Home » Amazon, Reviews » Amazon Clarifies Its Review Policies

Amazon Clarifies Its Review Policies

7 December 2012

In response to a number of concerns about reviews being removed from self-published books on Amazon, the company has provided an FAQ concerning its Review Guidelines:

We have worked over the years to make our millions of customer reviews as useful as possible – we’ve added features like Amazon Verified Purchase, helpful votes, and review comments in the pursuit of a system that’s open and flexible and yet structured and helpful for anyone who wants to learn more from other customers about anything we sell.

Over time we have also built mechanisms, both manual and automated, that remove reviews which violate our guidelines. We recently improved our detection of promotional reviews which resulted in the removal of reviews, both new and old. While our enforcement has improved, our guidelines have not changed.

. . . .

The guidelines say “promotional content” is not allowed. What would Amazon consider to be promotional content?

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers genuine product feedback from fellow shoppers. While we encourage reviewers to share their enthusiasm and experience, there can be a fine line between that and the use of customer reviews as product promotion. Our goal is to capture all the energy and enthusiasm (both favorable and critical) that customers have about a product while avoiding use of reviews to outright advertise, promote and especially mislead. We have a zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers.

Can you be more specific about what reviews are out-of-guidelines?

To help illustrate, here are a few examples of customer reviews that we don’t allow:

  • A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
  • A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
  • A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
  • A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
  • A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
  • A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange.
  • A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
  • An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them

. . . .

Are paid customer reviews allowed?

No. We do not allow any compensation for a customer review other than a free copy of the product (provided up front). If we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we will remove it.

Are authors and artists allowed to review other authors/artists’ works?

Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. However, we don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we will likely remove your review.

Can authors review their own books if they disclose their identity in the review?

We love author participation. The best place for authors (or publishers) to communicate with their readers is in the ‘Book description,’ ‘Editorial Reviews’ and ‘From the Author’ sections. Learn more about using Author Central here. We also encourage authors to participate in customer discussions or to post comments on other customers’ reviews. We don’t allow authors to submit customer reviews on their own books even when they disclose their identity.

. . . .

My review was removed. How can I appeal?

If you think we got it wrong and removed a customer review that we shouldn’t have, please e-mail community-help@amazon.com and we will take another look.

Link to the rest at Amazon Customer Review Guidelines Frequently Asked Questions

Amazon, Reviews

72 Comments to “Amazon Clarifies Its Review Policies”

  1. P.G.

    I’m about to post a review of an author I like personally. (Through contact here and on Twitter.)

    I got a free copy originally, but ended up buying the book, because it just seemed the right thing to do.

    Should I restrict my review purely to the book, and not mention any of the above? I have a tendency to be open and honest about stuff, simply because it’s easier on an over-taxed brain…but Amazon’s rules seem confusing.

    brendan

  2. I haven’t a clue why a review of one of my older releases, written by someone I don’t know and have zero connection with, vanished.
    The guidelines make sense however some review removals still seem pretty arbitrary.

  3. Notice they never mentioned sockpuppets weren’t allowed (and/or might be punished not just removed) just the mention about how authors should use author central. I would think it was obvious, but there are those who’d say… But you didn’t say it wasn’t allowed!

    • They very clearly said sock puppets weren’t allowed.

      “A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper”

  4. I don’t think this clarification will help much. As H.G. pointed out, there will continue to be schoolyard lawyers.

    The thing people don’t seem to realize is that Amazon policy is like Google policy: it isn’t the law and they don’t have to be fair. It’s their sandbox, and that makes it their call, even if it isn’t in the rules.

    I remember when I was writing for eHow, which used Google’s adwords for a good portion of the income — and thereby had to have rules that adhered to Google’s rules.

    Obviously, one of Googles rules is you can’t click on the pay-per-click ads on your own articles to give yourself more income. What is less obvious is that all sorts of behavior is considered the same as clicking on your own ads.

    For instance: telling people that clicking on ads makes money for you or the site, not just on the page itself, but ANYWHERE, including off line. That’s considered encouraging people to commit click fraud. You can’t even draw attention to the ads on your site — you can’t say “check out these wonderful products by our sponsors” even if you say “but only click if you’re really interested!”

    People kept trying to come up with “honest” ways to increase their click rate… and they kept getting banned from Google Adwords for life. No matter how much the old hands warned the newbies, the newbies would all leap in to “promotion” practices that got them in trouble.

    Google’s policy is not law: They don’t have to be fair. So they aren’t. Suspicion is sufficient for banning, and they don’t warn and they don’t have appeals. (Well, there is one appeal — they will consider it, if you can prove that someone maliciously clicked on your ads for the specific purpose of getting you banned.)

    And yes, if Aunt Emelda went clicking on all your ads without your knowledge or permission, that will get both you and her banned for life. No appeal.

    And their evidence is purely what shows up in the algorithm.

    Now, Amazon has no motivation to be that strict (a fake review doesn’t cost anyone money the way click-fraud does) but they DO look to Google as a role model. And they DO consider the algorithm to be the most credible witness.

    Always remember, with algorithms, the motive (making money, gaining advantage) always shines through. Don’t expect that arguing about what’s in the rules to help.

    • Also, all algorithms generate *some* false positives.
      (Where it walks like a duck but it’s really a lame platypus. 😉 )
      Even the lowest percentage of false positives when applied over millions of reviews is bound to generate enough false positives (as well as missed violations) to provide fodder for debate.
      The intent isn’t to make each and every product’s review page 100% honest and accurate (that’s going to be impossible) but rather to make the system itself *reasonably* credible to *consumers*.

    • Camille,

      FWIW, you do grow on me.

      Sharp as a tack, mindful, smart. Always got good stuff to say, makes me think. Always have to read UR stuff twice.

      Cool dude.

      brendan

  5. This is a good start. The fact that Amazon is clarifying means they know they’ve screwed up. First they allowed sockpuppets, then they overreacted. Now all they have to do is come up with a method that works.

    Peace, Seeley

  6. I had heard that you couldn’t appeal. I’m glad to see that they now provide an email to contact them, if you think there has been a mistake.

  7. It’s good of Amazon to make the reader-feedback guidelines as complicated as possible. Appreciated by all, I’m sure!

    (boggle)

  8. You know, one of the most aggravating things for me is the “I’ll scratch yours, if you’ll scratch mine” process that authors engage in. Reciprocal promotion through networking falsifies the ratings, making a bad book seem like a good one. And, of course, authors will do it, because they desperately want their books to be purchased, but it’s just bad business all the way around, in my opinion. Always has been, always will be. And, so, because of this, fool me once, author, but I’ll never buy another book from you or your author friend reviewers if the book promoted isn’t worth my time…because my time is way more precious to me than the money I spend to buy your book. Write a decent book, and then, yes, I’ll read it and the next one…until you stop producing decent books.

    Just my 3 cents.

    • I have mixed feelings about this one and have to admit I’m very confused.

      I see it in traditionally published books as well as self-published books – friends reviewing authors’ books. Where do you draw the line? If the friend read the book and liked it enough to post a review, then that’s a different situation than if an author prompted such friend, please put a review for me book on Amazon. But there is no way to tell the difference (other than that a genuine review might read differently than one just posted because a person was asked and had never read the book – but that’s not certain). And for the author it’s not a good deal, because if someone really liked the book but can’t post a review because they know the person, then they’re screwed. And what if it’s only an acquaintance? Is that a close enough relationship to disqualify the review? I think the phrase schoolyard lawyers is quite apt.

      The discussion just came up in my reading circle – several friends said they hadn’t posted reviews of my book that they really enjoyed and wanted to. I told them that it was possibly not a good idea since friends aren’t supposed to do that any more. They were completely flummoxed. I ended up shrugging my shoulders. None of them are writers, by the way.

      I also moderate a writing group, and all of the participants bought my book. I haven’t asked any of them to write a review either, but would that be immoral if they did it on their own? They’re all hobby writers, but maybe someday they’ll self-publish. Should I then refrain from writing a review if I read any of their works?

      I also belong to a large-ish club of 250 expat women. I advertise my book in the monthly newsletter, and that’s generated a few sales. I know some but not all of the women who’ve bought the book. Should the I tell the ones I know not to write a review of my book? They’re my readers as well.

      For those of us just starting out, this is not a clear and easy guideline to follow.

      • I think the key to it all is that reviewers are always objective. Even if your friends genuinely liked your book, it is doubtful they can be objective about it. After all, if they thought your book was bad, it is highly unlikely they would write a negative review saying how much it stinks. They may choose not review it perhaps, but that is completely different to posting an honest, negative review.

        By removing the objectivity and freedom to say ‘this book is bad’ makes the reviewer already compromised. I think if you know the author personally, you are best off not reviewing his or her book at all, unless you genuinely feel you could write a negative review without it compromising your relationship.

        I have heard of some authors who review other people’s books and give five stars if they like it, while for books they don’t like, they simply don’t review them. While this is done with the best of intentions, it is not helpful to readers or the review system. If everyone did it all books will be five stars or no stars, making the review system useless.

        • The funny thing is that negative reviews give me as much insight into a book’s worth as the positive ones. When sorting through potential reads, if I find a four to five star book that’s got one or two negative reviews, I’ll read some of the “most helpful” good reviews, then jump to the negative ones to see why the reviewer didn’t like said book. A lot of times, it’s what the negative reviewer says that makes me buy the book and read it, simply because they provide explicit reasons that usually indicate that, yes, this is a good novel, because it stirs passionate response. This is especially true when the positive and negative point to a worthy thematic core.

        • I think the key to it all is that reviewers are always objective.

          On what planet was that ever true?

          • Well that is obviously a matter of opinion, but some professional reviewers and review systems I have learned to trust over time. And that is all a reviewer/review system can do, develop trust. I have a fair amount of trust in Rotten Tomatoes’ rating system, which is based on percentages of good and bad professional reviews. Rarely have I seen a 80%+ film that has been a disappointment. Likewise, there are film and book reviewers in some of the UK papers that over time I’ve come to trust. And trust is the key issue here. If you can’t trust a review system it is worthless, and Amazon are just trying to ensure they can at least gain some semblance of trust for their readers. It may not be perfect, nor will it ever likely to be, but it is a step in the right direction.

            • Well that is obviously a matter of opinion, but some professional reviewers and review systems I have learned to trust over time.

              On the contrary, it is not a matter of opinion: and that is because the reviews themselves are expressions of opinion. There is no such thing, by definition, as a subjective opinion. To say that a reviewer’s opinions are opinions is not in itself a statement of opinion; it is a tautology.

              A reviewer whom you trust is one whose tastes are similar to yours (or whose differences in taste you can reliably allow for), not one who adheres to some absolute standard of good taste.

              As for Rotten Tomatoes, they do not review films; they merely present a rather crude statistical abstract of the sum of the reviews they happen to cover. This at least has the effect of removing the personal biases of individual reviewers, because they get lost in the statistical noise. But I note that there is often a wide difference between the aggregate ‘tomato ratings’ for all reviews and the ratings for all RT subscribers who merely watched a film. This suggests a widespread and statistically significant bias in professional reviewers’ tastes compared to the filmgoing public. I should be surprised if that did not happen.

              • “There is no such thing, by definition, as a subjective opinion.”

                I think you mean objective opinion, and I would argue there is. Just because you didn’t like something, doesn’t mean you can’t say that it wasn’t good, and vice versa. I happen to like the film Armageddon, and yet it is a terrible, terrible film. Badly plotted, poor dialogue, bad science, 2D characters, slushy ending. And yet, I still like it because of personal reasons. However, I’d not recommend it, or claim it was a good film – it just happened to pull a few strings for me. Likewise, there are plenty of books I’ve read and didn’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see that they weren’t good books and were well written and well-plotted, they just weren’t my thing. It is all about separating what you like and dislike with what is good and bad, which are different things.

                • I agree with Tom 1000%. Books cannot be subjectively assessed. Every single reader has a different taste.
                  I have read some of the highest rated classics in history and they are utter rubbish in my view. So much for objectivity.
                  Your bad plot is my exciting storyline, your awful dialogue is my exhilarating banter, your bad science is my exciting fantasy. It’s all subjective,. from opening to closing.

      • Sharon, I think you’re reading into this way too much. Authors need people they know to spread the word about their books. Publishers require them to get people to spread the word as part of their marketing plan. It’s all about networking, just like any other business.

        The concern here is people giving fake good reviews in exchange for something back. There is no reason why people who bought your book and liked it can’t post a review, even if they know you. I would say that they SHOULD post reviews. That is the whole POINT of the reviews.

        Unless they sound really fake or Amazon can trace their identity some shady way to you, I don’t they’ll be removed. If they do you should challenge it.

        • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Hardymum. I haven’t gotten many reviews as of yet, and they’re all still there, so I don’t have any reason to complain. Luckily, I’m past obsessing about the review situation (debut author syndrome?) and am getting the second book ready to upload. 🙂

        • Hardymam – I don’t see how reviews on Amazon spread the word.

      • I leave the enforcing of Amazon’s review policy to Amazon. And I leave the decision of whether or not to write a review to my readers. Basically, I stay out of it.

        Some of my readers happen to be friends of mine. Some of them have written reviews. Perhaps Amazon will remove those reviews. So be it.

        I just figure it isn’t my job to go around enforcing who can and who cannot write reviews. I’ll write and publish the stories, and then go on to write and publish more.

      • And then there’s “What if a family member wrote a book and you want to give it 3 stars?” Because, yup, I know a book like that. -_-

        (And I am extra-tough on stars when I’m reviewing something by an author I know. Yeah, I try to bring out what I liked about it, even if it’s a 2-star or 3-star, but I also say what bugged me about it.)

        • I could never write a review for a friend or someone I know in more than a passing fashion if I knew I couldn’t give the book 5 stars. No friendship is worth the risk to me that such honesty brings. Most people say they want objective and might even act like what you said in a review was okay and that they can take the honesty, but it’s the rare person who doesn’t feel even a twinge of pain when faced with criticism or fault-finding. I want my friends to know they have at least one person who will always be safe when they share their published work (because really at that point it’s done and they’ve put what they wanted out there for the world). I don’t believe even successful authors are any better at handling criticism than anyone else. Someone has to be safe. If even friends and family feel free to criticize, even “helpfully”, then there’s no one left.

          And this is why I think writing reviews for friends or acquaintances is unacceptable. 🙂

          • TLE – you set it out exactly right. It is a matter of professionalism and integrity, and a matter of how an authors sees himself and his position as a professional author. Giving a friend or close colleague some personal feedback/opinion on his work is one thing. A little bit of flattery. A bit of criticism held back. A flaw unmentioned. All of that is fine.
            But when it comes to documenting a view; publishing a view of a friend or close colleague, then that is a completely different thing and imho an author should hold his hands up, be honest, and say it is not something that he can do.

    • “Reciprocal promotion through networking falsifies the ratings, making a bad book seem like a good one.”

      I would say it CAN make a bad book seem like a good one, but what is wrong with 2 good authors who enjoy each other’s work reading and reviwing each other’s books? It will make a good book look better. This cuts either way.

      • Yes it can ‘make a bad book look good’. That is the point of the argument. And that is dishonest and unprofessional and is just another chunk out of the credibility of the system and of authors as a profession.
        The sad thing is that if authors had had a higher level of integrity from the start, reviews might be a far more successful system, and the public might place a lot more weight on them than they are doing now.

  9. I saw this today. Kind of turns around the risks in there. Will readers leave reviews at all? Will professional reviewers have to change their business models (curbing snark)? Will traditional publishers rub their hands in glee at the whole review situation (which is Amazon’s Achilles heel), or spend marketing money to ensure it gets done a few more times?

    “A woman is facing a $750,000 defamation lawsuit and has been ordered to alter a negative Yelp review of a home contractor after police found that her claims didn’t add up.
    Dietz Development is claiming that Jane Perez’s scathing review has cost them new customers …”

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/12/07/yelp-reviewer-gets-slapped-with-750k-lawsuit-and-takedown-order/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29

    • The woman in this case apparently accused the contractor of stealing jewelry from her – but no police report was ever filed – I saw it on the news a couple of weeks ago. While I’m normally not in support of authors etc going after bad reviews – in this instance, I think it was the right thing for the business to do.

  10. My policy’s simple: I almost never leave reviews anymore, and if I do, the book has to be firmly outside of my own genre.

  11. It’s interesting that this issue raises such concerns with regard to books, yet cross-promotion occurs without criticism in other media areas all the time. I was just reading and listening to some Slate material and the authors/participants are constantly pushing books and articles by other Slate folks. They have a clear financial incentive to do so and benefit from this incestuous back-patting. So why does no one get upset about that?

    I read thousands of book reviews, and often it’s a negative review that excites my interest, especially if the negativity results from some impassioned position on the part of the author. Hagiographic blurbs are easy to spot and easily discarded. I resent Amazon decided somewhat arbitrarily what reviews I am or am not permitted to read. I have little trouble distinguishing manure from flowers. And paid reviews? Do you really think reviewers in the NYTimes Book Review don’t get paid for those reviews? So what?

    • But they aren’t pretending to be customers writing reviews.

      However you did remind me of a C&W parody song from a couple of decades ago that had lyrics that went something like “If you mention me in your song, I’ll mention you in mine.”

      The name dropping was pretty extreme there for a while.

  12. One thing I would point out is that that Amazon is not the only place to spread the word about books. And a formal review isn’t the only way to do it. (You can even spread word of mouth by mouth. It doesn’t have to be online.)

    But online at least provides grist for Google’s alogrithm, and it will always be there to find forever and ever.

    So, if a person likes books and wants to support authors (not just one friend), that person can become a book blogger. You don’t even have to write reviews or be open to submissions — just talk about your favorite books the way you do to your friends. Favorite characters, new and old. Gush about sexy scenes, chuckle over humor.

    (That’s not a bad thing for authors to do for a blog, if you aren’t into the whole “promotional blog” thing. Just be yourself and excited about books.)

    But running a blog, even a once a month blog, is a lot of work, and it’s going to be about more than one book. If you have a friend who wants to write a review for you….

    They can tweet about it or mention/review it on Facebook. On Goodreads, they can mark books as “to read,” “reading,” and “read.” And they can rate without reviewing or review without rating.

    On Shelfari they can enter additional info about the book. A synopsis, character lists, chapter lists. Or they can review it.

    The thing that gets authors into trouble on Amazon is that there is a resonance — it’s like people marching or dancing on a bridge in unison: everybody doing the same thing at once has an exaggerated effect that can bring the structure down, even though the structure normally could carry ten times the weight.

    The same thing happens any time a bunch of authors comes up with a “standard” way to get the word out — they spread the word to each other and then everybody does the exact same thing, and pretty soon, wherever this is happening, people start thinking “Uh, oh, here come the authors!”

    This happened in smaller ways before indie publishing. (Local authors with bookmarks descending on poetry readings and libraries.)

    The best solution is to stop thinking that one thing, like reviews, is critical to your success. If someone is a fan, thank them for being a fan and remind them that just telling you about it is one of the best and nicest things they can do. And if they want to do more…. give them varied suggestions. They can pick up on the thing that is natural to them.

    And that’s the thing that needs to happen. We need the readers to do what is natural to them. That’s what the algorithms are looking for.

    • Well reasoned, Camille.

      The problem is, most book review lists/blogs/websites (at least the famous ones) won’t even look at your book unless you have a dozen reviews, at least 4.0+.

      We have created a system where reviews are everything, and as long as you can get 10-20 good reviews, by hook or by crook, suddenly you will enter the elite “club” and you can market your book in many places.

      With such a high premium attached to reviews, is it any wonder people find ways to game the system? I don’t see the practice changing as long as this worship of reviews continues.

      I remember seeing a cheesy Bollywood movie, in which a vigilante kills civil servants who take bribes for contracts. One of the agent who arrages the bribes is trying to bribe a politician to have the vigilante found and shot dead.

      When the politician says he is scared of the vigilante, the agent says “Don’t worry, he can only track cash bribes. This time I will bribe you with a colour TV and washing machine.”

      And that is the problem with these “rules”. As long as people think reviews are everything, they will find a way around any rule. Amazon can do what they want, but writers need to change their thinking as well, as you said Camille, and stop giving so much attention to reviews.

      • No no no, Shantnu: You misunderstood.

        (Other than the last line.)

        I was saying that you have to stay away from over-utilized methods. Stay away from generating reviews at all.

        (And ESPECIALLY stay away from book bloggers with “submission standards.” Or any kind of submission policy. That means that they are over-utilized AND it means that their heavy submission pile is going to skew their book selections, and they will be doing their readers less good.)

        What I was saying is that IF you have friends and fans who want to “help” you, don’t send them to Amazon to write reviews, or any place else that’s the flavor of the month. Give them a variety of other things they can do.

        Reviews are NOT everything. They have never BEEN everything. They’re nice to get, that’s all. Let them happen naturally, and spread ’em out.

        There are no short cuts.

  13. I think Amazon are being incredibly flexible and generous to authors on this topic – considering it is authors who have corrupted this whole process to start with.

    I believe Amazon should show a zero tolerance policy and if some genuine reviews get trashed then so be it.

    Personally I find this whole hysteria about reviews completely incomprehensible. I don’t read reviews. I have no interest in them. I see them as futile, pointless and useless. I could not care less what other people think of a title … I have no idea what their taste is, what their personality is, what their values are.

    • This! Absolutely this!

    • Yes, authors and publishers have corrupted the whole process, and that is, in my opinion, the problem with, not just book reviews, but any sort of rating system that relies on “public” input, because those who stand to gain from high ratings do work very hard to game the results. When it comes to fame and/OR fortune, honest results are highly improbable.

    • Sorry, I have to cry bullcrap on this opinion. Maybe you don’t read reviews, but I do and so do a lot of Amazon customers. Really a lot. And what specifically do you mean by ‘zero tolerance’? Zero tolerance for what, exactly? Do you mean that Amazon should install more gatekeepers? And what would be the purpose? To weed out anything that smells of non-objectivity? I really don’t understand. Subjective versus objective. Who the hell really knows what that is?

      I read reviews often before buying a book from an author I’m not familiar with, and that is the case whether the author is traditionally or independently published. I look at the 1 and 2 star reviews first and then work my way up to the positive reviews.

      I disagree intensely that the public has corrupted the process. The customer reviews on Amazon has been a system that I have found invaluable for many years. Despite the dross, it still works. For the most part. And it’s still relevant.

      In my opinion.

      • Where has anyone claimed have the public corrupted the system ? I really don’t get that. And I am fascinated by the idea that you read so many reviews …. why ? What possible value do they have ? if you don’t know anything about the person behind them … what possible value is it to you ?
        Also you say that many people read and use the reviews … have you any idea if this has been statistically confirmed by Amazon ? Because I personally believe that most people don’t read any of the reviews.
        Yes I believe a zero tolerance policy is right – any hint of a hint of a insider dealing and that review should be binned.

        • I was replying to the comment above that denigrated the value of public rating systems, corrupted by authors and publishers, and then, indirectly implying that the public system was corrupted. So I apologize if I didn’t phrase it correctly.

          Why do I read reviews? Because I live in a foreign country (22 years and counting – I’m a lifer) and can’t just walk into a bookstore and have access to English language books that I can leaf through and say, hey, this looks great. I’ll buy it. I depend on reviews and my genre preferences and a whole lot of other factors that include author recognizability, subject matter (in addition to genre) and in many cases I have to admit, impulse buying, that influence my book buying decisions. I don’t have time to go look at every author’s blog when I want to buy a book. I can’t even read all the blogs I’m interested in that I get inspiration from, from PG’s blog (in addition to many others).

          It’s a shame, but it’s reality. I’ve bought several books from links and blogs I’ve clicked on from TPV – I freely admit it – but those are impulse buys. Many of them sit still in my Kindle and I’m sure I’ll get around to reading them someday. But when I’m seriously looking for something, from the genres that interest me the most, I read reviews. Yes. I do.

          And no, you’re completely right. I have no statistical evidence that people read reviews, only anecodatal evidence from book club leaders I’ve talked to and others, and we all know that is *not* acceptable. I agree. So shoot me for basing an argument on that.

          But I still don’t understand what a ‘zero tolerance’ policy actually means in *Klartext* as the Germans would say and would appreciate a clarification.

          • Sharon – I am really sorry if you felt I was being excessively energetic in my disagreement with you. And no your phraseology didn’t help 🙂

            My issue with reviews remains. It seems to me (with respect!) that what you are actually doing when you use reviews, is NOT use them as a guide to how much you will actually end up liking the title … but using them to reassure yourself in your complete gamble on buying the title. After all, the other reviewers opinions (unless you are actually familiar with their tastes) could not possibly reveal anything whatsoever about your likelihood of liking the title.

            Personal preferences are simply too varied and unpredictable. On the other hand buying a title at random is a risky thing to do – one that most of us shy away from out of sheer thriftiness. Finding a few positive reviews allows us to overcome that reluctance, and I believe that you, and MANY others are doing exactly that – without realising it 🙂

            I believe this is actually what is going on in the whole Amazon review ecosystem. Readers are NOT using reviews to ‘choose’ titles. They are using reviews to support their intention to take a complete pig in a poke – and it is not the actual content of the reviews that matter – it is that they are there and that some of them give 3,4,5 stars.

            • I sure wasn’t looking for an apology but am insulted at being painted so simple (I do have a Southern background, so maybe you’re right and I’m just too stupid to know why I read reviews. Oh well, I can live with that.)

              Let’s just agree to disagree about why people write reviews and why people read them. I don’t think anyone knows for sure and I sense there is a lot of frustration with the system in the replies to my comment and totally respect that.

              It is frustrating to buy a book that has been praised to the heavens and be disappointed that it doesn’t live up to the hype. But that can happen with ‘professional’ reviews from Top Reviewers who are supposed to have a level of objectivity in their reviews (hence their status) as well as so-called ‘gamed’ reviews. And editorial reviews as well. Happens all the time.

              • Insulted ? that is just silly. It’s not personal. Embarrassed ? Maybe.

              • I’m completely with Sharon here. Obviously many people read reviews, or Amazon (and the NYTimes) wouldn’t bother with them. If I’m thinking of even spending the time to sample a book, I jump to a couple one-star reviews and then read some three-stars. It’s important to me that I know very little about the plot — too many reviews and descriptions tell me that Jane is going to fall in love with Dick and then move to Paris… and why would I want to take away from the pleasure of discovering that the way the author wanted me to? — so I dip in cautiously. I also look at the number of reviews, and prefer books where lots of people have read and reviewed already. Of course their taste may differ, but having 100 people give their opinion becomes statistically significant.

                And to the purists who say no friend or relative should ever review your books… how, in this age of hundreds of thousands of ebooks, can you get any readers at all if no one you know does a review? Seriously, how did YOU get started if you didn’t ask for any initial reviews? And how do you think trad publishers do it… if they put books in stores without plugs by fellow authors (typically friends) on the back, readers wouldn’t give them a second glance.

            • Howard, I, for one, read reviews for almost every book I buy. I also almost never read 5-star reviews. I read detailed reviews, not book regurgitations, and I tend to focus on reviews of 1-3 stars, usually 3 stars. If someone hates a theme that I like, it encourages me to buy that book.

              On the other hand, negative reviews have absolutely turned me off from sampling books, not just buying them. Yes, they do make a difference, because I almost never buy without sampling. I’m fairly confident in my ability to tell whether a reviewer has two functioning brain cells or not, and the quality of the review definitely plays a part in its weight. If five people in a row are complaining about syntax and grammar issues, however, they don’t need to be detailed reviews for me to be cautious.

      • The problem Amazon have is that five star reviews have become a currency that have skewed their system. The number of five star reviews is no longer an indication to the quality of a book, but the number of friends, family or other sources (some) authors have convinced to leave reviews. While these reviews may well be honest opinions, few people who are friends with an author will leave a negative review if they didn’t like the book. They may not review it at all, or may even lie, just to help out a friend, and that is what Amazon are trying to weed out.

        I agree with Howard, Amazon are being quite magnanimous about this. Some review sites take a far more draconian action to this sort of thing, such as barring all reviews to a certain product manufacturer that has been caught gaming the system. Amazon may never be able to completely police the system and may be getting rid of some honest reviews by taking action, but if they do nothing, their customers will lose trust in the system, and in turn, with the company.

        • “Amazon are being quite magnanimous”

          Robert,

          Yeah. If you pay attention to the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, you can smell how they play. There’s often a bounce with yer actual public early on.

          Same on Amz, if you can’t work out if the thing is a dog on five chapters and reviews, plus yer own genre preferences…yer not paying attention.

          My own dig, if the author can’t spell the first chapter, they’re gone.

          Over the last 30 years or so, big pub would put out these monster books by monster authors, where the first chapter was a marvel of wonder and explosions, but the rest was complete carp.

          That tripe has gone. (Well, it’s gone from my purchase roster:)

          It IS better now.

          brendan

      • Sharon, you can cry bull-pucky all you want, but the word ‘public’ is in quotes for a reason, followed by my use of the word ‘gaming’ as in ‘gaming the system’, which IS what happens anyway and anytime it can be gamed. I get numerous requests through FB, email, and twitter asking me to review their books. I get numerous requests to also ‘vote’ an author’s book up in some award contest. And then there’s the cover art contests and polls. Authors and publishers go out of there way to try to game the system. It’s reality in our ‘naked monkey works hard to grab golden banana before other naked monkeys get it’ society.

        • DLKeur – Being a member of society I am not going to accept that society is to blame for Authors cheating. They are to blame 🙂
          My guess is that they have been corrupted for decades by publishers who cheated religiously when they included bogus, paid for, or biased reviews on the backs and insides of books as a matter of course. This was gross dishonesty brought to a fine art.

      • I think the 1 and 2 star reviews are relevant for books. I think 4 and 5 star reviews are a complete waste of time. 🙂 As a reader, I have a couple minutes, at most, that I’m willing to spend on a review for a $6-7 product. I glance at the lowest reviews if there are any and see if there’s anything there that will immediately scream to me “don’t buy this book,” and if not, I send the sample to my phone or computer or even read it on Amazon, read a page or two and then decide if I want to keep reading. 4 and 5 star reviews are useless as anything but sales tools and I know their sole purpose is to validate my interest in the book in the first place. I’ll occasionally read 3 star reviews if the 1 and 2 star reviews leave me with questions.

  14. ‘From the Author’ sections.

    I have never seen that section! I must see if I can access it…

  15. Hmm, seems a little different than what Amazon said in response to their own authors getting advance reviews from people who admit not actually having read the book:

    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/04/on-amazon-cooking-up-friendly-reviews/

  16. To avoid any mistakes….I now only put reviews on Goodreads..I’m a writer who also reads ALOT so I wouldn’t want a genuine review for an author that I don’t even know in most cases to get deleted just because we are both authors.

  17. I don’t get it. What is wrong with reviews by friends that makes ALL such reviews not valid? If anything “friends” are the best defined target population an author can have, and also the fastest source or good and fast reviews. Can a dishonest author abuse this? Sure, like everything else. It is up to the author to produce high quality books before soliciting reviews from friends. It is up to said friends to decide whether they want their name associated with a review if the book is bad. Finally, it is up to the readers to decide wether an author is being dishonest trying to make a bad book look good.

    • Rolando – no offence … but you really don’t seem to get it. Any system depends on creditability. Once a system loses credibility, you cannot then come along and say oh but this small group are honest …. really … they are honest ! …. because people have lost faith.

      “Finally, it is up to the readers to decide wether an author is being dishonest trying to make a bad book look good.”
      That decision is well on it’s way to being made up. And authors (though not all) are to blame, let’s face it.

      • No offense taken, Howard, we all have our point of view that we feel strongly about. Mine is that this whole review thing has been blown out of proportion. Much greater damage has been caused by the uproar over this issue than by the fake reviews/sock puppet accounts themselves.

        And readers have not lost faith. Reviews are as important as ever. For me the credibility lies with the author. If you believe the author, you believe the reviews.

    • “What is wrong with reviews by friends that makes ALL such reviews not valid?”

      There is nothing wrong with them, but how does Amazon know your friends are being honest and posting a valid review and are in no way biased? It can’t. Your friends could just as easily be lying and saying the book is great when its not. Somebody that doesn’t know the writer is not likely to do lie about a book. A writer’s friend is automatically biased by association. It wouldn’t be so bad if people declared they knew the writer in a review, but they never do.

      • Yes, in my original post I wrote this could be abused. But this applies to everything. You can game any system. My point is that the ultimate guarantor of the quality of the book is the author. And who decides if the author is honest? The reader. I mean folks, give readers their due. They are the ones paying. Stop trying to change the system to “protect them.” If a reader reads a lousy book by an author no matter how many good reviews it has, they will not read another one. Let the reader decide!

  18. I’m a little surprised at the naivete of some of the comments. The supposition is that somehow professional reviews are objective and authors/friends reviews are not. As a librarian for thirty years I read reviews all the the time. Thousands of them in professional review journals and you learn very quickly there is no such thing as a review devoid of personal taste, no journal immune from the pressures of advertising (do you really think that books from advertisers get bad reviews?) That being said reviews can be extremely helpful in making choices between books as to subject matter, subjective opinions, etc. You soon learn to read between the lines and get a good feel for whether you will like a book or not. The rating (star) system is generally useless, but reading what someone has taken the time to write can be quite helpful. Each of us has different reasons for reading reviews or not. That’s as it should be. The idea that we all have to fit into the same little box I find repulsive.The absolute best mechanism to help me decide these days is the Amazon sample. But that’s just me.

  19. This clarification is clear as mud.

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