In recent times there have been an increasing number of complaints, observations and comments about Amazon removing book reviews. Naturally, bearing in mind reviews often play a vital role in attracting customers and in confirming a product’s quality, there is a lot of concern regarding this policy. This is especially so because many do not understand Amazon’s motivation.
Note: The policy has always existed but Amazon did not initially enforce it to the same degree.
A lady recently contacted author T. R. Robinson to let them know Amazon had removed her previous review of Tears of Innocence and that they would not permit her to add it again. This is the message they received:
‘Your previous review of this product did not comply with our Customer Reviews Guidelines. Amazon does not permit reviews from customers whose relationship to the product or seller may be perceived as biased.’
It is known others have received similar communications, either direct or in response to enquiries raised with Amazon. It therefore seemed relevant to investigate the issue further.
Please Note: Though this discussion is primarily directed toward authors and readers, it must be understood what follows applies to ALL reviews, not just book ones.
Readers may wonder why, after so many years of freedom to add reviews without hindrance or criticism, Amazon now feels the need to enforce the policy in such a draconian manner. The driving force, as with the recent changes introduced by Facebook and Twitter, has been the misuse exercised by more than just a few. Regrettably this also includes authors, who should know better.
To provide consistency and conciseness in understating Amazon’s policy, the following extracts from the guidelines are provided:
Note: The comments within (parentheses and italics) are the writer’s own observations.
‘To contribute ………….. must have spent at least $50/£40/€50 using valid payment method in the past 12 months.’
(Obviously Amazon’s way of ensuring they also benefit. After all it is a business.)
‘Any attempt to manipulate ………… is strictly prohibited. If you breach our Guidelines, we may ………. remove content, ……. ‘
‘In order to preserve ….. integrity ……….. content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:
- Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.
(See later discussion regarding the identification of who is a friend, relative or colleague.)
- Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitor’s products or services.
(A fellow author could be considered a ‘competitor’.)
- Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.
(Giving a free book for the purpose of reviewing (in exchange for a review) would equate to a ‘free or discounted product’.)
- Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying or posting content.’
(Giving or requesting courtesy copies of books.)
‘You may post content other than Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., “I am an employees of this brand.”)’
(Note the word ‘other’ (fifth word) at the start. This, despite what is said within the ‘verified purchase reviews’ guidelines, appears to be a change because previously there was the option to have a review marked as ‘unverified’. It was thought this simply related to the fact the reviewer had not purchased the book through Amazon. However, though again the guidelines imply the situation remains, it no longer appears acceptable. This will need to be monitored to determine what the actual position is.)
‘Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.’
Additional Guidelines for Submitting Reviews
‘If your review is removed or rejected because it does not comply with our guidelines ………., you may not resubmit a review on the same product, even if the resubmitted review includes different content.’
(As is the case with the review of T. R.’s book mentioned at the beginning.)
‘Review may only include URLs or links to other products sold on Amazon.’
(E.g. may not link to another website/blog (reviewer’s or author’s or separate book landing page.)
‘Customers in the same household many not post multiple reviews of the same product.’
(See later discussion regarding the identification of who is a friend or relative.)
Regrettably Amazon provides no guidance upon how they identify who they consider to be a friend, relative or business associate. It is therefore up to users to try and determine how the decision is made from the guidelines provided.
It appears, in principle, Amazon take into account how the relationship between author and reviewer appears from social media interaction: Facebook; Twitter; Goodreads; Author Page; etc. Sadly, though understandable in the absence of any other reliable system, the ‘friending’ option within each of the sites mentioned is utilised to excess. If the two, author and reviewer, are seen to be ‘friends’ the assumption is made they have a personal connection. Of course, most know this, in many if not most, instances is not the case. Nevertheless, it is requisite upon users to be fair to Amazon. With the overbearing abuse seen in recent years, how else are Amazon to identify possible relationships. It is not ideal and does mean many valid reviews are inappropriately removed but there is little option left to the company. With the millions of customers it would be unrealistic to expect Amazon to contact each to determine if a ‘relationship’ exists and even if they did, they could never determine if the respondent is being honest.
Naturally, in many instances it is possible to identify relatives, ‘real’ friends and business associates of the author: Same surname; Statements in social media conversations; Identical business name and/or address; etc. In those instances there may be no argument about the relationship and Amazon’s right to remove, and refuse, a review.
Note: Not mentioned so far is the issue of ‘paid for’ reviews. In principle these are unethical within the Amazon community as clearly indicated: ‘in exchange for compensation of any kind’. Amazon therefore have every right to remove these.
It is hoped authors will maintain an honest and equitable outlook regarding Amazon’s review policy. In principle it is a fair and just policy: it would be wrong to allow abusers to gain advantage over others through inappropriate and malicious manipulation.
There remains however, the fact that many removed reviews were genuine. Regrettably, Amazon appear to consider authors reviewing other author’s books to be indicative of a relationship. It would be nice if something could be done to mitigate the policy in these instances but, in fairness, there is no realistic way for Amazon to do this.
There is one suggestion the writer has seen that may help. Please be assured this is not intended to be a way of abusing the system further but, though not ideal, may help reduce the instances of Amazon ‘identifying’ a relationship where one does not exist within the terms of their guidelines.
Rather than ‘friend’ authors in social media those proposing to submit reviews may consider simply ‘following’ the author. It appears to ‘follow’ someone is not identified as comprising a personal or business relationship. In some instances both options, to friend and/or follow, exist. Users are advised to only choose the ‘follow’ option. In effect the reviewer/reader will not miss out on an author’s news because most will provide updates through all their sites and accounts.
Though frustrating, the reasons for and fairness and equity of Amazon’s policy with regard to reviews is understandable. Something had to be done about the abuse. Recrimination should be reserved for the abusers, the online criminals. Naturally, each and every author and reviewer would like to see a different means for identifying the non-genuine reviews but until such a system is developed Amazon have little choice unless they opted to leave manipulative reviews up. A policy that would do no one any favours. The writer is as frustrated as the rest but the alternative is equally distasteful.
To try and help Amazon, as well as themselves, reviewers (includes authors who review other’s books) should consider avoiding creating what may be interpreted as a personal or business relationship within social media, by ‘following’ rather than ‘friending’ authors of books they intend to review.
Disclaimer: Other than using the site for purchasing and research, the writer is not employed by or in any manner affiliated with Amazon. Neither do they receive any remuneration for mentioning the company in any context.