It has come to my attention that Amazon is rolling out some sort of algorithm to scour book reviews of “bias” on the part of a reviewer.
From their Customer Reviews FAQ (emphasis added):
“Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. While we encourage reviewers to share their enthusiasm and experience, there can be a fine line between that and the use of customer reviews as product promotion. We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we’ll likely remove your review. We don’t allow authors to submit customer reviews on their own books even when they disclose their identity.”
That doesn’t sound so bad, until you start to wonder what “perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist” means. Answer? Whatever Amazon wants it to mean. It is entirely at their discretion. I have heard from several reviewers (first hand from them and/or second hand from authors with similar stories from reviewers) about Amazon removing their reviews, and refusing to change their mind when the “close personal relationship” was only a social media connection.
Naturally, none of Amazon’s new policy invalidates organized smear review campaigns, so Chuck Wendig’s 50 billion 1-star reviews of AFTERMATH (courtesy of the self-proclaimed cultural police of Scifi/fantasy) will doubtless remain. Those people certainly don’t have any personal connection with the author (or with humanity), but perhaps Amazon’s algorithm will detect the similarity of the stupidity in those reviews and remove them.
They claim to have a “zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers,” and there are thousands there on numerous books that try to give voices to minority characters and causes. Let’s see if Amazon holds to that promise.
Anyway, here’s the thing: I’ve spent the last ten years slowly building an internet presence and social media following, and I really don’t want you all to be PUNISHED for the fact that you read and like my stuff. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you shouldn’t be disallowed from reviewing my work–as though liking something means that you’re biased. That’s why people write reviews. Because they LIKE THINGS.
And what is this, “actually it’s about ethics in reviewing” hour? Gimme a break.
I love interacting with readers. That’s part of why I’m a writer. I tell stories I think people will enjoy, and I love hearing that people do enjoy them. I love hearing your suggestions, questions, and thoughts. I get excited that you get excited about my crazy ideas. This is what writing is all about for me. And to have that threatened by Amazon’s new policy–with good intentions but potentially disastrous consequences–is really, really sad.
To that end, I have disconnected my Amazon from Twitter and (to my knowledge) it’s not connected to Facebook either. If you want to review one of my books (and I hope you do!), I want you to breathe a little easier that Amazon might be a bit less likely to determine that the one or two interactions we’ve had constitutes a “close personal relationship.”
I don’t know how this is all going to shake out. It might be totally fine, but I have concerns based on experience, and we’ll just have to see.
Thank you for reading my stuff, thank you for reviewing my stuff, and happy reading, all!
An analysis piece, which may or may not be correct.
Amazon Customer Review Guidelines
Amazon Customer Review FAQ