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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Authors' New Amazon Headache

This shady character is causing all the trouble
This week the author loops I follow are all abuzz about a new Amazon policy. (Or a newly enforced Amazon policy.)

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.

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. Her most recent book is Julia’s Child. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.


Leandra Wallace said...

I could imagine reviews disappearing would be so frustrating to an author- especially if they're legitimate ones!

Marissafarrar said...

I'd like to know how many of the big publishers reviews get removed. They've been handing out free copies of books in return for reviews for years and it's never been a problem.

Tori Scott said...

I'm one of the authors who recently started the discussion of gift cards on the writer's loops after Amazon removed nine of my nineteen 5-star reviews on my new release. I'd given out $5 Amazon gift cards to my street team as a thank you for all their hard work. Even though most of my team had already purchased the book and didn't use their gift card to buy it, their reviews were removed because of my very small token of appreciation. Not only that, they won't be allowed to leave a review in the future.

I took this issue to Author Central, where I was told there was nothing they could do. The power was in the hands of the Review Community. I asked to be bumped up to management, where I was assured the matter would be looked into and that he would get back to me very soon with the result. I haven't heard a word since, though I immediately lost another five reviews from the book.

I'm involved in a big Facebook party tomorrow and my launch party on Friday where we would have given out anywhere from $500-$600 worth of Amazon cards but now will only give out B&N, Starbucks, or Visa gift cards. Many authors are doing the same, so I suspect Amazon's gift card business is taking a huge hit.

I hope it hurts them in the pocketbook the same way removing reviews hurts authors in theirs. Then maybe they'll rethink their policy.

Funky Town said...

Tori, that is such a shame that happened to you.

I went to my very first Facebook publisher's new release party & had a blast. Amazon gift cards were given as well as copies of books. Sad that Amazon has taken this stand. Just because you get a gift card doesn't mean you will leave a good review for that author! Crazy.

Christine said...

I am in a quandary about what to put in my chapter's readers' luncheon baskets. I was going to put in Amazon cards, but now I think that might be a waste. I like the idea of putting in VISA cards instead. I will float that by my luncheon committee and see what they think.

Thanks for the great article.

Stina said...

Christine, the physical GCs won't be a problem. The problem comes when you giveaway the eGCs. Amazon can't track it when you walk into the store and buy the card. But for those of us who don't live in the States, it's a huge problem. We can't gift B&N GCs or books. The company won't let us (and they wonder why they aren't doing well financially). And we can't get the Amazon GCs in the store and send them to the US. So yes, authors will be hurt, and so will Amazon. Authors spend A LOT of money each year on GCs.