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Amazon Reviews #2: Answers To Indie Authors’ Questions About Customer Reviews Policy

Amazon Reviews #2: Answers To Indie Authors’ Questions About Customer Reviews Policy

ALLi has been closely watching Amazon’s removal of reviews as part of their effort to clean up the customer review system for books. Like most writers and publishers and their organisations, we share Amazon’s objective of regaining readers’ trust in the customer review process. This is not an insignificant challenge in the face of the serious abuse made of the system by some rogue writers and publishers.

Amazon is engaged, they say, in “the pursuit of a system that’s open and flexible and yet structured and helpful for anyone who wants to learn more from other customers”.

Steps taken towards this so far include features like Verified Purchase, helpful votes, comments on reviews and detection and removal of promotional reviews — reviews in which a writer or publisher attempts to tell readers about their own books. It is this latter feature which has caused disquiet and dismay – and not a little speculation-  in the indie author community.

The issues arising were eloquently argued by Joni Rodgers’s post on this blog yesterday.

Amazon has long had a review guidelines policy in place and the company has not, contrary to what many writers believe, changed any of these rules for reviewers of late. It is just decided, in the wake of the recent customer reviews controversies, to apply them more strictly. “While our enforcement has improved, our guidelines have not changed,” they say.

In a situation where error is possible and communication with authors who have had review removed is largely by automatic email, the potential for frustration — and speculation —  is immense. So we asked Amazon to clarify their position.

One of the main concerns among our members has been that reviews on indie author books are being removed while equally offending reviews on trade published books remain in place. Amazon avers that this is not so, that their policies on this, as on all else, do not distinguish between self-published and trade-published books.

“We hope to keep improving our approach over time,” the company said, “and we welcome feedback from customers and reviewers alike on how to keep making reviews more valuable to Amazon shoppers.”

Here are some of the most common questions our members have been asking about reviews and Amazon’s responses. 

As always, your comments are welcome below.

 

AMAZON Q&A

How Does Amazon Define A Promotional Review?

Our goal is to capture all the energy and enthusiasm (both favorable and critical) that customers have about a product while avoiding use of reviews to outright advertise, promote and, especially, mislead.

We have a zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers.

Can you give some examples of what is not acceptable to Amazon in a book review?

  • A writer posts a review of their own book, posing as an unbiased reader
  • A reader who dislikes a book posts multiple negative reviews
  • A reader posts a review in exchange for money
  • A reader posts a review of a book, in exchange for other books or merchandise
  • A family member/friend of the writer posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
  • A reader posts a review of the book after being promised a refund in exchange.
  • A writer posts a negative reviews on a competitor’s book
  • A writer posts a positive review on another writer’s book in exchange for receiving a positive review from them

Are paid customer reviews allowed?

No. We do not allow any compensation for a customer review other than a free copy of the product (provided up front). If we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we will remove it.

Are authors allowed to review other books?
Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. However, we don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we will likely remove your review.

Can authors review their own books if they disclose their identity in the review?
No. We love author participation but the best place for authors (or publishers) to communicate with their readers is in the Book description, Editorial Reviews and From the Author sections, not in reviews.

Can I report a customer review I suspect to be outside of guidelines?

Below each review you’ll find a question that asks “Was this review helpful to you?” If you answer “no,” you can let us know why the review is inappropriate. We will examine the review and take action if necessary.

What makes a good customer review?
Readers want to learn more about the book or genre, hear the reasons behind your star rating, and ultimately decide if this is the right book for them or not. The most loved reviews can be detailed or brief; they can compare multiple products or talk about a specific use; they can be educational or just plain funny. Customers enjoy and value good customer reviews and we love the passion and creativity demonstrated by all those who leave reviews on our site.

Are Review Removals Manual Or Automated?
Both

Are trade published books treated differently to reviews of self-published authors?
No. The same guidelines apply to all of our reviewers- regardless of whether they are an author or not. So, no, we do not treat self-published and trade published books differently in regards to reviews.

My review was removed. How can I appeal?
If you think we got it wrong and removed a customer review in error, please e-mail [email protected] and we will take another look.

 

Next time in the final part of this series on Amazon Reviews, Linda Gillard examines indie authors’ Amazon practices and opinions on the etiquette and ethics

This Post Has 21 Comments
  1. Something Amazon could usefully do is remove the “Not Helpful” button from reviews. Publishers (the big ones are the worst) have people looking for negative reviews of their books and sticking “Not Helpful” on them so that they aren’t offered prominently to readers. I can see the point of a Helpful button, but the Not Helpful button serves no purpose whatsoever.

  2. I agree that reviewers should have to use their real name.

    I am interested in learning more about how Amazon ranks books for customer searches. Currently for my book the title has to be full length and exact to be found.

  3. As one poster said “All reviews should be in the name that’s on the card when buying the book”

    Fred Alias

  4. If the above were Amazon’s real answers to valid questions, then they have miserably failed answering any – again! Unfortunately, they play the same dodging game when contacted about review problems. Their usual answer that I received (and I hear this from many other people) is that “their decision is final and they will not be able to communicate on this issue again.” To this date, I have not heard from anyone that Amazon has restored ANY of the unfairly deleted reviews!
    I actually wrote a complaint addressed personally to CEO Jeff Bezos, as well as Amazon’s General Counsel, which I sent certified mail, return receipt requested to both. In response, I still received the same canned, robotic reply!
    Meanwhile, they have only recently:
    1.Removed an excellent legitimate review from a reader I have never met. It was a Real Name AND a verified purchase review.
    2. Left untouched slanderous reviews by people who seemed to NOT have read my books, and who were hiding behind meaningless aliases. And no, these reviews were NOT verified purchases.
    3. Amazon has also resorted to blocking the new review posting on several occasions, as reported by at least 2 of my readers on Goodreads, who were unable to post a review and whose complaint about that was ignored by Amazon. It makes me wonder how many good reviews I may have lost this way, as people gave up on their attempts to post a review of a book they’ve enjoyed!
    These are just some of my experiences, but I heard equally outrageous stories from many others.
    I am not even talking about double standard Amazon regularly practices towards indies vs. authors under their wing, as well as famous traditionally published authors. I don’t see any review removal from those.

    Sorry, but the above hardly qualifies as answers. We all know that the situation is out of hand and Amazon doesn’t seem interested in fixing it.

    I agree that reviews should be either under Real Name or verified reviewer name. All these meaningless aliases should be banned, because that’s where the abuse lies.

    I disagree though that it necessarily has to be verified purchase, because most professional reviewers will not purchase books themselves, they are usually provided such books in exchange for an unbiased review. Some people also purchase books, say at B&N or Smash, but post on various platforms, including Amazon, to let people know about those books they enjoyed. Although with the latest Amazon policies, I fear fewer and fewer will go out of their way to try and post on Amazon. If that’s what Amazon wanted to achieve – congrats, they’ve done it!

  5. I just wanted to let you know that ALLi has now spent many, many hours on this issue, particularly around allegations of bad behaviour by Amazon towards independent authors, and have come to a lot of blank walls, misinformation or hearsay, with no evidence forthcoming.

    Overall, our conclusion to date, after careful consideration and a great deal of attention, is that the most important thing is to clean up the customer review system which was being seriously abused. And that, while Amazon may be making some mistakes, they are taking all the different interests they have to balance into account, and doing their best in a difficult situation.

    Thank you to everyone who helped us research the problem and know that we will continue to monitor the situation closely — so please do let us know if anything further happens that gives you cause for concern.

    The final post in the blog series, by Linda Gillard, will run on Monday.

  6. Thanks for these two articles on the review removals. I don’t think Amazon has got it quite right yet, but I agree with their concept. I have been shocked by the number of people trying to “game” the system but doing “likes” and “votes” on people and things they know nothing about and have no interest in anyway, except for the value of quid pro quo.

    Let’s just hope Amazon gets it right pretty quick!

  7. I think this was a huge disappointment. Amazon got off without answering any questions. First the bull about traditional and indie authors being treated equally. If they have taken reviews away from the Bix Six authors, and others, why haven’t we heard about that? The Bix Six certainly let the world know when Amazon took down their buy buttons.

    If they apply their rules equally, why have many authors, including myself, had “verified purchased reviews” removed for no reason while “not verified and not given for review” low ratings have remained. I personally had several reviews from book club members who I don’t know at all taken down the day after they placed them. These were books bought at Amazon by avid readers.

    Let’s have some real, honest answers, Amazon! And the whole garbage about emailing them to appeal. First, as an author you cannot ask about a review taken down. It has to be the one who placed the review. It is hard enough getting a reader to put a review up, how in the hell are we supposed to get them to appeal a review through a process infused with red tape. For me personally, I don’t even know how to contact the reviewers who had the reviews taken down. And if i did, I wouldn’t be comfortable asking them to go through that mess to appeal it.

    As for how the “process” can be fixed? I think it is so simple as to be ridiculous. Three things.
    1. verified purchases are allowed
    2. giving a book to a reviewer for an honest review is allowed. Reviewer should state this in review.
    3. Reviewer must use real name. Amazon knows who they are. They can control this.

    Yes, I know people will scream bloody murder on the last point. I don’t know why but they will.

    I don’t know if the Alliance didn’t ask the tough questions or if Amazon just refused to answer, but if these were all the questions you asked, you shouldn’t have wasted your time.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Yes, I’m sure people will complain but it will provide instant transparency. Putting the onus on the reviewer frankly isn’t good enough. If Amazon want to improve their review system, they need to implement improvements rather than asking readers to keep checking to see if their reviews are still there.

      I’m also surprised that no-one asked Amazon about the reviews for a product that hasn’t been made available for sale and/or the reviewer doesn’t even own. Surely the mass of one- or five-star reviews that read “I’m sure this will be great/rubbish” are unfairly tipping the scales yet thy are allowed to remain whilst legitimate reviews are trashed.

      It’s a poor response and Amazon need to rethink their approach.

  8. I’m confused as to how amazon can possibly know which reviews are not acceptable aside from the really obvious ones. How can they tell who is friends with the author or which authors have reviewed in exchange for positive reviews? It is possible, is it not, that an author might like a book, leave a positive review and that their own book can one day be liked in return. If not, I think authors will just stop leaving any reviews at all for fear of being accused of manipulating the system.

    1. I have a bunch of authors I know who review my books and I do the same for them, but we all understand that the reviews are totally honest. We are professionals, and understand that an author’s honest opinion of our work is much more valuable to us than something designed to help us sell our books. In a couple of instances I have given 5 or 4 stars to other authors’ work and they have given me 3, which is fine by me. I wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would they …. but how do you convince Amazon that we are honest? If they removed those reviews, I’d be really pissed off, because they are the most comprehensive and intelligent ones I have.

  9. Hi Sean, thanks for commenting. Unfortunately, that won’t work in all cases. If you are a professional reviewer/book blogger, you will be given a review copy by the publisher. And what if you received a book you want to review as a gift?

    1. I receive a steady stream of free books from publishers and others soliciting reviews and blurbs. I review only a small percentage of them, and before I post the review, I buy the book so that my review shows as Verified Purchase under my real name. I want readers to know I’m for real, and I’m happy to support the author. If a reader didn’t purchase the book, they’re free to voice their opinion on Goodreads, their own blog, twitter, Facebook or a thousand other venues. There’s no shortage of places to air one’s opinion these days.

      I agree with Sean. If Amazon sincerely wants to improve the integrity of an open and helpful review system – and I believe they do – Verified Purchase and Real Name are the only appropriate screening parameters. But obviously, a tremendous howl would go up if they ever tried to limit reviews with that strict policy.

      I’m suggesting a compromise: Amazon could allow all reviews, but base the book’s rating purely on Verified Purchase and Real Name reviews and prioritize so that these reviews appear first and suspect reviews appear last.

      I do believe in Amazon’s good intention, but a lot of valid reviews are being eliminated in the fakakta application of these incredibly vague parameters, which essentially boil down to “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” The end result is that an extremely bookish and author-connected person who honestly reviews with Real Name and Verified Purchase is purged while shills who simply change their name are allowed to remain – along with trolls who never read the book. How is that helpful to the reader/consumer?

  10. The key question I would like Amazon to answer is this –

    Re: Negative, abusive and obnoxious reviews that are unverified purchasers

    Why does Amazon refuse to remove them and defy both their own conditions of use and common sense?

    The blindingly obvious solution is to only allow verified purchasers to review the specific purchased product and therefore only allow paying readers to review books.

    1. The problem with that is that every time I find a review blog to review my book, I would have to gift the book to the reviewer which means that I’d be paying the cost of the book myself. That would get expensive.

      1. A free coupon voucher (such as Smashwords offer) would solve that challenge.
        Amazon can and should allow authors to offer this within a reasonable limit per title in my opinion.

        I agree about real names.
        I agree about Amazon not finding an appropriate balance yet
        I feel strongly that Amazon should support authors in taking down slanderous reviews which are not verified purchases.

        The responses I received from Amazon UK Legal dept regarding the latter were completely laughable and pathetic. It amounted to – ‘we don’t uphold your complaint, so go away’ which is not what a top brand should be saying to anyone, least of all a supplier.

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