Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Amazon Removes Reviews, Then Breaks Their Own Rules

Earlier this year, Amazon, for reasons only known to them, revamped their review guidelines.  Once they did that, they began removing reviews at a rapid rate, closing accounts of many very good, legitimate review sites.  We at Feathered Quill watched as those around us were removed from Amazon and then one day, we too, received the form letter, signed by a first name, last initial no-name at Amazon saying we'd violated their review guidelines and our reviews were removed.  I have been silent about this for several months but have come to realize that with Amazon's blatant disregard for their own rules, I can be silent no longer.

Here's the no-name form letter we received:

>>Hello,

We found your reviews to be in violation of our guidelines and have removed them. For more information, see our Conditions of Use:

http://www.amazon.com/review/guidelines/review-guidelines.html

Because of these violations, we’ve removed your reviewing privileges from your account.

Thanks for your understanding in this matter.

Best regards,

Betsy J.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.
http://www.amazon.com/your-account


When I replied to the email, I got this annoying response:

>>We didn't receive the e-mail message below because it was directed to an e-mail address that can't accept incoming messages.

Wow, what are they hiding from?  First, no real names are used, then no ability to reply to their emails?  But don't forget -
"Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company." 

Authors who contacted Amazon directly about their missing reviews (posted by FQ) were told that they (Amazon) didn't know why the reviews were removed and that FQ must have removed them.  Really? Either one department at Amazon doesn't know what another department is doing, or they're out and out lying.  Which is it, Amazon?
 
When Amazon first changed their review guidelines (I'm not sure how many times they changed them, I know of at least two times this year), they added a stipulation that reviews that were paid for were not to be posted.  Amazon apparently believes that if reviews are paid for, they are somehow suspect.  Afterall, how can one give an honest review if they are receiving money in exchange for a review?  I would argue that many sites do just that and this helps small publishers, self-publishers, and others who would otherwise be overlooked, a chance to get noticed.

So, apparently this is the rule that we've violated.  My first question to Amazon is - why didn't you grandfather in reviews that were posted BEFORE your rule change???  At the very least, you could have maintained some sense of credibility by doing this (and angered a lot less authors!).

Okay, so it's Amazon's site, they can make the rules.  I can accept that.  But if they're enforcing these rules, then they need to enforce them universally, to ALL their reviewers.  Spend a little time at their site and it's easy to find loads of reviewers who don't play by the rules.  Here's a Forbes article about a top reviewer (I believe he's now in the top ten) who openly admits to taking money for his reviews. When this was pointed out to Amazon, they said they'd have the reviewer remove mention of taking money for reviews from his profile.  What happened to the "you've violated our rules/your reviews are gone" action they've taken on others?  Guess Amazon plays favorites.

Getting back to the subject of paid reviews, I maintain that it is possible to get an honest paid review.  And, it seems that Amazon agrees, but only if it benefits them.  Yes, Amazon is PROMOTING PAID REVIEWS! And yes, I was shouting.  Check out the links below - understand that CreateSpace is an Amazon owned company:

https://www.createspace.com/Services/ClarionReview.jsp

https://www.createspace.com/Services/KirkusIndieReview.jsp

I'm guessing that Amazon has reached some sort of agreement (read $$$) with Kirkus & Clarion, otherwise they wouldn't be promoting these paid review packages on their site. And check out the price of a review!  Oh, but if you go through Amazon to purchase the review you'll get a discount.  Hmmmm.... seems to me Amazon thinks it's okay to pay for a review.  While it's not clear if they get posted to Amazon, they are still promoting paid reviews. Oh, and did I mention that "KirkusIndieReview" is not the same as Kirkus?  It seems that they separate the self-pub/paid reviews from the free/main-stream reviews.  They'll take your money but don't believe your book deserves the same attention as those published by the big boys.

Want more?   Check out this NYTimes Article, that in part, tells about a freelance writer who was paid $10/review by Amazon:

There's also a long list of Amazon controversies on Wikipedia which include this gem:

>>By June 2011, Amazon itself had moved into the publishing business and begun to solicit positive reviews from established authors in exchange for increased promotion of their own books and upcoming projects.[44]

Finally, there's also a little thing called the FTC which Amazon seems to ignore, particularly FTC Guideline 16 CFR Part 255 (effective December 1, 2009).  This little rule (but come on, Amazon doesn't play by the rules, they ignore them) basically says any product (and this includes books) received in exchange for a review,  is considered payment for the review.  Therefore, an author/publisher/publicist can't get a "free" review unless the reviewer purchased the book or received it as a gift.  So all those reviewers who are sent free products/books by publishers to review on Amazon are violating this FTC rule AND being paid, in the eyes of the Government.  Shouldn't you ban them too, Amazon?

We made sure our site was in compliance with this FTC rule, and added an FTC statement to the bottom of every page on our site.  Amazon has a large group of "special" reviewers known as "Vine Reviewers" (FQ was once a Vine reviewer).  These reviewers get products free in exchange for reviews on a regular basis (typically two newsletters are sent each month, for a total of four free products - books, food, electronics, pretty much anything available on Amazon.)  The company producing/promoting the product pays a fee to Amazon for the privelage of having their product reviewed.  Where are the FTC notations on these reviews????

This doesn't even touch on the issue of authors posting reviews of their own books, friends posting reviews (and it's frequently obvious that they haven't even read the book), those who post reviews for sites under their own accounts/names to avoid using the site's name, the public relations companies that hire (pay for) reviewers to post (check out that Wikipedia article), and the list goes on.  The only way I see Amazon dealing with this is to only allow reviews by people who purchased THAT product directly FROM Amazon. But then what would they do with Harriet Klausner???  By the way,  if you need a laugh, here's a great blog dedicated to her:

The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society

Can you tell that I'm angry?  Yes, I am!  This hurts us, it hurts Amazon, and most importantly, it hurts the authors who are simply trying to promote their books.  If you're angry too, here are the addresses at Amazon to email:

jeff@amazon.com (Jeff Bezos)
He is the CEO of Amazon - you obviously won't get Bezos but I've been told by a former employee of Amazon that these letters do get noticed.

community-help@amazon.com
This is the main customer service email address - maybe if we flood them with emails they'll get the idea.