|This shady character is causing all the trouble|
Beginning in 2012, Amazon began to crack down on fake reviews. The company removed thousands of reviews from its website. How did they choose which to ax? Only Amazon knows for sure. But if you think about the web of data they have at their disposal, it's easy enough to guess where they'd start. A reviewer who only gives out 5-star reviews, and reviews ten items a day, is probably getting paid to hand out shining reviews.
If you search "Amazon review" over at Fiverr.com right now, you will get 10,000 hits, most of them offering to write you a glowing endorsement.
Reviews are essential to Amazon's business strategy, but only if those reviews are not seen as worthless. So the policing continues. If Amazon knows you're an author (because you've used your Amazon account email to register at Author Central) it may disallow your reviews of books. And Amazon might use other data to discover that your relatives are writing reviews for you. (Do you have your reviewer's "wish list" saved under your account?)
The latest flap is about gift cards, though. In celebration of a new release, many authors do a giveaway. And some of those giveaways include Amazon Gift Cards. And why not, right? Dollars at Amazon are practically a universal currency. The recipient could use that money to buy a box of spaghetti or a tee shirt.
If the winner of your gift card reviews your book whether or not they used the gift card to buy it, that review may be taken down. And if you "gift" an ebook to anyone for any reason the subsequent review also may be taken down.
Hence the freakout. Because Amazon admits that, in the time honored review tradition, the gift of a book / galley / ARC for reviewing purposes is not an ethical lapse. Paying any remuneration above the cost of the book is where the trouble lies.
Okay, fine. But web data is a blunt instrument, apparently, since disappearing reviews don't seem to discriminate between $25 gift cards and $2.99 ebook gifts. Authors who have pressed Amazon to explain their actions have come away frustrated.
Hopefully, market forces will do their thing. Because Amazon doesn't really want authors to give away copies only on, say, Kobo. And simply emailing book files to potential reviewers causes its own headaches. In the daily struggle against ebook piracy, Amazon's DRM is viewed by some as a helpful tool.
Let's hope the big brains at the Amazon mothership will come up with some clearer guidelines. Soon.