Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amazon.com Review Removal - Recap and Update

You've likely read our comments about Amazon and what has happened with their heavy-handed removal of reviews posted by sites such as Feathered Quill.  While we've been trying to work with other sites, most seemed to have given up from the start, stating Amazon is just too big to fight.  Only a few sites were interested in continuing the fight and soon, it was down to just two sites, Feathered Quill and ReaderViews.  Kudos to RV site owner Irene Watson for "fighting the fight" and having the best interests of her authors at heart.  Alas, with just two sites willing to continue, it seems like we'll have to concentrate our energies on more useful things such as posting great reviews to our site.  We have begun to post our reviews to BlogCritics.org, a good review site with a high SEO.  We hope this will bring added exposure to our authors' books.

Here are Irene's comments on the whole Amazon mess (posted with permission): 

I've been giving updates for the past year on the aspect of Amazon.com removing reviews and banning reviewers from posting. At first it seems it was just review sites like us but then it flowed over to removing reviews from individual reviews unrelated to any site or blog. There is no consistency except a stock email that says "you violated the guidelines" but the specific violation is never disclosed by Amazon.com.

We became victims of the removal/banning in May but after many communications back and forth we were reinstated and promised it would never happen again. Several months later, against their own word, Amazon.com removed/banned us. To this date we haven't been able to find out exactly why they did this and why they didn't stand behind their own word.

In the meantime, to my knowledge, 15 other sites have been banned. The surprising one is Midwest Book Review; one of the oldest and most respected review sites. I noted a review on one of my books is by MBR is still there, yet, when attempting to view them all a window comes up saying the reviews aren't available and the profile page is empty, the same as Reader Views'. I know at one point Amazon.com removed at least 10,000 reviews posted by MBR. We had about 7500 removed.

Several months ago I contacted the other sites I knew were banned to see if they want to band together and attempt to deal with Amazon or go to the media. Eight out of the 15 responded, two saying they aren't interested at all, 6 responded indicating they are on board, and the rest I didn't hear from. I assume there was no interest. One of the reviewers set up a Yahoo group so that we could communicate. Each one was invited but in the end only 4 reviewers joined the group. We did hear from several others that had ideas of what "you should do" but neither was interested in spearheading the idea.

During this same time many authors contacted Amazon.com but either got a stock email that basically said nothing or didn't get a response at all. Some even contacted the media and their legislators. But, I don't think there is enough impact because most of the reviewers declined to contact their author/publisher list, explain the occurrence and ask them to make a noise. The support, or concern, just doesn't seem to be there, either from other reviewers or authors/publishers. For example, Jim from Midwest Book Review posted on a self-publishing group that his reviews were removed and banned. I chimed in explaining what had happened to many others and asked for support from the group. A group "mom" rejected my post.

One author volunteered to create a FaceBook page and Twitter account titled Occupying Amazon. I, along with several other reviewers (I think,) let our list know but in the end only 16 "liked" the FaceBook page. In the meantime FaceBook removed the account and Twitter is removing the hash marks.

Personally, I'm exhausted in working diligently on attempting to get reinstated again or moving toward being noticed by the media or legislators of unfair treatment. In the end it seems like only one other reviewer and I are left to deal with the issue but I'm sure that if we were successful the others would be extremely happy and we may get a thank you...maybe. I'm not sure if it is worth it at this point. I've spent many hours dealing with this issue and several thousand dollars to pay staff to repost the reviews when we were reinstated the first time and then removed again.

Authors do have an option of posting an excerpt under Editorial Reviews through their Author Central account and those that have done so are happy. Some even said those seem to have more impact than the reader reviews, especially when they come from unknown people with pen names like "poop-doop" or "anonymous." (Yes, those are for real!) Credibility in the end becomes important and Editorial Reviews offer credibility.

For us, not being able to post the reviews on Amazon.com hasn't been an issue as orders continue to come in. I know that some of the reviewers are suffering because they aren't asked to review books and they feel this is a direct result of not being able to post the reviews on Amazon.com. This is sad because it's just another indication where a huge corporation can push out a small business owner in a click of a mouse.

Why we are removed/banned is still a mystery, especially when Amazon.com continues to favor some reviewers that don't adhere to their guidelines, those that show signs of being a fake, for e.g. reviewing in the realm of 70 books per week (This is humanly impossible even for a speed-reader.), those that ask for huge charitable donations in exchange for a review or those that charge for reviews. My personal assumption is that review services like ours are in direct competition with Amazon.com for obtaining reviews since they are now offering outrageously expensive reviews through their own CreateSpace program.

So...what next? I really don't know because two or three people can't do it alone, and yet represent a whole gamut of others with great expectations that we can make changes. I do sincerely appreciate those of you that took the time to contact Amazon.com, write to your legislators, join the FaceBook page, sign up for Twitter, and give moral support to me. I thank you profusely.

At this point, if an occasion arises, I will make noise but I am refocusing to business at hand in creating more ways to support the authors, especially those that don't get noticed otherwise because they are self-published, use self-publishing firms, or published by a small press and are on constrained budgets. In other words, I'm "movin' on."


PS - be on a lookout for a "new" publicity package we will offer in the New Year. Susan, my assistant, has been diligently working on it and it will be ready to launch soon.