Thursday, November 01, 2012

Amazon Removes Reviews

I've been buried in a book deadline for all of October, and haven't been paying much attention to anything else. When I finally took some time to catch up reading email, I noticed I had many authors (more than twenty) contacting me because their Amazon reviews were disappearing. Some were the ones they wrote. Some were for their books. One author told me that reviews her fans had written--fans that were completely unknown to her--had been deleted.

I took a look at the reviews I'd written, and saw more than fifty of them had been removed, namely reviews I did of my peers. I don't read reviews people give me, but I do keep track of numbers and averages, and I've also lost a fair amount of reviews.

Puzzled by this, I contacted Amazon, and received in response an explanation that I assume means the deletions were the result of some new automatic system, along with a link to the updated Review Creation Guidelines. Since all of my deleted reviews followed these guidelines, I wrote them back, cc'ing several people I know who work there in various departments. Here is my letter:

Thanks for the explanation about why dozens of my Amazon reviews were removed. I cc'ed several of my Amazon contacts on this response. Please understand I'm not pointing fingers at any of you fine folks. You know that I have total respect and admiration for you guys, the work you do, and the company you work for. But I don't know who in the office should hear this, and I'm hoping one of you passes it along to whoever made this decision.

My reviews followed all of Amazon's guidelines, and had received hundreds of helpful votes. They informed customers, and they helped sell books. They represented a significant time investment on my part, and they were honest and accurate and fully disclosed my relationships with the author I reviewed if I happened to know them. And these reviews were deleted without warning or explanation.

Obviously Amazon can do whatever it wants to on its site. It isn't up to me to dictate policy. It's your company, your rules, and I fully respect that. But I believe Jeff Bezos is very much about treating customers fairly, and I've heard it said many times that Amazon considers its authors to be valuable customers. So you should know that I'm just one of dozens of authors who are saddened by this, and those are just the ones who have emailed me.

The community you're trying hard to nurture is upset by your actions. They feel those actions are unwarranted and harmful.

Please express our disappointment in Amazon to anyone who needs hear it, and let them know I'll be blogging about it. People are seriously disappointed in how Amazon handled this. It was a knee-jerk,  inappropriate reaction to a ridiculous case of unjustified moral panic, and a Big Fail.

Again, I'm not trying to point fingers, signal anyone out, or place blame. Amazon obviously had concerns about their review system, but I believe those concerns could have been dealt with in a much better manner. As you know, I've been a huge supporter of Amazon for years, and I've publicly  supported many of Amazon's decisions when others hated on you. I'm personally responsible for dozens of authors joining Amazon Publishing, and thousands (tens of thousands?) of authors using KDP. And now those authors are emailing me saying, "Joe, what the heck is Amazon doing? I thought they were the good guys."

The fact that a binder can get a thousand fake reviews because of Romney's comment, but I can't honestly review one of my peers because I'm an author, is a bit silly, don't you think? Amazon allows 1 star reviews from people who haven't even read the book, but deletes positive reviews from people who honestly enjoyed it, and somehow that's improving your review system?

I don't expect any of the deleted reviews to magically reappear. I don't expect you to change your policies. And I'm still Amazon's biggest fan and supporter. But my hope is that if this email gets to the right people, maybe something like this won't happen again.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for all you do for authors.


Now, as I expressed in the letter, I'm disappointed, and a bit annoyed, but that's as far as it goes. I just did a quick check, and I've still got thousands of reviews, and my star averages are unchanged. My appreciation of Amazon hasn't faded. I still believe they have done more for authors than any other company in history. Though I now will be more choosy about what I review, because I don't want to waste my time reviewing something that will be removed for no reason. Other than that, I won't be affected by this hiccup at all.

Unfortunately, many authors who don't sell as well as I do now have lower star averages, which could hurt sales. This doesn't strike me as fair or helpful, and I understand the fear and outrage I've seen in the emails I've gotten. 

But I don't blame Amazon for this. While I don't think they approached this situation in the right way, they were showing how customer-centric they are by reacting to public opinion. Namely, complaints about their review system brought up by those very clever No Sock Puppets Here Please authors.

Congratulations, NSPHP signatories. Because of your concerns about Amazon's review policy and your ridiculous little petition, and the resulting media witch hunt, thousands of legitimate reviews have now been deleted. 

Good thing you brought it to Amazon's attention. You should be very proud.

I was going to use a "one bad apple spoils the whole bunch" analogy here, but that isn't appropriate, since that petition had over 400 author signatures. I think it's more like tattling on a fellow student for making fart noises in class, and then the teacher making the whole class skip recess as punishment.

But let us all applaud Democracy In Action. You complained. Amazon listened to you. And now you've lost thousands of honest reviews.

If it makes you feel better, I'm sure a few sock puppet reviews were also deleted along with all the legit ones. So once again, congrats. You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned.

Hmm... I seem to recall someone saying that it would be wrong if Amazon started policing reviews. Who was that guy? He said:

Oh, wait. That was me. And apparently I was wrong. It IS possible to police a system, if you don't mind the baby being thrown out with the bathwater...