Monday, 18 June 2018

How do you confront a giant? - by Lu Hersey

What do you do if Amazon, online giant retailer with more power than most small countries, decides to remove some of your most treasured book reviews? It happened to me just over a year ago, when several of my reviews disappeared overnight. Worse, I had absolutely no idea why it happened and I couldn’t find any way to contest Amazon's decision.

This week there was a piece in the Bookseller on the subject. Apparently publishers and writers are becoming increasingly concerned about Amazon’s heavy-handed policy on removing book reviews, though unsurprisingly, most gave the Bookseller their comments anonymously. (I’m pretty nervous putting my name this post to be honest – hopefully Amazon won’t read it, as no writer can afford to alienate the largest bookseller on the planet...) 

One of the few brave enough to risk the wrath of the giant corporation in the article was HarperCollins’ commercial publisher, Kimberly Young. ‘Writing an honest review of a proof copy of a book is both an established practice and also a very modern tool,' she said. 'Reviews drive word of mouth and help readers find the right books for them. We know algorithms favour well reviewed books and I can’t see how the removal of reviews across so many titles on Amazon can benefit the consumer – it narrows the range and discoverability of books and is another step in Amazon supporting their own books at the expense of others.’

For me, the scariest thing is the way the company gets its information. Writer Kiltie Jackson wrote a blog post on the subject. She’s convinced her review of a fellow romance writer’s book was taken down because they were in the same online book club.

The bottom line seems to be Amazon mines data from social media sites and eliminates book reviews it judges are written by known contacts. As one publisher (anonymously) said, ‘ The fact that someone follows you on facebook or twitter does not reveal a conflict of interest for their reviews on Amazon and does give the book buyer a really good service.’

Most writers use sites such as Twitter and facebook as writer chat forums. It goes with the territory that we spend a lot of time on our own, and social media is a way of connecting. Like many writers, I haven’t met half of my facebook ‘friends’, and know only a tiny fraction of my followers on twitter. Which makes Amazon’s removal of reviews on the basis they’re written by known contacts incredibly harsh. People take the time and trouble to write a review of a book and give a star rating because (hopefully) they like the book, not because the writer is bribing them to do so. 

So what can the individual writer can do about it? There's no point in going on strike, because no one would notice - frankly we have to be pretty famous for anyone to notice if we die. How can we possibly confront such a powerful giant? 

If you're expecting me to give you the answer, sorry - it was a rhetorical question. But if anyone out there can find a solution, please let us know. They’ll be doing all writers a favour.

Lu Hersey

twitter: @LuWrites


Sue Bursztynski said...

I read about this business a while ago. Very strange! In this country, children’s and genre writers are a small community, we all know each other. If you’re going to scrap reviews because people know each other, you might as well scrap the lot. I don’t usually review books by personal friends, but I will offer a guest post on my blog. But then, I’ll also offer that to people I don’t know, for other reasons. I have done only one review on Amazon, at the request of the publisher. My reviews are mainly on my blog, with the occasional few lines on Goodreads(which belongs to Amazon!). Perhaps you might consider the same...

Andrew Preston said...

It's fairly widely known that the Amazon review system has become widely compromised by fake reviews, purchased reviews, free products in exchange for good reviews.....

A large part of the success of Amazon has been based on what can loosely be described as the customer experience, and that is where the Amazon focus is.

Hence the attention being given to reviews, and suspect ones. Through sometimes reading this blog, and from there, occasionally, Amazon reviews of various books. I've come to view a number of reviews as a little suspect. Not so much suspect, perhaps, but seemingly written in a precise, analytic style, familiarity with Key Stages this, that, or whatever.... someone 'in the business', so to speak....... that do not look like the comments of enthusiastic purchasers/readers.

And which to Amazon thought police might well be candidates for exorcism.