Sunday, December 10, 2017

Amazon Reviews, Inspired by Today's Mad Genius Club

Our Blessed Sister of Groovy Writing, Amanda Green, wrote the inspiratory post today over at Mad Genius Club.

She comments there on THREE THINGS Amazon has changed in their reviewing program, and it is to that I respond. (She also comments on another item, which seems hinky to me, but I haven't read the source document yet.)

DISCLAIMER FOR AUTHORS: I am EXCLUSIVELY a writer of reviews (and opinions), and thus, I don't represent the author's perspective re: Amazon review policies. I'm gonna TRY to limit myself to plain, descriptive words, but since this happens to be an area I know a lot about, sorry. I'll try to be interesting, though.

Thing 1: Amazon destroyed a bunch of bogus reviews.
Thing 2: Amazon now requires that reviewers have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon per year, or they can't post a review.
Thing 3: Amazon has prioritised reviews, with 'Verified Purchase' reviews receiving greater weight than others. However, books which were paid for through the Kindle Unlimited program are not recognized as 'verified purchases.'

Thing 1: Amazon destroyed a bunch of bogus reviews. 
ALL legit reviewers hated the pseudo reviews that appeared on Amazon.
The true offenders were referred to as 'coupon clubs,' and they were explicitly formed to vend reviews to merchants. Reviewers who participated in the  clubs were required to produce a certain number of 5 star reviews per week in order to receive merchandise or other consideration. While not technically illegal under the old system, it was abusive, in my opinion. Those were killed first; lots of reviewers had all their reviews removed. Wails ensued; nobody cared. I wish to point out that the villains were NOT those who were members of the coupon clubs! They were just taking advantage of an opportunity. The villains were the owner/operators of the clubs.

The NEXT practice banned was merchants contacting individual reviewers, and offering merchandise in exchange for a fair review. This was much more legit, but was also banned. In some cases, it was alleged that reviewers would then resell the reviewed items, and that was a part of the objection.
NOTE: while not quite industry standard, this IS a practice followed by numerous mainstream vendors; they offer a sample product to a reviewer, and as long as that is disclosed, nobody freaks out. In the case of low-dollar items, the reviewer usually keeps the product; high dollar items usually require the product to be returned after review.
ALSO NOTE: I accepted a few of these items myself. I always disclosed the transaction in my review. I only accepted for review things I would have bought anyway.
ALSO ALSO NOTE: Even though Amazon banned the practice more than a year ago,  I continue to get request from vendors to review their products just about every day. My Amazon page explicitly states I'm not interested. It doesn't seem to matter.

Thing 2: Amazon now requires that reviewers have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon per year, or they can't post a review.
From the reaction I saw in the Top Reviewers Forum on Amazon (RIP), this didn't seem to be a big deal. While there were some who insisted Amazon hated reviewers and they would never patronize them again, most people took it in stride. It seemed that almost everyone got it, that this was to prevent a recurrence of an abuse of the review system, where people were paid to review, and had nothing actually invested in either the product or in the integrity of the Amazon reviews. There was some discussion, I believe, on whether the membership fees would be counted in this, either Prime or Kindle Unlimited,  but that's it.
UNRESOLVED PROBLEM: It seems to me, and to others, that anyone who purchases an item ought to be able to review that item, regardless of the total amount spent on Amazon per year.
ALTERNATIVES EXIST: I have had one very well respected author tell me that she prefers a blog review of her book over an Amazon review. She says it makes a much better citation for her to quote a line from a review taken from the fabulous book review blog "Papa Pat Rambles," instead of a citation to an Amazon review. Thus, if you are one of those reviewers who are shut out of Amazon because of the spending requirement, create your own blog, and also post it on Goodreads. BTW, Goodreads will post your review on your Facebook page if you wish, and transfer the correct graphic, unlike Amazon.

Thing 3: Amazon has prioritised reviews, with 'Verified Purchase' reviews receiving greater weight than others. However, books which were paid for through the Kindle Unlimited program are not recognized as 'verified purchases.'
This one is personal! I get ALL my reading material (almost all) through the Kindle Unlimited program, and it costs me $10 per month. And in return, I write a LOT of reviews. According to Amazon,  I've reviewed 489 items since I started reviewing, which was, I believe, July 6, 2014, with "Plant Life" by Cedar Sanderson. 

Here is the objection offered to the fact that KU items aren't granted 'Verified Purchase' status:
A. I PAID for the right to access these books.
B. Many writers have found that their income from KU rivals their income from purchases. In October, KU paid off with a per page rate of $0.00456. That's roughly $1.37 for a 300 page book, per read, paid TO THE AUTHOR.
C. In October 2017, Kindle Unlimited paid authors 19.7 million dollars. Anybody want to argue that 19.7 million for one month is inconsequential in publishing today? As one of the contributors to that $19.7 million paid out in October, I'd like a little more respect, please. Treat my reviews nicely!

A Final Note: My impression is that Amazon doesn't really want to bother with any hassles that come from posting reviews. People complain all the time, whether they are writing reviews, or they provide a product that is reviewed, or if they are an author who has a review given they don't think is deserved. For a period of maybe a year or so, I was following along in the Top Reviewers forum in Amazon, and often, found good information there (along with some psycho stuff).
Anyway, Amazon abruptly pulled the plug on the entire forum recently, and to the best of my knowledge, there is now no location (on Amazon) where reviewers can meet and exchange information. In the VERY brief period between the time Amazon announced the forum would close, and the actual closure (it was about 8 days, or something like that), people speculated that The End Was Near, and that Amazon was going to terminate the entire reviewing process. I tend not to believe that. I think it's just that the forums were a source of aggravation to them,and not providing them with value. Since then, I DID have one problem with a review not posting. I went through Customer Support, and it was resolved within 24 hours. So, there DOES remain some investment. And I think that the entire system is truly an Amazon feature, and not an Amazon bug.

Peace be on your household.


  1. Slight correction. As far as anyone has been able to figure out, the $50 requirement isn't annual, just that you have ever spent that much on Amazon total. It's to stop accounts that are created by spammers solely for the purpose of selling reviews.

    1. That is correct, per the Amazon Community Guidelines as displayed currently.
      The Amazon site is not consistent in the information it provides. In one location, it just says you have an Amazon account which has been successfully charged for the purchase of a physical or digital item. In another location, it states that there is a minimum dollar amount of $50. The FIRST draft, which came out maybe a year or so ago, was that it was $50 per year. And that's what I was basing my statement on; I didn't go back and look to see what they were saying today.
      I wish they would put revision dates on these policies. The policy I looked at to confirm your correction is relatively recent, because it mentions Spark, which was only rolled out this past July. That's where reviewers were referred to when the forum was shut down.

  2. Amazon likes reviews, because reviews help sell product.
    The problem, however, is that 90 percent of all the scammers on Amazon are scamming via books. And to be honest, a LOT of authors are jerks and react poorly to bad reviews. Also a lot of authors are more than willing to scam Amazon, because they believe they deserve the right.

    Because of this, Amazon has different rules for authors, when it comes to reviews, than it does for any other product vendor. If I write a bad review for most products, I get an email from the vendor asking how can they fix the problem and I often get a refund from them as well.

    As an author, Amazon will not provide me with -any- information on any of the people who buy or review my books. They won't even provide me with just some simple demographics.

    Yes, I miss the forums that they deleted, the forums for my books had a lot of fans in it, and I would talk to them regularly. But a lot of the other forums were being heavily abused by trolls and just plain nasty people. Amazon was catching grief for not policing those, so shutting them down was really their only viable option. After all, they're not in business to manage forums, which provide little, if any income.

    Amazon only makes changes because someone is costing them money. And sadly, there are a LOT of crooks out there these days.