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Disappearing Amazon Book Reviews

In an effort to purge bought and fake reviews, Amazon has recently started deleting many reviews that aren’t Verified Purchases. Apparently companies paid people for reviews of various products, shelling out $5 a review, so people sat at their computers reviewing products and books they never touched let alone knew well enough to review. Some of the reviews were very obviously fake (fifty 5 star review with no critical reviews at all), but others weren’t. It put Amazon on alert, and boy did they go on alert!

Sending out Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) is a publishing industry standard used to help create buzz around the release day of a book.

If a reviewer enjoys a book, that draws people to buy the book. Publishers are happy, writers are happy, readers are happy, and book sellers are happy.

Except for Amazon.

So let’s talk about how ARCs are handled in the publishing world. Large publishing companies pay $425-575 for companies like Kirkus Reviews to provide unbiased reviews of the books they publish. They also send out printed ARCs to book stores, libraries, magazines, newspapers, and reviewers. They’re even sent to celebrities with the hopes of Paparazi catching them reading the book while drinking coffee at Starbucks

Small and Indy publishers don’t have those sorts of funds to pay Kirkus for a review or to print and mail out a hundred copies of their book. Instead they offer ebook ARCs for free with the same expectation large companies have with Kirkus Reviews—someone will read it and leave an unbiased opinion of the work—but these small and Indy publishers don’t compensate reviewers for their opinions at all. Yet Indy reviews are what Amazon is deleting, and it seems they are doing so because review bloggers are connected to authors on social media.

How many times have you used your Facebook or Twitter as an easy way to log on to various sites? A year ago I disconnected my Goodreads from Facebook because of what Amazon was doing.

All those sharing buttons on Amazon or Goodreads connect each of those networks to each other, and because we simply click Agree to TOS on apps rather than reading the fine print, we’re actually authorizing Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Goodreads to track all our online movements. And that’s not even taking Google into consideration.

I recently disconnected all sharing capabilities between Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads. I also made my friends list invisible on Facebook. Amazon doesn’t need to know who I’m friends with. I think that’s what’s really getting some of these reviews deleted.

MM Romance is a niche genre. Many authors, readers, and reviewers have connected through social media of one sort or another because of our shared love of a small genre most of the world doesn’t know exists or, if they do, they think we’re a little odd for loving it.  So we connect with a tribe of people who have similar interests we can’t share with our family, besties, or neighbors, but are Facebook friends truly friends of mine? Would I ask them to watch my kid in an emergency? Honestly, most of the thousand-odd friends I have on Facebook are people I know very little about.

I know more about the new girl at the liquor store who rings up my wine than I do about most of my friends on Facebook.

Before Facebook went public, Facebook Pages were a great tool for authors. We could post something and everyone who had liked the page would see it. After Facebook was monetized, about 15% of the people following an author’s page would see their post, unless that post just so happened to be shared by several other people. That boosts how many followers see it, but Facebook Pages has gone from a great tool to something useless.

Many authors abandoned or ignored their Pages and accepted friend requests from readers so they could interact with them rather than just shout at them from their page. Many have now moved over to having Author Groups, but you can’t interact in groups from a Page; you can only do so from a profile. I want to interact with people, have conversations about books and tropes and news that affects the LGBTQ+ community. Since there’s little dialogue on Pages, profiles and groups are where the interaction happens. If this had happened on another site, say LiveJournal or even Tumblr, I don’t think this would be as much of an issue.

But being so interconnected seems to have now come at a cost to authors and reviewers.

Will we ever know the truth behind how our information is being shared? Probably not, but when reviewers get messages like this when trying to post reviews:

We cannot post your customer review to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author.

…it’s obvious they are somehow tracking reviewers to some form of social interacting medium. And which sites know who we’re interacting with on a regular basis? Social media does. Amazon-owned Goodreads does.

One thing reviews blogs have done to be transparent when leaving reviews on Amazon is state they received an ARC from the publisher or author w/o any expectation of a good review. That’s so you, as a smart consumer, can skip those reviews if you choose, or you may want to read those since these reviewers are well-read in the genre. But now those reviews are being pulled. Is it because I freely offered an industry standard ARC to review blogs? Is it because I’m socially connected with someone from a review blog due to how small this genre is? I’ve socialized with some people on Facebook and Twitter for years before I realized they reviewed books on a review blog.

I passed that ARC out with no expectation of a good review. I didn’t pay $425 for someone to read it. I didn’t pay them a dime.

Do reviews sell books? Who knows. Many sites seem to think so. I know when I see other products (not books) with no or very low reviews, I skip right on by and go to those that have more ratings so I can read the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I want all of that to remain on my books. Even the bad reviews help sell copies here and there.

If you’ve gotten this far, I want to ask you to go one step further and fill out a survey. It will take about 2 minutes. I’m curious about your review experiences. Thanks in advance!

SURVEY

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3 Comments

  1. February 24, 2016 / 5:12 pm

    This has been going on for a while. I’ve had reviews either refused by Amazon or removed. The main clue seems to be not that I ‘friended’ the author on FB or GR, but actually made a reply to their blog on GR. Yet, there honestly doesn’t seem to be any consistency in how Amazon is deciding what goes and what stays, because that hasn’t been the case with other authors.

    I’ve had no problem with ARCs, but had reviews refused for verified purchases, very confusing.

    It truly just makes it so much harder for authors to get honest reviews, and keep them — and it’s hard enough already.

    • Posy
      Author
      February 24, 2016 / 5:21 pm

      A comment to their linked blog? Wow! Back in the days when GR first started, authors signed up, not just for author pages but for their own pages. I know several authors who broke away from GRs after Amazon bought it because of the responses they heard their readers get when trying to post reviews. But to take a comment on an author’s linked blog? I’m shocked.

      • February 25, 2016 / 4:51 am

        That seems to be the only consistency I can find personally. It may mean nothing, I’m a sample of one after all. I’d hate for people to stop commenting on GR blogs, but I was honestly puzzled and that was all I could see (I used to analyse stats for a living so I like to see sense in the data)– the reviews refused and removed were reviews for authors where I’d commented on someone’s blog on GR. However for all I know that had nothing to do with it, and it was sunspots, or the phase of the moon, really, who knows? At the end of the day it is just another hurdle for authors, and they don’t need any more.

Thoughts?

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