Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Amazon Reviews - Fail

We all know that Amazon rules the roost for eRetail and a huge chunk of eBooks. In many ways, a lot of us are ok with that. Sure, monopolistic concerns are there,
but they have a great service that we drop hundreds of dollars into each and every year (or month, or week...)

But for eBooks there is a problem: Book Reviews.

And instead of fairly addressing the issue: they punished the whole class.

If you're like me, you always hated it when the teacher held the entire class after the bell as punishment to a lone rebel.

Well, it appears we're back in grade school, for Amazon is doing that to me (and others.)

I had, for a very brief time reached 7 reviews on Amazon for Seeking the Veil, Part 1. It had seemed like the book was finally gaining some sort of social proof, to make it stand out as something worth reading. And one of them was even a Top 500 Amazon Reviewer with a glowing review (at the time I checked, she was ranked #203 out of all of Amazon -- see her review on Goodreads).

I felt good.

And then her review vanished, and then another followed.

We've heard of this in the writing community, as you can probably imagine, like many things in life, a few people taking advantage of a system have ruined it for the rest.

Let me explain: some authors in an effort to artificially gain social proof have bought book reviews, and written false reviews for others, in exchange for the same. A repugnant thought, but you can see how the appeal works for someone desperate to make their book look good.

Traditional Publishers have long sent out hundreds of Advance Reader Copies to potential book reviewers in the hopes they would review the book and bring attention to the work. I did nothing different, contacting about 30 book reviewers and finding a few that left me reviews.

So, when Amazon yanked down 28% of my book reviews over the last 2 weeks, it was quite a shock. There appears to be nothing I can do to have them put back up, and frankly I'm a little concerned about further rocking the boat — what if they take down more?

I have reason to worry: 1 was pulled down within hours of posting, but the next one removed had been posted for months, and came down only after I sent a couple e-mails requesting reconsideration of the first removed review. Coincidence? I hope so.

Either way, it has to be better to speak out, then to be quiet, and if you see Seeking the Veil, Part 1 with less than 5 reviews, you know they took down more.

I propose a different approach.

First off, I get why Amazon put down their foot on false reviews. False Reviews endanger their ecosystem. If a customer can't trust the legitimacy of a review, they get a negative feel for the whole transaction, and eventually that translates to hurt Amazon, if it persists too much.

In theory. Or maybe 1-star countering reviews would happen fast enough to balance out. I don't know.

As to how they handle it, I have issue. Amazon appears to have an algorithm that evaluates whether a review should be removed or not, and what I want to know is why it is apparently automatic. Anyone that checked my reviews would see there was no gaming of the system. If I was gaming the system, why would I settle on 7 reviews for Seeking the Veil Part 1? 2 each for Parts 2 and 3, and 4 for Veil of a Warrior?

If I was buying them, I'd buy 30+ reviews each. And, if I could afford it, go to a 100 for Veil.

I've dropped $200 on ads, I bought more print copies to sell direct than I should have, so why in the world would I buy just a couple book reviews? As far as I know, some authors were buying book reviews for $5 a pop or better on fiverr.com. So by that logic, I should have well over a hundred reviews on Amazon.

I discourage this practice of course. Don't buy fake reviews. Even Kirkus's review model makes me uncomfortable. I get it, but it still seems weird.

My point is Amazon's approach to "fixing" a problem is too aggressive. By all means, use an algorithm to ferret out concerns, but then have the reviews checked over manually, and only when certain, send the reviewer an e-mail asking for an explanation, and then remove ALL of the reviewer's reviews if an issue is validated.

I can't say with any certainty that the two affected reviewers didn't have other questionable reviews, but I know they were both honest in their review of my books.

So don't keep me after class, Amazon. You can do better than that.


  1. Nice post. However, I don't think that they were scrutinizing your reviews in particular. From what I understand amazon was targeting reviewers themselves who were offending, included reviewers who just post serial positive reviews in an attempt to inflate their blog traffic to become the most prolific reviewers in the game. Some of these offenders got scared of being targeted in Amazon's lawsuit and voluntarily deleted their accounts to cover their tracks. This might be part of the explanation.

    1. Thanks for the comment and I agree: I don't think I was being targeted. Just pointing out that I am harmed as a result of others gaming the system that has now caused Amazon to take an overly aggressive stance.

      I haven't heard of reviewers posting positive reviews just to up their status, but I can believe it. Just the same, how can that be determined algorithmically? I've seen many reviews by what appear to be average readers, with no interest in obtaining some sort of status, and they leave basic reviews with little critical merit. Part of Amazon's review ranking is due to the "helpful" votes, which aren't likely to be high for those basic reviews, so it seems unlikely to net good results if Amazon is targeting prolific positive reviewers.

      I suppose that could be part of the algorithm, but again, a reason why I feel Amazon should be doing more footwork to make sure they aren't punishing some unfairly.


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