Open Letter to Jeff Bezos re Review Erasures

Another data point for the self-pubbed dealing with Amazon’s paranoid reviews policy. I uploaded the latest Nov. 25th, and by Dec. 1st had eight 5-star reviews from the 20 or so people I had emailed ARCs to. Amazon deleted the last three reviews, all posted on the same day, claiming they had found “associations” between the accounts. I suspect it is a dumb algorithm that assumes too many 5-star reviews too quickly must mean they are paid, and that Amazon is lying about it.

Here’s their boilerplate language:

We removed the Customer Reviews for your book because our data shows elements of your Amazon account match elements of the reviewers’ Amazon accounts. In these cases, we remove the reviews to maintain trust in our customer reviews and avoid any perception of bias.

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or biased will not be posted.

Here’s my response:

I have read your guidelines thoroughly and note “family and *close* friends” is the standard you cite to disallow reviews. I share your desire that reviews be unbiased and fair across products. I question your commitment to achieving this goal when you will not remove obviously fake one-star reviews which have been posted by competitors or people who dislike the book’s author for political reasons.

First let me comment that I bring Amazon significant yearly revenue on my books, audiobooks, etc. My family also directly spends about $10K per year with you. You have set up an algorithm which uses poor guilt-by-association correlation data to intentionally wipe out the hard work of Amazon customers who take the time to review my works, which damages my perception of Amazon, and as we the authors make our stories known, will damage your other customers’ views of your company.

Self-pubbed authors must make more efforts to keep in touch with their fans to have any chance of succeeding in a marketplace dominated by legacy publishers who are allowed to promote their products by direct payments to Amazon. Your efforts to give small press and self-pubbed authors a way to advertise are complete failures. Amazon has allowed legacy publishers to overprice their ebooks, pay you for what appear to be endorsements, and game the reviews system with large numbers of paid reviews for their products.

Frankly I think you are lying. You have implemented a review-cancelling algorithm which in my case appears to have been triggered by “too many” 5-star reviews in a short time, since you cancelled the last three out of eight, and those three are fans of my writing, not family or *close* friends as you specify in your guidelines. I think it is just accidental that all eight of my first reviews were 5-star, though it’s possible it’s just that good a book.

You have damaged our relationship. I request a re-review and restoration of those three erased reviews.

The erased reviews, (all 5-star), and not a hyped or misleading one in the group:

1) Stephen Marino reviewed Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
I very much like the story – December 3, 2015

First let me start with the disclaimers.

1, I helped workshop part of this story at Taos Toolbox.
2. I was a beta reader of the completed work.
3. I very much like the story.

Because I am giving this story all five stars, let me state why you should not read it.
Do you like to think for yourself or do you want every little detail of what is happening spelled out for you? If you only like to read fluff, this is not your book. I am not saying, it is a hard read, just that it is many layered. Pay attention to the sub subtexts.

Do you only like to read books from authors who have no understanding of technology and the effects it can have on society? If so, there are lots of writers who don’t know what they are talking about.

Have you read the previous books in the series? If not, You will probably enjoy the book more, if you start with Red Queen and move on to Nemo’s World. The story stands alone nicely, but a bit of background can be a good thing. (You can’t unread book three before going back to read 1 and 2.)

What are the books about? Spoiler free, this universe is a big honking computer simulation and in about 20 years, a few university students begin learning to program it. The world is beginning to go in a very dystopian direction and war breaks out between the students and the world’s governments.

I know this has been said by everyone who has read this series, If you enjoyed Robert a. Heinlein, You will greatly enjoy this author.

2) Bookgirl reviewed Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
Engrossing addition to the Substrate Wars saga – November 30, 2015

Shrivers are coming.

Complex plotting, political intrigue, and a galaxy­spanning saga. Shrivers builds relentlessly to a climax filled with surprises. Kinnison weaves multiple plot lines, characters, and different planetary settings together adroitly, crafting a tale that will captivate and delight hard science fiction fans.

3) M. Cunningham reviewed Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
Captivating read – November 30, 2015

I was provided an advanced reader’s copy for review and found it to be a captivating and entertaining read. Mr. Kinnison has channeled his inner Heinlein to create a fitting wrap­up to the Substrate Wars trilogy. I was especially impressed by the creative use of Kat’s training in the virtual reality world of the substrate to create stories of how other aliens lived and reached the substrate. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the golden age of science fiction.

1) Properly discloses the relationship with the author. But it is a competitive relationship, and he is not my friend, much less my close friend.

2) No idea who “book girl” is, probably one of the 8-10 book bloggers I sent an ARC to for review. Arm’s-length.

3) Fan who has reviewed previous books and so was willing to read the ARC. Gave the previous books 4-stars, so not a pushover.

So stop lying about supposed “elements matching” — no such elements exist, though in the case of #3 I sent him a paper copy so that might appear in your search. The others have NO CONNECTION WHATEVER in account records.

Stop lying. Restore the reviews. Or authors and readers will turn on you. Why should customers make an effort to review books when you may arbitrarily erase their work?

A comment on Facebook:

I’m guessing they don’t want to admit that one of their computer guys has run a correlation study and suggested a simple “too-many-five-stars-too-quickly” screen. That might cut fake reviews down, but also cuts legitimate ones. And it’s embarrassing to admit they can’t come up with something more sophisticated. People are worried about them tracing Facebook and email list connections, but I’m pretty sure they have no access to that data… and apparently authors signed up with Amazon press labels are immune (hi, Robert Bidinotto!)

copied from createspace groups:

10. Aug 5, 2015 11:32 PM in response to: lipmag
Re: Amazon reviews – petition

The issue I have with Amazon’s review policy is that it does not accurately apply across the board. Yes I understand the need to ensure authors are not padding reviews otherwise the reviews will hold no value to the potential customers however, with my latest release Amazon Amazon randomly decided to remove 2 reviews generated through ARC releases. The only response given when queried as to why was that the reviews violated policy because they believed the reviewers knew the author. They knew of the author, obviously, but these were not friends and family. Additionally, upon review of the posted Reviewer Policies the only sections that could apply (though they do not) are

• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package

The reviewers were not compensated nor do they have a financial interest. This brings me to my original point. They do not apply the guidelines across the board. I have never heard complaint from a large publisher that an ARC review was subsequently removed. In fact, many large publisher purchase reviews as part of their marketing plan (a direct violation of the above guidelines) and those reviews are rarely, if ever, pulled.

The entire process seems to a) not follow the published restrictions and b) be enforced in a discriminatory fashion. In my experience questioning Amazons decision or pointing out that the guidelines were not broken has no effect. In the end the do as they please.

— R. C. Butler – Bulldog Press

Other stories on the topic:

Amazon Review Policy Under Fire: Indie Authors Call For Change In ‘Big Brother’ Policing

Amazon’s Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors

Amazon… A virtual marketplace, or Big Brother?

Petition on Change.org – Change the “You Know This Author” Policy

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