What Amazon’s review cull means to me

Posted: November 11, 2012 in In my opinion...
Tags: , , , , , ,

Amazon has recently been deleting book reviews from their site in large numbers, and the indie author community is NOT happy. Google “Amazon removes reviews” and you’ll get over 5 million results, but if you go to this post from Karen Woodward, you’ll get a decent synopsis of the issue, plus several other relevant links.

The general consensus of opinion seems to be:

  • Amazon is a business, so they can do whatever they like as long as it’s not illegal.
  • Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.

By Elke Wetzig (elya) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Would you trust a review from these puppets?

It all started because of sock-puppetry. Some authors were trying to ‘game’ the system by creating false Amazon profiles and posting multiple reviews of their own books and/or posting malicious 1-star reviews of  their rivals’ books.  Amazon response to the outrage was the equivalent of keeping in the entire class after school because three kids at the back were passing notes, which according to Joe Konrath casts many indie authors in the role of the tell-tale kid at the front.

The reviews on “Ghosts Can Bleed” are intact – for the moment – but around half of the reviews I’ve written have disappeared. Given that my author profile is linked to my Amazon account and authors are now no longer allowed to review “competing products” (the definition of which is hopelessly vague), it’s possible that the other half could disappear at any time, and my reviewing ‘privileges’ could be revoked.

You’ll note the quotation marks around ‘privileges’. You see, while the rest of the indie community is hopping mad at what they see as Amazon’s poorly handled response to the problem of fake reviews, I’m going, “Meh.”

I love my fellow indie authors, I really do, and I will do whatever I can to help them out, including reading and reviewing their books. But the thing is, all that reading and reviewing takes a lot of time, which in turn has a significant impact on my own writing productivity. Sometimes I get compassion fatigue, and feel like I will lose it if I get one more review request (and no, I will not even consider reviewing a book unless I have read it from cover to cover, so put that idea right out of your head). Not being allowed to review other writers’ books lets me off the hook to a large extent.  Sure, I can still post reviews on my blog or on Goodreads, but nobody cares about that; everything revolves around Amazon. And perhaps there is a lesson in that.  Perhaps we all need to pay less attention to Amazon, thereby reducing Amazon’s power and dominance in the ebook market.

I’m unconcerned about losing reviews of my own books, because everyone is losing reviews, which keeps us all on a level playing field. Yes, that’s cold comfort to indies trying to compete with the likes of J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and other megastars with thousands of reviews per title, but then, it’s an exercise in futility trying to compete with them anyway, reviews or no reviews.

So go ahead, Amazon, delete my reviews.  See if I care.


  1. robert says:

    Amazon is deleting legitimate positive reviews without any sort of trial or explanation and allowing fraudulent negative reviews to remain, even though they are clearly from competitors or from people who clearly haven’t read the book in question. And now they are removing the tags that help readers find books.

    What else are they going to do to destroy the independent author market?

    • I’d expect the “likes” to be the next to go. Some think all this is a conspiracy between the Big Six and Amazon to bury indie authors, but I’ve heard an alternative theory that makes more sense; Amazon is ‘punishing’ indie authors for trying to game the system. Let’s be honest, most indie authors have participated in tag swaps, like swaps or review swaps. And it’s not because we’re fundamentally dishonest as a group – it’s because, lacking the big advertising budgets of a major publishing house, we have to make use of whatever (cheap or free) tools we have at our disposal.

  2. I’ll call your “meh” and raise you a “big whoop.” This all smacks of gate-keeping. Who draws the line between legitimate and illegitimate reviews? Amazon? Ick, no.

    I sure don’t get excited when somebody writes a negative review about my stuff. Not everybody’s going to love what I write and even a negative review can sell books. At the worst, I find out more about what my target audience isn’t.

    As for the sockpuppetry, yeah, it’s lame, but it’s a case of glowing reviews being overvalued in the first place. Personally, I think Amazon is trying to throttle the patient to kill the disease. Which is pretty much how they “solve” everything like that.

    • It’s ironic, considering that Amazon has made itself essential for independent authors wanting to dispense with gate-keeping.

      • Yes, it is, though it’s partly down to Amazon trying to please some of the traditional gate-keepers and partly down to Amazon trying to control the product on its site. Amazon frequently seems to be confused about what it wants to be and do, aside from becoming the 800-pound gorilla of online publishing, grabbing everything in sight.

  3. How about if you post it to your blog first and then to amazon? Do they still own something that already is out there? If they don’t want my help selling books they should have just said so. But its not the first time Amazon is bullying people in doing things their way.

  4. Tracie says:

    I usually do post my reviews on my blog as well as on Amazon, but that’s breaking an Amazon rule too – apparently, once you’ve posted a review on Amazon, they “own” it and you’re not allowed to post it anywhere else.

  5. ajponder says:

    That’s crazy – your name is on your homework – in essence what they are doing is ENCOURAGING authors to cheat the system – so teacher you don’t want my homework and you’re not looking at it? well I have this “friend” na-na-na-na and guess what? – yup she thinks my book is fab.

    So yeah – this is the exact wrong response – after all writers are often the biggest readers. And highly educated and informed readers out of the review pool – well that’s just nuts if it doesn’t backfire – one way or the other I’d be extremely surprised. –

    But hey, you can always put reviews up on your own blog on a slow day

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