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

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415 comments

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  4. V Thurman · July 7, 2015

    This whole thing is upsetting to me. Thank you for raising awareness.

    Like

  5. Shirley Harris-Slaughter · July 7, 2015

    Reblogged this on shirleyharris-slaughter and commented:
    Nonnie, I certainly will share this and reblogging is one way to do it. Thanks for the timely message.

    Like

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  8. gina amos · July 7, 2015

    This is unbelievable.

    Like

  9. sandravaldine · July 8, 2015

    Hi, Imy! I was as appalled as anyone, reading of your experience with Amazon. Several levels of upset: how do they (can they? dare they?) get into someone’s private correspondence or online activity to conclude anything? This is scary. And, is this a new policy on Amazon’s part or is it just some rogue Amazon employee? And, what does this portend for everyone if it is a policy? I posted links to your blog post on my FB page and several groups. One person responded with the following:

    “I’m skeptical about that blog post without reading the review in question. Or actually knowing whether these two agreed to “trade reviews” or become “friends” on highly public social media, including one owned by Amazon. This policy is good to know, that they are trying to crack down on purchased reviews in this way. Indicates a need for caution about “friending” your fans on personal social media sites.”

    Can you answer these questions? Was it a trade situation? What did your review say? Are you actually a friend of the author in question? To me, a friend is someone I call on the phone to chat or air a problem, have over for dinner, and do things with––all physically. But people define things differently. Were aware of doing anything Amazon would object to? You can message me on FB if you want https://www.facebook.com/sandy.nathan.author

    Thanks so much for enlightening us and sorry for what you went through.

    Like

    • imysantiago · July 8, 2015

      I have posted the review in the comments, and it is also on Goodreads.

      To answer your questions… First and foremost, this was not a review swap. I discovered the author during a release party for the second book of the trilogy the author penned. The blurb interested me, so I added the book to my TBR. I was in the middle of writing my second novel, so I couldn’t read it then. Once I published my second novel back in May, I was able to purchase and read all three novels pretty much back to back. I became an instant fan girl, and I immediately started following them on social media. I signed up for their blog tour, and even participated in their release day party. I have hundreds of friends on my friends list on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, tsu, even Goodreads that I don’t know personally. To me being “friends” on social media is not the same as being friends in real life. Does that make sense?

      I applaud Amazon for trying to curb unethical positive/negative reviews from being posted. What I don’t find congruent is them monitoring social media activity as basis to determine associations, because as an indie writer I use social media to network and promote my books, like thousands before me. I never consented to that in their terms and conditions. If Amazon is data mining, we deserve to know, and I stand my ground in saying I do not know this author on a personal level as Amazon claims. The same interaction I’m having with you right now is the same I have with all authors across the board.

      Like

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  11. lfgillis02 · July 8, 2015

    Unfortunately, nothing is private on the internet. Amazon isn’t the only one monitoring and saving data on its customers. Personally, I find it ridiculous that they would accuse you of being anything but honest in your reviews. It’s also insulting to the authors you read.

    Good luck.
    Linda

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. Jenny · July 9, 2015

    I enjoy what you guys are up too. This sort of clever work and coverage!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys
    to blogroll.

    Like

  16. Angela Gascoigne · July 9, 2015

    I heard about this a few days ago and have been simmering away with anger ever since. I don’t know what Amazon think they’re playing at this time! I ve never heard so much rubbish. I ve lost all faith in them and in life as a self published author and I am seriously considering not having any more of my books published!

    Like

    • foguth · July 11, 2015

      While I publish my books through KDP, I also publish through Smashwords. If your main problem with being indie is Amazon, perhaps you should take the time to review all option.

      Like

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  18. Alicia Dean · July 9, 2015

    Reblogged this on Author Alicia Dean and commented:
    Has this happened to you? It has to me, and it happened once with a reader who tried to leave a review who was not even a fellow author. I highly encourage readers to leave their reviews on Goodreads and on Barnes and Noble, when your book is available there.

    Like

  19. Alicia Dean · July 9, 2015

    I re-blogged this. It’s amazing how many people this has happened to. I think we should perhaps create a site where authors can list their books, and a few details (link, price, brief blurb/log line, small image), along with reviews from readers and fellow authors. Any thoughts on this? If we did that and all of us shared the link, it would probably build up a great deal of content and a good following in time.

    Like

  20. Kathy L Wheeler · July 9, 2015

    Reblogged this on Kathy L Wheeler – Author and commented:
    Unbelievable.

    Like

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  22. Reblogged this on Naughty Edition Reviews and commented:
    What quantifiable and verifiable ways is Amazon using to determine if I know the author of a book, or not?

    Like

  23. Zoe · July 9, 2015

    Another example of Amazon/Goodreads making life miserable for authors because they can. Because of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc., I am now acquainted and even friends with a number of authors that I read. The net result of Amazon’s absurd policy is that I should stay off of social media and eschew any kind of relationship with an author.

    For some unfathomable reason, Amazon and Goodreads actually believes that “reviews” are as valuable as the published material they are reviewing. Quite frankly they are merely entertaining and rarely useful for making a reading selection as far as I’m concerned. And the only thing that matters to Amazon is the rating. Goodreads is nothing more than a rating mill for them since there is no requirement that a G-R member read a book to rate it or even that a book in their database be published.

    P.S. I’ve just encountered this problem myself and as usual, the email from Amazon does not outline why you received the review denial or that you have been locked out from reviewing a particular book. Sort of like the way they will reject your book for publishing because it doesn’t meet some unpublished guideline, but they can’t tell you what guideline you don’t meet.

    Like

  24. Heather C. Leigh · July 9, 2015

    This entire situation pisses me off so much. I’m also an author and have ‘connections’, not friendships, with hundreds of authors on social media. We are in groups together to share gripes, or book cover ideas, or bounce questions off each other. We don’t chit chat on the phone, grab a coffee together, or have each other over for dinner.
    I buy books. A lot of books. Last year, in fact, I spent over $2K on ebooks at Amazon. Perhaps we should start buying from iTunes or B&N if this is how we are to be treated?

    Like

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  28. Micki Peluso · July 11, 2015

    I am a professional reviewer and have 140 reviews posted on Amazon. Did I know the authors? I knew them because as promoters and marketers of books we are destined to run into other writers. That does not make them our friends although I have become friendly with some writers after the review was written, because they wrote to me thanking me. This is one more way that Amazon plays Big Brother with authors and reviewers, It has become the Dictator of the writing world, stamping out all book stores and buying up any sites that might offer competition.

    Yet, in today’s economy, marketing online leaves us with few choices other than the mighty Amazon, especially for self-publishing authors. I, too, would like to know how they get information on myself and who I may or may not be friends with. If they continue going this route, their review section will soon become an empty spot on the writer’s page.

    Like

    • hhanover · July 11, 2015

      Interesting. Who pays a Professional Reviewer? A publisher? An author? A bookseller? Is the hiring entity always referenced in the review? Who has final cut? Pardon the questions – I just do not know anything about that job except for those who work for the Times or New Yorker and I know who pays them.

      Like

    • sandravaldine · July 24, 2015

      Well stated, Micki. I know a number of authors in the on-line sense: maybe doing a guest blog for them or posting one on my blog, reviewing their books or participating in FB discussions. Are we friends? Not in the traditional “I had her over for dinner” or “we went out for tea” or “I’d call her to watch the kids if I had to have surgery.” That’s friendship, to me. What Amazon is calling friendship is an online thing where the parties wouldn’t recognize each other in a crowd. But because of the online culture/Amazon culture has developed, what isn’t friendship but rather being courteous is counted as traditional friendship. And traditional friendship … is it counted at all?

      Like

  29. Richard Sutton · July 11, 2015

    So… let me get this right… if my Big Six Publisher (or is it only five now?) sends an ARC to a professional reviewer he has lunch with four times a week and last attended the guy’s daughter’s wedding, then Amazon has no problems with posting the review. Is that right?

    Liked by 1 person

  30. theromancereadingbrit · July 12, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Romance Reading Brit.

    Like

  31. Barbara · July 12, 2015

    There is a part of me that cannot blame amazon for this paranoia. There has been so many fake accounts in amazon these days. However, they cannot just say that you are a friend of the author without justifying their allegation. Have they peeked into your private activities online, emails and social media accounts? Have they checked your phone contacts? This is alarming though. Good if it happened to a real faker, but what if this always happens to a true-honest-to-goodness customer?

    Like

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  33. markedwardhallbooks · July 12, 2015

    Precisely why I stopped reviewing my fellow author’s books nearly two years ago when Amazon did a similar purge. Some of the reviews I wrote disappeared, as well as reviews of my work by fellow authors. Joe Konrath addressed this in one of his blog posts and said that he stopped reviewing other writer’s work for the same reason.
    This is all very strange because whenever I buy a book Amazon sends me an email asking me what I thought of it and would I please write a review. Not a chance in hell. Amazon blew it. As an independent writer Amazon has been good to me, even so, this policy is amazingly misguided.

    Like

  34. Rhyan Birch · July 13, 2015

    I have 2 friends that will not buy a book from Amazon. Full stop.this happened to them a while ago and as there are a lot of places to buy books they started going elsewhere. They fallow hundreds of authors between them. But that’s it. No release parties or personal friendships. I have not had it happen to me but I can’t afford the books they can. I also live in Canada but I have been going elsewhere for more of the books I do buy. I still buy books published by Amazon but also fewer then I used to.

    Like

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  38. wecoble · July 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on wecoble and commented:
    When we authors do the meet and greet, it does not mean we are friends. Friendly yes. I agree if we buy the book we have ever right to review it and post it where ever. Reviews are damn hard to get for us indie authors and this just reinforces the traditional publishing market. Would we ban a publishing house because they “know” the reviewers. Lets unite.

    Like

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  49. Tom · July 24, 2015

    As a long time Amazon customer, Kindle owner and extensive poster on the Amazon Kindle Discussion board your arrogance, ego, sense of entitlement and blatant accusations disgust me. You jump to conclusions based on ZERO evidence and then go out of your way to attack a company based solely on your ignorant assumptions is mind boggling.

    First of all, Amazon never, and I do mean NEVER, removes reviews on their own. They want them and they have never cared how valid or real they are. They have 15 years of controversy after controversy over the rampant corruption in their review system, esp when it comes to books. The only times they actively remove reviews w/o customer interaction is when there is a particularly blatant controversy that makes it into the media. Otherwise they ignore any and all fake reviews unless customers complain about them.

    When it comes to Kindle books, those of us on the Kindle Discussion board have seen countless fake sock puppet reviews, friends/family reviews and tit-for-tat author reviews. We’ve seen how hard it is to get Amazon to remove them when we see and report them. Amazon won’t remove them unless one of us customers report it, and then they rarely ever remove them unless they are provided with evidence from the customer reporting the review. We’ve even seen sock puppets admit to making a fake review on the Kindle board without Amazon removing the offending review. It is very hard to get them to remove reviews.

    So, that said…. NO Amazon was not looking into your PUBLIC Facebook messages and friends lists all on their own in order to remove your reviews by themselves. A CUSTOMER had to report your review and the CUSTOMER had to provide evidence to back up their report. Then, and only then, would Amazon remove your reviews and/or investigate your PUBLIC activity.

    Sorry, 15 years of experience and evidence trumps your assumptions of single incident.

    Oh.. and no, you are not entitled to being able to write reviews, you have no rights when it comes to writing reviews. And this is not censorship (Amazon is not the Government) That is Amazon’s private property and they have sole rights over what someone can and can not post on their property. They don’t even owe you a reason, they could remove it for no reason. Besides it being their personal property, you gave them the right to remove your postings for no reason the second you made your account and the second you posted your review. If you don’t like that they have that right then you should not have wasted your time accepting their terms and posting on their private property. It’s “authors” like you that we Kindle owners stay away from.. very far away from.

    And I wonder how long you will allow this post wit stay up. Let’s see how “censorship” goes when it is you have the power to remove things and you don’t like what you see.

    Like

    • imysantiago · July 24, 2015

      I do not censor anyone. Your response made me smile. Thank you. Angry, much? *winks*

      Like

    • imysantiago · July 25, 2015

      Tom, did you see Amazon’s response yesterday? I think you’ll find it enlightening: http://www.engadget.com/2015/07/24/amazon-social-media-ebook-review-relationship-imy-santiago/

      Also… I wanted to stress I’m not opposed to reading everyone’s opinion, because the beauty of being a rational being is that we can have differences of opinion. Having said that, your statements about my “ego, arrogance, sense of entitlement and blatant accusations” and how they “disgust you” are downright mean. You don’t know me. If you got to know me personally you would take back your unkind words because I’m a nice gal.

      Also, having diverging opinions on a topic is one thing, but going after my work is another. You pride yourself in being an active discussion board member on Amazon, the same company that condones cyber bullying and trolling on said boards, and posted reviews; the same goes on their partner site Goodreads. Would it be fair to call you a bully and/or troll because your statements are offensive? Maybe, but I don’t know you to generalize your online interactions.

      You’ve also alluded to sock puppet reviews, friends/family reviews, and tit-for-tat reviews. This is all very true. I’ve witnessed it myself and it is, without a doubt, a serious problem. But to include me in that unethical pool is irresponsible because the author is not known personally to me, they aren’t a family member, there’s no bad blood between the author and me, and my review wasn’t part of a review swap. It was me, a genuine reader and blogger, trying to leave a review for a book that I loved. A book I paid for. I don’t care about not being able to leave a review on Amazon, though I do feel bad for all those authors whose work I’ll read in the future. They won’t be able to get a review from me, nor from many of their readers; reviews that are earned and deserved. NThat’s the problem I wanted to stress to Amazon. Fair and unbiased ethical reviews are either deleted, or unable to post because of some weird algorithm…

      And as far as your comment “it’s authors like you that we Kindle owners stay away from… very far away from.” You haven’t read my work so why would you say that? Just because I stated my opinion in regards to my personal experience with Amazon on my website doesn’t make me a terrible writer and human being, or much worse, a liar.

      Amazon admitted to monitoring online activity, and I hope that isn’t a disappointment for you given your fierce advocacy for them. All I asked for was transparency, and I got it. As far as I’m concerned, case closed.

      Like

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