Amazon’s New Carpet Bomb Review Policy: Author Against Author

Typing this on a phone, so forgive my brevity.

It appears as if Amazon thinks — likely as a result of the sockpuppet scandal and the “buying reviews” thing — that authors should not be allowed to review other authors.

The troubling assertion here is a patently false and dangerous one: that writers compete with writers. We do not. We compete with other forms of media, perhaps. We compete with ourselves. But one book is not an enemy of another book. One author does not enter Thunderdome with another. We are part of a community. Sometimes on purpose. Sometime by dint of having our books enjoyed by the readers of another’s books.

This policy has the subtlety of a drone strike — taking out an office building of innocents to kill one dude. Got a rat problem? BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.

A better policy would be to HAVE a policy that can be regulated and enforced. Like, say: no sock puppet reviews. No abuse. Allow reviews to be flagged, investigated, and handled one to one.

I like Amazon as my new publisher. And yes, abuse exists and must be curtailed. But this is a rough policy. May I suggest we all write to them and suggest sanity and scalpels instead of a giant orbital laser? This has all the delicateness of the US “drug war.”

28 comments

  • It also seems to assume that it will stop sock puppets. How? They aren’t writers.

    Is this a ‘nice’ world where critical review is not allowed? Must we all love the same things? ugh *shudder*

    Surely as a writer, a review from a peer or a hero would absolutely make your week. It’s bizarre.

  • I don’t review a lot of books, but I love to post positive reviews on books when I come across something I really rave about. Does that make me a sock puppet? No, because writers are also readers. It’s a function of who we are. I admit, I don’t see any value in posting bad reviews on things, because there are plenty of other people out there who enjoy that sort of thing — I’ve have done it a few times, but it makes me feel like a bully, so I don’t do it anymore. Personal choice.

    Also, Amazon probably doesn’t realize how many of us have *pseudonyms.* Are they then going to outlaw the “private me” from reviewing books I buy? It’s ridiculous.

  • Amazon gets a bad rap. It’s done a lot of great things: revitalized book buying, launched e-books to the fore, revolutionized self-pub. Further, I’m pleased they’re attempting to address a real problem. BUT:

    We still need to voice our concerns here. I do believe the best bet is to write
    Amazon directly and ask for a more nuanced policy.

    – c.

  • While we’re at it, ask them to start paying those of us outside the U.S. of A. via PayPal or some other electronic method. Anything other than cheques. That they insist on using cheques in 2012 is even more ridiculous than this review policy.

  • Seems like when I read reveared book reviews, like the NYT book review, the reviews are often done by other authors. Who better to judge the merits of a book than someone who spends their time reading and writing? And, as both a reader and a writer, I WANT to give positive reviews. I want to like everything I read. I’m not going to blanket Amazon with glowing reviews of my friends just to blow smoke up their asses. But neither am I going to troll around giving bad reviews to make my books look better. I have better ways to spend my time. As you said, a much more nuanced approach is what’s needed, and will be more effective. And I’ll definitely be letting Amazon know what I think.

  • I love Amazon because it’s just damned easy to shop there and download Kindle books, etc. But this policy flat pisses me off. It pisses me off so much that I’m going to reblog this on my blog. GRRRRR. Did the execs forget about freedom of speech. Personally I find reviews from authors quite helpful. When I get around to publishing I’m hoping that I get lots of comments from authors. Even if they proclaim that my craft is utter drivel and not suitable to line the bottom of a bird cage.

    PS: I’ve read several of your books and I love the overall theme that seems to be “just get off your ass and do it, no excuses. I also loved Blackbirds, haven’t read Mockingbird yet.

  • I should also add: this is not strictly speaking, a policy as yet. But it’s something several authors are reporting — some receive word from Amazon, others not so much.

    – c.

  • Since starting my book I have taken an interest in all aspects of writing which includes reading a lot of self-published books. I’ve noticed that many reviews are generic. It’s clear when reading those kind of reviews that the reviewer is a helpful misguided friend at best, a shill at worst.

    Perhaps a better approach would be to revamp the system. Change the format of the review. Make a list of questions the reviewer would have to answer regarding plot, style etc.. in order to show knowledge of the book. Amazon could also hold back reviews until the reviewer has written 5 or 10 other reviews. That should weed out a lot fluff reviews.

    You’re never going completely get rid of cheaters. That exist everywhere in the world. Thankfully it’s a tiny percentage of people that actively try to screw the system.

    Personally I read the Goodreads reviews. There is some fluff their too, but their system allows you to follow strong reviewers and you can chooses to just read their reviews.

    I’m really sleepy this morning.

  • It’s especially worrying because a lot of indie writers depend on their peers, who are aware of the necessity of reviews of any sort, to review them. Many readers just don’t write, reviews or otherwise. I’m on my way to write to them now.

  • I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand, sock puppet reviews–whether they’re friends of the author trying to ramp up positive book reviews, or frienemies trying to tank the book’s ratings–frustrate the hell out of me. On the other, I don’t think it follows that just because you know someone you aren’t allowed to have an opinion on their books.

    The authors reviewing other authors for the sake of reviewing other authors has been an issue in YA (which is what I write). I get requests all the time to review books on Amazon and Goodreads. Not, “Hey, let me send you an ARC so you can review my book,” but more like, “Just go and give it five stars.” It’s gotten to the point where not playing the five-star review game is akin to self-ostracisation, because it’s seen as not being “supportive” of the “community”.

    I guess what it boils down to is that if someone wants badly enough to act like an asshat, he or she will find a way. Amazon’s proposed changes won’t fix that.

  • One of my Tweeps tweeted this, this morning.
    Amazon is great for e-pub, but all is not cotton candy and unicorns.

    How Amazon Exploits Small Online Retailers http://t.co/GLK8g7l8

    I’m not e-published yet, so I can still leave reviews.
    I don’t leave a review unless I finish the whole book and it was 4 or 5 star for me.
    I read a blog yesterday by an author about the review trolls. (my term)
    My conclusion is that some people get off on putting other people down.
    It’s the equivalent of burning dog poop on the porch. Pathetic.
    I think Amazon’s possible preventing of authors writing reviews sucks, but I don’t see protesting it will do much good, if you read the above article.
    Amazon is a behemoth.
    One wonders what pitfalls lie ahead for authors epubbed with them.
    Read the fine print!
    But writing to them is always worth a shot.

  • Having a review policy enforceable case by case, by humans and not some algorithm, would require 24-7 staffing specific to that policy. Humans are monkeys who like to click buttons, especially “flag post as inappropriate” buttons on things saying something they don’t like.

    The “nuclear option” is far easier — and honestly, I don’t see the ability to leave reviews as some sort of inalienable right that I’m being denied.

    That said, it won’t stop Mom & Dad and Friends and Spouse from leaving 5-star glowing reviews on “MarySue: The Epic Tale of Awesomeness, Featuring A Fiesty, Independent Character Who IN NO WAY Is The Authors Idealized Self” (two hundred and six versions of which will appear on Amazon about a week after NaNoWriMo ends).

    So, as a policy, it’s only solving part of the problem — and probably not the largest part.

    As an aside: @Louise Sorensen: That article shows a small retailer who stopped using her Amazon store, and is now shocked that Amazon’s SEO means that they sell more of her stuff (available through distribution) than her store does. The problem here is her not thinking through her actions, and also abandoning what was most likely her widest-reaching storefront, not realizing that they’d still be able to sell her available products. That’s not a story about Amazon exploiting anybody — that’s the story of an idiot, paying for a dumb decision, and jumping on the “Amazon is EEEEVILLLL” bandwagon, rather than realizing her own shortcomings.

  • It’s certainly not a first amendment right being trounced on, but that doesn’t stop it from being a needlessly blunt solution. Assuming that authors are customers as much as they are anything to Amazon (particularly through KDP), this seems strange to limit authorial input (via reviews) in entirety.

    This isn’t friendly to authors of any stripe, particularly independent authors.

    It doesn’t make them evil, though it remains an alarmingly impersonal and corporate decision.

    – c.

  • Well, I’ll throw my two cents in the bucket today.

    First off, I haven’t got a lot of experience writing reviews online, and I have only a moderate amount of experience reading reviews online. The necessity of reading reviews to find a “good” book makes me grouchy, especially when the review is poorly written, contains unwarned spoilers, or is a poo-burning exercise.

    Still and all…

    I’ve found that reviews written by other authors are often informative WITHOUT spoiling the story (i.e. “Joe’s book shows an excellent ability to develop characters through crisis and poor reaction, making his antagonist compelling and unnerving.”). These reviews tend to be well-written, because writing well isn’t just what we do, it’s who we are. A well-written review tends, therefore, to seem more trustworthy, and I give more weight to a single well-written three-star review than twenty five-star reviews that all say a variation of “this Rox!!1!” I won’t say author reviews don’t burn poo, but if/when they do, it’s at least got some cerimony and flair. (Still not a good thing, but at least doesn’t burn my eyeballs out…)

    All of which to say, if Amazon decides to cut the reviews of an author’s work written by an author, it’s likely that more people will just quit reading the reviews, or do a quick scan of the list of reviews and only read those more than three lines long. They may be cutting off the review system’s nose to spite its face, but hey, we don’t have to look at its face if we don’t want to. We have other resources for reliable review data.

  • Thanks for the heads up Chuck, as someone planning to use Amazon for self publishing this does worry me, and they’ll sure as hell he hearing about it.

  • Okay, so I wrote to them, and they wrote me back. Here’s what Amazon had to say about the policy.

    “With regard to your particular issue, I hope I can provide some clarification. Authors are welcome to post reviews and comments about books, as long as they conform to our guidelines. We ask that you avoid posting negative reviews about books in the same genre as your own work. I hope you understand that this is intended to avoid the appearance of any bias on your part.”

    That’s it. Which doesn’t at all seem to explain that article. My impression was that reviewers comments were supportive.

  • The culture section of the Sunday Times is busting out with new book reviews every week written by – AUTHORS. The only 1-star I ever left was for an atrocious book without plot or structure whose jacket was wallpaper of glowing quotes from famous author (buddies or same-publisher sock puppets). This pisses me off because what is good for trad should be OK for Indies

  • How strange. Just a couple of days ago I posted two reviews of books in the same genre as my own, one negative (one star) and one so-so (three stars) and amazon approved both reviews, even though I included a link to my own book in both. Perhaps this is a recent policy change and such reviews won’t be allowed in the future.

  • One of the problems I have with Amazon is that they want to be the giant in the industry without actually having to cough up the man-hours to do it right. They don’t have true customer service, and in this case, it seems that they have made a change that they hope will eliminate a problem without donating any man-hours to make sure it’s the right one. They are up for anything automated.

  • As a consumer of books Amazon’s decision to not allow peer reviews infuriated me. I’ve bought hundreds of books from Amazon over the years, long before I even considered writing one. I deserve the right to comment on any book I purchase. If they take my right to speak from their site then I will use other places to leave my reviews.

    As a new author I’m also disgusted and dismayed. After four years of building up a group of people interesting in giving my book a try I’ve had several of the reviews left for me removed by Amazon. They were not even by other authors. They were removed because people did things like use my given name in the review. Why? Because these same people picked up the link to Amazon through facebook where it was listed as coming from my personal page instead of my author page. They are assumed to be my friends.

    When it comes to reviews I would never ask a friend to post a review for me unless they liked the book on it’s own merit. My best friend doesn’t like fantasy fiction, she has never even read the Lord of the Rings. Of course she isn’t going to leave a review and I don’t expect her to. To punish me by removing reviews from fans I earned through diligent hard work is ludicrous.

    My kdp came due for renewal. I am opting out. What is the use of using the amazon free book offer if the people who download it aren’t allowed to review it? I will either find a way to give away free books through another means or wait till the policy changes. Unless someone can show me how this is a bad decision I feel it’s my only way of speaking back to the machine that is Amazon.com.

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