A few months ago, I wrote a post about Amazon’s new policy of rejecting reviews from people who personally know the author (or follow them on social media). At the time, it seemed reasonable to me that Amazon would want to avoid letting people who know an author personally review their books. However, in the intervening few months, Amazon’s removal of paid and potentially biased reviews has demonstrated some of the inherent flaws that still remain in Amazon’s review system.
The problem, as author Anne R. Allen explains, is that Amazon is focusing on the relatively innocuous paid or potentially-biased reviews, while ignoring activist trolls who leave one-star attack reviews—for example, the Sandy Hook “truthers” who attacked a book written by the mother of a dead student. Many authors have horror stories about people who left personal attack reviews that they couldn’t have removed.
What’s more, some of these trolls trade on Amazon’s liberal return/refund policies, by buying a book, reviewing it, then returning the book to get their money back while still being listed as a “verified purchaser” whose reviews are assigned more weight in the star-ranking calculations. It’s unclear how Amazon could prevent this type of abuse, or if it even plans to.
Furthermore, if social media friendship is a criterion for rejecting a review, that means that anyone who is a big enough fan of an author to follow that author on Facebook could be barred from writing reviews—which means authors’ biggest fans are prevented from expressing themselves in reviews of their works.
I don’t see anything unethical in asking people who know you—especially people who get to “know” you on social media because they like your work—to review your book. Fans don’t always offer mindless praise. They often say “this isn’t up to her usual standard” or “I liked book one better” or whatever. At least mine do.
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to be more vocal with complaints than praise, so if we have to depend entirely on first-time readers who have never heard of us, reviews will be skewed on the negative side—if we get any reviews at all.
Given that Amazon reviews can be an important influence on sales, it’s easy to understand why some authors are especially worried by this. As Chuck Wending notes, sometimes even negative reviews can be helpful. If Amazon is going to get rid of some questionable reviews, they really should do more about getting rid of some of the more obnoxious abuses, too.
(Found via The Passive Voice.)