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...


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sympathyforthedevil said...

I would also like to say something about unintended consequences. I have a theory, and I could be totally wrong, but here goes... (warning: this might bore you if you're not interested in moral philosophy!)

Scenario A: I buy my mother a bunch of white roses because I love her and I feel like doing so. When I arrive at her house to give her the flowers, a neighbour happens to be watching. Unbeknownst to me, this neighbour was once kidnapped, imprisoned and forced to sign an extremely dubious petition in a room full of white roses. So, there's some serious white rose PTSD going on in that neighbour's head, which prompts her to rush across the road and stab my mother in the eye. Now, does the law of unintended consequences apply here? I *think* I'm right in saying that it doesn't. Why? Because I can't possibly have known, couldn't possibly have predicted. Because the act I performed was an entirely benign, blameless one. The stabbing wouldn't have happened without my giving of the roses, but it can't be seen as a consequence, can it? Why not? Because there was nothing about what I did that *should* have caused the stabbing, or was likely to create a scenario in which a stabbing was more probable.

Scenario B: I stand beside my mother's neighbour whispering, 'My f***ing mother. She's a grot-bag. Something really needs to be done about her, you know? Ugh - just look at her!' The neighbour, after listening to this for four hours, rushes up to my mother and stabs her in the eye. Now, the stabbing would of course be wholly my neighbour's fault, but would it be *solely* her fault? No - I think most reasonable people would concede that I too was partly responsible. Here, the law of unintended consequences would surely and quite reasonably be evoked by my detractors: 'If you hadn't filled the unstable neighbour's head with poison and made her believe she had to act against a monster...' Etc.

Thanks to all who have stuck with me! My point is: perhaps the law of unintended consequences ought to be renamed 'the law of unintended foreseeable consequences', or 'the law of unintended likely consequences'. Basically, if you act well and for good motives and someone then (crazily, wrongly) bases a terrible action of their own upon your benign action, that is in no way your fault, right? As in the case of the white roses, you would have nothing to reproach yourself for. But if you behave badly and perform dubious actions for dubious reasons and then something bad happens as a consequence, that is more often perceived to be your fault because...people kind of have a sense that in some crucial way, the grim behaviour originated with you. Your behaviour is seen to have given birth to the stabber's behaviour. They feel related. They have, somehow, some DNA in common. (Whereas, to use the same metaphor in the white roses scenario, the consequence is more like a stranger dumping their baby on your doorstep without warning!)

So...I would argue that unintended consequences are not so much the issue, because even harmless, lovely acts can have those. Unintended foreseeable/likely consequences is, I believe, what we're talking about here: the positive or negative energy, if you like, inherent in the action itself and what it is likely to give birth to. That is what enables us to use the word 'consequence' in a meaningful way.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

This is getting away from the point - fake reviews are wrong and this is not a freedom of speech issue - it's about conning people. Let's imagine a company sells a product that doesn't do what it says in their advertising then should they be able to make wild claims that product X does this when it doesn't. You can, if you want to be ridiculous, defend their advertising as free speech.

Amazon are correct in what they have done and all the reviews that were removed must have been removed for a damn good reason. There are a group of writers out there who are crooks and they will damage the self publishing industry - they will bring it down not the worthy NSPHP petition.

And if anyone wants to blame anyone for the removal of reviews, then I suggest you poke your anger at the writers who attempted and succeeded in cheating their way to big sales.

Amazon have been used by a bunch of unethical writers of limited talent and time will show this to be the case.

Well done the Sock Puppet petition.

Ramsey Campbell said...

Well, I must apologise as I did before. I was one of the signatories of the original petition. Therefore, when Mr Konrath wrote on this thread -

"I'm not absolving Amazon. They screwed up. But they were responding to moral panic started by a few misguided morons who didn't think things through but loved to point fingers and get their names in newspapers.

If I invented a time machine and eliminated three or four pinheads, we wouldn't be having this problem."

- I assumed this included me. I'm glad to have him correct my misreading.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

The Amazon reviews section is now the last refuge for the scoundral

And Mr Campbell are you saying you regret signing the petition? Just wanted to clarify that point.

Ramsey Campbell said...

No, I don't regret signing. What was said needed to be said. I simply apologised if unbeknown to myself I was what Mr Konrath says he didn't say I was.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Mr Campbell - I took that to be your meaning but sometimes a hint of sarcasm doesn't come across well in text. I agree with you fully on these issues, but then you are a writer who came up by providing good work of high quality and not by cooking the reviews system. And if I can be fanboy for a moment - Ancient Images is a favorite horror book of mine - read it several times over the years.

JA Konrath said...

This is getting away from the point

Actually, you insulting me and making baseless accusations was getting away from the point. You were acting badly. And rather than man-up and own it, you changed the subject.


I don't believe Amazon wouldn't have acted if not for 400+ writers whining and pointing fingers. Those writers need to shoulder some for the responsibilty, just as Amazon should be lauded for listening.

Unfortunately, Amazon's solution was harmful. But not as harmful as moral panic is.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Joe- Insulting you -how? If by calling you a Pinhead then yeah I was, but I got that from you. I think Amazon have acted correctly and if it is anyone's fault then it is the sock puppets out there. You are using a stupid argument and false reviews are nothing to do with freedom of speech. Leaving reviews that are false, damaging or using an assumed identity is just wrong.And,my friend, you are wrong on so many levels.

JA Konrath said...

I was one of the signatories of the original petition.

There were fifty original signatories. I mentioned three or four pinheads. They know who they are. They have a lovely little hate group on Twitter where their number of followers is laughably disproportionate to their number of tweets, and the majority of those tweets involve patting themselves on the back and taking potshots at others.

I've never met you, Mr. Cambell, and don't know you, so I don't understand why you'd think I was signalling you out. The vast majority of signatories are good people with good intentions.

But you know what they say the road to hell is paved with.

I don't signal individuals out for derision on my blog (except in very rare cases) so apologies if you took the vagaries of my pinhead comment personally. But my comment stands. If I used my time machine to get rid of a few self-important, short-sighted catalysts, we wouldn't be having a problem.

Everyone has the potential to be an agent for change. Hate doesn't ever lead to things changing for the better. Naming those three writers in that petition was wrong. Begging for signatures was wrong. Begging for readers to review books was pathetic. Alerting the media to run articles concurrent with the petition going live was egotistical and unwarranted and ultimately lead to our current situation.

And as far as I know, not a single signatory even so much as questioned their support as possibly a mistake.

Fail. If I'd have signed that, I'd be thinking to myself, "Oops. My bad."

But then, I seem to see these things coming on a semi-regular basis...

JA Konrath said...

Joe- Insulting you -how?

The funny fake reviews are a high water mark of human interaction. They give me, and countless others, faith in the human race. Books will be written, and psychology terms coined, explaining the social phenomenon behind reviewing Tuscan Milk and the Thee Wolf tee shirt.

Calling funny fake reviews wrong is ignorant. Saying I practice cronyism is a lie. Insinuating I write reviews of my own books is a lie. I never said posting fake reviews was honest. And you've misappropriated and incorrectly applied the term "pinhead."

I have respect for people who admit they are wrong.

I have zero respect for those who are called on it, and ignore it.

William J. Thomas said...

sympathyforthedevil said:
...which prompts her to rush across the road and stab my mother in the eye.

Do you write horror? Because man, you should lol. You could have written a much milder atrocity committed against your mother in your analogy...but for some reason you went extreme with the eye stab.

You've at least got a horrific short story in you somewhere...get typing!

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I'm not ignoring anything and as for your funny fake reviews -I believe these are just a smoke screen or at the very least they muddy the waters. You did indeed say that there was nothing wrong with fake reviews and you also said buying reviews as in John Lock's case was OK - you made some freedom of speech guff when the sock puppet saga first broke, but at the end of the day John Locke, Stephen Leather and R J Ellory were wong and in the case of Ellory and Leather vindictive in that they attacked work by rival authors. And all insults and nonsense aside these are the actions you are claiming do no harm.

JA Konrath said...

There was no harm, Gary.

Locke didn't harm you or anyone else.

Ellory left 1 star reviews. Amazon allows 1 star reviews. It's more harmful because he didn't sign his name to them? Please explain how.

Leather didn't leave sock puppet reviews. He used sock puppets to diss people and support himself during online discussions, then he got into a private war with one of his detractors.

And now we have thousands of honest, legitimate, helpful reviews deleted. Fail.

If you want to look down on what Locke did, don't buy his books. Don't start a moral panic which leads to witch hunting and widespread overreaction.

I said, repeatedly, I don't use sock puppets, or don't post fake reviews (up until I did the funny ones). I said, repeatedly, why Locke, Leather, and Ellory did wasn't worthy of the condemnation and public scourgings and hatred they received. And I said, repeatedly, innocent people would get hurt.

I can't make it any easier to understand than that. Still waiting for you to prove I practice cronyism, but I'm not holding my breath...

Eric Christopherson said...

Maybe it's the nature of the internet to react swiftly and badly?

If Amazon doesn't back off from its recent, stepped up policing of reviews then it likely means the data tell them there's trouble, that consumers are starting to access them less and less.

There has to be a tipping point somewhere, after which the credibility of the review system plummets, along with the use of it, of course, and with one-third of all online consumers reviews estimated to be fakes (according to a U of Illinois researcher, as I recall), how far off could the tipping point be?

My guess is Amazon won't back off and will commence a long, iterative process until they get their policing right. Some of the removed reviews will even show up again.

JA Konrath said...

I'm going to vote today. I'm bringing my son with, as I always do.

Four years ago, I voted for Obama. I believed he was going to change things.

Instead, he made things worse. I'm ashamed of the things my President is doing. The NDAA. Libya. Bradley Manning and Anwar al-Awlaki. Drone attacks. And so on. Yes we can? No he didn't.

But here's the thing. I'm partly to blame for all of Obama's mistakes, because I voted for him. I thought I was doing a good thing, and it was a bad thing.

I had good intentions. I didn't think Obama would wipe his ass with our Constitution. But he did, and I shouldn't have voted for him.

So I won't vote for Obama again. I won't vote for Romney either. I think a two-party system is bullshit, and nothing will change until we get out of the mindset of voting for the lesser of two evils.

So when I vote, I'm going for Gary Johnson, of the Libertarian Party, or, if he's on the Illinois ballot, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. They believe in a lot of the same things I do. And even though they won't win, I don't believe I'm throwing my vote away.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Voting the lesser of two evils isn't advocating change.

And admit when you're wrong and act accordingly. Or else we're doomed to repeat the same mistakes, over and over.

Jacob Chastain said...

After reading through all the debates waging here and else where, I think it's quite obvious that the actions of Amazon have been problems for many writers, and that Amazon's goal to fix a "problem" didn't work the way it should have...

While we could argue the morality issue underlying this whole debate, it isn't necessary when there is no statistical evidence proving fake reviews hurt anything. This, therefor, is nothing but mental masturbation with a bunch of writers who think they can predict outcomes and blindly apply meaning to something after it happened.

The real issue has already been uncovered, which is that Amazon made a stupid move, which was caused largely by a group of self righteous witch hunters.

Any topic beyond this is irrelevant and only serves to lather the egos of the ones Propogating their own faith based beliefs on harm done by a small group of writers.

Extraordinary claims must be backed by extraordinary evidence.

P.S. Power said...

Here's my take on this topic (The Amazon Reviews, not Joe's statement about voting. I'm all for third party voting, if only to show that you don't want four more years of suck. I mean, no matter what, we'll get it, but it's a good thing to let people know that you don't want it.)

Now to the topic at hand:

Amazon removed at least eight five star and one four star reviews from my collected works. I have never engaged in sock-puppeteering, or any of that. So they "stole" good reviews from me. (Yes, reviews are not a thing that can be truly stolen, but the feeling is there.)

At the same time, they left several of what I consider to be fairly obvious fake one star reviews, which brought some of my star totals down.

Almost to the day they did this, sales started to drop across the board. This might be due to a secret algorithm change however. (Expensive e-book seem to have more "sticking power" than inexpensive ones. I have enough works that I can play with pricing to check and so far it seems to be clearly working that way. That's another topic however.)

But looking back at the stats provided by Authors Central, there is a three day period when everything (twenty books, full length novels...) all started to drop in sales at the same time. Right when the reviews were being pulled.

So I can't claim true cause and effect, but there you have it, the appearance of it is there.

The problem here is that I am innocent of wrong doing and still being punished.


I don't like that, but were the people that signed that anti-fake review thing actually wrong? Even if it forced Amazon to act?

I don't think so. (Also, not a signatory, so this isn't about me trying to defend myself.)

No, they were both trying to express their own concerns about people getting an unfair advantage in the system, as well as point out that they, personally, had never done anything like that. It's a very normal reaction to a situation where accusations are being made. People will decry the original action loudly, to show that they aren't like that.

Amazon didn't slap up this new system on a whim, they had it ready to go. They've been working on it for over a year. Did that petition give them a reason to put it into play now, instead of later? Maybe. But it already existed. You don't just coble together that kind of code in a few days and release it into your big money making system, where it might accidently hurt profits.

So, in summary:

I was unfairly hurt by having good reviews removed. (Boo-freaking-hoo.)

Amazon may have added a new algorithm that hurts lower priced books sales over time.
People signing that petition were probably using outrage to protect themselves from blame, real or imagined.

Amazon isn't easily pushed around. (Not by a few authors at least.)

knightsjest said...

What are you on about?? You thought it was something to be funny about and take a ridiculous stand and now you see people are being hurt by this and try to twist it around.

The problem is and always was that people were making bogus reviews and messing up the integrity of the system. A system newbie indie writers rely on. It was never a joke to us as it was to you.

Amazon responded to what had happened and what else could they do. The reviews are there to help their customers.

You often skirt the edge of ridiculous with your views, presumably to get numbers to your blog but you have missed the mark on this whole issue. Authors were hurt by this from the start.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

As always Joe your argument is nonsensical and you have plenty of folk willing to support you. OK cronyism - you wrote - "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" = cronyism if by peers you mean friends and associates.

Many indie writers struggle to be taken seriously and this entire sock puppet thing is doing them harm, but I won't be arguing the point anymore unless you wish serious debate and stop going up the yellow brick road with arguments like freedom of speech and doing no harm. Fake review are essentially lying to readers to try and take their money. That is not only wrong but it's fucking disgraceful.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

This also makes no sense - "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. "

Might the NSPHP petition not have existed if there were no sock puppets screwing the system? So I say is it not the sock puppets who are to blame for all this?

Anonymous said...

Further to PS Power's comment above regarding the likelihood of Amazon having had this code ready to go for a while, here's a point that was ignored in Mr Konrath's original post, and in more than 200 responses: people have reported these deletions were happening before the anti-sockpuppet letter was ever written.

In the Kindle forum thread that Joe links to above, at least one poster talks about this starting "several months" ago.

How about a specific date? On a cursory search of the Amazon Top Reviewers forum, you'll see a thread saying that deletions were noticed on September 11th. Even if we say the deletions *happened* on 9/11, rather than the more likely scenario that they happened before that and were only noticed on that day, that's just a week after the whole sockpuppet thing blew up.

If people are saying the deletions started weeks before this story hit the headlines, how can the sockpuppet letter have prompted them? Aside from those authors getting hold of a DeLorean and a flux capacitor, that is.

Even if we take 9/11/2012 as being the earliest reported deletions, does anyone think Amazon could conceive, code, test and deploy something like this in a week?

Here's the thing: an awful lot of people complaining about deletions know an awful lot about the people who posted the reviews that disappeared. In a lot of cases, authors are saying these "legit" reviews were written by friends and family members, or other authors with whom they're acquainted. Those opinions might have been honestly given, but if Amazon's code has detected a link between the reviewer and the author of the book, then bye-bye review.

If you've sent someone a gift cert for the value of your book so they can buy it and review it, however honestly, then bye-bye review.

Any link at all, however tenuous it seems, and the review is going. That's Amazon's policy, and no one else's. Don't blame anyone else for it.

But, you say, I didn't know who placed that review! I didn't ask or pay for it!

Well, here's a scenario: say Bob Critic has posted 50 reviews. Say he got gift certs for 20 of them, and the rest were all straight purchases out of his own pocket. Say Amazon decides that because they've proven malfeasance with 20 of this reviews, the other 30 are getting wiped too. Do you think that might explain the legit review of your book that disappeared?

If the life guard makes everyone get out of the pool because someone pissed in it, who do you blame? The kid with poor bladder control, or the kid who pointed out the yellow tint to the water?

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Joe if your arguement is correct then the following authors, all who signed the NSPHP petition, are wrong - If Konrath is to be believed then the following authors, all of whom have signed the petition against fake reviews, are inciting a moral outrage - Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, N.J. Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Lee Goldberg, Gordon Harries, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Susan Hill, Peter James, Paul Johnston, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, SJ Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Peter Robinson, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Tim Weaver, Neil White, Laura Wilson.

JA Konrath said...

cronyism if by peers you mean friends and associates.

Now I see. You believe it is impossible to honestly review a book if you know the author, so all reviews of peers are cronyism.

That's silly. And stupid. And now I no longer have any interest in anything you have to say.

Joshua Simcox said...

"I thought I was doing a good thing, and it was a bad thing."


You did what you thought best based on the information available to you at the time. And at least you took that crucial step and actually voted.

There's not one bad thing about that.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

"Now I see. You believe it is impossible to honestly review a book if you know the author, so all reviews of peers are cronyism."

No not at all but when the reviews come from someone with all the credibility of Lindsey Lohan then yeah it's cronyism.

Anonymous said...

Please define a "legitimate, positive review."

I'm a writer. I've gotten so I've seen so many 5 star reviews of small publications/self published books that I can't believe any of the reviews. 5 stars means amazing. Can every book be amazing? No.

Hence the term "circle jerk" as used in some comments does seem very prevalent among authors. And to me, thats not a legitimate review.

I can't help thinking even though I'm a writer, and maybe its blasphemy, but author to author is going to be biased toward the positive.

I also strongly disagree that an author is better able to review another author's book because he's an author.

I'm not sure we're acknowledging on this thread the extent of the 5 star problem. The NY Times was very on to something, the one story was only one tentacle of ways - straight purchasing of reviews, sock puppeting, but definitely circle jerking is the method we're most adverse to admit de-legitimizes our reviews.

Robyn Heirtzler said...

I don't agree with policing reviews ... if someone wants to leave a review, let them do it. There are everywhere who will abuse whatever system they're able to and well, that's to their detriment over the long run. But they're in the minority ...

I'm grateful I didn't lose any for my book, but a little frustrated that they removed some I posted for books I truly enjoyed.

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Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Joe said "Locke didn't harm you or anyone else.

Ellory left 1 star reviews. Amazon allows 1 star reviews. It's more harmful because he didn't sign his name to them? Please explain how."

OK I'll explain Ellory left one star reviews in order to dissuade readers from buying rivals books-now that can hurt the writer who he's given a one star review to.

Is that too much for you to comprehend.

Locke built a reputation on lies - some people may have bought his books, I did, because of all the positive reviews. Now as it happened I found Locke to be a good read but that's besides the point since his reviews were come by dishonestly and yet these represent the books.

I can't believe that you insist there is nothing wrong in all this and that it didn't hurt anyone. Surely you must have by now considered the fact that this insane stance of yours will harm you in the long run.

I respected you Mr Konrath and looked at what you achieved with wonder and awe, but now I just consider you to be in the same camp as Leather, Locke, Ellory etc. No I can not say you have reviewed your own books, not with any certainty, but your tone suggests you have done so.

Anyway I don't want to get into a personal argument but I maintain that the sock puppet antics are disgraceful and your opinions and views on this subject are so outlandish as to make satire redundant.

For many years now you've attached traditional publishing, sometimes with good reason but this time you are talking prime grade BS.


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Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this one, Joe. 100%

Anonymous said...

Perfect summation:

"You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned."

I lost reviews I've earned as well as reviews I've left for others, all of which followed their guidelines. An automated system is not the answer. And when a review is deleted for the wrong reasons, they should investigate and restore. Instead, they send automated responses as to why the review was deleted, even if those reasons don't apply.

They forget those who write and receive reviews are customers too. Myself and many other authors I know now plan to switch to Nook devices and purchase Nook books instead of Kindle books.

Anonymous said...

Joe - you still haven't responded to the point above. If Amazon were deleting reviews before the NSPHP letter, how can its authors be responsible? It's a hard point to avoid. Unless you just ignore it.

Unknown said...

This all started with Jeremy Duns. If you look at my blog you will see that after I raised some perfectly reasonable points about his methodology, I was threatened with legal action if I didn't remove the blog from the web. When I stood up to that intimidation, I was repeatedly subjected to the most vile, sexist abuse. I was told I was 'bitch' who would be 'very, very sorry' for my comments. I think that gives you an idea of the kind of people were behind this....

Linda Hawley, Author said...

I applaud you writing Amazon in the first place. For me, I'm still pissed at them for this stupid programming decision. From now on when I spend the time to write a review on a book I've read, I'm keeping a Word copy of it, so I can replace it if they delete it. That's my fix. Bad form, Amazon.

Stephen Leather said...

Great post as always, Joe.

Good to see you giving Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin short shrift.

I couldn't help but notice that Gary has given one of his own books a resounding five stars. That is in direct contravention of Amazon's review guidelines, of course. Pot, kettle, black?

Ramsey Campbell said...

Maria James said...
"This all started with Jeremy Duns. If you look at my blog you will see that after I raised some perfectly reasonable points about his methodology, I was threatened with legal action if I didn't remove the blog from the web. When I stood up to that intimidation, I was repeatedly subjected to the most vile, sexist abuse. I was told I was 'bitch' who would be 'very, very sorry' for my comments. I think that gives you an idea of the kind of people were behind this...."

Is this also your blog?

On 29 August you (or "Emily James" say

"I intend to pass these points on to the Director of Public Prosecutions on the grounds that an offence may have been committed."

Has there been an outcome?

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Mr Leather - the review refer to is a collection of reviews from my other websites and blogs that I have attached to Amazon - the piece is called snippets from the reviews and I have posted it under my own name. No pretend names as a certain Mr Leather did. However I see what you mean about the five stars and maybe I should ahve placed the review somewhere else - but where? So before you, in your grand deception say that I have fake reviews then please visit the reviews and read once more.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

And a more measured answer for Stephen "dumbarse" Leather -

Anonymous said...

I think this whole sock puppet thing was a non-issue turned into an issue by a bunch of holier than thou knuckleheads.

Posting one star reviews of your rival's books makes you an asshole.

Buying reviews makes you a scoundrel. Just like about every single large corporation and politician that advertises.

Please. Give customers some credit. They can take care of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Well, there you go again, Barry and Joe, acting as apologists for the cheaters.

Here are some facts. Amazon started removing reviews about June. The Locke fiasco happened after that. And the protest even later. So unless Amazon is capable of time travel, the protestors have little or nothing to do with Amazon deleting reviews. So that assumption is either only partially correct, or just plain wrong.

It also seems that you take a flawed position, namely that it isn't the cheaters getting exposed in the NY Times that caused the problem, it's those outraged by their cheating that caused it. How about a novel thought: The cheaters brought this on the whole system. Now, I know that's hard to grasp, where your buddies getting popped caused Amazon to become even more draconian with their review removal, but that's how many thinking people see it. The protestors are saying it's wrong to cheat. Your position seems to be cheating is just fine, or even that it's not cheating if everyone is doing it, or most, or a lot, or a large number of some. Because, well, what is cheating anyway?

I read the entire lawyer-like deconstruction, and have to say that it was masterful in the way politicians are, and so badly mangling the truth that eventually you can restate a twisted, partial version and most will buy your spin.

I'm afraid I don't. Amazon started removing reviews before any petition surfaced, so your post hoc explanation is just wrong. And it's not in response to the petition, it's because the most respected newspaper in the U.S. ran a piece about cheating scumbags who are gaming the review system.

Attributing Amazon's actions to the petitioners is the final sleight of hand where you blame anyone but those most clearly to blame. It's a flawed campaign, and your credibility is not getting any boosts out of your stance.

Ed Robertson wrote a great blog about why your stance sucks. I won't try to paraprhase it here. Put it is spot on. You are way, way off base on this. Then again, there is nothing so blind as a man with an agenda that demands that he not see. And the only thing for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.

This isn't evil, but your arguing in favor of the cheats and trying to make their actions palatable is worse than doing nothing. Stop it.

P.S. Power said...

On to the next question:

Is anyone else having very slow sales on Amazon over the last two months? I've noticed a LOT of authors saying this and can track the pattern myself.

It's pretty dramatic in my case.

Yes, sales go up and down, but this is rather more than that, I think.

It seems odd that it would be continuing into November too...

Are all sales just that bad this year? It predates the storm and main election push, so it wasn't just that.

Any thoughts?

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I wish the anon commentator wasn't anonymous because his/her points are smack on so why remain anonymous?

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous above - Konrath simply isn't going to answer the point about Amazon deleting reviews before the NSPHP letter, because in doing so he'd have to admit he got this completely wrong, and his blog post was built on an entirely false premise.

If you look back through this blog, you'll see Konrath challenged on various points that reflect badly on him, including a string of reviews that he was called on several times, but he just pretends the questions weren't asked.

He keeps his big mouth shut and keeps his head down when the truth threatens to bite him on the ass. Which makes him a coward.

Anonymous said...

Gary/Jack: I choose to remain anonymous because in a forum where most are agreeing that sock puppetry and leaving fake reviews are acceptable tactics, I can expect some of those unthinking zealots to turn their anger at me for daring to expose their darling as being completely wrong and basically full of it.

The review removal happened many weeks before the petition. That is fact. It accelerated once the NY Times article hit, because in addition to being a slam at self-published authors, it was also a slam at Amazon. So Amazon reacted (albeit badly). The petition was a reaction to the article, just as were Amazon's actions. This isn't rocket science. It just takes the ability to read a calendar.

Now, through the magic of logical bullshit and inability to keep a sequence of events straight in time, Joe comes along and plays extremely fast and loose with anything resembling the truth. And his supporters line up behind him to give him pats on the back, even though he's proved completely incorrect, or at best in possession of a sliver of truth somewhere in all the hogwash.

But you'll notice that he and his supporters go as silent as a perp on COPS when it's pointed out.

I don't need 50 one star reviews on my book(s) because I dared to point out the Emperor's Clothes to the adoring faithful. Perhaps that makes me a coward. To me, it's pragmatic. I'm in this business to sell books, not take moral high grounds and get persecuted because of them.

I just never thought I would see the day where defending cheats became the main agenda of this blog, and twisting the truth to the point where it resembles a slinky was the chosen rhetorical approach. Perhaps saddest, look at all the comments that agree with this easily-exposed false logic. It's like a kind of mass hysteria. "Yes, I saw the baby jesus in the snow too! And the UFO! I swear it!"

He's right about one thing. Witch hunts are to be feared; the crowd gone mad will do incredible things. I would rather not serve as a lesson on that.

So Joe et al will ignore the inconvenient fact that the reviews started disappearing before the petition came out, because it shows his whole line of reasoning to be tripe. It's not even weak correlation equating to causality. It's just really easily proven to be bullshit, bullshit. But most don't see it, or are so eager to be part of the agreeing crowd, they can't spare a few minutes of research to figure out whether their position is wrong or not. Sad. And presumably these are authors who consider themselves to be smart.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Anon - I too am in the business of selling books and I agree with all your points. Amazon may have reacted badly but the fault lies with the fake review posters and with a great many authors but they will never claim responsibility and will jump on anything to discredit anyone who doesn't agree with them - as with the Stephen Leather comment against me. I have never posted fake reviews and think it is a rotten thing to do.

Anonymous said...

The naivete of the outraged is astonishing. Shock! People are actually trying to game the system for financial gain! Poor consumers are being misled! The can't take care of themselves, so we must help them, and show our indignation by signing petitions so everyone will know how pure at heart we are, with not the slightest larceny in our hearts.


My friends, advertisers have been conning the public for years. One has only to look at at the falsehoods uttered in political ads this last month to understand this. And yet the Republic stands. The people have been able to figure it out.

And buyers of books can also figure it out. Just as they, for years, have figured out that there is something fishy about big six book reviews, with other authors in the House pimping for each other on their dust jackets.

What a waste of time, energy, and a good algorithm...

David L. Shutter said...

And buyers of books can also figure it out. Just as they, for years, have figured out that there is something fishy about big six book reviews, with other authors in the House pimping for each other on their dust jackets.

Thanks for bringing this point up Anon. I've been waiting to see someone undertake the rightous and just crusade of exposing decades of organized, mass market "sock-puppeting" by the Big 6.

While I don't agree with everthing Joe has to say on this matter, nor do I feel strongly enough about it to be the 218'th person to debate him, I did enjoy him suggesting that one of the outraged analyze the years of NYT reviews vs. their advertising.

Still no takers on that one. Odd, considering how evil, criminal and dangerous sock-puppeteering clearly is.

Well, it would be a pretty tall order to analyze years and years of Big 6 reviews. Maybe even dangerous, depending on who you worked for if you were a journalist.

Relentlessly attacking the already outed sock-puppet trio? That's nice and easy. Safe. Comfy.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

David - interesting. Though I would have thought most authors who have been blurbed by the big six would have read the books they are allowing their names to be attached to. They are not using fake identities and you'll never see negative one star reviews left on the back of book jackets by a major writer or any writer for that matter. This is hardly the same thing as what's been going on in the indie self publishing world.

Stephen Leather said...

@Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin You can insult me all you want but the simple fact is that you breached Amazon's review rules by giving your own book five stars. Even giving yourself one star is a breach. You are not allowed to rate your own books on Amazon. You did. Calling me 'dumbarse' doesn't make you right and me wrong. Oh, and deleting a review is easy enough - just go into your Amazon account, go to your reviews and delete any that contravene Amazon's guidelines. Or ask Amazon. They'll do it for you. The point I was making is that you (and others) accuse me of breaking the rules and yet you are the one who posted a five star review of his own work!

P.S. Power said...

I'm not pretending to be all grown up here or anything, but guys... seriously, I get there's been some bad blood, but let it go and move on now.

I understand that doesn't feel satisfying (on any side) but unless you have a plan to turn this into something epic, it can only get in your way, professionally.

Arguing back and forth fixes nothing, and, I'd hazard a guess here, probably doesn't make you feel any better about things.

If it really does, then I guess you should all go to and rip each other down some more. Otherwise, maybe we should get Joe to put up a different topic soon and we can all talk about his latest project or something!

*yes, I stand ready for the attack to turn to me instead... Go to. If you need ammo, I'm bald and of average looks at best...

David L. Shutter said...

Gary - true, to our knowledge, Koonts and Cussler, King and Rice, never bashed each other anonymously with whatever means they had at the times. In that regard I especially disagree with what Ellory did but, as I've said elsewhere, I think the punishment in social backlash has more than fit the crime. If you even want to call it that.

I was more pointing towards the practice of disengenuine reviewing and plugging as Anon mentioned by the Big 6. It's the same as sock-puppeting and we've all seen it for as long as we've been reading, but no one wants to touch it.

While I've stated what I think of the issue I'd also like to thank Mr. Leather for stopping by and speaking his peace. Too many of his critics (and no Gary, this isn't a jab at you but rather all of Leather's journalist "fans" out there) seem to have a strictly personal beef.

Bringing up who allegedly stuck who with a bill a decade ago in an attempt to defame character?

Give me a break.

Or better yet, let's move on altogether. New reading devices are out, foreign amazon expansion, new talent and changes in markets and the upcoming holiday season...

All that going on and we're still fucking talking about this.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

An interesting issue brought up in an edition of The Telegraph this week is that digital only books are ignored by newspaper reviewers and awards boards - This is something worth following -

Alan Spade said...

Also worth saying : ghost-writing as used by trad pub is also some kind of sock puppetry.

That doesn't justify in any way fake reviews, but it's a greater fraud than fake reviews, IMO.

Joe, your website seems to be down. Doing some changes ?

Elegant Gypsy said...

Anon had a good point I'd like to see not get buried. Amazon began removing reviews before either the NY Times article, or the outraged author backlash. Seems to me that means that Joe's entire basis for this blog is bogus. The sequence was, Amazon removes reviews, NY Times runs article, petition circulates, new, more stringent review policy enacted.

At the most charitable one could conclude that the petition might, just might, have had some role in the new, more draconian implementation. Or might not. Could have been Bezos reads the NY Times. Stranger things have happened. Point being there is zero reason to believe or blame the petition, and ever reason to 1) concede that the review deletion predates either the article of the petition by weeks, if not months, and 2) agree that it is more likely that one of the biggest newspapers in the nation slamming Amazon for allowing fake reviews to stand is a more plausible explanation than a petition wagging the dog.

I'm shocked that these easy-to-grasp facts have escaped so many of the readers of this blog.

Common sense, people. Come on. Not brain surgery here. Joe got it wrong. He should man up and admit it.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Elegant Gypsey - I agree with you fully and it seems to be a fact that Amazon were removing reviews before the sock puppet story break, but as for getting Joe to admit he was wrong - well good luck with that.

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Suzanne Tyrpak said...

Okay, I'm late to the party. Just discovered that most of my reviews of books have been removed. I also just had a good review of my new book removed, because the reviewer is a writer. Pretty sad. But now I understand how this mess started. The information I've received from Amazon is a complete mystery and seriously makes no sense,

Stacey said...

Write your review. If Amazon removes it, post it at GoodReads. Or your own book blog with an affiliate link to the book on Amazon. You can tell the world how you feel about a book. There are multiple ways of doing this. If it's sold on other sites, post there (Kobo, Apple, Sony, etc.). And keep a back up copy, just in case. As for "free speech"—I think that's part of the issue. Some people pay for reviews. If it isn't "free" is the reader getting a fair assessment? (A debate that could rage for decades because there will be honest reviewers and also those who craft positive reviews without opening the cover). Maybe Amazon can introduce a "paid review" symbol. But would all reviewers be honest enough to use it?

Mark Souza said...

My reviews were stripped. I guess identifying myself as an author is a huge mistake. Since Amazon won't let me post reviews, I guess the logical step is to get my books elsewhere - they don't have a monopoly (yet). Thank God for Smashwords.

Mark Souza said...

My reviews were stripped. I guess identifying myself as an author is a huge mistake. Since Amazon won't let me post reviews, I guess the logical step is to get my books elsewhere - they don't have a monopoly (yet). Thank God for Smashwords.

Joel said...

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William J. Thomas said...

Yo Joe...SPREE is out today! Where's the new blog? Is $4.99 your default for new releases now? I'm off to buy my copy on Amazon, then convert to ePub so I have the option to read on my Kindle apps OR my Nook (I see it's only available in paperback on B&N so far). Best of luck to you and Ann with the book!

One more quick thing - I like the new style of covers Thomas & Mercer came up with for the Chandler series, but I really LOVE the old cover of FLEE so much more...

Griffin Hayes said...

There are a handful of authors who I KNOW have dozens or more fake reviews and none of them have been removed. So you're right Joe, Amazon used a nuke, but they hit the wrong city (maybe even the wrong country).

Anonymous said...

With all do respect to whomever agrees with this new policy or whatever Amazon is calling it; I think it's absolute rubbish.

So what if a handful of friends/family members want to give a new author a review. Is their 8 good reviews really hurting the 3,500 that others are getting already? They BOUGHT the book. They paid the price. They have every right to comment on it as they so choose to.

Not to mention, they provided a platform for E.L James to become a multimillionaire by basically ripping off Stephanie Meyer's characters (originally posted on as Master of the Universe) so what gives? I think that's 100x more immoral than some unknown getting a few five stars they don't believe is real.

I won't be downloading books from their site anymore if this is how they treat the freedom of speech from their customers.

Unknown said...

I had this happen to me. Which is kind of discouraging when you read reviews from fans of your work and the points they like, which is nice to hear, and helpful for those considering your book, only to have them erased. A lot of reviews I had written for books I enjoyed had also been erased and I had no idea why until I saw it happening to my own book. They didn't erase any of the negative reviews I'd written. Does Amazon think that if it's positive it's fake and if it's negative it's real? It's a good thing Amazon does not erase the negative reviews, otherwise America would not know that the whiskey I reviewed actually does taste like shoe polish (she says with sarcasm). Another thing to note is that once someone is deleted from writing a review they are blocked from writing a review for that book. I don't know if it means for that author, but like J.A. K said, all of the reviews written to me and by me also followed all of Amazon's guidelines, I just didn't feel like arguing with them about it simply because the damage was already done, and it just seemed more like a random witch hunt because of people complaining about the few authors that paid for fake reviews or the sock puppets...which, I am still not 100% clear what that is, but I grasp it. I knew there were authors complaining about the fake reviews, in fact I even saw some of them went to the lengths of writing 'bad' reviews on the accused author's books (poor form, by the way), but I didn't know there was a petition. My question is, why do you care what other author's are doing (other than obvious jealousy at other author's success)? Do you honestly feel you care because of some moral high ground? Or have you somehow convinced yourself that the reason your book isn't selling is because Mr. Fake Reviews is getting all the attention and your audience? This is about as ridiculous as right-winged conservatives claiming that gay marriage will hurt their marriage? Huh, what? One has nothing to do with the other. I've seen books with a 100+ reviews and it is pretty obvious that all or most of them are bought/fake. And you can take a look at their ranking to see the book is still not selling. Good books are just good books. Someone may pad their reviews to get a hard-to-convince audience to trust that it's quality, and that is successful because it is quality, and others may buy reviews but the book is a turd even from the first page, and there is still no way you're going to sell your book. At the end of the day, who cares? It doesn't effect you or anyone else. It doesn't matter how many reviews are fake or real, you can crack open and read the first few pages to figure it out for yourself, and if you were tricked you can write a review saying just so. People need to spend more time focusing on their writing rather than what other authors are or are not doing, so that we all don't have to pay the price for senseless whistle blowing.

Anonymous said...

oh no I supported this petition now I am suffering from good positive review removals. Damn!

Crystal said...

I think this whole issue is stupid. Why? Fake reviews have been around with infomercials for products on TV and nobody is hollering at them? They still come on tv 3am at night without a filter from the media.

Stupid celebrity endorsed products that they probably will never use just so you can buy but the savvy buyer or consumer should know better that their testimonials are fake. Same goes for readers as said for stupid product infomercials. Duh!

Michele M. Reynolds said...

Keep fighting the fighting. Goonies never say die!

Erin Kern said...

I have two books available on Amazon, and I notices that on my UK page two of my 5 star reviews went missing. Since I only had 5 reviews over on UK, removal of those reviews lowered my overall rating. What aggravates me, is that Amazon did this without consent, warning or explanation. I know the reviews were written by real readers, so I can't understand why Amazon would remove them.

Erin Kern said...

I have two books available on Amazon, and I noticed on one of my UK pages, two of my 5 star reviews have been removed. Since I only 5 reviews over on UK, the removal of these 2 reviews lowered my overall rating. What aggravates me is that Amazon did this without consent, warning or explanation. I know the reviews were written by real readers, so I can't understand why Amazon would do remove them.

Anonymous said...

Elegant Gypsy said:

"Joe got it wrong. He should man up and admit it."

Good luck with that one.

Rachel Reeves said...

Amazon have gone from a wonderful site that really seemed to care about their customers to one that doesn't give a flying damn.

I no longer buy anything on Amazon for two specific reasons a) They shut down WikiLeaks servers at the request of Sen. Joe Lieberman, and b) They don't pay their fair share of taxes, preferring to keep most of their money off shore.

So, as far as them having removed some of my reviews? I wouldn't know as I no longer go there.

A. Writer said...

It makes me feel better than even YOU, who makes a bunch of money for Amazon, has to hedge communications to them for fear of retaliatory attacks (unreported sales, delays in publishing updates, the threat of banned/suspended accounts).

Amazon screwed up. But they can do what they want, because they're the big dog. You can't self-pub without using Amazon. KDP has consistently been responsible for more than 70% of my monthly income for more than a year. They've got authors by the short hairs and they know it.

They'll do whatever they want, and we'll just have to take it. When you think about it, it's not much different than trying to navigate the gatekeepers of the big six trad houses.

Nicole said...

I know I'm coming late to this lovely party, but as others have pointed out, what's really irritating is that Amazon left up one-star reviews from people who have specifically said they didn't finish the book. I'm new to indie publishing and only have a few reviews on my books. So that dickish one-star review takes my book down to a four-star book. Not bad, I know, but frustrating. If they're going to weed out reviews that only give five stars, at the very least, they could also police for jerks who get on their high horse and leave one star reviews while openly admitting they only read one or two chapters and their biggest complaint is "I just didn't care for the characters." Maybe that's YOUR personality flaw and honestly it's not a very educational review. I realize many people are smart enough to not let that deter them or influence their decision to buy to drastically, but it does influence whether or not someone even looks at a book when it pops up in the "Customer's who..." sections. I know it influences me.

In any case, I agree with Joe's assessment that this irritation is a result of holier-than-thou authors who can't stand freedom. People only love freedom so long as they don't have to deal with other people's freedom.

Thanks for tackling this subject. I love your blog and I can honestly say that you are right about having influenced many writers to go indie.

Nicole said...

Joe said: <>

Oh Joe. I love you. And I love it that you have the guts to admit when you're wrong, even with a vote. I agree with you about Obama, the NDAA, and all that crap. I currently live in the shadow of the biggest NSA building that will house all the information gathered on Americans by our own government. It's *awesome* and I feel really safe because I'm protected from terrorists (sarcasm).

The two party system is a complete charade. And I would even argue that voting is pointless, because when we do it, we pretend that this system works and that we buy into. The less people vote, the more clear it will become that it's truly broken. I voted. My husband didn't. Whose voice was louder?

Robert Forrester said...

“Now I see. You believe it is impossible to honestly review a book if you know the author, so all reviews of peers are cronyism.”

Don't want to sound contentious, but I understand completely why Amazon doesn't want authors or anybody else, reviewing books written by friends, family of people they know. Of course, it is possible to write an objective, honest review of a friend's book - if you enjoyed it. But what if you didn't? How many people are willing to write a negative review of a friend's book? Few. if any. They may refuse to review it at all, but from Amazon's point of view that is not helpful to their customers or their review system.
The biggest problem Amazon has is a lack of trust in the review system, which has been going for a lot longer than recent events. At the moment, five star reviews far outweigh other star ratings, and that can't be right. If too many people are leaving only positive reviews and not negative ones, Amazon ends up with a system that is skewed in favour of positivity, resulting in a lack of trust in the system. But its customers need to know what's good, what's bad, and what's average.

Larry said...

I'm on this thread a month late, but maybe you're watching, Joe? Is it really true that Amazon changed their policy and won't allow people who downloaded free promo copies to leave reviews? If so, how the F are we supposed to get reviews? Sorry if someone has addressed/answered this already. Long thread.

Anonymous said...

Like Joe, I had a number of reviews disappear. Magically, yesterday (12/17/12), they all came back to life, as if nothing had ever happened. I'm wondering if Amazon has implemented a corse-correction to its initial overkill policy.

Anonymous said...

Amazon removed legitimate positive reviews about my books without warrant and has refused to remove negative reviews which are clearly--obviously--from competitors, genre haters, etc., some of whom have read only the product description and not the books themselves.

Even if an author has a scattering of positive reviews from family members or friend-fans what difference does it make? Potential readers can easily scan a 10% excerpt before buying and are even allowed seven days to return a book if they don't like it. So everything is already stacked in favor of the reader.

If Amazon is going to allow illegitimate reviews to stay, then they should allow all reviews to stay. They should reinstate all removed reviews ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Writers write. If people don't like the last book you wrote. Write another book. Squabbling about reviews on a site you don't own is not productive. Let's be productive again. Writers write. Go write something.

Scott said...

About whether any harm is done if fake positive reviews prompt someone to buy a book:

The "no harm" argument is that the book can be returned, and a negative review left.

But it costs money (shipping) to return a book. And Amazon may asses "up to 50% of item's price" as a restocking fee on "books with obvious signs of use." (See bottom of page: ) And may not take it at all if you didn't get a chance to do this within 30 days.

There is also the time involved in reading as much as someone read, going online to process the return, and preparing the package for return.

For E-books, shipping and restocking costs don't apply, but you have only 7 days.

Now, whether there is more harm than good in removing the reviews is a different matter and open to argument, but to say the bad reviews cause no harm is obviously not true.

NeoTechni said...

"‘Customer buys book because of fake review = zero harm,’ "

Except to the customer who was lied to

removing fake reviews = zero harm

Anonymous said...

I believe I may be a little late to the party, after seeing so many comments here. Just wanted to give props for your letter to Amazon, and the blog post as a whole. Enjoyed the read. Hope it makes a difference over at Amazon.


Russ Williams said...

> Customer buys book because of fake review = zero harm.

Maybe it's "zero harm" if you don't consider wasting your time and money to be harmful. I suppose most people do consider wasted time and money to be harmful, though.

It's also harmful in a larger societal sense: accepting and profiting from dishonesty encourages further dishonesty.

Public Relations Brisbane said...

This kind of information is usually boring to me, but you have done a great job making it appealing. This isn’t boring information at all. I want to read more.

Anonymous said...

"Customer buys book because of fake review = zero harm"

It doesn't matter what you think you are the author. It is a deception and it is ethically wrong no matter how you try to spin it.

Anonymous said...

My husband actually paid full price for my book through Amazon, finally read it, and finally left a review....a fair, objective one. It was taken down within hours. They are obviously on a witch hunt, and have loads of information, including IP addresses. My husband retains his own separate Amazon account. He was a verified purchase. Their guidelines states that anyone can leave a review as long as they have purchasing history on Amazon.
Amazon has also removed 3 other perfectly good reviews from my book and there were NO guideline violations.
I fail to understand this. Yet they allow reviews to remain that are detrimental to sales and also very suspect ones at that. The negative ones (and I am being paranoid) seem to indicate the book was never read and these negative reviews maybe, just maybe, were left by Amazon employee drones themselves! said...

Hey Joe, I've been a follower of your blog for three years now and have gained great respect for your work and opinion. Just curious about your thoughts on Hugh Howey and his Wool series. Namely the deal he got with Simon and Shuster where he gets to retain the e rights while they take on the print rights. According to Hugh he maintains all contorl over the e books. I have followed you through the whole shake up of publishing and you rang the bell loud. Would love to hear your thoughts.



Anonymous said...

I, too, have been the victim of Amazon's Gestapo censorship (it has removed positive reviews written by readers in no way related to or affiliated with me). It seems as though Amazon is doing everything it can to hurt independent authors. They need to reinstate all the reviews they have erroneously taken down.

Kevin A said...

This is still very much happening. A friend of mine lost six 5 star reviews in the space of an hour on Sat 1-12-13.

They were all verified purchases and they all appeared to be within the boundaries Amazon has set forth. They were just genuine reviews.

As she is newly published, the loss is painful. She went from 10 reviews to 4, and her star average dropped. Sales and rankings have dropped as well.

Has Amazon responded at all Joe?

Anonymous said...

Amazon is doing everything it can to hurt independent authors. Removing allegedly fake reviews is just the icing on the cake. All they're doing is shooting themselves in the foot. If they kill off indie sales (which is exactly what they're doing), then they don't put money in their pockets.

Anonymous said...

I do think that Amazon is working hard to destroy the independent author. Not only has it removed legitimate positive reviews (and this does hurt sales), but now I'm hearing that tags are vanishing as well (tags which help readers find books), and if a book can't be found, it doesn't sell.

Anonymous said...

"Again, I'm not trying to point fingers, signal anyone out, or place blame."

Don't you mean "..., single anyone out,..."?

And any good English scholar will know you should never start a sentence with "And..." - Duh!

Just what kind of author are you?

Randy said...

Amazon just did the same thing to me! As a new author I need all the positive reviews I can get. Amazon just removed 2 of my 4 or 5 star reviews from verified purchasers! WTF? I wrote them to try and remove a bad review from someone who hasn't even purchased the book, instead they removed 2 legit reviews. This is absolutely ridiculous. I can't believe this. Here's the link:
Something has got to be done about Amazons' robot rating system. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Amazon indiscriminately removes legitimate reviews and refuses to rectifies the situation. Amazon allows clearly fraudulent and destructive reviews (by competitors or genre haters) to remain, and refuses to do anything about. Amazon is removing tags that allow readers to find books to purchase.

What else can they do to destroy the indie author market?

Anonymous said...

Amazon is now removing tags in addition to deleting legitimate positive reviews. Let see's...what can they think of to kill the indie market?

sean said...

An Amazon Verified Purchase is needed to post a one to five star rating, other reviews and comments are allowed, but cannot leave stars.

GANESH said...

I spent some 20 mins on this post and found amazing information. Thanks for this.. Hope to see more like this in future. I was searching some info on b school

Unknown said...

Theft & fraud and “sockpuppetry” not okay… But CENSORSHIP??? Part 1

Hello Joe,

I’m new to the ebook publishing biz but almost immediately found that you were one of the top writers/best -selling authors. I’ve got much respect for what you’ve accomplished based on my research of you. Hence, I come to you for advice and help in an ugly situation. Perhaps what’s happened to me can be prevented from happening to other ebook authors starting out who may find their way to your web site/blog.

The short version is that since I could not afford an editorial Kirkus Book Review to be used in my book promo campaign, I went with a less expensive alternative, Online Book Club owned by Scott Hughes. After taking my money and having my book reviewed by one of his reviewers (it was given a 4 out of 4 star rating), he kept the review, kept the money, stop replying to my emails and deleted my posts from his book discussion forum! And to add insult to injury, he also got his people to write and post two 1-star reviews on Amazon (just yesterday, Feb. 3). Now, why did he do all of this? Why such bizarre behavior on Mr. Hughes’ part? There’s a bit more to this story. May I send you the all the facts via a short email? My email is )

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Since Amazon has removed legitimate 5-star reviews of my books and has deleted tags, my sales have fallen off a cliff. I did a search and the same has been happening to many other independent authors. Some are saying that Amazon is favoring e-books put out by the traditional publishers and some are saying that there are reporting errors or glitches (otherwise, how can a book go from selling strongly for months and sudden;y grind of a near-halt overnight?).

All complaints and questions to Amazon either go unanswreed or met with a canned PR response.

No matter what is going on, Amazon should step up to the plate and fix what they've screwed up so badly.

Pam Stucky said...

I've lost only one comment, but I need all the comments I can get! On the same day I got a really bad review, I also got a really good review. Guess which one disappeared? I wrote to Amazon about it and never heard back, unsurprisingly. Disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I am a first time author and did, as we all did, check Amazon constantly looking to see if anyone read the book. I had three positive reviews. One from a friend, big surprise there and the other two from unknowns. They were all 4 to 5 stars and i was glowing. I looked this morning and the two unknowns were gone, but the one from my friend (5 star) as well remained. UGH! This seems a bit harsh.
Oh, well. You can't fight City Hall, or Amazon, or sock puppets...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info. How does one vote for a book on Amazon? I left a review but do not know how to vote.

If anyone can take me through a step-by-step guide, I'd be very grateful.


Anonymous said...

I had a one star negative (and insulting) review which remained posted for about 1 hour and then disappeared. BUT, someone I know peripherally posted a five star review, very legitimate, and it never appeared. Quite disturbing.

Patricia Sexton said...

I'm a new author, and I just discovered two of my (yes, the valuable five-star) reviews have been deleted. Is this a recent phenomenon? I'm only just discovering it myself and trying to get up to speed…argh!

Unknown said...

As a new author reviews are important to me, as in most cases, my first self-publication was supported by friends and relatives, these 'reviews' can be easily replicated, but losing positive comments from complete strangers was absolutely devastating to me. I copy and pasted every 'review' and then tried to follow up and thank every person involved, took some time but I seem to have fixed it.
Then we get the other side of the coin, out of hundreds of reviews across the various media I have only the one spiteful and vindictive comment on Amazon and no matter how many times I 'report' the offending item, it remains untouched and Amazon do not respond.
Leaves a bad taste that they were so swift and efficient deleting positive reviews yet won't take action on an item that contravenes Amazon's own posting rules.
Joe Writeson

Joe P said...

Wait, what did the actual letter that Amazon sent you say? I don't think you posted it, unless I'm missing something.

I suspect this new automated system was in response to people becoming professional reviewers and getting free stuff, but it's hurting people who genuinely enjoy reviewing books or products.

jsharbour said...

Not sure on the age of this thread since this blog software doesn't show dates (time to upgrade to Wordpress?). 3 years later...

I tuned out of the drama two years ago and have felt amused by the shenanigans of late, after having finally published my first indie novel. It's doing very well so far (The Mandate of Earth). I noticed first that I can't upvote/downvote any reviews of my book. I CAN, however, post a review of a competitor in the same broad genre, but not a specific sub-genre. So, my favorable review of a colleague's sci-fi novel remains because he's doing space opera, and I'm doing hard sci-fi. That's interesting. How useful is that?

Probably the most helpful thing Amazon has done is block reviews from any account that has not made any purchases with a unique CC. I tested this. I gifted a copy of my book to a 2nd account, with no payment options selected (so it's not my own CC linking the two), and the gift went through but the review posted by that 2nd account did not. Because, that account has no payment method of its own. That's good! That eliminates 99% of the sock puppeting right there. Except... it WAS a verified purchase. So, their system is getting smarter than it was when this article was originally posted.

I'm not bothered by negative reviews since, in sci-fi, the average famous writer gets about 10-15% negatives. I read them looking for flaws that I can correct or improve in my writing, but never, NEVERRRRRRRRR comment on any review! That's extremely bad form and I want to be aloof. I am concerned about new developments, though.

If the sock puppeting has ended, then it has been replaced with Amazon favoritism. I direct your attention to a new novel currently up for pre-order called (Re)volution by PJ Manney. This is an unknown indie author who appeared out of nowhere 2 weeks ago, went directly to #1 in sci-fi, and has stayed there after being singled out by Amazon as an Editor's Choice.

Excuse me, "EDITOR"'s choice? Since when is a book store considered editorial? And, this author got preferential treatment for submitting a pre-order. Had I known that there were accolades given out to pre-order indies, I would have used it... I released when my book was finished.

The way KDP works now is becoming tiresome and disturbing as well. The top 100 continue to INCREASE with preferential treatment (like $25,000 monthly bonuses) while everyone else is on their own. Meanwhile, the KDP KU/KOLL payments get smaller and smaller. How is it fair that EVERY book, regardless of length, receives the EXACT same $1.33 payment? Obviously, this is being gamed now as well with authors releasing episodes rather than full novels. Which Amazon had to counter again with a KDP $2.99 minimum price. (sigh). It is all just so tiresome.

Quality Dashboard said...

Disproportion reactive response by Amazon. There should be, (neigh there is not) anything wrong with family and friends supporting – this is not about legitimate genuine and well meaning support, but about the flagrant abuse by sources who see to monitorise and sell a service to post bulk reviews. Amazon needs to take a step back and ‘review' their extreme draconian policy and differentiate and to do so now before indiscriminately taking down innocent legitimate reviews and casting totally inappropriate aspersions of authors and their families/friends.

Unknown said...

i just also lost a review I spent considerable effort writing. Ok it is amazon's site but don't you think they owe us a note when they delete a review and an opportunity to modify before I lose an hour of my life writing a long thought out review

Anonymous said...

Amazon is a capitalist transnational. Its raison d'etre is to maximise profit and accumulate capital. It wants reviewers to endorse the products which it sells with positive reviews so that the products will be seen favourably and sell. Critical or one-star reviews do not appear because it is a disincentive to purchase. And that means no sale and thus no profit. The economics of capital are determining the "review policy" of Amazon. Peoples' reviews are merely identified by Amazon as being intrinsic to its marketing operations. So-called "Freedom of speech" has nothing whatsoever to do with it. They don't give a monkeys about FOS. Profit is the driver.


Anonymous said...

PS I have written critical reviews of books which have never appeared. However, I have found that (US operation) is more censorial than (Iam UK based and usually use the UK site) which is strange. Perhaps they have modified policy in relation to national areas? For example, you are not going to permit an atheistic critique of the Quran in Saudi Arabia because the local govt might close you down??


J.L. Pattison said...

Until the other day, I had never heard of this new Amazon policy. But I just discovered it the hard way.

olga said...

Hi I've lost three reviews so far and hope I don't lose more. I know Amazon is trying to rid itself of sock puppets but maybe they should look at the one and two star reviews and see who's writing them, and go from there.

Erika Marie said...

Amazon just did this to me yesterday - they deleted ALL of my product reviews and any book reviews as well and I asked them why and they said We have determined that you may have manipulated Customer Reviews. As a result, you may no longer post reviews on, and your reviews have been suppressed.

Any attempt to manipulate ratings, feedback, or Customer Reviews is prohibited.

I asked them for a full accounting of which reviews I "manipulated" because I never did, I get my reviews from Tomoson and I work with book companies as well - so this is hurting me a lot because I have signed up for reviews which I cannot now complete and I take a LOT of time to do my reviews. I got a second email back from the appeals email and it was the automated message the same as above. I don't know how to fight this? I have blog posts, Instagram images and other proof showing that I did not manipulate reviews - so how can they do this to people????

Unknown said...

I lost all of my reviews and can no longer reviews. Six years of idependant authors and others removed without warning. No way to get it back simply because a friend used my computer.

Alexander Daniels said...

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aka. Washu! ^O^ said...

Very late to the article, but, as a techie, I'm now even more glad I don't rely upon Amazon reviews. The Amazon tech reviews are pretty useless, written by customers who don't know what computer to buy, or review written only two days after setting up the printer. Myself, I review RPG game products, so have a few RPG sites that I can submit my reviews to, and they have yet to delete any of mine. I hope you all find better review sites than Amazon to also post your reviews!

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