Taking a break today, sort of, from writing about memoirs to address the recent controversy with Amazon book reviews. You may have heard Amazon is cracking down on “promotional” reviews, which include reviews by authors’ family members, fellow genre writers or anyone who might gain anything from writing Amazon book reviews. So far I have escaped the “new” policy, and posted a memoir review the other day of The Only Woman in the Room by Beate Sirota Gordon, a historical icon who passed away December 30th. Hope I’m not jinxing myself talking about this.
Here’s a clip from what is actually the same old policy against promotional content Amazon has always had:
What’s not allowed
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package
• Solicitations for helpful votes
Examples listed of what’s not allowed:
A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them
Plenty of people game the review system using the above methods – I often see authors, mostly new ones, asking to swap reviews or Likes. Probably due to ever-louder complaints (the latest being over “sock puppets” – ugh), Amazon is reportedly cracking down with a bullwhip, not a ruler smack. I understand because I don’t like the gaming either (I mostly read only 2-4-star reviews when considering a book purchase), but think Amazon has gone overboard. Some authors say many of their good reviews have disappeared, even totally legit ones.
I find it a bit scary that Amazon knows who your family and friends are. I don’t think family members should write reviews for the author, but not sure I like Amazon ham-fistedly deleting well-written reviews just because someone knows the author (only best friends, or online aquaintances, too?) or writes in the same genre while leaving up 5-star reviews from people who haven’t even read the book. Will Amazon’s crackdown include those who post bad reviews merely for shipping problems, or reviews that say nothing except that the book was stupid, or those by an author’s friends out to destroy a competitor? And what about those hard-to-find sock puppets? I think readers just need to realize that 1-star and 5-star reviews should be taken with a grain of salt.
I review a lot of memoirs because that’s about all I read in my little free time. I avoid celeb memoirs and prefer to read about everyday lives, particularly if they involve history and culture. I like to help little-known authors by leaving reviews for their new books, but I won’t read anything where the writing isn’t at least 3-star quality – and the editing had better be good. Yes, I’m miffed I might have to quit reviewing on Amazon, the necessary platform for authors. If my reviews there of memoirs eventually do disappear, you can still find them on my Goodreads profile. (Some are on clunky B&N.com, but you can’t easily find them). And, of course, I’ll keep posting on this blog (click on the book review or book talk categories, bottom right column on this home page).