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.

Allen writes:

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.)


  1. I’d like to see reviews considered as a customer service and it’s effect on sales to be ignored by Amazon and by bloggers. It’s certainly ignored by me. I realize that Amazon are retailers and sales are important to them but so is customer service and for their reviews to be meaningful to customers they shouldn’t come from anyone with any connection to the author. If reviews and therefore sales suffer because of that, so be it.

    I haven’t read many reviews that seem abusive to me. I read a lot of reviews of books I’m considering and on those rare times that I encounter one that seems rude or abusive I go to the next review.

    I think that honesty is a very different matter than courtesy where reviews are concerned. Amazon pretty much has to try to keep things more honest if they want the reviews to be taken seriously, which obviously they do. If they start censoring for courtesy they’ll be called unfair. What is and isn’t courteous is more open to interpretation than what’s honest. It’s harder to draw realistic lines.

    One thing Amazon could do is have a rating system for reviews more similar to their rating system in their forum, where a majority of users can hide posts they find abusive. Other readers see but not read those posts and can unhide them for themselves so they can read them, but in my experience most are hidden for good reason so I usually don’t. This is used fairly most of the time an works pretty well.

    I’m glad to see Amazon doing this. Reviews should be a tool for readers, not for authors. All in all, authors complaining that the system isn’t fair to them is probably a good sign. 🙂


  2. Quote: “Furthermore, if social media friendship is a criterion for rejecting a review…”

    You’re right. Some social media friendships, such as they are, can run into many thousands. Banning those is absurd, although I guess it is easy for Amazon to write automated scripts to mindlessly do such things. No personal contact required. No human labor necessary. Cheap, Amazon likes cheap.

    There’s also an ugly Orwellian “Big Brother” flavor to checking people’s genuine, close friendships online. “Are you now or have you ever been a friend of X” … that sort of thing. Spooky. Do Amazon executives have friendships?


    There is another factor. After I read this story from the UK, a thought flashed through my mind.


    Now ask yourself who’s likely to make the stupidest decisions about right and wrong, particularly free speech? Think hard.

    No, I don’t mean university administrations. Those are the most cowardly, but not quite the stupidest. That label applies to the precious little snowflakes demanding a controversy-free campus—something that ought to be considered a contradiction in terms.

    Here is a hint. Recall all the companies that yanked anything remotely connected with the Confederate flag a few months back? Apple, for instance, pulled serious, educational apps that taught about Civil War battles just because the app logo displayed the flags of both sides. That sort of thing. And some noted that Apple hadn’t done anything about seriously racists apps that lacked that flag.

    That’s what you have with Digital Cinema Media in the UK rejecting as “offensive” the Church of England’s ad in which people of all backgrounds say the Lord’s Prayer. In the aftermath, prominent Muslims clerics and atheists made clear they didn’t find the ad offensive in the slightest. The problem rests totally with Digital Cinema Media.

    What’s going on here? Why does an advertising firm find offensive a mention of religion that doesn’t bother many atheists? Did it even bother to ask one?


    Probably the best way to understand these stupider-than-stupid blunders is to look at many corporate executives as being like the 1,000-pound guy you’ll occasionally hear about having to be lowered out his apartment window with a crane to take him to the hospital. He simply can’t walk. He’s helpless.

    In the same way, many in the corporate world think so much about money and so little about right and wrong that, when faced with making a choice with the slightest hint of controversy, they behave like the ultimate couch potato. They’re helpless.

    It’s not that they’re thinking badly. It’s that they’ve apparently become incapable of thinking about right and wrong at all. Everything has become spreadsheets and numbers or profit and loss or (most often) what they think is their corporate image. Those are their only realities.

    The same was true a few years back when Amazon yanked copies of 1984 off people’s Kindles, not thinking of the irony of what they were doing. A more aware Amazon would have contacted the Orwell estate and offered to pay for those ebooks inadvertently distributed.

    And it’s happen again at Amazon with all the issues you’ve raised. You and I can see the blunders, as can many others. The spreadsheet minds at Amazon can’t. As Jesus put it, they strain out gnats (friend-reviews) and swallow camels (nasty, destroy-a-competing-writer snarls).

    At times, I’ve thought of starting a business that would offer quick advice to these ethically challenged corporate executives. Available on-call anytime, it’d consist of ordinary people from all sorts of backgrounds who’d straighten out confused, often panicked corporate executives before they do something stupid. Politicians would benefit from similar advice.


    Of course, as often happens, the controversy has given this Star Wars ad far more attention than it’d have gotten if it’d only run just before the next Star Wars. Here it is on Youtube:

    One suggest to Telereaders. Authors do need reviews. If you like a book, take a few minutes to write a review. It’s a good way to thank the author.

    –Mike Perry

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