Amazon’s Disappearing Reviews

Does Amazon have the right to delete customer reviews?

Unfortunately, yes. Yes. They. Do.

The lost reviews of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls.

You see 52 . . . but it had been 59.

You see 52 . . . but it had been 59.

What you see is a screen shot of my first book, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. It has 52 reviews . . . but only a few hours before, it had 59.

WTF?

That’s what I thought, so I went to Google and found thisthis, this, and this. Basically, disappearing book reviews on Amazon have become an issue for all kinds of authors. Awhile ago an author named RJ Ellory actually admitted to making fake accounts and posting poor reviews on the books of other authors, so Amazon responded by “policing” reviews.

If you really want to dive into it, there’s the whole No Sock Puppets Here Please petition, where 400 writers gathered together and signed a document, blah, blah, blah. Here’s an interesting article from an author who signed it, if you’re into that kind of thing. 😉

Thanks RJ, for screwing up for the rest of us honest folks . . .

Contacting Amazon

So, naturally, I went to Amazon’s help page to ask them where the hell my reviews went. (All 5 star, mind you.)

Here is Amazon’s help page below. Notice something strange? There’s not a call option if you want to talk to them about customer reviews. (Look on the bottom right hand corner of the photo)

Hmm . . .

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.09.03 PM

So I selected that I was ‘giving feedback’ and had them call me anyway.

The guy I talked to was very nice, and this is certainly not his fault, but essentially it came down to two things, he said.

1. All seven readers deleted their review within a few hours of each other. Makes sense right? OR

2. There’s a glitch in the website and they may reappear later.

That’s it, folks. Someone worked voodoo on my ratings.

Buzzer noise here. Not buying it. This isn’t a glitch. This is Amazon working their magical powers because they can.

Here’s the thing: I’m lucky. I still have 52 reviews and an overall amazing rating, so it won’t affect sales all that much. But for other people who have less reviews? This could be crippling.

It boils down to this:

Amazon is removing reviews written by people with a “vested interest.”

At least, that’s what they say. To be totally fair, they are trying to respond to what could be a problem: friends jacking up other people’s books with reviews that aren’t true just to help them out, or people paying for reviews, or people making fake accounts and writing negative reviews. I get it. That can be a problem. At least Amazon is doing something, right? 

Wrong.

Amazon is removing 5 star reviews from books with only a couple reviews. They are allowing hateful 1 star reviews from people who don’t even read the book but taking away sincere 5 star reviews? Oh, and if you’re an author, don’t review any of your friends books. Because that’s a vested interest. So we can write books, but not reviews?

Methinks I sense a disturbance in the force.

One author had a fan who loved her work contact Amazon about why his review wasn’t going up. They wrote back to say he had a vested interest in the book, so they wouldn’t allow it. He wrote back to tell them a) he wasn’t a seller or competitor on Amazon and b) he received no compensation for writing the review in accordance to their guidelines. He wasn’t breaking any rules here, guys. They told him they’d remove the book from Amazon if he contacted them againIt wasn’t even his book, remember? He just liked the author.

How dare you voice your opinion, crazy reader?

You know what? I say if you want to review a book and have any solidarity, review it on Barnes and Noble and Goodreads as well. I think any author would thank you for that. Maybe in brownies. #browniesaretotallyworthit

And while you’re at it, check this guy out. He cracks me up. Srsly. He reminds me of Chuck Wendig.

Bottom line: It’s not the end of the world.

It’s really not. I’ll continue to sell books without those 7 reviews. No doubt I’ll lose more. I still have 49 ratings on Goodreads that aren’t going anywhere. Whatever. It’s life. Amazon isn’t going to go away. I also can’t eat unlimited brownies, and I’ve accepted that. As my good friend Stephanie said, “It’s uphill the whole time, isn’t it?”

But I will say: shame on you, Bezos. You started out as a bookseller, and now you’re biting the hand that fed you.

Have you lost reviews on Amazon? Sound off here.

Do you think Amazon is an entity that authors should try and avoid? But really- can an indie author afford to avoid the Amazon giant?

Comments

  1. says

    This totally bums me out. It makes me think about how much people love to see the little guy make it big, yet also like to see the mighty fall. So I’m not going to worry about Amazon having complete global domination over writers – although that would make an excellent book. Do you think they’d publish it? I doubt you can make a company as successful as Amazon without leaving a trail of unpleasant stories behind – because everyone has a perspective and it is downright impossible to please everyone, especially in the business world.

    That means I take the dodgy stories with a grain of salt, especially knowing that if anyone gets too big for their britches the free market will spank them quite soundly. Amazon seems to pride themselves on good customer service, so I can’t help but hope that they’ll address this issue. I hope you emailed them too, because I wonder if the employee you talked to really didn’t have the information on this problem. If it is a fluctuating server glitch, those reviews should return, and according to those blogs that isn’t the case.

    Good luck Katie, I’m looking forward to hearing more on this!

    • says

      The thing is this: Amazon isn’t going anywhere. And they can do whatever they want. It’s their business. Is that going to make some enemies? Yeah. You can’t please everyone. But it also makes really great passive aggressive blog posts too.

      To be honest, I’d love to find out if they do this to people published by the Big 6 as well..

      The other thing, in regards to emailing Amazon about it- loads of authors have, and they get the exact response I have. THAT is why this is so frustrating. They are staying tight lipped on it, and really aren’t speaking much about it.

      BUGS.

      • Michelle Morrison says

        Maybe writers should pool their resources and hire an army of lawyers. I realize that would probably be more hassle than it’s worth, and lawyers take big bucks. But Amazon (and other big businesses) have their army of lawyers. Maybe it might accomplish something to speak to them in a language they understand. Just a thought.

        • says

          Well, really, it’s amazon’s game, so you have to play by amazon’s rules. So we really wouldn’t have a case here. But there is a Writers Guild that helps in lawsuits if you’re a member, I think. Stephanie would know more about that.

  2. says

    I’m so fed up with Amazon. Seriously. If I didn’t have a kindle I would drop them 100%. But since I have a kindle… Yeah, can’t really go anywhere. They have really been screwing things up lately on lots of things, but this is a biggie. It’s just frustrating anymore. I don’t know if any of my reviews have been taken down. I am an Amazon Vine reviewer, so that might make a difference. I don’t know. But they are just SO out of line with SO many things lately. I could rant but I’m just gonna go to bed and stop thinking about their stupidity.

    • says

      So much powah!

      But seriously, the frustrating thing is that we really can’t do anything about it but passive aggressively blog our rage. Sigh . . .

  3. says

    As if I needed another reason to hate Amazon. This is what monopolies do: they control everything and their respect for their customers decreases in proportion to their profits increasing. I’ve heard some bloggers wax almost poetic about how wonderful Amazon is to indie authors. Then I hear horrible stories like this. I really do not understand why Amazon feels it must manipulate book reviews (yes, it is manipulation when they arbitrarily decide to remove reviews or books). I can’t imagine that their behavior somehow widens their profit margin, which I would argue is all Amazon cares about. At least your book is doing well in spite of Amazon :)

    • says

      I’ll be honest and say that yes, Amazon has done great things for indies. It’s been smart too, starting createspace, ACX, etc. But they aren’t perfect, really. It’s a company. They’re going to make enemies and friends everywhere, sometimes from the same cloth.

      But really. If they are going to go into something like policing reviews, at LEAST make a system that works.

      • says

        I hear what you’re saying, Katie. Amazon does seem to be helping indie authors with some of their programs, but from I’ve read of others’ experiences (even those who extol Amazon), it’s like making a deal with the devil. Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole there, I admit that. Still, you’re basically stuck with letting Amazon do whatever they want, whether it’s changing the ratings system, making reviews disappear, treating authors as if they’re guilty and must be proven innocent. Frankly, there’s a number of things about Amazon that I don’t like that have nothing to do with books. My antipathy with Amazon started when my cousin (a truck driver) said he wouldn’t buy from Amazon anymore because of what he saw when he dropped off merchandise at its warehouse. The warehouse employees had no chairs, not even stools to rest against if they were just checking in stuff. They were forced to be on their feet all day long. This was several years ago but apparently things haven’t changed: http://www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_workers/

        Sure, (if and) when I have a story or book to publish, I’ll probably utilize Amazon’s resources. And I do buy products from Amazon, although I try to find other outlets. Amazon is too big to ignore or avoid, and where I live, no one is selling indie books. If I want a hard copy of your book, I have to buy it from Amazon (which, of course, is exactly what I did). Sorry to go off on such a rant, but it galls me that the bigger some companies get, the worse they treat their employees and their customers.

        • says

          No, I hear you.

          Actually, my friend worked at Amazon in TN and says the same thing about how they treat their employees- and that’s it’s really terrible. It’s like WalMart. I refuse to shop there and have for almost two years now. The only time I walked into WalMart is with my husband when he demands to go They treat their employees terrible as well, I hear!

  4. says

    I don’t intend to sound flippant Katie [I feel you] but welcome to the Indie world. You may wake up one morning to find you have only three reviews out of the previous 50+. Don’t sweat it. Get more books out there and utilize every book store available to you. ((hugs))

  5. says

    Are you allowed to copy reviews from Amazon and post them on your own site? You’d have a record of them that way, even if it only serves to cheer you up when you are feeling blue…

  6. says

    Katie-

    Thank you so much for bring this to my, and many others attention, I’m sure. I had no idea that this was taking place. Quite frankly, I am outraged. I recognize the reason(s) behind Amazon’s decision (the fake, negative reviews and all,) but still, they should not have the right to delete any customer’s reviews. As a fellow Goodreads reviewer myself, I put a lot of thought and time into my reviews, and to know that someone can simply delete anyone’s reviews is wrong on multiple levels. But forget all that for just a second. The most pressing issue isn’t that they’re being deleted at will; Amazon’s decision ultimately impacts every struggling writer. And when I say struggling, I’m not referring to author’s such as Stephen King or George R.R. Martin: they’re household names, after all, and don’t need reviews (positive or otherwise.) I’m speaking of the virtually unknown names like yourself, Katie, J.S. Bailey, and the like..

    It’s a sad, sad world we live in…:(

    • says

      I agree with how much time it takes to write a review, especially when you’re putting a lot of yourself into it, and your time, not to mention that either.

      What it comes down to is this: Amazon is trying to prevent authors from gaining an advantage in an unfair way. As a business, I can respect what they are trying to do, AND their intent. Those 400 authors wanted something done, so Amazon is listening.

      The problem comes when positive reviews are taken away, but negative ones are left. I feel that the system they’ve put into place really isn’t working the way they wanted it to.

      My life will definitely go on without those reviews. I bugged me, but truly, I’m over it. More will come in. I’m blessed to have a lot of reviews. I just hope that other people don’t find their rankings or book selling in jeopardy because of the good reviews, that are honest AND within parameters, taken away.

  7. says

    I wasn’t aware of this happening on Amazon, and am sorry it happened to you and other authors. As you mentioned, it is a loss to lose 7 reviews, and those with less will certainly suffer from this. The saying “The good will always suffer because of the bad ones” comes to mind after reading this. I haven’t read your book as yet, but have it logged on my Reviewing Schedule along with a couple more authors books.

  8. Michelle Morrison says

    I thought I saw a link on Facebook with a petition but I cant’ find it now. How effective do you think petitions are? What about reviewers putting a disclaimer at the beginning of their reviews saying something like “I am not associated with this author or receiving any compensation for this review”? Do you think that would improve things? As has been pointed out, it is business, and it’s not uncommon for big business not to listen to their customers. I’m just throwing some suggestions out there. I fail to see how this would be to their benefit in the long run though. I think ultimately the only thing they would understand is a substantial loss of their profits, but how would their customers go about that? I realize there are no easy answers.

    • says

      Actually, a lot of book bloggers do leave some kind of statement or disclaimer. In my case, those have been left, which is fair. I have read of some cases, however, where that didn’t matter.

  9. Michelle Morrison says

    I found the link I was thinking about…You had a link to an article about a petition in your post. LOL. I’ll read that article over a little more carefully when I get a chance.

  10. says

    What’s the point in me leaving a 5 star review for your book if it might get deleted?

    Oh well, I guess I have no option but to give your book 1 or 2 stars now. :)

    My review is on its way, by the way.

    • says

      No rush, no rush. Who knows what Amazon will do? Maybe they’ll just take the book off the website and pay me thousands of dollars. Seems likely, right? Yeah.

  11. says

    Now I feel depressed. I have decided to indie publish my book and Amazon was my first choice. But if they can do something like that, what will stop them from potentially alienating my book in the future? At least you are now aware. I would not have been happy if i were you.

  12. says

    Katie, I’ve had reviews removed too, and not having very many, it’s disappointing.

    I agree, Amazon needs a way to reduce fraud – I just wish they had a solution that didn’t involve deleting honest reviews.

    • says

      Oh, ED, so sorry! That rots. Maybe enough people will passive aggressively blog about it like me and they’ll change 😉

  13. says

    Wow, that’s such a shame. So if you write books, publish books, or sell books, you can’t review books? And readers can only review things they aren’t fans of? That’s going to work out well over the long term… Sigh.

  14. says

    Tooooootally sucks. Having reviews deleted is not right, at all. I didn’t know they were doing that. I’ve heard pros and cons re:Amazon, but bottom line, you can’t ignore them. They’re too big. Like you said, they’re the big guys, and you really have to sort of suck it up and take it. Grrrrrr.

  15. says

    I have seen this before and it worries me. I only have a few reviews and quite a few of them are 5 star. I am worried that they’ll be deleted but the nasty 1 star will stick which will bring the overall rating down.
    Luckily as you say people can review them on Goodreads and other sites, but Amazon is the big seller which is where you need them the most.
    It’s also made me wary about being over zealous in books I review, especially with people I’ve got to know through writing and blogs. (I will be reading and reveiwing Miss Mabels School for Girls, I just have a million things on at the moment.) I try and make sure I review them on at least 3 other sites and my blog so at least my review stays there.

    I hope you manage to get the reviews back.

    • says

      They haven’t come back yet, and another one has disappeared, but it’s all right. Life moves forward despite that! Thanks for the support LM.

      Oh, and I agree with over zealous book reviews. I think I”m going to start sticking to 3-4 liners. 😉

  16. says

    Sorry for missing this interesting post. I knew about the issues you are writing about, but you are gathering them in a short post and the links help to see what’s going on.
    It is interesting to note that although Amazon is making its bucks with independently and traditionally published books, the company allows much more flexibility and even twists to the big 6 than to the little people. Shocker!
    Prior to the publication of a tradtionally published book, reviews are posted from beta readers (a combo of Amazon and publishers’ readers), and also from authors who write the same kind of stories.When we aren’t allowed to ask writers we know to write reviews for us, traditionally published writers do it all the time.
    So you’re right about the inequality of the system.
    Ultimately, writing about the issue and being vocal will work, I hope. Things change when enough people agree than enough is enough.
    I’ve nothing agaisnt the traditional publishing companies, but all writers should be treated equally, regardless of our choice of publication.
    All of us are anyway going through the Amazon machine for the distribution.
    Thank you, Katie and keep up the great work.

    • says

      You make a fantastic point I hadn’t thought of, Evelyn. Lots of other authors ‘vet’ new authors work before it’s released. Definitely don’t see that curtailed at all!

      Let’s hope enough voices band together to make a difference. It was the last round of voice speaking against ratings that caused this to happen in the first place.

  17. says

    It’s unfortunate that once again one person’s silly actions ruining it for the rest. Yes I agree with Amazon reacting to this but I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right way. I’ve been advised to be careful of how you word your review as to where you received the book as the system knows whether or not you’ve purchased from them. I haven’t lost any of my reviews as yet, maybe I will, who knows, but I was told to say that I was “gifted a copy of the book from the author” and not to mention anything about it being an ARC as those reviews were being removed.

    • says

      I think I’m going to be really careful with wording now! I appreciate you telling me that about ARC’s, as I wasn’t aware of that.

  18. says

    So I just read this and I know its been up a while but yeah…

    Katie, I feel for you. Your book was one of the few I’ve read where I felt it was well written and a good story. So many times its one way or the other. Lawrence gave the book to a friend and she read it in on night she loved it so much.

    Now on to my favorite thing to do: ranting. This raises an interesting question about censorship. There is a legitimate problem about people bashing or sugar coating books, but does Amazon have the right to act as complete judge and jury to police the reviews? In a way it makes sense because it is their website. There are other websites as you mentioned that you can do reviews on. Luckily Amazon is not the sole provider of reviews. This is a good thing about capitalism. If you don’t like one company, find another. There are always competitors… or at least there should be.

    • says

      There are other options, but ultimately, Amazon is a giant for a reason. Cutting myself out of that would really impact sales. Until I get to a point with a big enough following that I don’t need them, I’m kind of along for the ride.

      It’s kind of the same thing with Goodreads and their censoring/policing decisions. It’s their company, they own it. I’m a visitor. Their house, their rules.

      But I so love you for reading it and commenting here!

  19. says

    This has been happening for a while now and it stinks. I read a lot a books and worry that every time I review them that review will be taken down or will in some way penalise me. I can understand there have been some who’ve manipulated their ratings, and there will always be that kind of no-mark in any industry, but they should think a less crappy way of dealing with it than biting the hands that feed them. There’s always another Amazon right around the corner.

  20. says

    More ridiculous than what they’re doing is they’re ‘explanation’ for it. I mean, really. They might as well have just said ‘oh? You mad your reviews were deleted? SUCKS TO BE YOU’.

    Reviews dictate so much – not just the rating, but the amount of reviews a book has received. It can effect opinions DRASTICALLY and the fact that Amazon are basically policing who can say what is just ridiculous.

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