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Tuesday News: Amazon removes access of books to a consumer; Amazon...

So what is a reader to do? I recommend backing up. This process can be automated so that everytime you download a book in your Kindle computer app, the computer will create a back up copy and import it into Calibre. Brian author this post on using Belvedere and this is my post for Mac users.  If the books have DRM on them, a backup that does not include stripping of the DRM would not be effective. There are DRM stripping plugins for Calibre but I can’t link to them as stripping DRM has not been clearly denoted as legal in the US except in some exceptions.

If the fan has read and reviewed (probably positively) all her other books. That’s apparently one red flag. If you haven’t purchased the book, another flag. If you are friends and trying to review each other’s books? That’s a flag. According to Merrie Destefano, she tried to post a review of one of her friend’s books and one of her friend’s tried to post a review of Merrie’s book and they got the cold shoulder from Amazon.

I’m so glad you posted this! The same thing happened to me. I recently self-published a book on Amazon (I’m also traditionally published, as well.) One of my best friends tried to post a review. It was taken down. I tried to post a review of her book. It never showed up.

Annette Reynolds said:

This is beyond frightening, and the information needs to go viral. I have enough trouble scraping up reviews, and have just recently become involved with an Author Review Group on Goodreads.

Amazon is also threatening to remove books if there are repeated attempts at re-posting rejected reviews. Another commenter had this to say “I used to trust them, but now I wish we had another king. ” I wonder if she has tried to sell her books at other retailers or just hooked up with Amazon like so many other self published authors.

Yes, there are going to be honest positive reviews being taken down, but I’m willing to support this flawed system if it cracks down on the review abuses. I can understand why this panics authors but the actions of the authors in the thread to that post reveals why it is necessary.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

47 Comments

  1. Kate Hewitt
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 04:41:58

    I definitely welcome the crackdown on sock puppet reviews. The abuse surely far outweighs the number of real reviews that might be rejected. In any case, I am sick and tired of badly edited, terribly written self-published books skyrocketing in sales because of the hundreds of fake reviews.

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  2. Ros
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 04:51:46

    My understanding is that Amazon can only include your book in its lending library if you sign up for the Select program (where your book is only available through Amazon), not for the general KDP program.

    I think it’s very interesting that the Kindle which was ‘wiped’ was secondhand. I’d be very wary of buying a secondhand ereader for all sorts of reasons. I think it does potentially make you much more vulnerable. But backing up is still and always good advice.

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  3. Nadia Lee
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 05:35:45

    I’m not surprised that Amazon’s going after potentially fake reviews. That’s what happens when one too many people game the system & hit the NYTimes (not the list…articles).

    And it’s going to hurt those who have been honest, but get their reviews deleted anyway due to some computerized algorithm.

    So instead of getting angry at Amazon, maybe people should be angry at those who game the system and ruin it for everyone.

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  4. library addict
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 05:56:07

    Will Amazon also be removing the fake one-star reviews some authors (and their fans) leave on “rival” author’s books?

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  5. Cindy
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 06:50:56

    They should also remove the 1 and 2 star reviews that are only about price and/or packaging. The reviews should only be about the content.

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  6. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:05:53

    As someone who used to review a lot of items on Amazon, I’ve got to object. The vast majority of what I reviewed was NOT purchased through Amazon but obtained through the library, other retail channels or as ARCs from authors. If we’re going to make purchases through Amazon a criteria, we’re saying that only people of a certain income level can play.

    You-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours reviews are easy, low-hanging fruit, and I’d consider a rule that authors can’t review other authors in their genre.

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  7. Jane
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:08:38

    @Ros: I don’t think that is true because when the Owner’s Library rolled out, it included non agency books in the KDP lending program. It’s just that you don’t have to be exclusive to Amazon. Which may or may not be a win.

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  8. Nadia Lee
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:13:22

    @Jane: Yes, but those were either w/ publishers’ consent and/or Amazon treating each borrow as a sale and paying the full e-sale royalty on each copy borrowed via its lending library.

    For KDP, however, the lending $ is a set amount divided by # of lends that quarter. And anybody going through KDP must opt-in for Select in order to be enrolled in the lending program.

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  9. Helen
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:18:24

    Re the only positive reviews. Well if it works so that when I positively review an author’s body of work it won’t allow me to post, as a reader I won’t be very happy! I tend to review books I really really liked (5 star reviews) or really really hated (1 and 2 star reviews). I tend to glom onto an author if I love their work and frequently give 5 reviews to their body of work. For example Faith Hunter, Lori Armstrong, Patricia Briggs, S.L. Viehl, C.S. Friedman (and many others) have all received 5 star reviews for every book they’ve written.

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  10. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:21:04

    @Helen, that’s an excellent point. And there are some people, shockingly, who don’t want to review or talk about something they didn’t like and will have a record of only leaving 4 or 5 star reviews. If they happen to like a particular author and review their work, will they be deleted as well?

    I’m so glad I review on my blog and not Amazon now.

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  11. Ros
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:35:31

    @Cindy: I disagree strongly. A customer is entitled to comment and rate on ANY aspect of their purchase.

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  12. Ren
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 07:52:12

    So if Kobo or Apple discounts the book to 1.99 then you get only 70% of 1.99 at Amazon.

    I’ve been out of it for a while, but last I was in, if your price went under $2.99 for any reason, you were busted down to the 35% royalty rate, as well.

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  13. Jane
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:00:31

    @Ren: I think that is not correct. If Amazon discounts you then you get the 75%. Although this may have changed. I remember an author once upset because Amazon wasn’t price matching her lower priced goods at another site. She wanted the 75% and the lower price which you got if Amazon price matched.

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  14. DS
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:36:46

    Reviewing circles among self published authors were really popular and really visible via requests in forum posts for a while. Also the promoters who were purchasing gift cards to send to reviewers to buy the book so they would have the AVP icon have resulted in closer scrutiny of books bought with gift cards I have heard. At this point with promoters (not always authors by the way, (some publishers and people who offer other services are posting fake reviews) trying to game the system I think some innocent reviewers will be hurt.

    I think it’s interesting how authors freak out about fake one and two star reviews while they rarely are upset by fake five star reviews.

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  15. Gennita Low
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:41:05

    They’ve actually been doing this for a few years but there seem to be more posts about it on the web and on the Kindle fora lately. There was a thread on there where some of the reviewers who had their reviews wiped were bloggers and reviewers for blogs who cross-posted their reviews at her site and Amazon. One reviewer had her entire cache of reviews deleted with no explanation. She wrote that she was glad she had them on Goodreads so there was backup.

    Also, with some investigation by authors, it seems that if an author gifted you an Amazon card and not the ebook, that’s against TOC and your review will be deleted.

    There are also some posts around the blog world saying that if the reviewer keep emailing Amazon, Amazon’s reply was that they will remove the AUTHOR’S book. There are several posts with said Amazon mail floating around.

    Ya wanted Big Brother, ya got Big Brother.

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  16. DS
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:47:56

    I meant reviews of books bought with gift cards.

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  17. Gennita Low
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:49:51

    Forgot to add. On the Kindle Boards, an author brought up that if you posted the review at work and another co-worker bought the same book and did the same, Amazon considers that to be the one and same person. This is to catch family members posting reviews from home. But that could also mean, technically, if you post a review from, let’s say, the public library, and someone else also did the same thing, your review might be deleted if the AmazonBot happens to check both ISPs.

    They are also comparing multiple accounts to check addresses, credit cards, etc., with your current Kindle account. I’m sure that’s what happened to the reader with the used Kindle. Sure, she got her ebooks back, but not without a lot of aggravation.

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  18. DS
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:58:01

    @Gennita Low:

    There was a thread on there where some of the reviewers who had their reviews wiped were bloggers and reviewers for blogs who cross-posted her review at her site and Amazon.

    I don’t remember particularly reading this thread, but bloggers who crosspost their reviews at times do other things such as promote their blog in the review. If they enter an URL the filtering software just deletes the specific text of the URL, but one particularly resourceful blogger managed to get her blog name in her reviews three times. There can also be a problem if the person states on their blog that they got an ARC or free copy of a book they reviewed and they don’t mention that in the Amazon review.

    Edited for clarity and to add: Amazon now allows people to explain why they are reporting abuse on reviews. I’m curious to see how this works out.

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  19. Gennita Low
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 09:22:06

    @DS:
    There is a super long one on Amazon titled Missing Reviews or something like that. I think it’s in there somewhere but I can’t be sure because 1) I didn’t read all the pages and 2) I googled and read many links the last week looking up this subject.

    I just googled and found another link of a reader missing her entire cache of reviews:
    http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2252394

    Here is another one reporting a reviewer from Pacific Book Review who had all her reviews deleted:
    http://www.bloggingauthors.com/blogging_authors/2011/1/30/amazon-is-on-a-rampage-to-remove-book-reviews-from-their-sit.html

    In the comments of this post, a commenter mentioned Midwest Reviews’ 60,000 reviews were removed a year ago. I can’t confirm this…just a googler reading links.
    http://tobecomeawriter.com/indie-authors-amazon-removing-reviews/

    Okay, that’s from five mins of googling. I’ve to go to work so won’t be able to read any replies till much later.

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  20. Gennita Low
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 09:27:50

    @Jane:
    I think my comment with three links is in the spam folder. Sorry.

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  21. Amanda DeWees
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 11:14:57

    70% is the highest royalty percentage Amazon KDP pays, and it kicks in for books priced 2.99. Books priced below that–say, 1.99 or .99–only yield a 35% royalty.

    I’m disgusted and worried by the decision to crack down on positive reviews. Amazon itself made reviews king by using review quantity and star numbers to determine how visible they’ll make a book. And for some of us, it’s very difficult to get reviews: a lot of people I’ve spoken to are self-conscious about leaving reviews, and generally it’s my writer friends who both understand how important reviews are and are willing to post a review. Eliminating reviews by writers is going to hit a lot of us hard–and we’re the honest ones. If Amazon also cracks down on those who leave reviews but aren’t recorded as having purchased the books at Amazon, it’ll be eliminating a lot of honest reviewers who (as they say up front in their reviews) are leaving an honest review in exchange for a free review copy of the book.

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  22. Jane
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 11:25:49

    @Amanda DeWees – when you say that the writers are the only ones leaving honest reviews (and presumably all positive ones) why is it that you presume that the negative ones are left by non authors. In almost ever case of sock puppeting, it was authors leaving negative reviews under a hidden identity, not readers.

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  23. Courtney Milan
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 12:34:29

    @Amanda DeWees: …and generally it’s my writer friends who both understand how important reviews are and are willing to post a review. Eliminating reviews by writers is going to hit a lot of us hard–and we’re the honest ones.

    I am trying, really hard, to be understanding about this. I understand that Amazon’s algorithms are ham-handed, and the threat to remove an author’s book because of something that someone else does gives me shivers.

    But every time I think I’ve convinced myself that I should be concerned, someone comes up with something like this and erases all my sympathy for the cause in one fell swoop. This lack of self-awareness has me wincing. Would your writer friends leave you a two-star review if they thought your book sucked? If the answer is no, you can understand why Amazon doesn’t want that person to post a review for you–because that person’s assessment of the book is colored by the fact that they’re friends with you.

    If enough of your writer friends review the book, readers who buy it may have expectations that are unmet. That leads them to distrust the review system, and may lead them to distrust Amazon on top of that. Amazon doesn’t want that. Readers don’t want that. Our wants as authors will naturally come second.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t seek out reviews–reviews are important. But I’m just not convinced when people say things like, “But this means I’ll have to work HARDER to get reviews!”

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  24. Amanda DeWees
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 13:01:49

    @Jane: I must have worded my post badly if it sounded like I was saying only writers leave honest reviews, because that’s not at all what I meant. I meant that the writers in my indie romance writing group are honest and don’t game the system, and we’re worried about the repercussions this wholesale review smackdown will have on our work.

    @Courtney Milan: If a friend, writer or not, could not in good conscience post a favorable review, they opt not to post a review. But except for the person I asked to consider providing a quote for the cover (which she agreed to after reading the book), and book reviewers, I haven’t asked people I know to review my work, because not all of them are fans of romances, gothics, or even reading. I haven’t been giving copies to friends to review. On the other hand, if someone comes to me and says, “I’ve read your book and I love it,” I’ll say “thank you, and I’d love it if you’d post a review to that effect.”

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  25. Liz H.
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 13:35:22

    I absolutely agree that Amazon needs to do something about the sockpuppeting/gaming of reviews, and this seems like a somewhat reasonable method. But the utter lack of an appeals system if your review is denied really bothers me. And not only is there no system, but the consequences (guess we’ll have to wait and see whether it is an empty threat) of asking for one seem quite extreme. It’s true that an appeals system would likely be quite a lot of work, but Amazon has set up the review system in the first place, and benefits hugely from it, so saying ‘it would be too much work to make it fair’ seems, well, unfair…

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  26. Courtney Milan
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 13:36:13

    @Amanda DeWees:

    If it is true that you haven’t asked other writers to review your work, then I am baffled by your statement that authors will be hurt if writers can’t leave reviews.

    Are you saying that most reviews are left by writers who are not friends with the author of the book? That seems unlikely. And if friends of yours have never left reviews for your books, how do you know what friends do in good conscience?

    Or are you saying that your friends in your romance writing group, of their own accord, leave reviews for your books without your asking for them, and so this behavior is therefore 100% honest and kosher?

    This is even more troubling. Excuse me for being cynical about this, but I get so many friend requests/follows on twitter/blah blah blah with other authors saying, “I hope you like me back!” or people who e-mail me when I have a book out saying, “I liked and tagged it for you! Did you know I have a new release?”–that it is hard for me to believe that a group of authors that reviews each other internally does not have at least an unspoken social norm of reciprocation and favorable reviewing.

    But even if everything was entirely above board, even if no such social norm existed, there are reasons to dislike reviews of the sort you mention that have nothing to do with whether the author solicited the reviews.

    It’s about whether the reviews were written to serve readers. Authors who write reviews with the intent of helping their fellow author are not writing reviews to help other readers identify good books. And that’s why I can see why Amazon might find it necessary to restrict the writing of reviews by authors. Amazon has chosen to protect their customers over their vendors.

    I do think that Amazon should clarify their review policy and stop threatening people–but I also think they’re perfectly in their rights to crack down on particular kinds of reviewing behavior, including reviewing behavior that isn’t outright purchase, where there is the possibility that the review is obtained through a more subtle quid pro quo.

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  27. Liz H.
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 13:50:25

    This got me interested, and I looked up Amazon’s review guidelines. None of the “red flags” listed above are included in the guidelines, although one mentioned in the article about not posting if you have a financial relationship is. (As is commenting on packaging for those interested.)

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_16465311_guidelines?nodeId=16465311#reviewguidelines

    Some of the points above are addressed-
    -”Who can review items: Anyone who has purchased items from Amazon.com. ”
    -”Full disclosure: If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that you received the product free of charge. Reviews from the Amazon Vine™ program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary.”

    Not allowed-
    -”Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)”
    -”Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package ”
    -”Feedback on the seller, your shipment experience or the packaging”

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  28. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 13:55:43

    @Liz H, yes. And it should be noted that purchases mean ANY purchase; you can’t review at all if you haven’t bought anything.

    But asI noted before, Amazon has encouraged published authors to break those rules to help promote titles from their own imprints. Good to be king.

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  29. Liz H.
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 14:26:33

    @Deb- Sorry, I don’t see the post where you discussed that. How were they encouraging authors to break the rules?

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  30. Liz H.
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 14:31:23

    @Courtney Milan-
    “It’s about whether the reviews were written to serve readers. Authors who write reviews with the intent of helping their fellow author are not writing reviews to help other readers identify good books. And that’s why I can see why Amazon might find it necessary to restrict the writing of reviews by authors. Amazon has chosen to protect their customers over their vendors.”

    This hits it on the head perfectly for me. Although more subtle than flat-out sock puppetry, this type of reviewing is no less harmful to the system.

    Do you think clarifying the review policy would make a difference? (With the understanding that sockpuppet-ers wouldn’t stop unless caught anyway.)

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  31. Stephanie
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 14:47:25

    Interesting. I’m only a casual reviewer on Amazon, and as of the past two years I mostly post to Goodreads. I didn’t realize Amazon reviews should be those only purchased through Amazon.

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  32. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 14:50:08

    Sorry @Liz H, I was referring to a response to another post a while back.

    Here is what Amazon did: http://observer.com/2011/06/amazon-publishing-to-authors-review-our-books-and-we-will-promote-you/ For the decade that I reviewed, I followed the rules. I didn’t review my sister’s book because, um, that would have been unethical given the rules. But Amazon’s imprints don’t believe those rules apply to them. I was so disgusted I stopped reviewing for them.

    Honestly, while I think customer reviews are a really important service and I enjoy doing them, I think it’s ridiculous that they have this much power. The bigger issue seems to be that they feed some of Amazon’s algorithms. Maybe Amazon should redesign those?

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  33. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 14:51:03

    @Stephanie, that is NOT currently a rule at Amazon. You just have to have purchased something through them in order to be able to review.

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  34. Liz H.
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 16:01:09

    @Deb- Ok, that’s just dirty pool. What are the chances that Amazon’s filter will catch their own reviewers-for-promotion?

    There is a notable difference between a review that Amazon can use for promotion in exchange for promotion of the reviewer- the benefit is received only after the review is written, and the review is only useful if positive, hugely increasing the likelihood of a falsely positive review, (no matter what the reviewer says); and the review of an ARC, or a program like Vine- in which the item/benefit is received first, and is not reliant on a positive review. And the former seems to be exactly what Amazon is trying to police now…

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  35. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 16:06:39

    @Liz H, exactly. Which is why I don’t want to see *customers* being lied to with specious reviews, but I’ve got zero sympathy if Amazon is pretending any kind of injury.

    (I want to stress that people who have been reviewing for years are not by and large doing ANY of this. They take this a/vocation seriously, and they’re kind of disgusted by Amazon’s manipulations and constantly changing rules as well.)

    How about we go back to reviews being written to be useful and informative? No one votes them up or down, and no one uses them in search or discovery algorithms. Too much to ask?

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  36. AlexaB
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 16:27:18

    @Deb:

    But did you look at the review mentioned in the Observer article?

    It’s an editorial review, clearly set apart and marked as “exclusive.” It’s basically an extended blurb, and in my opinion no more egregious than Random House asking a well-known author to blurb another author in the same genre. And in return Random House mentions the well-known author’s latest books in the publicity materials for the new book.

    Amazon does have an advantage in that it can link to the buy page for the blurbing author’s books, but Big 6 publishers have the technical capability to send out e-mails to their customer lists and provide links on their web pages to blurbing authors as well. If the Big 6 decide not to, or if their web pages are designed so that blurbs and author reviews aren’t prominently featured – that’s their choice.

    And authors using Amazon’s Author Central have the ability to add editorial reviews to their book’s Amazon page. So they, too, can feature blurbs/reviews from fellow authors, regardless of who published their book.

    Amazon’s guidelines banning reviewers with a financial interest and the company’s crackdown on sock puppetry/gaming apply to customer reviews. But Amazon is not putting the solicited reviews in the customer review section. So it’s not the same thing.

    I agree, the fact that Amazon is a publisher AND a behemoth retailer is uncomfortable making, and it does appear to give Amazon an unfair advantage when it comes to marketing at point of sale. However, in the case cited by the Observer, I don’t see Amazon flouting its own rules.

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  37. Deb
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 16:46:22

    @AlexaB, the first agent in the article felt that this was a deviation from the standard practices around blurbs.

    Had I, as a reviewer, been approached by an author- let’s say a popular one with a highly-visible newsletter and blog- with the same offer and posted a favorable review on Amazon, I would have been criticized and rightly so. If I had been approached by another publisher with the same offer, Amazon could also argue that I was breaking their rules.

    What could I, as a reviewer, have gotten? That’s always the question, but certainly more up votes on my review if this were part of a coordinated campaign. That would in turn have raised my reviewer rank. Forget the ARCs I’d have been offered- I don’t consider those compensation- it would have made my opinion that much more important on the site and, I am guessing, increased the likelihood that items I liked would have been more easily discovered. That’s not financial, but that *is* something.

    In the case of the authors, there was clearly a financial incentive to write a positive review, whether they genuinely felt it was merited or not. I NEVER did anything like that as a reviewer because I was trying to follow Amazon’s rules. I took my “job” to provide honest and informative reviews seriously, and this was too much.

    Amazon *is* now a publisher, but I don’t think that removes their obligation to act above board when they’re acting as a retailer. If they can’t do both ethically, I don’t want to be their customer, much less their reviewer, and in fact I’ve bought very little from them since I found this story.

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  38. Anthea Lawson
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 17:51:59

    Jane, here’s what I understand regarding Amazon’s MFN and price-matching policies:

    An author can choose 35% royalties for any book, regardless of price.

    That title can be made non-lendable (as in, lending between Kindle accounts) if you choose 35%, whereas at the 70% bracket you’re automatically opted in to having your title be lendable (again, NOT talking about Prime’s Kindle Lending Library, but the ebook lending that’s enabled from one Kindle account to another).

    If you choose the 35% royalty, you will *always* be paid on the price you set, regardless of whatever price-matching and changing Amazon does. Unless the title goes to free, obviously.

    So, if you have a title at 2.99, and Amazon discounts it to 1.99, you will be paid 70% of 1.99 (which recently happened to an acquaintance of mine, and she verified these facts). Unless you’ve chosen the 35% option, in which case you’ll be paid 35% of 2.99.

    And yes, I’ve seen all these configurations and permutations in action, for myself and with other authors. ;)

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  39. Kaetrin
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 22:42:56

    @Cindy – I agree with Ros – at least in regard to price. If a book is 15 pages and is selling for $5.99 that is the kind of thing I would want to see in a review. I think those who read the reviews are clever enough to discern the difference between a low star rating due to price and a low star rating due to the book content. If there are enough low star ratings due to price, then maybe the publisher will be moved to review its pricing strategy.

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  40. Beth
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 23:43:51

    How does Amazon know if your friends?

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  41. AlexaB
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 02:25:47

    @Deb:

    I agree with you, if we were talking about customer reviews on Amazon.

    But an editorial review such as the one received by “Stalina” (the example mentioned in the Observer article) is not a customer review, nor is it presented as one. You cannot vote up or down this review. It is in a separate, clearly marked section of the book’s web page.

    If you were promised compensation or wide PR exposure to write a review and it appeared as a consumer review, then yes, that would be met with scorn. That’s the activity Amazon is apparently seeking to eliminate. It’s gaming the system.

    This isn’t gaming customer reviews. It’s an editorial opinion. Yes, it was solicited, but so are blurbs.

    It’s true agent Elyse Cheney disdained Amazon’s approach. (Not because she didn’t recognize it as a blurb, but because “that’s not how blurbs work.” Well, a lot of things don’t work the way they used to in publishing.) But the other agent didn’t. And with book shelf space disappearing at brick and mortar outlets, the value of a cover blurb is diminished. An editorial review on Amazon is the digital world evolution of a blurb – why limit it to a few hyperbolic words on a print cover when the web offers much more space?

    I’m all for calling out Amazon, but I see nothing wrong with using clearly marked editorial reviews as marketing tools. An editorial review is not a consumer review. It’s when a solicited review masquerades as an impartial customer review that the customer suffers.

    (I found this after I had typed the above: http://www.amazon.com/The-Language-Flowers-A-Novel/dp/0345525558/ref=pd_sim_b_2

    So Big 6 publishers are also using editorial reviews from authors to sell books on Amazon.)

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  42. Deb
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 06:05:16

    @AlexaB, I understand the distinction you are making, but I think it’s irrelevant. The thrust of the review guidelines- yes, the customer review guidelines- is not to review anything you have a financial stake in, and the point behind that is that to make sure that other customers are getting an honest opinion on which they can base their purchases.

    In this case, some of the parties getting financial benefit are Amazon’s publishing imprints. While someone could and probably has argued that in general positive reviews are going to encourage people to buy and that benefits Amazon’s retail arm, Amazon does not solicit positive reviews for those other products and in fact has guidelines to try to ensure they get honest reviews.

    I understand that all publishers solicit editorial reviews, but the Penguin website just doesn’t have the same reach and therefore can’t provide the same benefit to themselves or the authors, whether the one who wrote the book or the one who provided the review. Would they do this if they could? I’m sure, but I don’t have any interest in reviewing for them.

    If Amazon is going to demand honest reviews for one set of products but solicit positive reviews for another and throw in a financial incentive that other publishers couldn’t possibly match, I think “dirty pool” is an apt description.

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  43. AlexaB
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 13:05:48

    @Deb:

    I understand the distinction you are making, but I think it’s irrelevant.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on its relevance.

    One is a space for customers to leave a review of a product they purchased. The other is for marketing purposes. One is supposedly controlled by the customer. The other is controlled by the publisher. One is factored into review counts, “up votes” and “down votes,” and various retail algorithms. The other is not; it’s content for the book’s page, like the book’s description or “About the Author.” The two are clearly separated from each other on the web page.

    Amazon is apparently trying to clean up customer reviews. For example, author A approaches author B and says, “Hey! Leave me a positive customer review! But don’t reveal you know me or that you are an author. And in return I’ll leave a positive customer review for your book.”

    But it’s not a customer review. It’s a review from a biased party, who has a stake in the process. Yet it goes into the super secret algorithm sauce and may (or may not, who really knows?) affect sales.

    But if author A went to author B and said, “Hey! Would you mind reading my book? And if you like it, would you give me an extended blurb – or review, if you will – that I can use for marketing purposes? In return, I will attribute the review to your pen name and mention the titles of your books” – that’s not a customer review. The blurb/review is disclosed as an endorsement from another author. It is not trying to trick customers into thinking it’s an unbiased, impartial review. It’s not hidden under an Amazon customer account pseudonym. It does not factor in the algorithms.

    I understand that all publishers solicit editorial reviews, but the Penguin website just doesn’t have the same reach and therefore can’t provide the same benefit to themselves or the authors, whether the one who wrote the book or the one who provided the review. Would they do this if they could?

    As “The Language of Flowers” Amazon page that I linked to in my previous comment shows, publishers other than Amazon are using editorial author reviews on Amazon’s retail webpages. So yes, publishers can and are doing this.

    The publishers also provide the same benefits as Amazon. Paula McLain, the author who reviewed “The Language of Flowers,” is given the exact same “financial incentives” (basically, a link to her book, “The Paris Wife,” on Amazon and an appearance in the marketing materials for “The Language Of Flowers”) as the reviewer for “Stalina.”

    “The Language of Flowers” is published by Ballantine. Other book pages on Amazon using editorial reviews, based on about ten minutes of clicking around: “Swamplandia,” published by Vintage, review by Carl Hiaasen; “The Shoemaker’s Wife,” published by Harper, review by Kathryn Stockett; and “Defending Jacob,” published by Delacorte, reviews by Chevy Stevens and Phillip Margolin.

    Nor is this a practice Amazon does for all Amazon published books. I did a quick search on Montlake, Amazon’s romance imprint. No editorial author reviews on the first ten books. Same for AmazonEncore (which published Stalina.) First ten books I clicked on, only one had an editorial author review.

    If Amazon is going to demand honest reviews for one set of products but solicit positive reviews for another and throw in a financial incentive that other publishers couldn’t possibly match, I think “dirty pool” is an apt description.

    But Amazon is not soliciting positive customer reviews for their books while demanding honest customer reviews for other publishers.

    I know you don’t feel the distinction between customer and editorial is relevant, but they truly are two separate things. It’s why Publishers Weekly reviews are put in the editorial space rather than the customer review space on Amazon. Why the FCC demands disclosure when reviewers are given items free of charge to review. Why blurbs (and author reviews) go in the editorial space on Amazon. A customer did not write those reviews.

    Nor is Amazon blocking third party publishers from soliciting editorial author reviews and publishing them on Amazon. In fact, since Amazon advertises the editorial author reviews as “exclusive,” I bet Amazon actively encourages publishers to provide this content.

    So tl;dr version:
    Both Amazon (as a publisher) AND third party publishers are soliciting editorial author reviews for marketing purposes and using them on Amazon (as a retail site.)

    Both Amazon AND third party publishers have an incentive to remove customer reviews that game the retail system and confuse the customer.

    Editorial reviews do not equal customer reviews.

    (editing because I can’t use HTML tags to save my life.)

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  44. Deb
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 14:56:59

    @AlexaB, I’m happy to agree to disagree, but I don’t appreciate my quotes being taken out of context or my words being twisted. Please don’t lecture that editorial and customer reviews “truly are two separate things”, “Editorial reviews do not equal customer reviews” and some of the ways that editorial reviews are treated differently when I acknowledged that they are different entities. It’s the importance of the distinction in the context of Amazon’s behavior around soliciting editorial reviews that I disagree with you about. Also, I don’t disapprove of Amazon deleting clearly bogus reviews (although I think many of the suggestions here are a little too sweeping and/or blunt) so I’m not sure why you’re arguing with me about that.

    Further, when you quote me ending with “Would they do this if they could?”, you answer the question as if I am still referring to what happens on Amazon’s page. In the words you quote, I am talking about what happens on ANOTHER publisher’s website, in my hypothetical example Penguin, but you could pick any of the other Big Six. As I mentioned, I reviewed on Amazon for a decade. I am well aware that they have used editorial reviews- some more extensive than the one you cite- since before they started publishing their own imprints.

    I’m also not sure why you felt the need to point out that not every single book put out by Amazon’s imprints have Editorial Reviews. Not every item in Amazon’s inventory has customer reviews either.

    Let me put it this way: because Amazon started out as a retailer that took pains to state that they wanted honest, accurate reviews from their customers so that other customers could make informed buying decisions (regardless of the algorithm), their entrance into publishing shouldn’t make those standards obsolete for their other categories of review. “Everyone else does it that way” is not a sufficient excuse when they set a different initial standard and are a unique company.

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  45. AlexaB
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 21:13:10

    Yes, I know, the horse is starting to decompose. Although I suppose the horse in this case is a teal deer.

    @Deb:

    Please don’t lecture that editorial and customer reviews “truly are two separate things”, “Editorial reviews do not equal customer reviews” and some of the ways that editorial reviews are treated differently when I acknowledged that they are different entities.

    Except you said you think the distinction is irrelevant.

    But I can’t write an editorial author review because I am not an author. I can’t interact with editorial reviews. But I could write customer reviews, and I interact by up-voting reviews I find helpful. So yeah, to me, the distinction is very key. Apologies for lecturing, but I sincerely can’t understand how the difference is irrelevant.

    It’s the importance of the distinction in the context of Amazon’s behavior around soliciting editorial reviews that I disagree with you about.

    But why is the distinction irrelevant in that context? Editorial reviews are not counted in the number of customer reviews; they do not factor into the star rating; they aren’t part of the algorithms; the reviewers don’t earn a ranking. Editorial reviews do not game Amazon’s customer review system.

    Is it that Amazon customers might confuse the two, despite the clear delineations?

    And I’d still like to know if and/or why AmazonEncore soliciting an editorial author review for “Stalina” is a violation of Amazon’s guidelines, but Ballantine soliciting an editorial author review for “The Language of Flowers” appears not to be.

    Also, I don’t disapprove of Amazon deleting clearly bogus reviews (although I think many of the suggestions here are a little too sweeping and/or blunt) so I’m not sure why you’re arguing with me about that.

    My intent was not to argue, but to again (lecturing, I know, sorry) point out the difference between customer and editorial reviews. There are two distinct thresholds of trust.

    Further, when you quote me ending with “Would they do this if they could?”, you answer the question as if I am still referring to what happens on Amazon’s page. In the words you quote, I am talking about what happens on ANOTHER publisher’s website, in my hypothetical example Penguin, but you could pick any of the other Big Six.

    There is a distinction – and I think this one is relevant, too – between Amazon the publisher and Amazon the retailer.

    Amazon the publisher (let’s call it AP) uses Amazon the retailer (AR) to sell books.

    But Penguin the publisher also uses AR to sell books.

    While yes, Penguin’s own website might not have the reach as AP’s website AR, Penguin also has access to AR.

    So your question: “Would they do this if they could?” – meaning the reach – is applicable to Penguin’s actions on AR. Penguin has the ability to reach as many people on AR as does AP.

    As I mentioned, I reviewed on Amazon for a decade. I am well aware that they have used editorial reviews- some more extensive than the one you cite- since before they started publishing their own imprints.

    So if editorial reviews existed on AR before AP started up, then why is the use of editorial reviews so abhorrent now? Because AP is using them? Are only third party publishers allowed to use editorial reviews?

    I’m just curious. Because it seems to me the crux of the issue are not reviews, but that AP should not be allowed to market its books on AR because AR gives AP an unfair advantage. And that’s a valid issue.

    But it’s a separate issue from editorial vs. customer reviews, and whether Amazon is breaching its own rules when it comes to customer reviews.

    I’m also not sure why you felt the need to point out that not every single book put out by Amazon’s imprints have Editorial Reviews. Not every item in Amazon’s inventory has customer reviews either.

    Because I interpreted various comments to mean that AP’s use of editorial reviews is an unfair advantage used by AP to game the system. AP publishes far fewer books than AR sells. If this tactic really does give AP the upper hand, then surely it would be widespread among AP books? No?

    Let me put it this way: because Amazon started out as a retailer that took pains to state that they wanted honest, accurate reviews from their customers so that other customers could make informed buying decisions (regardless of the algorithm), their entrance into publishing shouldn’t make those standards obsolete for their other categories of review.

    But you said editorial reviews were on AR prior to AP. So nothing has changed with Amazon’s entrance into publishing.

    Pre-AP, Amazon used to write and publish editorial “Amazon.com Review” of selected books (see the 2004 review of “Brick Lane” for an example.) And Amazon has a financial interest in every book it sells. So if an editorial author review is a violation because of that interest, so was an Amazon.com Review, right? Amazon wouldn’t publish its own negative editorial review for a book they were trying to push.

    I have no problem if you and/or anyone else dislike Amazon’s use of solicited editorial reviews, and want to disassociate from the company. But the Observer article is biased and misleading IMO, and I’m not going to hang AP for acting like a, well, publisher and marketing their books. There are a lot of things for which I fault Amazon, but this isn’t one of them.

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  46. shawn stjean
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 15:16:46

    I have written a lengthy blog post about how this review policy contributes to a monopoly, and also compare it to DRM:

    http://clothosloom.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/cowboys-and-indies-amazon-and-monopoly-in-the-free-market/

    Since posting the article a couple of days ago, I have confirmed from three separate reviewers that, not only have their legitimate reviews been removed, but they cannot even submit completely new reviews for the products, in strict conformity with the guidelines. In other words, Amazon is banning PEOPLE, not just REVIEWS. The business about violation of guidelines is nonsense.

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  47. bills
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 10:22:50

    The problem is, Amazon is removing positive reviews that “it thinks”–repeat, “it thinks”–are fraudulent, without any sort of investigation or trial, and leaves damaging critical reviews that are clearly fraudulent (for example, from competitors or people who haven’t even read the book).

    It needs to return all reviews immediately.

    ReplyReply

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