and Forgot to Tell Anyone Amazon
An Amazon bot, hunting for fake reviews (date unknown)

Companies like Amazon often have two sets of policies. The first type are the official policies that can be found on the T&C pages (such as the $50 minimum purchase before you can post reviews), but Amazon also has other non-official policies that have not been spelled out or announced and instead have to be discovered and complied with in a process akin to navigating a minefield (and just as stressful).

Amazon's new policy on advanced reader copies (ARC) books definitely falls into the latter category.

Update: This problem has reportedly been fixed. Amazon hasn't responded to my queries, but a couple sources have told me that these reviews are no longer being blocked.

You won't find this policy mentioned on Amazon's site, but numerous authors are reporting on KBoards, Facebook, and elsewhere that Amazon is no longer letting people post un-verified book reviews before a book launches.

Edit: I misunderstood the reports; this is after a book launches, not before.

If you buy the book from Amazon, you can post the review, but if you get a free copy from the author, publisher, or NetGalley (like many reviewers do) you will instead see this message when you try to post the review:

Sorry, we are unable to accept your review of this product.

This product currently has limitations on submitting reviews. This may be because we detected unusual reviewing behavior on this product, or to maintain the best possible shopping experience. For more information, see the Customer Review Guidelines.

I have seen dozens of reports from authors who say that this message has appeared on traditionally published books and independently published books alike.

While free review copies is still allowed under Amazon's official policies, clearly they have been banned under some unofficial policy that Amazon has not told anyone about.

The most likely reason for the non-announcement is that Amazon has let its bots decide which early reviews are legit. These are the same bots that cannot tell the difference between a paid review and a legit review.  These bots are also responsible for punishing innocent authors for supposedly fraudulent activity in Kindle Unlimited.

As in those earlier cases, Amazon customer service has not been able to adequately explain why the policy has changed. This is because the Amazon employees talking to customers and authors are not the same employees running the bots.

How could they be, when no one is actually running the bots?

Update: This problem has reportedly been fixed. Amazon hasn't responded to my queries, but a couple sources have told me that these reviews are no longer being blocked.

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.

39 Comments

  1. jim heskett24 May, 2018

    Yep, happened to me with my release last week. They let in 19 reviews and have stopped all new ones. I sent an email to amazon support asking for clarification.

    In the end, this is a frustrating experience for amazon shoppers (not just authors), so it makes me think amazon might actually do something about it.

    Reply
  2. Guenevere25 May, 2018

    Who do we write a complaint to?

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder25 May, 2018

      Jeff Bezos

      Reply
      1. Pam Stanton25 May, 2018

        His email is [email protected]. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get true answers. He doesn’t respond personally but you get a response, with actual answers, within 24 to 48 hours.

        Reply
  3. Dale L. Roberts25 May, 2018

    Thanks for the post. I wasn’t aware of the situation and hope that it doesn’t get out of control. It’s amazing that Amazon builds systems and put policies into place without so much a warning. Their communication is extremely poor on policy changes.

    Reply
  4. John Wilker25 May, 2018

    Somehow Amazon has the best and worst bots. I subscribe to KU and went to review a book I’d finished that’s been out for some time now and got that message. Mine would be a verified review.

    They can predict what I’ll want to buy next, but can’t keep from punishing authors at every turn while the scammers happily run amok.

    Reply
    1. A.J. Flowers25 May, 2018

      Unfortunately KU readers don’t count as verified reviews. Hopefully Amazon changes this with the new unspoken policy else they’re shooting themselves in the foot for KU books…

      Reply
      1. John Wilker25 May, 2018

        Oh wow! I hadn’t looked, I just assumed. So weird, but not that surprising with Amazon :/

        Reply
  5. Mike D25 May, 2018

    Don’t forget that Baen have pay-for eARCs, usually 3 months before publication
    http://www.baen.com/t-faq?tab=earc

    Are reviews of these hit?

    Reply
  6. Cheri Lasota25 May, 2018

    Email [email protected] with your complaints. His email is public, he wants disgruntled customers to contact him, and it will get transferred to his Executive Customer Relations Team for further communications.

    Reply
  7. Cindy25 May, 2018

    1: you must have spent $50 on Amazon in any capacity for the past 12 months.

    2: You can only leave 5 non-verified reviews a week.

    3: More for authors, but you should be aware the rule now says I or any author may not manipulate the Amazon Verified Purchase badge, such as by offering special pricing to reviewers or reimbursing reviewers.

    4: We may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behavior, or to maintain the best possible shopping experience which means reviews can no longer be asked for in one day.

    Reply
    1. LH26 May, 2018

      The 5 non-verified does NOT include digital or physical books, videos or other digital media (it’s in the same TOS bullet point as the 5 non-verified reviews.

      Reply
  8. Jeanne Felfe25 May, 2018

    The article says “elsewhere that Amazon is no longer letting people post un-verified book reviews before a book launches.” – but one of the commentors said it happened to him on a book that had been out a while.

    And with Jim Heskett’s comment, I’m wondering if there’s a counter that stops having a lot of reviews posted quickly together?

    Reply
  9. Natalie25 May, 2018

    It’s also happening to legit sales too. A couple of authors have verified that on their Facebook page.

    Reply
  10. jeannie zelos26 May, 2018

    I had all my com and uk reviews removed for the second time in six months a couple of weeks back( just over £K of them). As before I appealed and explained I DON’T break the rules, don’t do paid for reviews, do read a lot and most reviews are ARCs – allowed under their T&C. I got an auto reply after a couple of days saying sorry, mistake, all’s been put right now….No explanation of what I supposedly did wrong. I know this has happened to many book reviewers.
    Actually, this is the message I got back
    “Hello,

    We have reviewed this situation and have restored your reviewing privileges and reviews to our site. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

    Review Moderator Amazon.com”

    The first time it was an author that let me know, review of her book gone and she wondered why, second time i went to post as usual and found I was banned, everything fine the day before but then all was taken away without the courtesy of an email to let me know. Amazon want reviews, but then they don’t. Meanwhile I am bombarded daily ( 12-20 each day) by people wanting me to review stuff for free – I buy, they refund by paypal when i add a five star review. Some even offer a payment, so clearly there are willing takers even though that’s explicitly against amazon T&C.

    Reply
    1. Allen F30 May, 2018

      “… I buy, they refund by paypal when i add a five star review. Some even offer a payment, so clearly there are willing takers even though that’s explicitly against amazon T&C.”

      And that is what Amazon is trying to kill – the ‘paid’ five star review. Which actually makes it surprising they put them back …

      Reply
      1. jeannie zelos31 May, 2018

        Sorry, you’ve misunderstood me, I clearly didn’t explain that but very well. I didn’t mean I actually buy – I know that’s against amazon T&C,and I don’t do it. That’s why they put my reviews back on checking, they can see I stick by T&C.
        I was using the figure “I” in a hypothetical situation. I was just using it as an example that sadly this fraudulent reviewing is still going on as I can see that others do respond, when they reply to seller but hit Reply to all.

        Reply
        1. Bonnie Dale Keck31 May, 2018

          There was one female ‘writer’ who sent out arcs, then later explained oh it’s not all the book, to read the rest have to buy the book, supposedly get refunded whatever way, and yes she still expected a 4 or 5 star review, blasted her about it on goodreads and amazon, can’t remember the name and looking at 1 star reviews {the book was total crap btw} on goodreads never could make the site list them all for me

          Reply
  11. Tonya Allen26 May, 2018

    I was able to post 3 ARC reviews this morning that I haven’t been able to all week. I was getting that comment all week. Never had any issues before.

    Reply
  12. Melissa Henderson26 May, 2018

    All of my reviews were taken off of Amazon a while back. First they apologized, and put them back. Then, within a few days, I received a message telling me they were taking them down again and not to contact them again. Very upsetting. I spend the correct amount of money each month, I use the correct wording. Still, my reviews are gone. I read a ton of books and always give an honest review. OH, well…. I still post reviews on other sites like Goodreads, BarnesandNoble, Bookbub and other sites.

    Reply
  13. […] UPDATE 5/26/18 In a HUGE unannounced change, Amazon has suddenly banned reviews of free review copies. You must BUY a book from Amazon to review it on Amazon. More from Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader. […]

    Reply
  14. Hidden Gems Books26 May, 2018

    This issue was a temporary glitch and was resolved this morning. Reviews are all being logged without issue again today. Their policy continues to allow reviews of books given out for free, as stated in their community guidelines page.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder26 May, 2018

      I’m still waiting for confirmation from another source.

      Reply
  15. Dylan Cross27 May, 2018

    Feel free to contact the Erotic Authors Guild if you continue to have issues with Amazon!

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder27 May, 2018

      Heh, you might want to change the name slightly. I think you want to be known as a group of authors who write erotica, not ones who are erotic by nature.

      Reply
  16. Linda27 May, 2018

    Amazon took all my reviews down over a year ago because most of my books were ARC’s. I tried to post on Amazon UK and got declined because they said they don’t accept reviews for free books.

    Reply
  17. Bonnie Dale Keck27 May, 2018

    I have ku, and I review ARCs as well as other books, would say hadn’t noticed any that didn’t post but there were at least 3 that I know already reviewed and posted but didn’t show up, had to have been week or even weeks ago posted those.

    KU is not verified review, even though to be able to post I had to have spent at least $50 {have spent, not counting ku, around 250 for about 4 or 5 years running, electronics etc}, and they verify my credit card each time for my ku and the purchases. I wrote to Bezos a while back and got automated type reply, but nothing else, and no follow up, in regard to ‘cockygate’ and the fact that if readers, primarily reviewers, stop reviewing then that means less traffic to their site, less ads seen, etc, so it is snowball effect, and currently have prime, kindle unlimited, etc, and how much money they stand to lose by ticking off reviewers, especially the most active ones.

    As far as goodreads, I have had issues with them as well, just not to the same degree; they were bought out quite a bit back by amazon.

    Their TOS states that reviewews can be taken down for a number of reasons, the last one which states {no, not kidding} no reason at all, and that they don’t respond to questions as to why etc. They also state that a reviewer can not say ‘received this book in exchange’ so wording must be something to point of got the book free in hopes of review or something such as that, but also that of course if it’s a bought book {even on freebie day} or ku then I ignore the fact it was an arc {if even remember, do a lot of books} and just put down got on freebie day or read on ku, which is true {gives the writer ‘pennies’ for the read}. There have been a couple or so that were non-amazon freebie books {bookbub and freebooksy are usually amazon type} such as instafreebie, which don’t come up the same way, so I’ll state that {if not on ku for me to run through}. Amazon wants the traffic, wants the ad revenue, wants the reviews, but they don’t want to ‘act right’ is the problem; the 50 was supposed to stop scammers from doing review mill type actions, but then amazon is basically saying that everyone is still guilty until proven innocent, no matter what.

    Reply
  18. Sabetha Danes27 May, 2018

    While I do a ton of ARC reviews, I am also an avid shopper and reviewer on Amazon in general. I haven’t noticed any of mine removed as of yet. But I also don’t write blog post length reviews nor do I write how I received the book I am reviewing. I keep it short and to the point, did I enjoy it? did it insight any emotions? how was the writing? Did it lag at all? The end.

    If they get rid of the option to review non purchases I think it will level the playing field for indie and traditional published authors, so as an author I’m not broken up about that. Amazon is a retail store, and all retail stores should pride themselves in honest verified reviews. Since the bots that promote your book take into account the review number it entices people to cheat. I can also see why they don’t count KU as verified since they are having the reading bot issue.

    I do think that this is a reminder not to keep our eggs all in one basket.

    Reply
  19. Bonnie Dale Keck28 May, 2018

    Sabetha Danes // 27 May, 2018 at 7:37 pm // Reply

    If they get rid of the option to review non purchases I think it will level the playing field for indie and traditional published authors, so as an author I’m not broken up about that. Amazon is a retail store, and all retail stores should pride themselves in honest verified reviews. Since the bots that promote your book take into account the review number it entices people to cheat. I can also see why they don’t count KU as verified since they are having the reading bot issue.

    ISSUES with that blanket statement: 1 it means, still, that kindle unlimited reviews still do not count AND they won’t even be allowed 2 books not bought or gotten from freebie day {bookbub and freebooksy} will count, IF gotten on freebie day, BUT NOT instafreebie

    So what you are suggesting means that books I haven’t ‘bought’ in any way won’t even be allowed to be reviewed by me, even though reviews is what drives amazon’s money horse, again costing them revenue in several different ways — not going to happen, not the answer/solution, and amazon prides themselves on making money and you are suggesting they chop out their KU subscriptions {I for one would bother using ku at all if didn’t review}, cheaters will always find a way to cheat {know of one writer who tells her supposed readers to ALWAYS put the book on ku because it does certain things to their algorythms AND even if the person never reads the book for the ‘pennies’ and her readers are told to buy the book after so that’s no ku money for the read, BUT it still put the book higher by around 100000 in stats and notice, on TOP of amazon ‘pushing’ and promoting ku books automatically} so again, not the answer, just another problem

    Reply
  20. Nancy Ryan28 May, 2018

    Yes, they can currently be posted. But come Tuesday, the day books typically drop, and it’s going to happen again. They are blocking ARC reviews on the first day or two of release. Once they’ve basically screwed authors out of all those ARC reviews to help boost sales, they drop the restrictions. Just wait and see.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder28 May, 2018

      I would not be surprised if you were right.

      Reply
  21. Bonnie Dale Keck29 May, 2018

    doesn’t matter on mine, more than likely because if a book is able to be bought, bought freebie day, or on ku {though won’t be ‘verified’} according to their own TOS I can simply put kindle unlimited then write whatever was going to write, there have only been a couple that I had as arcs that were not {really don’t pay attention to which are, versus ‘regular’ books, and always been bad at names and titles anyway}, but had no problem with getting the review through, though that MIGHT have had something to do with the fact that is only a couple out of a possible dozen or whatever that were arcs but on ku, I have MUCH more issue, in general, just trying to get their site to post ANY review at ANY time…though a bought and/or freebie day bought book seems to go through a bit faster, but still taking them ‘forever’ to post the reveiws…that is the only reason prefer goodreads, because leaves me a copy of the review that is easy to find then copy/paste over if the amazon review poofed or whatever, and that is also the reason I noticed it was taking so long to post reveiws, because would copy the goodreads to paste over, click on review, and it would be there, just invisible because didn’t complelely post

    Reply
  22. […] reviews on all books, but there was no official announcement from Amazon. Emails were flying, rumors were being sparked, Facebook theories were forming, but no one really knew […]

    Reply
  23. […] example, just last week I reported on Amazon's bots restricting the number of ARC reviews. That problem has reportedly been fixed, but getting the attention of an Amazon employee who could […]

    Reply
  24. Brian Porter1 June, 2018

    I write a lot of reviews, all for books I have genuinely read, and up until recently was able to copy my reviews to Amazon.com and other Amazon sites, (I live in the UK). Suddenly I am not allowed to do that. This is quite unfair on authors as Amazon use the US site for calculating how many reviews a book has received. If I can only post on the UK site, those authors, many of them American, are being denied legitimate reviews.

    Reply
    1. Bonnie Dale Keck1 June, 2018

      I noticed a bit about that type thing, they are supposed to {should type SUPPOSED to} show US reviews on UK amazon site, sometimes it cross posts and sometimes not, so had got in to habit of checking so that if it didn’t post itself over, I would, but last 2 times tried that it said I had not spent 50 {on UK side, have on US} so couldn’t post a review, and wouldn’t have major issue with that IF THEY cross posted them ALL the time, and haven’t checked {can’t really figure out way to check} if reviews from Brits are posting over to US side, in the way that they should.

      Can post them on goodreads, which got bought out by amazon, plus if need to check that review is there or use it to paste over to my amazon then it’s lot easier to find versus amazon US, well any amazon. Do remember checking for Brit and Aussie and once for someone based in Japan {.jp I THINK} and same as the Brit ones checked, sometimes they cross post and sometimes they don’t.

      While I understand the $50 {ever} requirement to stop review mills and other fake reviews, they are biting the hands of the reviewers that post by not fixing the issues they created or don’t have a hold on, because reviews also not only generate awareness of amazon books but also show adverts and all sorts of other things intertwined. Other book sites may never have the percentage of reviews etc that Amazon has, but they are losing ground, because they don’t do any one thing well enough, and as someone who pays out every month for KU, and even with the 50 KU is NOT verified, and reviews as much as I do, it’s starting to more than tick a bunch of reveiwers off, from the time it takes for any review to show posted, to the extra time it’s taking ku books to post, to them deleting legitimate reviews posted on Tuesday’s because that’s the day ARCs come out, to having to watch how even say that it’s an ARC {can’t say ‘in exhange for’ etc}, it’s beyond ridiculous, and totally incompetent way to run a business.

      Reply
  25. Audrey Kalman4 June, 2018

    Glad I stumbled on this. I recently had all my reviews except one two-star (most were four and five) taken down for a book that has been on Amazon for 7 years. I recently started doing more marketing of it, so I thought this might have triggered something, but apparently I just got caught up in the general algorithmic sweep. So frustrating! I called KDP immediately and the next day got an automated email from “customer relations,” but by that time the reviews had been restored. Of course, without any explanation or followup.

    Reply
  26. Susan Deonier6 June, 2018

    My beta reader’s new ARC review was deleted by Amazon today, probably because she used the words “in exchange for an honest review.” Apparently “in exchange for” now triggers a deletion. Amazon also removed her earlier reviews that did not mention an ARC.

    Reply
  27. kim hansen4 August, 2018

    I post on goodreads and bookbub and then when the book is released on amazon. Amazon is a pain in the ass.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top