Amazon, that ever twitching giant of the book industry, is constantly in flux, trying new approaches for solving problems as they arise. Sometimes they work, sometimes authors and bloggers alike are quick to grab the torches and pitchforks and try to lynch the beast.
Over the last few months, two policy changes have really hit home for authors, and I want to talk about each individually.
The first is they no longer allow Amazon Authors to leave reviews on other books. Well, let me be clear, Amazon’s “Official” policy states that you are welcome to submit reviews BUT they also state that they will review your review. As my friend Mel said, “You can’t win under their “Fair review” scheme – If you write a positive review you are bias – if you write a negative review you are manipulating the system.” That seems to be absolutely true.
Now all this is in response to authors who WERE gaming the system as well as those pesky ‘review trades’ where authors offer to write a good review in exchange for a good review from another author. And even though most of us have never done that, Amazon decided the most fair way to get rid of the problem was to ban all authors from leaving reviews period.
We are readers too, after all. We love books as much as (often more than) any other reader. So this feels completely unfair. However, devil’s advocate, as an author, you are an industry professional and are thereby held to a higher standard within the industry itself. Your review means more, carries more weight, than that of someone else–strange as that may seem to you. Because when you leave a review, its not just a review. It’s a professional endorsement. Or, in the case of bad reviews, a professional criticism.
And let’s be real, leaving bad reviews is BAD for your author image. Even if you feel completely justified, even if you’re 100% in the right, you still look petty and small, as if you are trying to tear down another author. It’s a no-win scenario.
If you read a book and LOVE it, consider submitting a review directly to the author/publisher for use in Amazon’s Editorial Review section. That is the place for industry pros to voice their support. In my early years as a writer I continued to review other books in the normal way, but the consequences became quickly apparent when an author whose book I left 3 stars on (not my cup of tea) proceeded to rally her fans to leave bad reviews on my work. We were able to sort it all out, but those bad reviews linger. It’s a hard way to learn a lesson. I’ve also seen this happen to other author friends and let me tell you, it’s ugly and there’s almost nothing you can do to put the genie back in the bottle.
Now, I’ve had other authors tell me they have fake or secondary Amazon accounts which they use to leave reviews. That still seems very grey-area to me. Not only will Amazon spank you for it if they catch on, but it seems, at least in my opinion, like a cheat. If a company I work with says, hey, we don’t want you doing this and here’s why, then even if I disagree, I feel compelled to either abide by their wishes or take my business elsewhere. And there may be some policy change in the future that makes me decide pack up my bags and wave farewell to Amazon, but not this. Not only are there plenty of other places you can leave reviews if you really want to (again, I feel it’s a bad idea altogether), but I understand that Amazon is doing it’s best to keep people from manipulating the system, and I respect and appreciate that. If I love a book, I will take to my social media and give it a shout out instead. But I will leave Amazon (and Goodreads now that it’s on Amazon’s hands) for the fans.
Then, taking that a step further, Amazon added a second new policy that banned offering free or discounted products in exchange for reviews. I find this odd becasue if you’ve ever seen a review labeled ‘VINE voice’ that is Amazon’s own incentivized review program and it feels like the ban is actually going to be used to force companies into using their exclusive program, rather than doing it to mitigate those pay-to-play reviews that actually manipulate the system.They maintain, however, that they are protecting the system by only allowing VINE reviews, which they can control.
“We do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written,” explains Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience at Amazon in an announcement about how Vine controls for bias. “And we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product,” he adds.
“In addition, vendors don’t have any contact with Vine reviewers, nor do they get to influence which reviewers will receive their products, which are submitted directly to Amazon for distribution.”
This threw the book world into near panic because authors and publishers have made standard practice of giving away free review copies to get those all important early reviews (not to mention trade reviews). But if you read the fine print, Amazon specifically excludes books from this policy, leaving the freebie for review model firmly in tact.
As with all things, I encourage you to take a breath and read the fine print before you make any decisions. Amazon may be a big heartless corporation, but I don’t think they are evil at heart. I think they are doing their best for us and for themselves. I won’t ask for too much more than that. And one day, when the Amazon drones take over the world and force us all into slavery, I hope they will remember that I was firmly team Skynet. I mean, Amazon.