Monday, July 13, 2015

Amazon and Reviews

Those who follow my blog know that I believe Amazon has been incredibly beneficial to authors, whereas the Authors Guild has been incredibly beneficial to publishers.

In the past week, both Amazon and the AG have done things that have made me rethink my positions.

Well, not really. But today I'll blog about Amazon, and I'll do an AG blog tomorrow.

The only major criticism I've had of Amazon, from a writer's standpoint, was during Reviewgate, when a moral panic mob goaded them into removing so called "fake" reviews.

I have never paid for a review. Nor have I ever been paid for one. But many of the book reviews I'd done on Amazon--thoughtful, contentious reviews with hundreds of helpful votes--were removed. Apparently some Amazon bo (I'm guessing it had to be a bot, because so many reviews were removed it couldn't have been manually done) pinged that I had known some of the authors whose books I reviewed (well, duh--I know thousands of authors), and decided they were against Amazon's policy.

Amazon can do whatever it wants to. And though this stance annoyed me, it didn't stop me from working with Amazon as a writer, or continuing to frequent Amazon as a customer.

It did, however, cause me to stop writing Amazon reviews.

That wasn't a punitive decision. It was a practical one. When I write a book review, it takes time and thought. I wasn't going to spend time and thought reviewing something if--due to an algorithm--it could be deleted with no recourse.

I know I wasn't the only author who felt this way. And I think readers and writers in general suffered because of this bad decision. I was an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, and have gotten a lot of cool stuff for free (including a Breville cappuccino machine) over the years, but I decided I wouldn't write any more Amazon reviews, and except for rare occasions when I post something funny, I'm sticking to my policy until Amazon changes theirs.

Amazon has apparently changed their policy, for the worse.

This from writer Imy Santiago:


We cannot post your Customer Review for (book title deleted) by (author name deleted) to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author. 

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or misleading will not be posted. To learn more about this policy, please review our Customer Review Guidelines ( and FAQs (  

We encourage family and friends to share their enthusiasm for the book through our Customer Discussions feature or Editorial Reviews feature. To start a Customer Discussion visit the Meet Our Authors forum and enter your discussion title in the Start a new discussion box. You’ll find the forum here:

To have your Editorial Review posted to the detail page, e-mail it directly to the author so they can add it for you. 

If you believe you’re eligible to write a Customer Review for this book, send additional details to 

We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Harm J,

The Guardian then posted a link to a petition started by author Jas Ward that is asking Amazon to stop this practice:

In the world where both Indie and Traditional authors are using all tools available to try to get their latest books out to the reader, it's essential for the authors and their associates to use social media: IE: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

With that being said, a reader is therefore going to have cookies and data when they see that interaction and very likely would have LIKED and/or followed the authors pages, profiles and other avenues being a fan of the author's work.  They are fans after all--they want to know what an author does and their current news and title releases. 

Your current process of removing reviews that a reader has created to show their honest & sincere opinion on a book is not fair and cripples the review process more than assists. 

In the days of the negative trend where those who wish an author harm are using reviews to hurt sales or the author's confidence, this policy makes zero sense, as the individuals that are instructed or wish to harm are most likely NOT a fan and or follower and therefore would most likely NOT to have as many cookies, data tracks as a good, loyal fan would. 

We the authors, fans, reviews, bloggers and other individuals in the industry ask that you please consider how the review process is done. By using a reader's other accessible history to determine if they are worthy of leaving a review by knowledge of an author, is not a fair one. A real fan of any person would, of course, have links to someone they respect and follow and therefore they should have the right to leave a review. 

The review process has taken so much heat in the last few years, and while we appreciate Amazon trying to make it a respected tool for a buyer when deciding a purchase, this aspect of your system is not a fair or just part. 

Therefore, we are asking that you consider all the above and review your internal policy on tracking a reviewers history. It is not fair nor is it just and we the readers, authors and all-around lovers of books ask that it be stopped. 

Thank you. 

If any signers have any additional input/info, I can be found and contacted via my Facebook Page:

I signed the petition.

People who haven't read the books they are reviewing are allowed to review them, in many cases negatively. People who get books for free are allowed to review them. Writers have been blurbing writers for centuries. But people like me can't review books by authors I've known, and fans who have had any correspondence with me (of which there are tens of thousands) can't review my work.

Personal Note From Joe to Jeff Bezos: This is not a good policy. I know the relative democracy and freedom of Amazon's review system pre-2012 wasn't perfect. It allowed authors to snipe one another anonymously. It allowed fake reviews. It allowed nepotism and review-trading. But the only reform needed was to make sure the reviewer had an Amazon account (which provided accountability and limited reviewers to one review per item) and disclosure if a reviewer got the book for free, or knew the author.

Removing reviews was bad business. I'd spent hours writing solid, helpful, informative reviews that were erased. That didn't feel good.

Preventing reviews is bad business. I understand guidelines are necessary, but it isn't necessary to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As the world grows smaller, more and more people are able to be in touch, even if it's a like on a Facebook page or a retweet on Twitter. Will Amazon someday prevent all of my Facebook or Twitter followers from writing reviews? Will it prevent everyone who has ever commented on my blog? Or everyone who has read my blog? Everyone who has heard of me?

If the goal is to get the most helpful, purest reviews possible, is censorship the way to do so? Or can this be done by simply requiring disclosure, as it is with Vine?

I support your right to suppress whatever content you want to. It's your company. Run your business as you see fit; you're successful at it, and I'm grateful to Amazon as a writer, and as a customer.

However, I'm not sure your policy on reviews meshes with your mission statement:

“Our vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Does removing and preventing reviews make Amazon more customer centric, or less customer centric? Does limiting votes help or harm the customer experience? Does suppressing opinions encourage others to give their opinions, or make them shy away from sharing opinions because they might be blocked or removed?

Amazon gets constantly maligned by the media, and I can't think of any other successful company that has so many haters and detractors. I'm not one of those people. I've supported Amazon when the mainstream media has vilified it. I don't agree with Imy Santiago suggesting that Amazon has become Big Brother (note to Imy: hyperbole waters down your valid points. Amazon is a private corporation and can do what it wants to, and you're not required to use Amazon. Amazon is not a totalitarian government, and comparing it to one is silly).

But I do think Amazon is wrong on this issue.

Readers are savvy enough to differentiate between real reviews and those written by shills, haters, rivals, paid endorsers, and fakers. Amazon already has programs in place which allow readers to judge whether a review is helpful, and to flag reviews that are inappropriate.

In my humble opinion, letting bots determine the appropriateness of a review is more inappropriate than the vast majority of the reviews Amazon is trying to protect customers against.

I hope Amazon recognizes the slippery slope it is on, and corrects its position.


Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

While I think that Amazon is bungling the change, I have to support them in principle because the new system is designed so that "people like me can't review books by authors I've known".

I see that as a feature, not a downside. As a general rule, I think the reviews tend to be more polite and less honest when the reviewer knows the author.

Few reviewers can be as indifferently honest as me (they know how they should behave; I don't) if they know the subject. And the situation is even worse for paid reviewers, where there can be an outright conflict of interest.

JA Konrath said...

I understand your position, Nate. But the shades of gray are many. Amazon allows someone who has never read my book to post a 1 star review. But they don't allow me to review a book written by a friend. They have a program that bribes reviewers with free swag, called Vine, and circumvents the conflict of interest with full disclosure. Why not ask for a similar disclosure if the reviewer knows the author? Why suppress and delete?

Jill James said...

I don't argue with the line "knows the author", I argue with what degree of separation Amazon is using for deletion of reviews.

Brian Niemeier said...

"I wasn't going to spend time and thought reviewing something if--due to an algorithm--it could be deleted with no recourse."

There's the gist of it. The new policy seems designed to disincentivize author reviews.

Sabrina Chase said...

I understand why Amazon does not give out a complete checklist of how it determines who knows who --that's an invitation to spammers to find a way around it. It would be nice though if there were a few guidelines that if followed would allow comments to go through. The randomness and uncertainty of deletion would make anyone grouchy and uncooperative.

It also bothers me that reviews are done for free and it benefits Amazon, yet they do not seem to value it. I know I appreciate reviews for products as well as books. As Joe mentioned, he did a lot of work writing reviews only to see it go up in smoke, and felt justifiable resentment when it did.

T. M. Hunter said...

Hopefully, since Amazon now owns Goodreads, they don't start doing the same thing there...very poor form on their part.

T. M. Bilderback said...

This decision troubles me to this extent: I should be allowed to review work by another author. Period.

Just because I know an author, or am friends with an author, doesn't render my opinion invalid, and I shouldn't be treated as a shill.

Also, with many advertisers basing acceptance decisions on quantity and quality of reviews solely from the Amazon website impacts an author's ability to advertise his product.

Thia decision is wrong, and should be corrected. As soon as possible.

T. M. Bilderback said...

And if my last post seems a bit disheveled, sorry. It was written while I was entertaining two giggling grandchildren... ;)

antares said...

There is a comment on TPV ( that stated that connecting social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter) to Amazon gives the Great and Powerful 'Zon access. 'Zon uses that access to discover if the reviewer has any social media connections to the writer.

I changed my 'Zon account settings to disconnect from Facebook and Twitter. (My Account > Personalization > Community > Your Social Settings)

Rex Kusler said...

I've never understood Amazon's fascination with reviews. Here is a review of one of my books approved by Amazon: Do not want to review this book. Did not like
Amazon foodstuff but th fluff through f2f th c Duffy f2f f2f if hi uhh the


Anonymous said...

One of the things that bothered me about writers reviewing other writers is that many of them only leave 5-star reviews. It comes across more as shilling rather than an honest review if their personal review scales ignores 1-4.

Anyway, maybe the rule should simply be anyone with a KDP account is not allowed to post book reviews.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

It's horrifying to think that anyone who ever interacted with me on FB or twitter now can't review my books, which seems to be what the article suggests. This policy rewards NOT interacting with readers via social media or email. Is that a good result?

I signed.

Dale Day said...

So how do you get reviews removed from years ago by people who didn't even buy or read what they reviewed?

Samuel Morningstar said...

The idea that only strangers will give unbiased reviews is just silly and shows a lack of understanding concerning human psychology. I've never met Clive Barker, but if he released a compilation of his grocery lists, I'd give it five stars. Some of us rabid fans aren't terribly objective.


Amazon has to take the good with the bad, and the bad with the ugly. I've received positive and negative reviews from strangers and friends. People have to stop being so damned sensitive!

Alan Spade said...

Thank you for this blog post, Joe.

If you look at the reviews my book, The Breath of Aoles, received ( ), the great majority aren't verified purchases.

Why? Because I exchanged the ebook on the Goodreads website against a review.

Many reviewers are very honest and straightforward with that, stating within their review: "I got this book from the author in exchange for a review."

I don't belong to the Amazon haters tribe, but there are some Amazon policies that I strongly disagree with, and that is one of them.

Anonymous said...

Im with you Joe on the reviews. Why write them if they're going to be pulled because I said hi to the author. When it comes to reviews, I'm not a mean person, but I won't sugarcoat my thoughts. It is Amazon's house and rules and they don't have to tell me anything, but it doesn't sit well with me the mysterious process they are using for this. All the while, like you said, leaving up reviews where the person stated they didn't read the book. I guess I just wish they'd be more consistent.

Valerie Douglas said...

I'm not a Amazon hater, and all of my reviews are organic - I haven't asked for a single one, nor had one removed from my books that I know of.

What I did object to was having Imy Santiago use my writers group to gain signatures for her petition, and to imply that she had used that group as a reference - thereby involving nearly 8,000 members whether they wanted to be included or not. (I doubt that she actually did name the group, but I wasn't happy about the situation.)

However, I will say I limit my reviews because of Amazon's policies regarding them.

Steven M. Moore said...

I'll add two points: (1) This discussion doesn't treat the many reviews that are one- or two-liners with basically zero content. Authors can be the best reviewers because they can point out things the average reader might not see--a deeper explanation of why a book fails or succeeds, if you will. (2) No mention is made of the star-ranking system. It's abused by readers and reviewers alike in the sense that it's ambiguous. Amazon adds some words to help a reviewer decide the star-rank s/he gives, but those words are also ambiguous.
For the reasons Joe mentions (I don't have many reviews, so losing some good but honest ones hurts more--and I read and review a lot too, so I hate to lose reviews I write) plus the reasons mentioned here have led me to forego reviewing on Amazon. I do my official reviewing on Bookpleasures (no stars, no word limits, and no kid gloves), but I'll review books I casually read on my own on my website from now on.

Jim Kukral said...

This made me think. At first I was not worrying about this. But you're right, this makes me not want to waste my time on reviews. I spend a lot of time leaving honest reviews for books I like. I recently read "The Martian" by Andy Weir and loved it. Then I had Andy on my podcast. So because I know Andy and have talked with him, does my review stand to be deleted? Makes no sense. Makes me not want to leave any more reviews, ever.

Kelley said...

Another winning post. As always, Joe, you share a vital viewpoint in a level voice. I hope Amazon rethinks this crap.
Best to you!

Tudor said...

Perfect case in point happened to me yesterday - a reader posted on my Facebook Author page that she had loved my two first books, and also mentioned she had reviewed both. Instead of grinning, I winced, and thought "Oh great, by posting here, you'll probably get those reviews taken down."

At the time she read and reviewed my books, this reader and I had zero contact. Afterwards, she did a nice thing and gave me more personal, positive feedback. I, in turn, did what I normally do when readers are nice to me - I replied to thank her for reading.

This after-the-fact contact had no impact on her already-written reviews, but I won't be surprised to see them come down in the future.

Doris-Maria Heilmann said...

3 Helpful Things Your Readers / Fans / Friends Can Do:

- Get as many “editorial” reviews as possible BEFORE print or e-book launch

- Ask your readers to use the sharing buttons to Twitter, Facebook and Google+ on your Amazon sales page before and after purchasing to let others know about your book.

- Ask your readers to use the buttons at: Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

It would be beneficial for both, the author AND Amazon, if they would only allow reviews from PURCHASERS of the book.

My two cents ...


Anonymous said...

I've been going to science fiction conventions for a couple of decades. I've thus met IRL a LOT of writers.

Are they going to start throwing out my reviews because I once went to a kaffeeklatch with Writer X? That Writer Y and I stood next to each other in a line for an hour and chatted? That the bar was pretty full and so I happened to sit next to Writer Z while we had beers? That a girl I went to high school with has become a mystery/romance writer this year?

Get rid of the reviews that openly say "I didn't read it" and we'll reconsider our opinion of you, Amazon. Those ought to be even more easily bot-killed.

John Brown said...

One of the things that bothered me about writers reviewing other writers is that many of them only leave 5-star reviews. It comes across more as shilling rather than an honest review if their personal review scales ignores 1-4.

I never read a book I don't like to the end.


Not for anyone, including other writers I know. I have too much to do to spend hours reading things I don't like. And because I don't finish them, I never review them.

Why waste any time on it?

Unknown said...

I stopped reviewing on Amazon some time ago.

I do all my reviewing - and I review most of the novels I read (I read a lot - in and out of my favorite genres and plenty of nonfiction as well) - on Goodreads. GR has its faults (they've also recently put writers in a 'different' category than normal readers) and plenty of weirdness, but it still appears to be a relatively safe place where I don't have to worry if I know an author. Like many posters here, I know plenty - and many of them were automatically migrated from FB when I joined GR. Or I don't yet have to cringe if my friends post reviews when they read one of my books.

If that changes, and GR comes under the gun, it will be a great disappointment.

Writers are readers and it's fun for me to talk about what I like and dislike. It's normal - engaging with reviews/reviewers is a natural form of social media for the likes of us. Would I change how/what I wrote based on what someone said in a review? Probably not. Would I expect someone else to do the same because of something I wrote in a review? Absolutely not. It's just a part of the world we live in to see people discussing books and taking part. That includes people who like what I write (and who may like me as a people as well) and people who don't (maybe on both counts).

Athena Grayson said...

The irony of it is that the people and companies who offer paid reviews will quickly find a way to circumvent this. Why? Because it's their job. My job, as an author, is to write more books, not write reviews of books I like (I do that because I like to read and when I enjoy a book, I want to share why). Someone who reads and enjoys many books, and shares reviews of those books, most likely has a job that is not "fake a thousand book reviews a day for a shady offshore outfit at a nickel a pop." Neither the reader nor I will bother with finding a way around the new restrictions to offer up our opinions, we will just move on to something else.

I find it interesting that in the same time frame as the "big author crackdown" on reviews, my Kindle has been shunting me to a "rate this book" pop-up style insert at the end of ebooks on my kindle that encourage me to give a star rating for the book I just finished. Make up your mind, 'Zon!

Linsey Lanier said...

What I want to know is whether Amazon is using the same bot algorithm for books as it does for other products. Reviews for an HD TV or an herbal sleep aid are far different from a book, especially a piece of fiction (intended as such).

I consult product reviews on Amazon all the time to see if a product works, if it's as advertised, etc. I look at 1-star reviews to see the 'real' flaws. I feel Amazon has saved me a lot of money this way. I do NOT use reviews for fiction books in the same way.

Many product have glowing 5-star reviews that have to be written by people with some relationship to the seller. But reviews of works of fiction are highly subjective. And smart authors don't want pages of glowing 5-star reviews saying "This is the best book ever!" because new readers won't believe that tripe. Honest reviews like that are fine. But most books get a mix of star ratings.

I, too, have stopped writing reviews and I really hate that. I buy writing craft books all the time and I can't review them for fear the writer might lose my review and more, even though people like me are his/her primary audience! Just doesn't make sense.

Another difference is the writing community is different from other product communities. We support each other more and tend to be friendly acquaintances much more. (Two people selling electronic goods don't go out to lunch together and critique each other's work!) So what if I give a writer I know from a conference or social media a high rating? I know what it takes to write a book and I'm a little biased in the writer's favor. Some people who don't write are equally as biased in their preferences. It all balances out. Like someone else said, if I don't like a book, I don't review it.

My point is that if Amazon wants to police reviews, it should create a bot only for works of fiction that works differently from other products. The rules should be lenient and aimed at helping both the author and readers.