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.
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?
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