Amazon… A virtual marketplace, or Big Brother?

A couple of weeks ago I read the third installment of a series I really loved. I will refrain from sharing the name of the novel and its author.

Like any reader, as soon as I finished reading, I wrote my review. When I tried posting it on Amazon (I did buy the eBook, just like any normal and decent human being would), I received a rather concerning email.

I will not share the screenshot of the email as it does contain the title of the book and name of the author. In its place I have copied the body of the email below.

Dear Amazon Customer,

Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines

Here I was, thinking I had included an expletive, or mentioned a brand name within the review. I went back and cross-referenced it against the review I posted on Amazon’s sister site Goodreads, and didn’t see anything wrong with it. I tried to upload it again. Immediately, I received the below message.

Sorry. You’re not eligible to review this product. For more information, read the Customer Review Guidelines.

I thought for a minute, and figured maybe there was an issue with their website… So I tried to input a review for another book by another author, and received the same system message I shared above.

I wrote an inquiry to Amazon regarding the issue. To my surprise, this is the message I received the following day.

Hello,

We cannot post your Customer Review for (book title deleted) by (author name deleted) to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author. 

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or misleading will not be posted. To learn more about this policy, please review our Customer Review Guidelines (http://amazon.com/help/customer-reviews-guidelines) and FAQs (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=201077870).  

We encourage family and friends to share their enthusiasm for the book through our Customer Discussions feature or Editorial Reviews feature. To start a Customer Discussion visit the Meet Our Authors forum and enter your discussion title in the Start a new discussion box. You’ll find the forum here: 
http://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors/&cdForum=Fx2UYC1FC06SU8S

To have your Editorial Review posted to the detail page, e-mail it directly to the author so they can add it for you. 

If you believe you’re eligible to write a Customer Review for this book, send additional details to review-appeals@amazon.com. 

We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Harm J,

At this point I am dumbstruck. “I know the author.” That is quite an erroneous and quite presumptous assessment, so I went through the painstaking process of escalating the issue to their Review Appeals Department. At this point, I’m pretty upset.

Greetings,

I am appalled with your recent email message stating a review I wrote could not be posted because my “online activity suggests I know the author.” (Online purchase: X by X eBook.)

This response is ludicrous. I am a writer and published author. I understand the Indie Community is a small one, and among our circles, rubbing elbows with peers is not an uncommon occurrence. I am also a blogger and reviewer who also buys books. When I’m not writing, I am reading and reviewing. My reviews are one hundred percent unbiased, regardless if I have rubbed elbows with peers online. I would like to know who is providing you the information that suggests I may know the author.

That’s a two-edged sword; knowing of an author online, and personally knowing an author in real life are two different things. By your definition it would mean that bloggers such as myself are being barred from reviewing books they legitimately purchased, which in turn contravenes with the notion that reviews for a verified purchase are highly encouraged.

I am left speechless as I don’t know any authors on a level you are suggesting. I merely follow authors on Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, tsu, and on your partner site Goodreads. I interact with these authors during takeover events. I am an avid reader and I buy my books like anyone else does.

Your claims are unfounded, and as a paying consumer, I demand my review be posted. It is unfair to the authors whose work I love, to be punished for a claim that simply cannot stand. I don’t know any authors on a personal level.

Expecting your prompt response,

Ms. Santiago

(Amazon user: x@x.com)

Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

I was hoping for a better outcome. It took them a week to answer back. To my dismay, this below screenshot is the response I received today.

Amazon has crossed the line. 

I pay for my eBooks. I take the time to read and review books I love. The Big Brother mentality Amazon is employing is appalling, and crosses an ethical line of unfathomable proportions. They are not God, and are censoring my passion for the written word. Because of them, I will not be allowed to write and post any further reviews on their site, regardless if I paid, or not. It is a disservice to readers, and a back-handed slap in the face of all authors across the board.

What quantifiable and verifiable ways is Amazon using to determine if I know the author of a book, or not? The fact that they refuse to elaborate as to how I “know the author personally” is highly concerning. 

This is what happens when you are a published writer, and write reviews for the books you paid for.

This is wrong, and it has to stop.

It  is censorship at its finest. I have interacted with a couple hundred authors over the past year; from events to signings, authors and writers rub elbows during networking sessions. This does NOT mean I know you personally. Knowing someone personally is bearing knowledge about them, from say… their favorite color to their social status.

Amazon, you have spat in the face of those authors and writers whose work deserve praise and recognition. I am shocked and appalled. At this time, I will discontinue writing peer reviews. I will complete my list of pending reviews, and will cease from posting them on Amazon.

I’m truly sorry, but my wings have been clipped.

Don’t hate me for it.

Blame Amazon for their questionable business practices.

Feel free to post your comments below. I’m eager to read your thoughts.

-i

Please share this blog post if you think this business practice is unfair.

#ExplainYourselfAmazon #Censorship #QuestionableBusinessPractices #AuthorsDependOnReviews #ClippedWings

415 comments

  1. hhanover · July 24, 2015

    God, I love the thought of the suppressed minions of Amazon, probably Bangladeshi orphans, no doubt dressed in drab uniforms, doggedly sifting the net for social media postings, poring through stultifying virtual reams of mindless drivel on a quest to find a bias in a review of a never-to-be-read-by-anyone tome. Let it be true, please.

    Like

    • Edward · September 17, 2015

      Having worked for Amazon in the past, I can tell you that this was almost surely read by an American customer service agent, probably sitting right in Seattle, and that they verified the link with their own eyes, cross-checking the automated system and confirming you could be on a first name basis with the author. It’s my guess that you live in the same town as the author. I doubt I can be of any further assistance as I did not work in that department and don’t know anything about how that department operates.

      Like

      • imysantiago · September 17, 2015

        Through this ordeal I learned a lot about this author, and let’s put it this way: I live in Northeastern U.S., and they live in Southeastern U.S. So no, we do not live in the same town, and no, we did not know each other on a first name basis, but after all this, now we do. So…

        Liked by 1 person

      • hhanover · September 25, 2015

        I recently wrote a review of A Walk in the Woods… . It was rejected. I edited it, taking out the words “niggardly” and “dumbass”. It was published. The last word is certainly not obscenity but the former word, well, sounds fishy to someone with a sixth grade vocabulary. I think it’s a robot.

        Like

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  10. Jolie Mason · August 13, 2015

    Reblogged this on Jolie Mason and commented:
    I’m torn. If someone is a reviewer, it seems wrong to hinder their ability to do their work, and you can’t be expected not to “know” authors. Also, does it stand to reason that paid reviews are better? Those reviewers don’t know the author, but they are being paid for glowing reviews, a practice I hate. I will give free books for review, but I won’t pay for one. I don’t know. There has to be a better way than this, and some of the books I see with five stars 100 times over… do not get me started.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. georgiebolwell · August 17, 2015

    Reblogged this on Books and Babble and commented:
    Woah… definitely not a good way to deal with this Amazon… That definitely sounds like an automated response to me…

    Like

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  15. N.B. · September 2, 2015

    Is there really a such thing as an “unbiased” review? Of course this is total BS and I hate censorship. Would they have felt the same if your review was a 1-star?

    Liked by 2 people

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  18. rebeccawithey · September 17, 2015

    I am shocked and appalled. I have relied heavily on Amazon reciews for peoduct comsiderations but never thought that some of the reviews could be silenced like that. Makes me want to shop less at Amazon. Thank you for putting this out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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  20. Sandy · September 24, 2015

    I’ve had reviews removed too and not from people who live anywhere near me. The ‘could be on a first name basis with’ is just too ridiculous and vague to be a business practice, surely. I am on a first name basis with some famous authors that I’ve never met, because they interact with their followers on social media. Authors use their personal Facebook pages as business networking tools. It doesn’t mean we are personal friends with these people. I’m not about to invite them over for dinner or introduce them to my family.

    To me it’s clear that Amazon is using Facebook connections to make this decision. Hell, if they look at Twitter hundred of people who sell 10,000 Tweets won’t be able to review my book. I can understand family links, but this is ridiculous. I pay for books and leave honest reviews, no matter who the author is.

    This whole situation just makes me SO MAD!

    Like

  21. Amazon is removing reviews of my books without any — not even slightest – indication that these come from people known to me. Or living nearby – much less family which I don’t have – not in North America, anyway. They have removed reviews by total strangers who bought my books and when I ’emailed’ their review-tribunal whatever it is, I received an automated reply that was even more inane than the ones I read about here. It stated that I should contact the reviewers whose reviews were removed and ask them to appeal. Are they serious? Can’t someone out there put this kind of stupidity to rest? The reviews were from total strangers. I do not have their emails, have no knowledge of their residence or anything else other than they bought my book because my sales numbers support it. I do not have their names and if anything it’s Amazon who would have their emails and their usernames. This practice has long passed the ‘annoyance’ stage and has firmly landed in the criminal moat. Since no one seems to be able to do anything about these robo-trolls and asinine algorithms, my books will be leaving Amazon as soon as their KDP enrollment is over. Will I miss them? Kind of doubt it. I’ll have a new e-commerce website and Kindle versions can come off there. Whereas epubs and hardcopies will come from other distributors who at the very least aren’t as criminally stupid as Amazon. They might seem to think they’re an empire but history shows that empires topple…sooner or later.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Yves-Marie Lemaître · October 2, 2015

    Hi, I have seen the link to this story on Twitter a few minutes ago (yes, only today, it is the magical logic of social networks…), and I have two comments.
    First one is specific: I have myself commented on several books on Amazon, and especially about two books written by someone I know personally, living in my neighborhood, with kids in the same school, connected with me on social networks, etc. I have bought the books, my wife has read them (they are about nutrition…), she has written two 5-star reviews, and I have published them (and my friend has thanked me, using my surname…). On Amazon. I have never been rejected or suspected of any friendship link. So the process is bogus somehow.
    Second one is more technical: if Amazon uses some machine learning and data mining tools to help them find “irrelevant” reviews, then a statistical fact must be considered, e.g. the more comments you publish, the more likely you are to fall into that trap, as the algorithm will be in a better position to find some links, as there will be more data… This is a paradox of Big Data, the more data, the easier to find a correlation. And there is the trap: correlation does not mean causation, the fact that you have many traits in common with an author does not mean you know him, it only means you have a fair amount of things in common, enough for a machine to trigger a warning about a suspicion. The issue with the Amazon review team is that they have not made the difference, most probably because they do not add their personal judgement to the machine processing… This is the reason why I have not been spotted, because I have not written enough reviews to help Amazon’s algorithm to detect my own behavior.
    Conclusion: writing reviews on Amazon is only permitted to occasional random reviewers, who will never be spotted by the Review Assessment team, because there is no pattern, even if they write non-sense. Writing numerous and systematical reviews will trigger such issues as you have described, one day or another, even if your reviews are of the highest quality.
    The process is as stupid as a machine, that’s all folks.

    Liked by 2 people

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  29. Debra Apple · February 10

    Your story was really interesting to me because yesterday I read a review of an e-book that started out “I am a personal friend of this author and I really liked this book…..” The reviewer gave it 5 stars. I left a comment saying that’s probably why she gave her 5 stars. I wish I could remember which book it was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • imysantiago · February 25

      There are exceptions to the rule, of course. But then again, you have to ask yourself, does it matter if they are friends with the author? Sure it does breach that fine line of objectivity, but what if it was really a good book? It’s tough to say.

      Like

  30. Andi Loveall · February 14

    This is extremely upsetting. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m still furious. If someone buys a book, they should be able to review that book. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Layce Gardner · March 31

    I personally don’t like the thought of authors reviewing other authors, especially if they write in the same genre. I know some authors that use fake names and leave bad reviews for their contemporaries. You should be blaming them, not Amazon. They’re the ones who spoiled it for us all.

    Like

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