Oh, Amazon! What is your game?
There’s a bit of a flutter on social media at the moment as people — writers in particular — become increasingly outraged that Amazon is apparently (I only say apparently because it hasn’t actually happened to me — I don’t doubt that it is happening) deleting reviews, and preventing posting of any more. In the words of an email sent to at least one author, this is on the grounds that “your account activity indicates that you know the reviewer”.
People review their friends’ books as well as those by strangers! Who knew? They do it, of course, in much the same way as they might visit the teashop their friend runs (equivalent to buying the book), or recommend their curtain making or beauty therapy businesses (equivalent to leaving a review). Your friend has a good project and you want people to know about it. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Authors love authors. They gravitate towards one another. They are their friends for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is that they love books. And authors read each other's books. They leave reviews to give a fellow author a helping hand. Reviews are their life blood (and Amazon needs them, too). It’s standard practice to send book to a stranger in return fro an honest review. That’s been going on since book reviewing began. Does that mean you know the reviewer?
While some writers do give five star reviews of poor books in the expectation of reciprocal praise for their own third-rater (which is one reason why I never agree to trade reviews), it doesn’t apply to everyone. And these kind of relationships are NOT those which are easily picked up by Amazon, because they might be conducted (say) in Facebook review groups between people who have no other connection and who may well review under a different name.
I don’t review many books — not as many as I intend to — and I’ve always been open about the fact that I prioritise books by people I know AND those which I think deserve four or five stars. That doesn’t mean my reviews aren’t honest because I know the author. Here’s the first paragraph from the first review I ever wrote:
“I'm not going to lie. I'm not a fan of Regency novels and I am a friend of Anne Stenhouse. These two facts are linked because I picked up Bella's Betrothal only because Anne wrote it. I wasn't going to review it either. Then I read it.”
In the light of that I’ve been expecting my reviews to be struck off. Sure enough just a few days ago Amazon emailed me on the subject of Anne Stenhouse’s books…inviting me to contribute a review of her latest.
I have no idea what Amazon’s trying to do with its new review policy; but the really frightening thing is that I don’t think Amazon knows, either.