Friday, January 4, 2013

The Great Amazon Review Wipe Out, Part 2

I wrote last month about one of the ways Amazon was culling reviews by authors, using our IP addresses to match up accounts. Sure sock puppets (fake accounts used to review each other) were caught, but so were a whole lotta other accounts.

I personally had almost every review I wrote in 2012 removed. Reviews written in 2011 remained, and a new one I wrote a few weeks ago also got through. But the clearcutting has done its damage--all the reviews of books I read, whether I knew the author or not, are gone. From now on I plan to copy them to Goodreads so I don't forget myself what I loved.

Today we'll talk about another way Amazon culls reviews--Amazon gift cards.

I don't give away a lot of gift cards, but they are a very common prize for Rafflecopters or Facebook give aways. Many authors use them in promotions and on blog tours.

When some authors got complaints from fans that not only had the fan's review been deleted, but also writing Amazon to ask about it had resulted in threats to remove the book (panicking the fan), they started looking deeper into these fans and what could have made Amazon react so harshly.

Eventually, it became clear that a practice on sites like Fivrr often included sending Amazon gift cards in exchange for five-star reviews. To shut down this practice, Amazon would link the account where the gift card originated to the recipient, and that recipient was no longer allowed to write reviews.

This was a terrible linkage to make, because any time you gift a book to a reviewer using the Amazon system, it was treated as a gift card. In fact, if you buy an ebook and send it as a gift, the recipient has the option of just cashing out the card to use on other products. Because of this, Amazon made an across-the-board change in who could review. So even though giving a free copy of a book to a reviewer is accepted practice, you can't do it via the Amazon system. If you do, you'll look like you just paid for the review.

Additionally, your most hard-core fans, the ones who comment on every blog stop, who sign up for every Rafflecopter--they become people who can no longer support you with reviews just because they were lucky enough--or determined enough--to win a gift card on one of your promotions. We risk losing some of our best and most fervent supporters due to a system where every apple is tossed with the rot.

So what is an author to do?

  1. Don't use Amazon gift cards as prizes if your fan base is loyal but small.
  2. Don't log into KDP on public networks, especially large ones where many will share an IP address or when with fans who might want to review you later.
  3. Be very careful about whose books you review and what you say. Certainly do not mention that you are an author, and definitely don't violate the Terms of Service by trying to put a link to your book into a review (Amazon will delete it AND it will tip off the auto-bots.)

Since the review kerfluffle finally began hitting the mainstream press (Forbes and NYT to name a few), Amazon seems to have calmed down. Apparently they like the news of their overreaction better than the news of the fakery, and maybe are calling off the bots. I don't know. I'm trying to write a review of a book today for an author I've never met; a book that randomly caught my eye and that I liked.

We'll see if it's still there next week.


Deanna Roy is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction titles.