Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Amazon Deletes My Review of Karma Backlash

By Steve Weddle

For some reason, Amazon does not want me reviewing this book. I still don't know why. Of course, this is Amazon's site and if they want to delete a review I wrote, that's up to them. I don't have any control over what Amazon does with their own website any more than they have control of what I do with mine. At least, I don't think they can control any of my sites. I guess we'll find out.

So I wrote a review of KARMA BACKLASH by my pal Chad Rohrbacher. The book is available through Snubnose Press on Amazon.

Dear Steve Weddle "Steve Weddle",
Your latest review has just gone live on Amazon. We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time you took to write about your experience with this item.
Your reviewing stats
Reviews written: 21
Reviewer rank: 23,746
Helpful votes: 134 of 147
Would you like to add more to your review?
You can always edit it here.
Karma Backlash
Snubnose Press
Toledo Mob Wars -- what's not to like?, October 2, 2012
By Steve Weddle "Steve Weddle" (Virginia, USA)
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Karma Backlash (Kindle Edition)
Derby's like most everyone, I suppose. Troubles at work, troubles at love, troubles when his friend's face explodes at the dinner table, trouble with Toledo traffic, and on and on.
What you've got here is a classic noir story of investigating the WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON, but there are quite a few things that make this telling special.
The setting of this one is spot-on. You've got a gritty town that's seen better days, which perfectly reflects many of the characters in the book. So much of this narrative is about holding onto something -- whether it be the local gangs/mob, the city itself, the local business, or the characters. Reading this book, you can feel not only the time shifting in front of you, but the ground moving under your feet. You see things fallingapart and people trying to hold on.
The pace of this book is also fantastic. You ease in with some humor and character, but then you start to dissolve into the darkness of the city, of the story.
The characters and the story really come together -- especially in the epic final section.
If you like gritty tales that are told well, full of characters you'll remember and scenes you'll try to forget, this is the book for you.
See your review on the site

Imagine my surprise when I can’t see my review on the site.
Amazon has taken it down or I goofed something up. No problem. I’ll just copy and paste and repost.
Same email.
Same result.
It’s not there.
Something must have gone screwy. So I contact the nice folks at Amazon.

Your Name: Steve Weddle Comments:Why do you keep deleting my review of KARMA BACKLASH? Please and thank you.

They send me this message:

We have removed your review from Karma Backlash.
We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for this title. Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website.
Please feel free to review our posted Guidelines if you have any questions:
We hope to see you again soon.
Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?
If yes, please click here:
If no, please click here:
Best Regards,
Sandy N.

Well, that doesn’t make any sense. So I contact them again.

From: Steve Weddle 
Subject: Re: Your Review Inquiry

Thank you for the explanation of your terms. They make perfect sense, though I don't see how they apply to me in this instance.

*We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for this title. Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website.*

I do not have a financial interest in the product. I do personally know the author of the book, so if that prevents me from reviewing the book, please let me know. I also know other people who write books.

I am not sure what would be a "directly competing product" with this novel. I do have stories in a number of anthologies available at your site, but I'm not certain that's what you mean. I don't imagine you're saying that I can't review a book because I also have stories in anthologies for sale.

Again, thanks for trying to help clear this up.


I have zero financial interest in the book. I mean, the author is a friend of mine, despite his having brought cans of gas-station Tecate into my house. I would like for him to be happy. I would like for him to have many people read his book. I like the book. I hope it does well. But I make no money from the book. I also make no money from Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs or Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm or any of the other books I've reviewed.

And what is this "directly competing product" stuff? I mean, if I were selling a rotary-enhanced-lippo-vac, I could understand if the nice people at Amazon did not want me reviewing someone else's rotary-enhanced-lippo-vac. That makes sense.

This doesn't.

They responded.

Hello Steve,
I'm sorry for any previous concerns regarding your reviews on our site. We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.
We have removed your reviews as they are in violation of our guidelines.  We will not be able to go into further detail about our research.
I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.
We've appreciated your business and hope to have the opportunity to serve you again in the future.
Best Regards,
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company. 

Like I said, Amazon doesn't need my permission for anything they do with their site. They can delete my review of Karma Backlash if they want to. They can delete all my reviews if they want to. It's just, I don't know why they want to.

What's interesting is that Amazon suggests that I'm "upset." I'm not. I'm befuddled.

I'm told other reviewers began having similar trouble when they linked their "review" accounts with their "author" accounts, something Amazon had suggested doing. (I had been "stevewed" from many years back.)

Amazon says they're not "able to offer any additional insights." I know they've had problems with book reviews in the last year. I guess I just didn't think I was the problem.

Anyone else having similar troubles?

UPDATE: Thanks to comments and messages alerting me to Michelle Gagnon's similar troubles. Also, Sean Cregan has taken a look at some points.


Chris said...

"Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company."


Dark Matter said...

I'm ambivalent about Amazon's position.

1) rival authors have ripped into other authors who they've perceived to be competitors; this has been scandal fodder.
2) an in-club of 'us authors' who are mates could be a means of skewing the figures (I'm not making an accusation, just commenting on an issue that I'm sure has risen in the past)
3) As a fanzine editor I don't review other fanzines; I even hesitate to comment on them because of the 'mates' and 'rivals' issues. I've personally been the target of ire from fanzine editors and podcasters who seem to perceive me as 'the competition', so I'd love it if they all just pulled their heads in and did their thing, leaving me in peace to do mine.

1) who better to review a book than a person who has studied writing and who writes for a living?
2) if you're going to exclude all authors and publishers and therefore a significant portion of the people who really understand the craft of writing, you're going to lower the bar for the standard of reviews.
3) If you're going to exclude reviews by people who know the authors, then in some circles - like the Australian science fiction and fantasy scene - you're going to exclude a lot of REVIEWERS (bloggers etc) and authors from reviewing books. While I find it challenging to review a novel where I know the person, I'm also aware that I'm giving that person publicity even when I make critical comments... I'm also aware that it's extremely rare for a book to be a true masterpiece, so making critical comments adds authenticity to a review... I'm going full circle here, getting back to the beginning and the pros.

I think Amazon's position is not well thought out, especially considering the number of alternative websites where people can find reviews. Maybe this is a good thing - Amazon has too much of a monopoly on the market; if it's not seen as the 'go to' website, maybe people will source more of their books elsewhere.

Nick said...

Arent they in the business to sell books?
Why are they taking down reviews? This does not make sense to me.

John R said...

It's been happening a lot recently:

And their response is straight off the 'blurb index' mentioned there. For such a 'customer-centered' company you'd think they'd be less monumentally obscure and machine-like when dealing with customers.

Jeff Shelby said...

This is such a weird move on Amazon's part and I can't help but think it's a precursor to a complete overhaul of their reviewing system. I noticed it several weeks ago. They are responding to the ridiculous outcry over sock puppets and all that other crap that was started over in the UK and then by the "revelation" that John Locke and others paid for reviews. (Which, by the way, is probably the silliest outcry in the history of silly outcries.) For a company that likes to bill itself as visionary, it's an incredibly reactionary move. It's absurd that even though I've paid for books, I cannot review them because I'm an author. I understand that their review system is under some heat right now, but this seems like such a panic fix. All it's going to do is push people into making MORE fake accounts so they can review products. I also find it amusing that people who have not purchased the product - and admit so in their "review" - can leave a review, simply to speak ill of the product and/or author. None of it really makes any sense and it's making Amazon look a little ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I have a few amazon accounts (don't ask, it just makes it easier to manage my multiple personalities) and post reviews from each of them depending on where I bought the book or what account I happen to be logged into at the moment. All 12 of my reviews from my author linked account were deleted. This included some reviews of children's books that we bought for our at the time four year old that he really enjoyed.

None of my other reviews have been touched. This includes reviews of books I did not purchase through amazon.

So, it seems a rather blunt instrument to fix a problem that I'm not sure really exists in any size that needs to be addressed. I don't like the idea of authors panning someone else's books. But I don't really think that's some massive issue.

And, even if it is, it's clearly quite simple to have multiple accounts. Hell, I don't even hide it as the review name for the non-author account is R Thomas Brown.

Amazon's fix seems to say it's okay to give a bad review as long as you set up a dummy account, but you can't leave a legit nice review from an author account. It's dumb.

Now, all that being said, it probably doesn't matter much. And if people like Steve really want to leave a review, they can just set up an account to do it. But, that means it's a dumb move, that addresses a dumb problem, that doesn't really stop the behavior, and irritates people.

Not the best plan.

Michelle said...

I completely agree with what everyone has said here- it's a knee jerk reaction to fix a problem that didn't really exist, aside from a few scattered authors who abused the system.
What I find most worrisome if their threat to remove books if the reviewer persists in trying to post reviews- what a great way to eliminate competitors!

Anonymous said...

So just review the books somewhere else.

Book Harpie said...

In my opinion, if you know the author, you should NOT be writing a review. Amazon is filled with scam reviews of friends and family who ooze glory over works. The honest ones make it clear that they are hardly unbiased.

Btw, if Amazon removed your review, it was because someone reported you as a biased-individual. So you might wonder who the heck would do this.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post. While infuriating, it's enlightening. One of the reviews on my Amazon page completely disappeared recently and I could not figure out why. It was written by an author friend and former co-author. Then I saw your post and realized what the hell is going on. That's just wrong. I'm going to write a letter as well. Good for you for following up.
The Genie Ignites

Lein Shory said...

Book Karpie,

What exactly do you mean by if you "know" an author? High school friend? Facebook friend? Twitter follower? Had coffee once? Were both on a panel at a conference? Took baths together as toddlers?

There may be perfectly good reasons for authors to not ever review other authors, but a ban purely because they "know" them seems awfully far-reaching. Should authors recuse themselves from blurbing if they "know" the author of the book, or does your dictum only apply to indies. It's far more complicated than someone's mom gushing over their baby's words.

R. Hartman said...

Linking accounts: bad. I know it's a pain to have to remember multiple logins (and, if you are doing it right, passwords) but ... the benefits of linking accounts are imaginary and the downside is ... well, things like this. Keep your professional identity well separated from your personal one.

dolittlesaymuch said...

I had the same experience with Amazon, except instead of reviews they deleted ratings. In August, I entered a contest sponsored by one of their publishing imprints, but was stunned to see multiple ratings disappear from my entry, as well as ratings I gave disappear from other entries (favorable ratings, at that.) Amazon gave the same kind of canned response to my inquiries that they did to yours. What made things exponentially worse was that they left ratings from a certain uploader in place, despite the fact that they "violated" the same policies that mine supposedly did. This might be a glitch in Amazon's evolving rating/review process, or it might be just plain unethical behavior on the part of their staff. Who knows. But rest assured other authors are starting to notice this phenomenon, too. There was a post in my Facebook group about this just last week. For the full story about my experience, see the blog post I wrote about it:

brassminnie said...

For nearly a year, authors who write books about corporate shenanigans have been telling other authors there is a cyberbully-bad review professionally developed campaign to damage the reputations of self-published authors, and push buyers toward 'traditional publishers' this Christmas season. Thirty upvotes of a paid one or two-star shill review (The instruction sheet on how to write them was published on the net.) and thirty down of a good one activates a bot, but the group also report five star reviews as questionable and they spend most of the day doing it.

This supplements pro-level psychological entrapment of a poor new author and villification of that author across the internet and culminates in funny videos depicting all self-published authors as egotistical cheaters. Then comes the same "everybody knows self-published are books so bad no real publisher would take them" spiel heard in the 'kill e-pub' campaign in the 90's.

Anonymous said...

Amazon's letter to you is COMPLETELY different from the one they sent me in response to my direct inquiry regarding the issue of "directly competing product."

I asked them if it was against the guidelines to review a novel in the same genre, and here is their response:

Hello Peter,

Thank you so much for your inquiry regarding customer reviews and their guidelines.

You are allowed to review books in the same genre as your books, but we do not encourage nor allow authors negatively review this books as a way to increase sales.

I don't care one way or another - I'd just like them to know what the hell they're saying

Anonymous said...

I had a similar and frustrating experience. At least 10 of my *verified purchased* reviews were removed on two of my books. When I emailed Amazon, they gave me a canned answer, saying the paying customers would need to contact Amazon, and then copied and pasted their rules and regulations for reviews, which did not apply to me. So I emailed them back, and said it was unfair as a self published author, to put money into marketing (edit, book cover, and market to readers) and then my marketing time and money goes out the window when my hard earned reviews are deleted. Also, it's unfair for an author to be forced to essentially harass a paying customer, and ask them to email Amazon, asking why their review was removed. Amazon replied back with the same canned/copy and paste response. It was almost like no one read or heard my concerns, and an automated non-human response was sent to me. I made the mistake of putting my latest book through KDP, but once the 90 days are up, I'm pulling my books from Amazon. It's pretty frustrating to invest time and money into your work, get great reviews, and Amazon deletes them, because of some type of glitch in the system. It's a big F-U to authors. A friend I had convinced prior to publish through Amazon emailed me saying their reviews were too deleted. I then googled, and saw this was a big problem with Authors. It's unfortunate. I think because Amazon is a monopoly, they don't feel the need to own up to mistakes, or fix it. They put the burden on self publishers to do the job. To do research on what reviews were deleted, contact those paying customers, ask them to contact Amazon...then the paying customers contact Amazon...Really? While Amazon does none of the work? Time is money, and what Amazon is saying, is you, authors, use your valuable time to do all the work in resolving our error. I'm not employed by Amazon. I should not be doing Amazons job. I didn't have fraud reviews. Amazon made money off of my work, along with other authors whose reviews were deleted. It's very unfair.

Anonymous said...

Amazon is deleting legitimate positive reviews without any sort of trial or explanation and allowing fraudulent negative reviews to remain, even though they are clearly from competitors or from people who clearly haven't read the book in question. And now they are removing the tags that help readers find books.

What else are they going to do to destroy the independent author market?