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