Notice your Amazon page looking a little… well, barer than usual?
After a number of controversies surrounding sock puppet book reviews in 2012, Amazon have decided to go nuclear and remove thousands of book reviews from their website. We’re talking everything from legitimate reviews to fake sock-puppet cases.
Let me get one thing straight from the off–it’s kind of good that Amazon have finally addressed a flawed review system whereby anybody can create a number of accounts and post multiple reviews. It’s also good that authors are now unable to leave scathing reviews for the books of competitors just to boost their own rank.
However, the goodness pretty much stops there.
Amazon removing reviews
I first heard about Amazon removing reviews when a reviewer of mine, who received a copy as a gift, informed me that they were having trouble submitting a review. It wasn’t a raving 5-star arselick, but a middling 3-star critique. It was honest, well put together, and exactly what I was looking for when I submitted the book to several trusted reviewers around the web. Strange, I thought.
The next thing I heard of Amazon removing reviews was over at Joe Konrath’s blog. Konrath has put together a good argument of why the move is a negative one from his perspective, and has submitted a great protest email to Amazon. I urge you to head over there and check it out–it’s well worth a read.
Why Amazon removing reviews is a bad thing
For the likes of J.K. Rowling, Amazon removing reviews will be barely noticeable because of the sheer number of reviews they have.
However, for new authors, acquiring reviews is a much harder process. I’m not talking about fake, sock-puppet reviews where one sets up multiple accounts to sing their own praises–it’s good that those reviews are being weened out. I’m talking about the honest book reviewers who are now required to have purchased the book on Amazon to share their thoughts.
Gathering reviews is a big part of any author’s marketing strategy, especially in the early days. It’s a well-know fact that more reviews = more sales.
But now, it feels like the 80% of honest, hardworking indie authors are being punished for the actions of a selfish few. Imagine you’ve spent hours gathering, say, 20 reviews from sources around the web. You’ve got a healthy 4-star average.That number could be slashed to two one-star reviews from a couple of people who didn’t even finish reading your book after they grabbed it for free during a promo. It’s a knee jerk decision from Amazon, and one which no matter how much admiration I have for their services, I cannot support.
I guess this day was always inevitable after so many high-profile authors admitted to doctoring reviews. Amazon needed to react. In a way though, Amazon’s decision means that the big fakers’ policies have won.
We were fortunate to have such a flexible review system in place beforehand, but thanks to the abuse of the big names, we can no longer critique fellow authors or send out Amazon review copies via email to book bloggers. The successful fakers, on the other hand, already have a fan base in place. It’s a victory for the elite and a major blow to those, like myself, who are seeking to break from obscurity.
I’m not trying to say that only the big names fake reviews, because that isn’t true. But fake reviews can typically be sniffed from miles away, especially if a smaller author only has one or two raving 5-star appraisals.
In my opinion, one-star reviews are the problem, not legitimate critiques. Why should an author see a four-star ‘Great book, but needs a few tweaks here and there…’ comment removed when a 1-star ‘DIDN’T FINISH THIS SHIT BOOK PREFER TO READ F*CKING HEAT MAGAZINE’ should be allowed to stay as long as the reviewer has purchased through Amazon? A little unbalanced, in my opinion.
What next for book reviews?
From now on, as far as I’m aware, if you want your book reviewing on Amazon, you’ll have to gift the book reviewer with an Amazon copy of the book so that the purchase is verified. Immediately this forms a problem–a lot of book reviewers don’t own a Kindle, but read on the Nook and the Kobo. Tough shit, Amazon says.
In the long run, this might turn out a positive move. I just think a bit of a heads up wouldn’t have gone amiss. I’m a huge fan of Amazon and how they treat their authors. They’ve practically reshaped the publishing landscape, offered careers to thousands that were previously snubbed by the major publishers. Long may that continue, but with an urgent reassessment of book review policy.
What We Saw – First Chapter
I promised I’d share the first chapter of my upcoming debut novel What We Saw with you today.
You can download the first chapter here as a PDF file. Please note that this is still a work-in-progress as the final editorial proofread is scheduled for next week.
I’ll be sending out an extended preview of the book to my mailing list subscribers either later this afternoon or tomorrow morning. If you’d like to receive it, please sign up here.
For more information on What We Saw, click here. You can also pre-order a copy too, and receive all sorts of bonus goodies.
Where do you stand on Amazon’s decision to remove reviews? Good because it gets rid of the fakery, or bad because it’s vague and flawed?
In some ways I’m kind of glad Amazon is requiring a verified purchase to leave a review, but I also understand the quandry it puts writers like you and I in. I’ve always found it strange, though, that reviews for my books over on Barnes & Noble were the ones off Amazon. How the hell does that work?? LOL. That said, from now on I’ll post my reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads so at least the review will still be around somewhere in case Amazon decides to go all frontier shooting gallery on my reviews.
I absolutely cannot WAIT to read the extended preview of What We Saw!
Thanks, Will. I hope you enjoy the preview of What We Saw!
Agree with your comment too. In theory, it should be a good thing, but it doesn’t work particularly well in practice.
I’ve always thought it’d be much better if Amazon synced with Goodreads. Greater social interaction and the like.
Ryan great blog, I’m scooping it on my Indie Authors Unite page. Isn’t it interesting though, that Amazon seems to have left the mean petty reviews up while pulling down the praises. I think it’s still early days yet, but it does call for more defined parameters.
Thanks for the comment, Thomas, and cheers for the scoop. Very interesting indeed–I’ve yet to see any of my reviews taken down, but I’m waiting for that moment. Fingers crossed I survive the review cull as I have a couple of copies I gave away as gifts.
Very interesting. This is the first time since releasing that I’m happy nobody has reviewed my work yet. Sad, that…
Part of me wonders, though, if Amazon simply reacted without realizing the full consequences of their actions. I doubt they’d intentionally shoot authors like this–though I also have a hard time believing that they didn’t know their “nuclear” reaction would have this result. They’re not neophyte programmers, they should have seen this coming; but did they know the implications?
And the worst part, I think, is the effect this is going to have on the new self pub authors, like you mention. This is a *really* good reason for a first time author to consider skipping Amazon entirely.
I agree, James. I’m sure Amazon acted in the best interests with this decision. They’ve got a good relationship with authors and wouldn’t want to upset that. Then again, they are so wide of the mark with this it’s unreal.
I still think Amazon is the best route to go, mind. KDP Select is the best means of exposure when coupled with some good cross-web promo. I really don’t see a viable competitor in terms of visibility. For that reason, I’m still a big fan of Amazon, just not this decision.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a rethink!
I am not someone who leaves reviews lightly. I hate the word limit Amazon put on every review of every product they have not just books. Some things just don’t need that many words. I read a lot and I mean a lot of books every month. The rating system is poor. I stop reading good stories when they insert porno scenes just to sell the book. There isn’t a way I can indicate that I was enjoying the plot but stopped at the porno. Not en ought words. I have found most Indie books have poor spelling or have only been spell checked with wrong spelling of correct words and the grammar is bad. Most books would be better if some independent person would read the book first and point out editing errors. If I stopped reading every indie book for that, I wouldn’t have anything to read. I am not a writer, just a reader. Isn’t that your audience? Your community should take it upon yourselves to tighten up things. As for Amazon removing reviews, that is just wrong. Anyone who reads them knows what trash reviews look like. Amazon doesn’t give people credit for the brains they have to figure it out. However, it is their company and they set the rules. Maybe it will leave more honest reviews in the future. I doubt it.
Thanks for a great comment, Kim. I agree with a lot of what you are saying, including the point that some indie authors should tighten things up. However, a lot of independent authors already are doing–editorial services and professional cover design should be top of every author’s list, as well as good formatting. I personally invest in these services and so do many others. Those who don’t only condemn themselves to mediocrity.
Love yoru blog. you said: “From now on, as far as I’m aware, if you want your book reviewing on Amazon, you’ll have to gift the book reviewer with an Amazon copy of the book so that the purchase is verified. ”
But as I understand it amazon’s algorithm bots will see this as a bribe, no? You give reviewer X a book bought off amazon no less and he/she reviews it on amazon. Depending how they view that, it can be construed as an author bribing a reviewer with a free (for the reviewer) copy.
Plus I read of an author who had his review moved (he only had one on a book) because the customer had cut/pasted a review from another source. when he complained they basically said : “if you continue to dispute this matter we may remove your book from the site”. He SHOWED them that he had nothing to do with the customer’s review but still it made no difference.
I hope I’m wrong because otherwise an author cannot do any book giveaways of any kind.
PS keep up the great writing. I think eventually amazon will wisen up (or lose ground to competitors as a result) but in the meantime a writer should keep on writing. I am writing a few items myself but have not taken the plunge to list them online yet (scares the daylights out of me–a bit of stage fright –but I will force myself to do it). all the best.
Cheers for the comment, Geoff. Glad you enjoyed the piece.
I see what you mean regarding the ‘bribery’ issue. However, I think a could way to get around this would be to simply ‘gift’, say, ‘£1.99’ and ask the reviewer to purchase it. But you’re right — something doesn’t really sit well for me on this front. Something just doesn’t seem right about it.
That’s terrible to hear about your author friend. I expect better of a company I am very fond of and who I respect for the great work they do with authors. Hopefully they will rectify their review policy somewhat to get themselves back to the dizzy heights they were at.
I must emphasise this point — I still think Amazon are the one and only retailer I’d go exclusive with because of their benefits on the KDP/exposure front. Even after this hiccup, they are still miles ahead of the competition.
Good luck with the publishing. Seriously, the best move is to just get it out there with a nice cover and some good editing. That way, you’ll give yourself the best shot of success. Drop me an email if you need any help with the publishing side of things or if you need referring to any decent cover designers/editors and I’ll be sure to help.
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?
Denying paying Amazon customers the right to publish an honest review violates the right to free speech and is discriminatory. Amazon could well be setting things up so it can “offer” (pressure) paid review services in the future. I suggest reporting this issue to the Consumer Protection Agency and filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of indie writers. I have inside experience in the mainstream publishing arena. Most of the back cover copy on regularly published books by “real” writers was written by the writers themselves. This is common practice. Blurbs by friends/colleagues is just as common. Amazon’s policy truly is blatant discrimination. Amazon needs to only remove reviews that are clearly intended to sabotage the book’s success in some way–troll vomit, in other words. Ryan, are you up to the task of taking on Amazon a little more assertively? I’m positive that many indie writers/publishers would join in the effort.
Love your page. Thanks for all your indie info.
Hey Ryan, I’ve just finished reading a book one of my former flatmates had given me. It was terrible – pages and pages of him derping on about God with the worst philosophical arguments I’ve ever seen. However, I checked Amazon yesterday and found that it (obviously) had nothing but “raving 5-star arselicks”, as you put it.
These reviews are clearly fake. Partly because almost all of them were posted in the same fortnight – partly because I know a few of the ‘reviewers’ and know that they just thought the book was a bit weird – partly because that unanimity of exceptional reviews is rare, especially for upstarting writers. So I was wondering: do you know what else Amazon are considering to stop phony reviews from muddying their rating system?
I’m thinking maybe a ban on reciprocity, so writers who only give good reviews to writers who’ve given them good reviews become identified as spurious and have their reviews deleted. Or a ‘cooling off’ period, where you can’t review a book until you’ve owned it for 2 weeks. Or (slightly more far-fetched) a system which identifies the ‘fingerprint’ of a writer by their common misspellings, use of punctuation (I use dashes quite often, for example) etc. and then establishes whether most of a writer’s reviews are likely to have been written by him/her and submitted by someone else.
Is any action like this likely to be undertaken? I can’t help but think there’s not much of an incentive for Amazon to sort out their review system, so we won’t be seeing much of a change.