Amazon’s paid review crackdown may have punished “over a million” innocent customers.
by Anne R. Allen
My inbox has been bursting with unsolicited emails for the past few weeks. I must be on a new list of “easy prey” circulating in the the author-scamming community.
Several sleazy guys with dodgy language skills have hit me with nasty ones. They use the classic “negging” approach perfected by the “how to pick up girls with low self-esteem” folks that hang out in the rape-y sub-basements of Reddit and 4Chan.
These emails will “analyze” the Amazon buy page of one of my books—always assuming I’ve only written the one—mansplaining how I’m too stupid to know it’s overpriced, too short, has a bad cover, a bad sales rank (even when it’s a bestseller) and of course, has an insufficient number of reviews.
The emailing creeps have no idea I’m with a small press, and they’re actually dissing my publisher. But I can imagine this approach is pretty effective on self-publishers, especially relative newbies. Some judgey stranger offering unpleasant criticism in your morning email can shake an author’s confidence.
And they’re counting on that. Once you’re feeling vulnerable, they pitch bogus or wildly overpriced services, “break into Hollywood” scams, worthless interviews, and that old warhorse, paid Amazon reviews.
In May, I’ll address the problems of the overpriced interviews and other scams.
But when I started to research the paid review business this week, I ran into a bunch of new dramas and draconian changes. So I decided to devote this post to the latest Amazon review horrors.
DO NOT Pay for Amazon Customer Reviews!
One email notified me that I’d failed to get “enough” reviews on my new Author Blog Book. But I could get 25 Amazon reviews from him for only $900! He implied I’d been stupid not to do this before.
Dude, here’s the reason many of us “fail” to get tons of Amazon reviews anymore: scammy review-sellers like you.
This is because Amazon fights paid review violations with robots, which are wrong more often than not. And they’re scaring off real reviewers.
In 2016, the Zon changed their TOS to require reviewers to be Amazon customers and forbid any payment—including free products or gift cards—to reviewers of anything other than books. (Book reviewers can review free books as long as they disclose.) This was supposed to crack down on the rampant gaming of Amazon’s review system. For more, see my 2016 post on Amazon’s New Review Rules.
But many innocents lost reviews too. Some long-time reviewers decided to review only on their own blogs. There’s a lovely review of my Author Blog book on Mark Tilbury’s blog the “negging” guys won’t see, but it gets Tweeted a lot.
A review on a blog is useful, and can be quoted in Amazon’s “editorial review” section, which often has more clout with readers.
But Amazon has recently made more draconian changes. The guidelines have been modified again, and so have the punishments.
It used to be that customers violating Amazon’s TOS were banned from SELLING on Amazon, but the new policy bans them from BUYING.
Your account will be deleted. No warning. No explanations.
If you feel the need to buy reviews, the legit ones (like Kirkus) may be valuable to you as “editorial reviews” and can provide quotes for advertising, but paid reviews in the “customer review” thread are a very bad idea. No matter what the “neg” guys say.
Amazon’s Review Police-Bots Deleted “Over a Million” Innocent Customers’ Accounts this Month.
Amazon’s latest police-bots are out for blood: if they even suspect you of breaking the rules, your account gets deleted with no warning.
Suddenly Fire TVs don’t work. Alexa is silent. Books you’re in the middle of reading…gone. No Amazon streaming TV. Your account no longer exists. No refunds. No apologies.
In late March, these mindless thug-bots deleted innocent customers’ accounts by the 1000s (“over a million,” according to some.)
There’s a rumor this came from a hack designed to discredit Amazon as a part of recent political attacks the company, but Amazon hasn’t acknowledged a hack.
The victims got this explanation:
“The account has been deleted for one or both of the following reasons.
- Your reviews were posted in exchange for compensation, such as gift cards to purchase the product, product refunds, review swaps, or free or discounted products, and/or
- Your account was used for commercial purposes.”
Digital Trends investigated. Amazon’s explanation: “Amazon has taken action against bad actors and those who have violated our community rules.”
You can read victims’ laments in the Twitter thread #AmazonClosed. They don’t sound like “bad actors” to me:
“My account was closed…but I quit reviewing last year when Amazon changed their TOS!”
“Amazon closed my account after 15 years. Prime member, Kindle books, gift card balance. Need answers.”
“RUDE reps, supervisors and all sticking to the same script.”
“No apology for a month of lies and customer service failures.”
“student couldn’t use an audiobook she needed for her history class.”
“Closed my account, but are still charging my card for Prime.”
Some accounts have reappeared. But plenty have not.
Facebook groups have formed to file class action suits, so this drama will unfold in the courts. You can read more at Business Insider, and EdSurge. But for some reason, this hasn’t made the major news outlets.
Amazon’s Robots Do a Lousy Job of Policing Paid Reviews, but Don’t Put Yourself in Their Crosshairs
Nobody knows if any of these 1000s of people actually traded or bought reviews. Or if they’d ever reviewed anything.
But we can be pretty sure that if you DO trade or buy reviews and you’re caught, your career—as well as your shopping—is over on Amazon.
So don’t listen to the negging and send those review-sellers to spam. Even if they seem legit. ANY compensation for an Amazon review—no matter how “fair”—can get you the boot.
Amazon’s Escalating Scam Problem.
The paid review problem isn’t the only scam-policing that Amazon’s robots have got wrong.
- Recently they blocked publication of a book by a bestseller because they didn’t believe she would self-publish.
- There’s been piracy and money laundering going on at CreateSpace that would make a wild thriller plot.
- Plus The New Publishing Standard reports that half the UK bestsellers violate Amazon’s Metadata Rules. No police-bots seem to notice.
- Kindle Unlimited scams abound, especially by authors who use click farming to inflate their numbers, and stuff books with 1000s of repetitive pages, with an incentive to click to the end—thus logging in 1000s of “pages read” that weren’t. They get a much bigger piece of the zero-sum pie that Amazon has created with the KU payout system. Industry watchdog David Gaughran has had a lot to say about that particular scam. Although Amazon has taken some of the scammers to court and recently won a victory over one of the more egregious crooks, Mr. Gaughran Tweets that the scammers still dominate the “bestseller” lists in KU.
Real Reviewers Are Leaving Amazon.
The most recent crackdown doesn’t only involve draconian punishments for suspected paid reviewers.
Amazon is also banning reviewers from posting in more than one Amazon store. It used to be reviews could be posted in the US Amazon store as well as Canada, UK, Australia, etc., so a UK reviewer could also post a review on Amazon.com, where it had a potential to increase a book’s sales and get it into Bookbub and other newsletters.
But since overseas review farms have been abusing this practice, Amazon is now requiring that reviewers spend the equivalent of $50 per year in each Amazon store, every year. (That’s a big change from requiring a one-time purchase of $50 or more from any one Amazon store, which was the rule instituted in 2016.)
So honest reviewers, who are working for free, are now supposed to pay to play. And pay a lot. According to reviewer Barb Taub, “In the name of discouraging ‘fake’ reviews, [Amazon’s] new policy requires reviewers like me to spend $50 on Amazon’s US site and even more, £40 on Amazon UK. before I can share my review.”
Book reviewers like Barb Taub have had enough. The comment thread on her post shows exactly why it’s so hard to get real Amazon reviews these days.
“After trying multiple times to submit it, only to be rejected without explanation, I have given up.”
“If it’s too hard to post reviews on Amazon, I’ll just post them on my own blog and call it a day.”
“I can’t help thinking this policy change wasn’t well thought out. It just sort of appeared with very little fanfare.”
“I’ve been a loyal Amazon reviewer since 1998 (it’s tells you when you became a customer) and yet they decided to pull all my reviews….When I emailed them on the matter they quite rudely told me they didn’t need to answer my questions, it was final.
“Meanwhile, the fake reviews carry on getting posted……”
Driving away real reviewers just opens up the market for the fake review farms where neg-guy hangs out.
It’s Time for Reviews to “Go Wide.”
I’m going to put it out there that it’s time for reviewers to branch out to other retailers like Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, Smashwords, and B&N, where one review could make a big difference in sales. If reviews were spread out, it would help everybody—even Amazon, since they obviously can’t keep up with the scams.
Many do post to Goodreads, but Goodreads is owned by Amazon, so it’s not guaranteed safe. Plus it’s riddled with trolls, who are nurtured by the Goodreads system.
One troll, who goes by the name “Annette” has rated nearly 4000 books since she joined last year. She gives every single book one star. No written reviews, just that one star. I reported her the first day she joined, six months ago, because on that one day she gave 400 one star ratings. All my books were included, but mostly she hit vegan cookbooks and yoga instruction manuals. I figured my books were in healthy company. 🙂 But Goodreads said she wasn’t breaking any rules—admitting that Goodreads “ratings” are easily played and completely useless.
But reviewing on on other retailers would make a big impact. Recently most indie authors have found it’s more lucrative to “go wide” on all platforms rather than stay exclusive with Amazon, partly because of the rampant gaming of Kindle Unlimited I mentioned above.
I hope reviewers will do the same. We’re having some nice success with Kobo promotions of my books. A few reviews on the site would help enormously.
Then scammers like the neg-guy would at least have to work a little harder to dis us for not having enough reviews.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) April 22, 2018
In a HUGE unannounced change, Amazon has suddenly banned reviews of free review copies. You must BUY a book from Amazon to review it on Amazon. More from Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader.
In yet another development, I saw a tweet from a reviewer who says that the new rule is that a book can’t have more than a certain (secret) number of unverified reviews in any five day period.
Yesterday the Washington Post ran an article on Amazon’s fake review problem, which made it sound pretty severe, and shows why the Zon is cracking down so hard.
But today industry watchdog David Gaughran offered some enlightening information that refutes some of the data in the WaPo article.
It seems that Amazon is using some very dodgy data from an outfit called ReviewMeta to flag “fake” reviews. Two “proofs” of wrongdoing, according to ReviewMeta are: 1) reviewers who mention the name of the book 2) reviewers who review more than one book in a series. Their algorithm flags those as fake reviews.
So if you’ve had your reviews removed, or your account has been deleted, it may have happened because you broke these “rules” which have no relevance to book reviewing.
This may be why the robots are getting things so very, very wrong.
What about you, scriveners? Have you suffered the recent Amazon “purge”–or any of the earlier ones? Do you know anybody who has lost an Amazon account in the past few weeks? Do you still review on Amazon?
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