From The Novel Approach:
Once upon a time, there was a corporate giant called Amazon, who existed in a land inhabited by all manner of creature. This giant was possessed of a vast wealth and bartered myriad goods in exchange for those riches, from textiles to tchotchkes to consumables to a seemingly fathomless collection of media and books. There was little question of this giant’s market prowess, power and influence; nor was there little question that puny humans were lured with a Siren-like ease to its lair, where would be fulfilled every purchasing whim… In the land of Virtual Commerce, let us not be mistaken that Amazon was king.
Alas, this is reality. With a book market presence unrivaled by any other e-tailer, Amazon not only absorbs a hefty portion of the average reader’s book buying budget but its review system also wields the sort of influence that when utilized can increase a book’s visibility on the site. With the Kindle/Kindle app being on top of the e-reader heap, those Amazon reviews can truly matter not only to readers who take the time to peruse them but to authors as well, because of the way a review of their books ties in to Amazon’s algorithms. Simply put, an Amazon review can be beneficial to a book’s overall accessibility on the site.
. . . .
So, now we enter the dark and dangerous fairy tale forest where there lies a murky bog called Ethics. It’s no secret there are review sites out there that sell reviews—I get follows from them on Twitter on occasion. There are also authors out there who buy those reviews—which stands to reason or those sites wouldn’t exist. Now you can see how this has made some reviews and some review sites suspect and, for more than a few people, difficult to trust. The bottom line is that if we consumers stray from the safety of the path to enlightenment, we might get eaten, and this is why Amazon has been forced to tidy its castle.
Beyond suing people for fraudulent reviews, Amazon has also begun swinging the ax on those reviews they merely suspect are bogus. It’s why they’re now policing our Facebook and Goodreads connections with the somewhat ambitious belief that by doing so they can restore legitimacy to and preserve the sanctity of the Amazon review. What’s happening in return for those efforts is that legitimate readers/reviewers are finding their reviews disappearing from Amazon, while the less-than-illuminating “This book was okay” reviews are living on to see another day.
. . . .
When I wrote a letter of inquiry to the Customer Reviews department to ask for specifics, I received a terse reply accusing me of “manipulating” the Amazon review process. When I replied to inquire how I might appeal this decision, all I received was another abrupt email that stated, in essence, they didn’t owe me an explanation and not to bother emailing them back because they would likely not respond.
I, of all people, respect the review process and understand why Amazon is trying to clean up the behemoth that is theirs. The issue that exists, however, is that in doing so they’re throwing out the good with the bad, utilizing IP addresses and star ratings and Facebook and Goodreads connections as their methods of deducing which reviews are originating from reputable sources and which aren’t. It’s a fantastic idea in theory, but in practice, it could use some work because all it’s done for me so far is leave me frustrated.
. . . .
And this is why I took the time to email Jeff Bezos to let him know I didn’t appreciate being lumped in with all the other witchies in the Amazon witch hunt. And then I’m sure he laughed at my insignificant self and went on to counting all the pieces of gold in his coffers, but at least he now knows I’m not some wan and mealy mouthed reader/reviewer who’s too intimidated to stand up to the giant. ::cue his laughter::
What does this mean for Amazon? Zero, zilch, nada. Will I stop shopping at Amazon.com? No, they’ll still get all my dollars because they make it easy to spend with them. Does this mean that I agree with their methods of repairing the flaws in their system? No, because it’s indiscriminate and shortsighted. Does it stick in my craw that all those one word/one sentence “reviews” are living on, while every last review we’d posted (and, I might add, had been approved) were disposed of with all disregard for their potential validity? Ooooh, you bet it does.
Link to the rest at The Novel Approach and thanks to P.D. for the tip.
PG wonders if it might be a good idea for Amazon to establish an ombudsman to help resolve KDP issues that may arise with authors and reviewers.
Amazon is notable for its excellent customer service policies for those who purchase goods. Returns are simple and shipping errors are quickly rectified.
Perhaps the most impressive thing PG learned during his early interactions with those responsible for running Kindle Direct Publishing is that they regarded indie authors as customers. This was and is, of course, an extraordinarily different view of authors than is widely-held among employees of traditional publishers.
Every organization utilizing computer algorithms in its business processes knows that those algorithms, particularly when they are first brought online, can be expected to return erroneous results from time to time. Some of the errors will be obvious and others subtle.
Those responsible for programming the algorithms will be focusing on the obvious errors and may not have been given all the information behind the program requirements around which the algorithms were built. Certainly, they’ll pay more attention to fixing the obvious bugs than the subtle ones which may or may not be bugs at all.
The people on the front lines of implementing the results of the algorithms with customers, reviewers, publishers, etc., will almost certainly not be the same people who created the requirements or wrote the algorithms. The front line people will be focused on efficiently doing one thing if the output of the algorithm says red and another if the output says blue.
In an organization the size of Amazon, this translates into at least tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of red/blue outputs that require processing. While the front line people should be able to properly handle the results of obvious bugs, at least some subtle bugs will fall under Option D – blame the customer.
You might make the same decisions if, every day, you had to deal with thousands of large and small crooks trying to make money from Amazon by improper means.
The tone of the above post from Lynn, the proprietress of The Novel Approach, doesn’t strike PG as the way someone who is gaming Amazon reviews would typically respond.
PG’s hypothetical Amazon ombudsman would provide a second set of eyes (other than Jeff Bezos or his assistants) to consider whether author/reviewer complaints that the algorithms weren’t working the way they were intended, that the posse rounding up the outlaws might have inadvertently arrested an innocent shopkeeper.
If indie authors are customers of KDP, an effective ombudsman (or ombudswoman or flock of ombudspersons) would help increase customer satisfaction among authors and prevent the occasional innocent shopkeeper from being hanged at dawn.