It has recently come to light that Amazon has begun deleting product reviews on books which are written by authors. Some are no longer being approved; others are being outright deleted. This follows in the wake of the “sock-puppet review” crisis that has been unfolding over the last several months, when the world discovered that several of Kindle’s leading authors had been paying for artificial and dishonest reviews of books, and subsequently writing books on how to ‘make it’ as an indie author which conveniently left out this part of their ‘strategy’.
Obviously, fake reviews are a problem, both on the positive and negative side. I personally know at least one author who has been affected by obviously fake negative reviews on their books, and the process of leaving fake ‘glowing’ reviews on one’s own books makes me throw up in my mouth a little. The Genre Underground applauds Amazon’s efforts to try and reform this system to make the user reviews both more useful and less annoying.
Right now, Amazon’s customer service is answering inquiries into this situation with the following verbiage:
We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. (Emphasis added)
Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to approach this. Authors are not competitors; we are not competing for readers. That implies a zero-sum game, where one person’s sale means another person’s loss, and that’s not the game we’re playing.
Firstly, authors are readers, too. Which means that authors have opinions on books as readers, just like everyone else. Why should they be disallowed from sharing those thoughts simply because they are also contributors? Short answer: they shouldn’t.
Secondly, by disallowing reviews from authors for the reason given above, they are implying that I am in competition with my fellow Genre Underground writers. I’m not. Every win for them is a win for me. Every sale for one of them helps spread the word of this alliance we’ve forged. That’s not competition; it’s cooperation.
Now, you might say (validly) that reviewing your friends is just as bad as reviewing your enemies. I’m not going to sit here and try to deny that there is an awful lot of back-scratching that goes on in authorial circles. When you review your friends, the temptation is to give them a good review so that they’ll give you a good review in return. However, the problem comes in much the same way as it does when dealing with other problems on the internet – how do you decide what reviews stay and which ones get deleted? Am I, as an author, no longer allowed to review Big Six books? Where does one draw the line?
The choice becomes: do we put up with some chaff and back-scratching and some dishonesty in order to have the maximum amount of freedom in reviews, or do we artificially draw a line somewhere and decide that these people no longer have the right to express themselves on this topic on Amazon’s platform?
I personally see ways that Amazon could help to limit the pure dishonesty without disallowing reviews from authors. As one example, they could de-prioritize (or block entirely, though this solution is less desirable) reviews which are not Amazon.com certified purchases. This would be acceptable, in my eyes. If Amazon only displays reviews which are Amazon purchases on the main page, and then, say, require a click-through for those that aren’t, we would immediately have a filter. Then, dishonest reviewers would be forced to buy the book (hey, a win for the author!) or be relegated to the back page. Since many reciprocal reviews are done via book-exchange, these would also end up on the back page, and people would know to take those with a grain of salt. This stifles no one from creating a review, but does tell us which should be regarded with a greater amount of skepticism.
I’m sure that the brilliant minds at Amazon could come up with a better way of handling this. I think that the KDP platform has been one of the most amazing things to come along for authors in a very long time, freeing us from the shackles of the Big Six (or is it five, now?) and allowing us to go our own way. Unfortunately, policies like this one are only going to serve to drive away their content creators, since it is those very creators whom this policy is slanted against.
We ask, as voracious readers and Kindle content creators, for Amazon to reconsider this policy. Authors are not competing with one another; the sea of readers and books only ensures that there are more people searching for books. We applaud and encourage every effort to limit the dishonesty which has infected the independent fiction market, but beg them to find another, better way.
Your writers are your best readers, Amazon. We’re not the ones you want to drive away.
- Carolyn Kellogg, “Why is Amazon deleting reviews written by authors of other authors’ books?” Los Angeles Times, 11/02/2012 http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-why-is-amazon-deleting-writers-reviews-of-other-authors-books-20121102,0,7028228.story
- Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times 11/02/2012