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. Pingback: Amazon… A virtual marketplace, or Big Brother? | Passion_of_the_Published
  2. H. Anthe Davis · July 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on The War of Memory Project and commented:
    By the comments, it’s apparent that this is becoming a common thing. Sheesh.

    Like

  3. Caroline Mitchell · July 3, 2015

    This is crazy, but thank you for pointing it out. I wish Amazon was as quick off the mark when it comes to ridiculous one star reviews such as ‘drugs’ and ‘there’s too many words in this book’ which they thought were perfectly reasonable. :-/

    Like

  4. tbordeme · July 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on T.S. Bordemé and commented:
    This is wrong, and it has to stop

    Like

  5. Judy Contino · July 3, 2015

    I’m shocked that Amazon is doing this. I had heard of this happening to other people but thought it was isolated incidents. Apparently not. Personally I think it’s none of their business if I personally know an author. If I spend my money to buy a book and read it, I should have the right to express my opinion in a review. If they want to block.an honest review they should at least have the courtesy to explain why instead of expounding a bunch of garbage, basically telling someone they can do what they want and don’t care what you think. Where would they be if consumers told they we will no longer patronize their site? This kind of attitude has to stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lisafender · July 3, 2015

    Unbelievable! Is there any way indie authors can fight this together? They might own the site, but they are a public company. Aren’t there laws to protect us? I’m reposting to my fanpage – Fable Book 1 of The Lorn Prophecy

    Like

  7. Lauren · July 3, 2015

    That’s…scary. What the heck are they basing their claims that you ‘know’ the author on?
    They’ve gone from shoving authors around to spying on them now? I’d like to reblog this on my site https://makingthenovelabetterplace.wordpress.com/

    Like

  8. Marilyn Armstrong · July 3, 2015

    I’ve had personal correspondence with almost every Indie author I’ve ever reviewed — and a whole bunch that are not “Indie” too. Never heard of this before. Weird. Someone must have formally complained or something. Otherwise, I doubt they would have looked.

    Like

  9. Mina · July 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on Dream. Create. Design and commented:
    I am in shock.

    I’m sure I’m not the first nor will be the last that has actually reviewed a friend’s book in Amazon. Luckily, our friendship had survived because I’m a very honest reviewer, but now I’m afraid that whatever method Amazon is using to control reviews won’t allow me to review more of their books. I’m appalled at the way they refused to provide further information.

    Is this even legal?

    With Amazon refusing to give answers, we’ll have to wait and see.

    Like

  10. michelle · July 3, 2015

    I wonder if adding the lines “I have been following this author. . . ” and/or “I purchased this book. . .” to the review would resolve the issue? I know that is seems unfair to have to do, but if it gets the review up, that’s the most important thing.

    Like

  11. jrlarner · July 3, 2015

    I absolutely agree this is unfair and concerning. I am a new author who has previously reviewed many books before publishing my own. I have been lucky enough to have gained some good reviews (and a couple of bad ones!) on Amazon, but one recent one gave a 2 star review, admitted they hadn’t even read the book and said they were posting a bad review because I had obviously got my friends to post good reviews – this is totally untrue! But if she decided to report me because she thinks this is the case, how can I prove I haven’t solicited any reviews? I think the answer would be to say the reviewer is also an author and knows of the other person, something like that, or for Amazon to flag a review as being from an acquaintance?

    Like

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  14. Anna Dobritt · July 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on Anna Dobritt — Author and commented:
    I find this very troubling.

    Like

  15. mwgriffith · July 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on M.W. Griffith and commented:
    Has Amazon Gone Too Far? I Think So…

    Like

  16. Pingback: Amazon’s Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors | esAudioLive
  17. Kristan L. Cannon · July 3, 2015

    It’s more than troubling – it is outright censorship. Time was Amazon was the great frontier for indie authors but it looks like that time is now long over. First the new KU payment scheme (and to even participate you cannot have your e-books anywhere else but for Kindle through Amazon stinks of monopoly) and now this.

    The more I look into the more I’m happy I went with IngramSpark instead.

    Like

    • Elle · July 5, 2015

      That is defamation of your character to suggest because you may know the author in some capacity you cannot give an honest review? What is wrong with Amazon and why do they have a problem with indies? We are making them money!

      Like

  18. Pingback: Amazon's Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors | JogleApp
  19. Pingback: Amazon’s Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors » Today's America
  20. Princess S.O. Obriot · July 3, 2015

    I’ve had several reader fans msg me that their reviews were blocked. One of them was persistent to find out why and finally got a response. He had entered a drawing I had going and he won an Amazon Gift card. He used it to buy more books from a variety of authors. He already owned mine so I wasn’t among the purchases. but because I had sent the GC from my Amazon account that translated into “He knows this author personally.” It’s been two years since then, he still attempts to leave reviews and continues to ‘nag’ them about it. But so far Amazon has not appealed their ruling on it.

    Like

  21. mariceljimenez · July 3, 2015

    Then by all means, let us all begin reviewing on Barnes & Noble. Maybe they have more acceptable rules. Personally, I’ve never reviewed on their site, but it seems worth a try. This is truly concerning.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. (Un)Fettered · July 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on (Un)fettered.

    Like

  23. Elizabeth M. · July 3, 2015

    I buy from all my ebooks from Amazon but I think that’s ridiculous and just stupid.

    Like

  24. mwgriffith · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged.

    Like

  25. abbiejohnsontaylor · July 4, 2015

    I would like to have read your review. The fact that you didn’t even include the book’s title and author here makes me wonder.

    Like

    • imysantiago · July 4, 2015

      The review has been shared in the comments. The author involved has asked to be kept out of this debacle, and I’m respecting their wish in not revealing their name. Scroll up and you will see the review sans book name and author.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. authormilligib · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on Hairballs of Genius and commented:
    Amazon finds itself going both directions on a two-way street. At the same time. Censoring an honest review by another author because said author “personally knows” the author of the book reviewed goes too far. Yet at the same time, refusing to explain to the reviewer how she “personally knows” the author of the book, and refusing to give any further information goes not nearly far enough.
    Open up your policies and define them clearly.

    Like

  27. Steve Wedel · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on Steven E. Wedel and commented:
    I typically only post reviews on GoodReads and repost here, but this is good to know.

    Like

  28. Pingback: Amazon's Review Policy Is Creepy And Bad For Authors | Gizmodo Australia
  29. Leigh K. Hunt · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on Leigh K. Hunt and commented:
    And now this is happening….
    What interesting times we live in.
    I’m getting the impression that Amazon is sick of review circles, and this is their attempt to cull that behaviour. However, it doesn’t help the rest of us in the slightest. Bad form, Amazon. Bad form.

    Like

  30. naturallydotty · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on We Are All Naturally Dotty.

    Like

  31. Pingback: Amazon’s Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors « Robot Insurance
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  36. Ellen Hawley · July 4, 2015

    It’s also troubling that Amazon’s able to follow your online activity and know who the hell you interact with.

    Like

  37. J.D.Hughes · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on J.D. HUGHES.

    Like

  38. J.D.Hughes · July 4, 2015

    Amazon is probably simply bowing to pressure. The publishing old guard is having its say and trying to block peer-to-peer reviews. Must be starting to hurt. Better keep doing it.

    Like

  39. msstephaniemarks · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on STEPHANIE MARKS and commented:
    With all the changes at Amazon that has happened lately, Imy Santiago is one writer/reviewer that has really hit the nail on the head with her thoughts about Amazon’s new review policies. Amazon has always had a Big Brother style of invasive information gathering, but when they can sit there and claim to know who you know, well that just takes scary and invasive to a whole new level.

    Like

  40. cddennistheauthor · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on C.D. Dennis the Author and commented:
    Has anyone had any issues with this?

    Like

  41. Mari Biella · July 4, 2015

    Very worrying. I’m an author and, as a matter of course, am acquainted (online) with other authors. Sometimes I read and review their books. I do so under my own name because I want to be honest and upfront about my identity. I attempt to write honest and objective reviews, regardless of whether or not I’m acquainted with the author. Having said that, I avoid posting unduly negative reviews because I prefer to dwell upon things I like rather than things I don’t. Amazon haven’t yet refused to publish any of my reviews, but I suppose they could. Indeed, having read your post, Imy, I’m now pretty much expecting this to happen.

    The irony is that, if I reviewed under a concocted pen name and devoted my energies to bashing people’s books regardless of whether or not I’d actually read them, Amazon probably wouldn’t take any action against me.

    I understand that if we want to play on Amazon’s pitch then we have to play by Amazon’s rules. I don’t have a problem with that. I would appreciate knowing precisely what those rules are on this issue, though. I understand that there’s a great deal of concern about sockpuppetry and fake reviews, but I doubt that this tactic is going to help in the long term. The fact that worries me most is that they’re refusing to disclose how they’ve determined that you know the author in question. That is something you have a right to know.

    Like

  42. Nan McAdam · July 4, 2015

    This has happened to me several times by reviewers who had purchased my other book. Amazon is getting very full of themselves. Another case in point is their Kindle Select program. It is very lucrative for them, but they weren’t happy making money hand over fist, they had to change that program too so it adversely affects the authors. But, back to this Amazon issue, when my reviewers were blocked, at this point, the review will be lost if we don’t encourage them to go to B&N and Goodreads to leave their review. The only way Amazon will listen is if it makes a difference on their bottom line which is $$. But, to do that will also hamstring the author. I’m a proud Indie and we don’t need any more stumbling blocks thrown in our pathway to success. Thanks for spreading the word!!

    Like

  43. Robert Medak · July 4, 2015

    Amazon doesn’t like reviewers, only customers? I am not allowed to post reviews and had six years worth of reviews removed.

    I post on my review blog, B&N, Goodreads, and post a link on my social sites.

    Like

  44. Pingback: Furor over Amazon review policy probably signifies nothing - TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics
  45. philosophermouseofthehedge · July 4, 2015

    This should be a real concern for everyone. Even if you know the author, you may be quite able to be objective…or able to hate their writings.
    Censorship or wanting to select who get to review a book?

    Like

  46. Marcha's Two-Cents Worth · July 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on Marcha's Two-Cents Worth and commented:
    Wow. Amazon is certainly out of hand. This policy is nothing short of throwing out the baby with the bath water. If you’re an Indie author, read it and be warned. This is yet another reason that I refuse to give Amazon exclusivity with my books and participate in KU.

    Like

  47. Marcha's Two-Cents Worth · July 4, 2015

    This is very troubling indeed since it threatens the existence and effectiveness of the many indie support groups. Using hashtags on Twitter may be one way in which they track such things. Doing shoutouts, #FF and any number of other actions could be how they spy on our activity and assume we are personal friends with our fellow authors. Since reviews help sell books it seems self-defeating that they would do this in the first place. It definitely sounds like it’s time to give more business and attention to other vendors. Amazon is definitely getting too much control over the industry and every time we turn around they’re taking something else away from authors who are already struggling. Maybe publishers are complaining because Indies are starting to impact their sales. It might be a good idea for Indies who participate in KU to quit the program for a starter, one that has few benefits anyway.

    Like

  48. A B Church · July 4, 2015

    Something screwy is going on at Amazon, something rather dark and sinister. I’m not sure I can completely boycott the company but I have relegated them to last place on my list of providers. It was good while it lasted. There are very few independent merchants remaining compared to 20 years ago, certain items can only be obtained through giant retailers. BUT any time I can find an indie alternative that is where I’m going!

    Like

    • Kris Dickinson · July 4, 2015

      I work in an indie bookstore. There are only 5 of us and that includes the 2 owners who work right along side us. We have new & used books and I love it. We are the only indie bookstore in 3 counties. And like I tell my customers, if we dont have what you want, we can get it (and NOT from Amazon!) Any time youd rather shop with an indie bookstore, consider ours 🙂 http://www.wellsborobookstore.com We also have a Facebook page – From My Shelf Books & Gifts. Ive posted about this on my FB page Ms Santiago and will continue to help get the word out about how Amazon ( or as we call it, the Evil Empire) treats its customers. Have a great day! 🙂

      Like

  49. John Maberry · July 4, 2015

    I shared your post on the group I run on LinkedIn–Writers Hangout. Disconcerting at best. Amazon has perhaps become not an 800-pound but a 1-ton gorilla.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. Pingback: Amazon Starts to Enforce Draconian e-book Review Policy

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