Sunday, 12 July 2015

The World Gone Mad: Amazon's Review Policy

Exhibit A....
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:

Exhibit B...
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.


  1. Jennifer, I think Amazon has got itself into a twist about this. There's been a bit of a scandal about skewed reviews for product and services - Asian students being paid to say how wonderful such and such a loan company is and posting under false names. Many companies see such work as part of their marketing expenditure. But someone has to tell them about the book world, they really do. Most people who look at reviews will discount the top 10% and the bottom 10% and weight the rest - it's certainly what I do, on AZ and on Trip Advisor. And with book reviews - well, so many authors know each other, either in person or virtually. And we all read and like to support and review. I hope they get this sorted out.

  2. So do I...after all, reviews are helpful to them as well. And traded reviews are often not between people who know one another. It does seem to me that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

  3. I also hope Amazon gets this sorted out soon. There is a petition going the rounds of social media just now asking Amazon to change its policy. In the meantime it has left a lot of people feeling a bit nervous about reviewing.

    1. Indeed, Mary - I'm one of them. Even though I (unwittingly) nailed my colours pretty firmly to the mast with that very first review...

    2. Here's a link to a conversation on the same topic on Passive Voice:
      Sorry, you'll have to cut and paste it into your browser.

  4. Agree with all you say Jennifer. And this is yet another thing which makes me think 'do Amazon really know what they are doing - and do they care??' More and more I'm tending to think they don't. It's such a shame because potentially they are great for writers.

  5. Deleting reviews because the reviewer knows the author is ridiculous. Amazon review, like many other systems are subject to abuse. Still, the onus is on Amazon to find a sensible solution.

  6. Amazon are beginning to sound a bit dictator-ish, I think. There are few alternatives to Amazon and they are by far the better-known, and know it. gggrrrrrr ....but we will not be beaten!