Do Amazon’s Book Review Policies Meet Authors’ Needs?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

indie self-published authors book reviews Amazon marketing discoveryA self-published author says a review she posted on Amazon for a fellow writer’s book was removed because, according to the e-tailer, she knows the author personally.

The author, Imy Santiago, has challenged that assertion with Amazon’s customer review moderators, which she says Amazon told her it determined based on her “account activity.”

Reviewing the incident, one observer suggests that the apparent lack of transparency about how Amazon identifies personal relationships among users is an issue that in some cases amounts to censorship.

That view seems overblown, not least because it misses a point Santiago and another indie author who’s had a similar experience both make about their vocation: The relationships authors must cultivate—with both readers and one another, and in the indie world in particular—make that line uniquely difficult to draw.

As Santiago writes on her blog, “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,” she says, “I am reading and reviewing.” Santiago suggests that each of those activities flow back into her business as an author—which isn’t so surprising, given what it typically takes for authors to build their profiles within communities of interested readers and drum up excitement for their work.

Reader-provided book reviews are arguably becoming even more critical marketing tools than ever, especially as readers play expanded roles in determining how content is discovered and curated. One book marketing expert puts it bluntly: “If you want to sell more books, don’t worry about getting reviews from the traditional media. Spend your time getting reviews on your books sales page,” namely on Amazon.

Indeed, the rising importance of customer reviews has hardly been lost on Amazon, which has lately sharpened its focus on the roles they play in the user experience. In recent months the e-tailer has cracked down on third-party sites selling bogus reviews to paying merchants. And just last month it rolled out a machine-learning platform designed to surface more meaningful product reviews to customers based on their activity.

For now, though, it seems Amazon’s best algorithmic efforts at improving review quality and relevance conflict with some of the ways indie authors use them in a discovery landscape where being both a reader/customer and an author/seller are increasingly intertwined.

10 thoughts on “Do Amazon’s Book Review Policies Meet Authors’ Needs?

  1. Sam

    As mentioned early in the article, this can be said to be an issue of censorship. Yes the reviewer knew the author, but they could have just as easily given the book a bad review. You can’t help who you meet in your industry, nor should anyone be discouraged from networking. Amazon is typically worried about the masses, and doesn’t always consider the individual (or, ya know, “indie” community), when in all reality, censoring one review can greatly hurt a new author without much exposure.

  2. Allan Hoving

    If you can “LookInside” and read a sample, then buy or borrow the ebook instantly, start reading beyond the sample, and return it for a full refund if it’s really awful… why would you need reviews?

    1. Wendy

      Authors need reviews in order to book ads to sell books. Sites like Bookbub (which is THE place to get an ad) won’t look at books without reviews, neither will Book Gorilla, ENT, any other site that selects books and doesn’t just advertise them. Reviews are part of the selection process.

  3. Alison

    Amazon’s review policy has been causing problems for years, as has their draconian method of removing thousands of valid reviews in the hope of removing some hoax reviews. The answer is not to rely on your own network of authors and family, but to use readers you would not otherwise reach. BookBub and are just a few of the growing providers who cater for this need. They promote author’s books to large pools of readers, many of them who will buy your book and write about it in blogs and on Amazon as well as Goodreads.
    So rather that swim against the tide (Amazon’s review policy), its better to jump on the boat of one of these providers and achieve your goal.

  4. deb smith

    Indie authors have always put too much faith in Amazon. The company is focused entirely on what makes customers happy, not vendors — which indie authors are, just like the companies that sell soap and bird seed. Those of us who deal with Amazon as wholesalers have long warned the indies that the 6,000 pound gorilla who shares their habitat will slowly, steadily, claim all of that real estate for itself, leaving them cornered.

  5. Victoria Strauss

    Reiterating Nate’s point: Amazon doesn’t do what it does for authors. It does what it does for its customers. Whether its book review policies \meet authors’ needs\ is irrelevant.

    Amazon is a business. But authors and readers (and the author of this article) often behave as if Amazon were a public resource–as if the resources it makes available (including self-publishing and reviewing) are a right and not a privilege, as if it has some kind of duty to authors that it betrays every time it makes a business decision.The intense anger that greets periodic reality checks like book deletions and review refusals is just one indication of how deeply many of us buy into that illusion.

  6. Elizabeth Mapstone

    This doesn’t work out in practice. My first two books were published by Random House, and all the reviews posted on amazon in the first instance were from bona fide readers I did not know – there were a lot of them, for both books. But they have all been taken down, for no discernible reason. A few very recent reviews of Stop Dreaming, Start Living have been posted, but I’m waiting to see how long they last! As for my recent novel The Amazon’s Girdle, it has one review, but it is not the first one I recall reading! So even in the past month, a genuine purchaser’s review has been taken down. On this occasion, I do know the person in question, but still don’t see how that makes a difference. I can’t dictate what others post – the reader might have hated the book (though I’m glad she didn’t). How can censorship help the consumer? Or anyone?

  7. Robert

    Actually, Amazon does what it does for Amazon, not for the customers. Anyone who is close enough to see how they manipulate prices can see that very clearly.

  8. sam

    I really don’t think so, amazon author review system is not . I purchased book and put review for the book but amazon removed my review . “story of book is boring” such kind of review me posted but they removed it . Simply they won’t allow to write readers personal opinion .

  9. Jim

    In my experience the “review of the review” process is random. We watched a wheeler-dealer acquaintance publish a book and then seed it with over 40 five star reviews, all non-verified purchases, many of which were posted the SAME DAY it published. We know it happened because we also know many of the reviewers who did it as a favor. It has been a couple of months and all those reviews are still up, joined by 4 or 5 not-so-glowing verified ones.



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