Thursday, November 01, 2012

Amazon Removes Reviews

I've been buried in a book deadline for all of October, and haven't been paying much attention to anything else. When I finally took some time to catch up reading email, I noticed I had many authors (more than twenty) contacting me because their Amazon reviews were disappearing. Some were the ones they wrote. Some were for their books. One author told me that reviews her fans had written--fans that were completely unknown to her--had been deleted.

I took a look at the reviews I'd written, and saw more than fifty of them had been removed, namely reviews I did of my peers. I don't read reviews people give me, but I do keep track of numbers and averages, and I've also lost a fair amount of reviews.

Puzzled by this, I contacted Amazon, and received in response an explanation that I assume means the deletions were the result of some new automatic system, along with a link to the updated Review Creation Guidelines. Since all of my deleted reviews followed these guidelines, I wrote them back, cc'ing several people I know who work there in various departments. Here is my letter:

Thanks for the explanation about why dozens of my Amazon reviews were removed. I cc'ed several of my Amazon contacts on this response. Please understand I'm not pointing fingers at any of you fine folks. You know that I have total respect and admiration for you guys, the work you do, and the company you work for. But I don't know who in the office should hear this, and I'm hoping one of you passes it along to whoever made this decision.

My reviews followed all of Amazon's guidelines, and had received hundreds of helpful votes. They informed customers, and they helped sell books. They represented a significant time investment on my part, and they were honest and accurate and fully disclosed my relationships with the author I reviewed if I happened to know them. And these reviews were deleted without warning or explanation.

Obviously Amazon can do whatever it wants to on its site. It isn't up to me to dictate policy. It's your company, your rules, and I fully respect that. But I believe Jeff Bezos is very much about treating customers fairly, and I've heard it said many times that Amazon considers its authors to be valuable customers. So you should know that I'm just one of dozens of authors who are saddened by this, and those are just the ones who have emailed me.

The community you're trying hard to nurture is upset by your actions. They feel those actions are unwarranted and harmful.

Please express our disappointment in Amazon to anyone who needs hear it, and let them know I'll be blogging about it. People are seriously disappointed in how Amazon handled this. It was a knee-jerk,  inappropriate reaction to a ridiculous case of unjustified moral panic, and a Big Fail.

Again, I'm not trying to point fingers, signal anyone out, or place blame. Amazon obviously had concerns about their review system, but I believe those concerns could have been dealt with in a much better manner. As you know, I've been a huge supporter of Amazon for years, and I've publicly  supported many of Amazon's decisions when others hated on you. I'm personally responsible for dozens of authors joining Amazon Publishing, and thousands (tens of thousands?) of authors using KDP. And now those authors are emailing me saying, "Joe, what the heck is Amazon doing? I thought they were the good guys."

The fact that a binder can get a thousand fake reviews because of Romney's comment, but I can't honestly review one of my peers because I'm an author, is a bit silly, don't you think? Amazon allows 1 star reviews from people who haven't even read the book, but deletes positive reviews from people who honestly enjoyed it, and somehow that's improving your review system?

I don't expect any of the deleted reviews to magically reappear. I don't expect you to change your policies. And I'm still Amazon's biggest fan and supporter. But my hope is that if this email gets to the right people, maybe something like this won't happen again.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for all you do for authors.

Joe

Now, as I expressed in the letter, I'm disappointed, and a bit annoyed, but that's as far as it goes. I just did a quick check, and I've still got thousands of reviews, and my star averages are unchanged. My appreciation of Amazon hasn't faded. I still believe they have done more for authors than any other company in history. Though I now will be more choosy about what I review, because I don't want to waste my time reviewing something that will be removed for no reason. Other than that, I won't be affected by this hiccup at all.

Unfortunately, many authors who don't sell as well as I do now have lower star averages, which could hurt sales. This doesn't strike me as fair or helpful, and I understand the fear and outrage I've seen in the emails I've gotten. 

But I don't blame Amazon for this. While I don't think they approached this situation in the right way, they were showing how customer-centric they are by reacting to public opinion. Namely, complaints about their review system brought up by those very clever No Sock Puppets Here Please authors.

Congratulations, NSPHP signatories. Because of your concerns about Amazon's review policy and your ridiculous little petition, and the resulting media witch hunt, thousands of legitimate reviews have now been deleted. 

Good thing you brought it to Amazon's attention. You should be very proud.

I was going to use a "one bad apple spoils the whole bunch" analogy here, but that isn't appropriate, since that petition had over 400 author signatures. I think it's more like tattling on a fellow student for making fart noises in class, and then the teacher making the whole class skip recess as punishment.

But let us all applaud Democracy In Action. You complained. Amazon listened to you. And now you've lost thousands of honest reviews.

If it makes you feel better, I'm sure a few sock puppet reviews were also deleted along with all the legit ones. So once again, congrats. You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned.

Hmm... I seem to recall someone saying that it would be wrong if Amazon started policing reviews. Who was that guy? He said:


Oh, wait. That was me. And apparently I was wrong. It IS possible to police a system, if you don't mind the baby being thrown out with the bathwater...

306 comments:

1 – 200 of 306   Newer›   Newest»
Mars Dorian said...

Urgh, I can understand the initial complaints though, and you can blame a person for asking.
Amazon is a billion dollar company. They should find an effective and sustainable way to sort this problem out - you're not asking for hoverboards or teleportation systems.

Steve said...

"But I don't blame Amazon for this."

C'mon dude. They made the choice.

Dodge Winston said...

I had two reviews that were legit/real taken. I don't have many reviews, yet. I emailed Amazon and it seems there isn't anything I can do about it. I'm not happy at all about it. The only thing I can do is keep writing and use more than just one social network.

If Amazon continues this type of thing another site can step up. That is possible in the "too big to fail" world of consumption. Hopefully it's a one time semi-scorched earth policy.

Joe Konrath said...

C'mon dude. They made the choice.

Amazon reacted to a bunch of holier-than-thou authors. I don't like how Amazon reacted, but causality is key here.

Without the NSPHP hullabaloo we wouldn't be having this discussion. But I'm very curious if anyone who signed that petition is applauding Amazon's actions here.

"Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?" the petition asked.

Well, consider the mess cleaned up. No more sock puppets. You can now celebrate your victory.

R Thomas Brown said...

I lost a few reviews of my work, but lost a dozen or so reviews I had given. I didn't, however, lose any reviews that wrote from an account not linked to my author page.

I continue to uphold amazon's right to do this, and that it is a blunt and crude solution to an imagined problem.

Now, the lost reviews aren't the end of the world either, but it's irritating. I don't think amazon made the right choice, because I don't think the lost reviews give better information to customers. I think they likely removed many more helpful reviews than problematic ones.

Jason said...

What we want to know is if this was a one time purging on Amazon's part, or will this be an ongoing police-effort that will result in thousands of review deletions in the future?

Like you said Joe, it makes me much less motivated to write a review now, except in extreme cases for my very favorite authors only. I don't like wasting my time either.

Jack Eason said...

I've been following the whole sad saga for a couple of months now Joe. Instead of targeting legitimate reviews, why doesn't Amazon weed out the one star reviewers? Reading the average one star review its patently obvious they have never read the book they have in their sights...

Joe Konrath said...

Instead of targeting legitimate reviews, why doesn't Amazon weed out the one star reviewers?

It's my impression, perhaps incorrect, that this is new system is automated, and even the best automated systems can mess things up.

I'm just as shocked as anyone that this is happening. Does this mean that witch hunts can actually have unintended negative consequences? Unheard of!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Joe. Since you've taken the time to address this issue (thank you, btw), I wonder if you are aware of the Killzone blog post (link below). Talk about frightening and subject to abuse!

http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2012/10/et-tu-amazon.html?m=1

And thank you for continuing to allow anon posts.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I do think they are using an algorithm that targets good reviews, which is troubling. I suppose I'm lucky. I have quite a few reviews on my novels and have only lost a tiny handful, but it is troubling because the ones they yanked were ALL perfectly legitimate, verified purchases and (I think) from "real name" reviewers. I have never faked a review in my life. I've never felt I had to, and this is upsetting.

And absolutely, I think you're right, Joe. This was brought about by the NSPHP hullabaloo. I wonder if they are enjoying losing legitimate reviews because they're from authors or because the review is too short or "too soon" after purchase or some other arbitrary measure?

Selena Kitt said...

Are mainstream books subject to this rule? (i.e. Rowling's Casual Vacancy) How about any of Amazon's own imprints? Thomas and Mercer? Montlake? 47 North? I haven't had a chance to look or do the research - but I'd be interested to know how "fairly" this ridiculous new algorithm is being applied...

Joe Konrath said...

Just talked to a buddy about this, and we both feel it is really going to discourage the very reviews that Amazon seeks and customers find helpful.

I won't spend twenty minutes writing a detailed, thoughtful review if there's a chance of it being deleted. I guess I'll have to restrict all my reviews to one star pans of ebooks I haven't read that are priced too high. ;)

Joe Konrath said...

How about any of Amazon's own imprints?

Selena, one of our friends had a review removed, which is hysterical because Amazon solicited the review asking him to write the intro to the book.

So the intro is fine, but the review isn't.

Fail.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Ah, the law of unintended consequences. I'll bet at least a few of those 400 authors will find that they lost legitimate reviews that they gave and/or received. I imagine some of them will change their minds.

It would be interesting to hear if any of them would post here about having changed their minds. Doing so would risk some villification, so it may not happen.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Incidentally, from what I've heard, it's based on an algorithm (and we all know those are infallible...) that looks for ratios of specific word instances in relation to the length of the review. No one's actually reading the reviews prior to deletion; it's computerized.

Unfortunately, the gushing review of someone who legitimately loves a novel will trip the algorithm just like a phony "thanks, Mom" sort of review.

Since the reviews are deleted, they can't be retrieved, even if they were legit.

Very sad.

Trolls do so much more damage than simple annoyance.

Rick Carufel said...

You've yet to receive they reply Amazon is sending to everyone who complains about disappearing reviews.
It basically says they cannot help you any further with this matter and your privilege to post reviews is revoked because of guidelines violations. Most reviews get pulled because the trolls on the Amazon forums complain and say the review was either paid for or done by a friend or family. Amazon does no investigation they just pull any review a troll whines about.

Traci Hohenstein said...

Amazon publishing imprints are not immune to this. I've lost reviews on Burn Out which was published by Thomas and Mercer. Other T&M authors that I know have also lost reviews. So it is not just one group that is being targeted.

Anonymous said...

Here’s my speculation as to what’s going on. Amazon is selling products and must comply with applicable laws, including those that state the accompanying selling words cannot be misleading or fraudulent. I’m betting that Amazon’s lawyers told the company to start doing due diligence as far as the accuracy of reviews gos, following the Locke fiasco.

Do do this, IMP, the following methods are being used. First, when an author logs onto his/her/its KDP page, Amazon gets the author’s IP address, which usually comes from the router. If that IP address shows review for any of the authors books, they are assumed to be sock puppet reviews. All reviews are then removed from the account that was used from that IP address, including all “legitimate” reviews written for books other than the authors, as well as circle-jerk reviews between authors. Amazon in effect assumes that the author is a bad person with bad motives, reviews ALL reviews, and bans that IP address as well as the customer account from posting any further reviews, likes, etc.

Amazon may also be tracking author through credit card numbers and doing the same kind of sweep as with IP addresses.

This is all just my guess.

Alan Spade said...

Joe, don't you credit NSPHP of too much influence ? I would say Amazon reacted to the reviewing scandal.

In theory, it is a good thing trying to suppress corporatism behavior.

Corporatism behavior is a bad thing if publishers or people they pay write 1 star reviews for books of authors they think are threatening their industry.

Corporatism is not very good if reviews are from authors who want to support their peers, because the reviews can be biased. You can have an arrangement : "you write me a good review and I write you a good one."

The guidelines of Amazon seem reasonable to me.

But the way they try to enforce them may be wrong. If it's an algorithm, it's a blind way to do it.

And there's also the fact there are many, many authors. And authors are the ones able to write a good, argumented, review. So yes, there is a loss.

To conclude, IMO, the main problem was trying to game the system, not to complain about the frauds. I don't believe in repression. I believe in educating. Alas, sometimes, repression is inevitable.

Joe Konrath said...

I would say Amazon reacted to the reviewing scandal.

A scandal bolstered and buoyed by that stupid petition, which happened to appear online at the same time it appeared in several publications.

Writers complained. Amazon acted. Now we all suffer. I can certainly blame Amazon for overreacting, but I also blame those authors for overreacting.

Who could have ever predicted a mob with good intentions could make the situation worse? :P

the main problem was trying to game the system, not to complain about the frauds.

To justify that belief, explain which has done more harm.

Is it worth losing sock puppet reviews when thousands of legitimate, positive reviews also disappear?

I'd say losing real reviews is more upsetting than the vast majority of authors than a few authors gaming the system without demonstrating any harm.

Tom Maddox said...

It's a shame that Amazon is using blunt force to attack the problem and not some method that is a little more surgical in nature. One that errors on the side of caution.

There is plenty of blame to go around though. Yes, the no sock puppets crusade is at the top of that list. They are probably reaping what they sowed though as they probably lost reviews as well.

Next comes the authors whose actions were responsible for the creation of the No Sock Puppets group. They took breaking Amazon's rules to new heights, not for the good of Amazon's customers, but for their own monetary benefit.

Lastly, I do put a little blame on Amazon for instituting counter-measures that seem to be overkill and will probably do little to stop people from abusing the review system.

It truly seems like a case where every step that led us to this point was much larger and more exaggerated than it needed to be.

Tom Maddox said...

I will also liken Amazon's response to DRM, in that I believe it will not stop those abusing the system. Those people will just get better at masking their actions.

The response, like DRM, will be more of a hassle for legitimate customers and reviewers.

Joe Konrath said...

It truly seems like a case where every step that led us to this point was much larger and more exaggerated than it needed to be.

Agreed. And I thought the issue had been pretty much diffused. Amazon could have, and should have, ignored it.

But then I'm not privy to all the email they get. Maybe they got thousands of responses from readers, outraged at phony reviews.

Then again, I bet right now they're getting a lot of responses from readers, wondering why their reviews were removed when they were clearly following guidelines. And that's a PR nightmare that is hard to overcome.

Joe Konrath said...

I will also liken Amazon's response to DRM, in that I believe it will not stop those abusing the system

Publishers and authors are the ones to blame for DRM, not Amazon, but it's a great analogy.

The cheaters will find a new way to cheat. Only the honest people get hurt.

Christopher John Chater said...

I had ten reviews for one of my short stories, now I only have two. I sent them a message a few months ago and they said the reviews violated some nonsense. I didn't know any of the reviewers, so I had no idea what they were talking about. Sucks, because one of the two they kept wasn't as good as the other eight. This reeks of the whole "can't promote yourself on message boards" silliness of last year. People bitch and moan and everyone loses.

Nick Lewandowski said...

This kind of reminds me of Google's efforts to punish "content farms" by tweaking its algorithms (which triggered a precipitous fall in Demand Media's share price). Goes to show how delicate a thing the media ecosystem really is, I guess.

Alan Spade said...

"To justify that belief, explain which has done more harm."

It's impossible to evaluate and to compare, the progressive degradation of the reviewing system due to fake reviews (which can cost sales), with honest reviews being erased by Amazon (which also cost sales).

All of that is bad and Nick Lewandowski is right, the media ecosystem is a delicate thing.

Traci Hohenstein said...

It seems that Amazon is only removing 4 and 5 star reviews. That should speak volumes in itself.

Anonymous said...

Each week the culture section of the Sunday Times publishes a bunch of new book reviews solicited by publishers via free copies and written by authors. Ok for Big 6 not for Indies?

Peter L. Winkler said...

Amazon should post a disclaimer on their site: "Amazon.com does not guarantee the veracity of the reviews published here" and leave it at that. (Such a disclaimer should not be limited to customer reviews either, but should be meant to encompass reviews from Kirkus, PW, The New York Times, etc.)

Since Amazon is not going to spend money to hire human intermediaries to screen customer reviews, they should not employ some highly fallible computerized system which produces draconiam results, yet offers no right of response or appeal.

Joe Konrath said...

the progressive degradation of the reviewing system due to fake reviews (which can cost sales)

I wrote three blog posts about how I saw zero evidence that the review system was being degraded. I think people were benefiting from loopholes, but didn't see any harm.

I believe having legit reviews removed can show harm.

Joe Konrath said...

I agree, Peter. A disclaimer was all they needed.

Mike Fook said...

I'm not missing any reviews that I can recall. Was this system-wide, or just focused on Joe and his friends?

Amazon reviews are a colossal pain in the ass for new writers, and those that write in areas with high competition.

I do hope writers create their own sites and pull buyers of their books away from Amazon, not send them there to purchase.

30% commission is a lot to pay. You're losing a lot of cash if all your sales go through Amazon and other online stores other than your own site. How smart is that?

Sell directly as much as possible. Pull your customers from Amazon to your site. Offer specials on your site that entice buyers to buy there. Create Kindle formatted books - it isn't difficult - and sell them yourself.

Amazon seems like the savior at the moment... when they jack up commissions to 50%, 70% - then you'll realize just how far your head was up your ass to have been singing them aleluyahs for so long.

Unfortunately Joe has already sold his soul to the devil - by accepting the upfront cash for his book(s) from them.

Joe writes to them like they all have flowers and sunshine growing out of their backsides.

I'd like to hear what you really have to say about the matter Joe. Your tone when talking about Amazon has been dumbed down to a mere whimper.

Wendy Bertsch said...

Joe, thank you for a succinct and valid analysis of the situation. After authors whipped themselves into a frenzy over the false reviews, everyone immediately blamed Amazon...as they do for everything except maybe the weather. Amazon was probably a bit miffed at being pushed into taking action, which may have been costly, and certainly distracted them from other business. So they took the most direct route to address the issue, which was automated and arbitrary. If I'd been them, I'd have done the same.
I've lost a few honest reviews for my own books, and a few honest reviews that I posted for other books.
Thanks, folks. Thanks a lot.

Joe Konrath said...

Was this system-wide, or just focused on Joe and his friends?

System wide. Go to Kindleboards and count the number of authors being effected. A lot of honest, innocent people are feeling very hurt by this.

Joe writes to them like they all have flowers and sunshine growing out of their backsides.

You need to understand that my contacts at Amazon didn't necessarily have anything to do with this new policy, so chastising them personally is not only rude, it also makes no sense. It's like yelling at the of head of distribution for something that the head of marketing did.

I have great respect for the people I emailed, and my beef wasn't with them.

Jude Hardin said...

The cheaters will find a new way to cheat. Only the honest people get hurt.

So why not eliminate customer reviews altogether? Seems like the simplest solution to me. Who would it hurt? Nobody. People could still review books on their blogs or whatever. It would do away with all the shenanigans, and the inept attempts at policing them. Win.

Creativity Coach-Sherrie said...

How can I check if my reviews were deleted? I have been reviewing authors so that when my book comes out, they will (hopefully) return the favor. Plus they were GREAT reads. This is very sad as some of them, actually 90% of them, I do not have copies of, so they are gone FOREVER.
This is very sad. I don't care what was said where. There must be a better way of doing things.
BTW, I still don't understand what exactly happened that caused this knee jerk reaction.

Jeff Shelby said...

"We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product."

Many of the reviews that have been removed were written by people with publishing credits within the Amazon system. If your author account is linked to your Amazon account, they've probably deleted some of the reviews you've written, regardless of the content of the review. It seems that the system they've put in place to snuff out any fake or malicious reviews is operating under the guise that all authors are in competition with one another. While that might be true in a vast sense, it's a really simple idea that doesn't hold much water.

But as Joe says - Amazon is customer driven. People complained. Loudly. And Amazon acted quickly. Is it fair? No. Efficient? No. But this isn't Amazon acting on some crazy idea it came up with on it's own. The complaints were brought to them and I think they felt some heat to act quickly. The outcry was loud, if a bit ignorant.

My hope is that they will iron out the wrinkles. I don't think that the reviews will be replaced - think I've lost half a dozen across my books - but maybe moving forward they'll respond to THIS frustration as well and come up with a system that balances everything out a bit more fairly.

L.L. Muir said...

Add me to the list of the pissed.

L.L. Muir

Barry Eisler said...

I'm a big Amazon fan, but this new policy sure looks likely to be counterproductive, for at least three reasons:

1. It has eliminated countless honest, high-quality, helpful customer reviews.

2. It will likely discourage authors from writing such reviews in the future (why spend the time if the review might mysteriously vanish?).

3. Because the policy is easy to avoid (just set up an additional account), it seems likely to encourage…

Wait for it…

More sock puppetry!

The good news is, all my Harriet Klausner reviews seem to be intact, so the new system isn't *completely* broken. :D

This is all doubly ironic when you consider the way No Sock Puppets Here Please pleaded with readers to post more "honest and heartfelt reviews [to] drown out the phoney voices." The NSPHP crowd seems to have helped catalyze a reaction that's the exact opposite of what they claimed to be trying to do.

http://nosockpuppets.wordpress.com

This all really ought to be included in the Wikipedia entry on the Law of Unintended Consequences so future generations can learn from it. :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences

Hunter F. Goss said...

I lost the single review I had for my novel 'Night Market'. Also gone is one vote that said the review had been helpful.

I know who the reviewer was. They posted it without my asking. And while the reviewer said some positive things, it was hardly a 'sock puppet' piece. Not with only three stars.

So I have to think

Aww, the heck with it. I'm going back to writing and finish the next installment of the series.

Joe, I think it was you who said writing more was the thing us newbies need to do anyway. Seems like good advice. Thanks.

Tom Maddox said...

Joe Said

I wrote three blog posts about how I saw zero evidence that the review system was being degraded. I think people were benefiting from loopholes, but didn't see any harm.


I still respectfully disagree that there isn't any harm in the gaming of the review system. I still maintain that authors gaming the system with fake "reader reviews" is someone trying to con me and other readers out of our money.

I know that everyone says that you can always return books but many times I buy books that interest me many months before I actually get around to reading it. Is it easy to return a book 6 months later?

Now, I consider myself a reasonably intelligent man and think I can spot most questionable reviews but I also can't swear that I have not been duped once or twice as I have purchased books with great reviews that I have found dreadful.

I said earlier that I think Amazon has over-reacted but I just can't get myself into the mindset that authors actively trying to trick or con readers into buying their work doesn't cause any harm.

Libbie Grant said...

Peter's right. A disclaimer would have been a far more elegant and less costly (in terms of man hours...somebody had to program that algorithm and will have to tweak it as more complaints come in.) Takes care of any concerns from the legal department, too. Or it would in any company I've ever worked for.

I think the whole thing is terribly disappointing. As far as I know I've lost no reviews from either of my pen names, but the mere fact that high reviews are apparently being targeted by this autmoated system is extremely troubling. Some authors really are producing books with which the majority of paying customers are very, very pleased. What a shame to punish such good writing -- and so potentially lucrative a customer for Amazon -- because there's some silly fear that one or two might be a sock puppet.

And really, all the people who are in such hysterics over sock puppets: sack up, and welcome to the internet. Are you new?

Claude Nougat said...

It seems we all got hit! Thanks, Joe, for sharing with us your letter to Amazon, a very thoughtful one, I hope they listen!

As to the idea that their police action will stop in future, I doubt that very much: it's based on an alogorithm linking your credit card/account/author page - very easy to implement and no reason to stop it. Also the idea that you could open another account and game the system is not very convincing: you'd still need to carefully delink your credit card known to Amazon...But aren't there ways to track ALL your credit cards? Big Brother is Watching You, guys, and that's a fact.

One result is that certainly us writers won't write reviews quite so often in future. Certainly NOT reviews of each other (they're so easy to identify with an algorithm...). This said, I do believe that the "verified purchase" button plays a huge role here: I always write reviews of books I have bought, even if written by friends. I always say exactly what I think and if the book is not worth 5 stars I don't give it 5 stars - I give it exactly what I think it deserves. Remember, bad (or medium-rated) reviews don't hurt: on the contrary, they help sales if they're perceived as HONEST. And that's what I strive for:honesty. As a reviewer, I've had NO reviews deleted at all.

So I think that's the right policy: buy the books you review and be sincere in your evaluation of it. Everyone will come out ahead!

John Kaden said...

I'm very new to this, my first book is not even finished let alone published. But I've been thinking a lot about how best to launch it, and I've lurked around here for quite a while and gotten lots of good ideas. Konrath said he is "disappointed and annoyed, but still has thousands of reviews and his star ratings are unchanged."

That makes sense, for established authors who can absorb the impact a bit more easily. Reading posts like this makes me a bit queasy:

"I lost the single review I had for my novel 'Night Market'. Also gone is one vote that said the review had been helpful"

That scared me. How are new authors supposed to launch if positive reviews are stricken with reckless abandon? Is it taboo to email friends when you have a free promotion? I'm just worried that I'll get buried under two star reviews and never stand a chance, since it seems mostly 4 and 5 stars have been targeted by the algorithm. I've worked too hard for that to happen. I would never buy reviews or use sock puppets, but what CAN I do, if reviews from other writers and even fans are being erased from the system. How does this change things for people coming from complete obscurity?

Jen said...

Thanks for writing about this. I had a review removed and was wondering what happened. Funny thing, they removed the one with the lowest star rating. I don't know if the person who wrote it was another writer, but I do think anyone who read it could tell it was an honest review.

H.S. Stone said...

Did you get a reply from Amazon to your second email? I'd be curious if anyone is following up on it and what they say.

I don't have many reviews for my books to begin with, and the ones Amazon deleted were all 5 stars. Ouch!

Ironically, I gifted a copy of one of my books to someone earlier this week, and then Amazon sent me an email asking if I wanted to review my purchase of MY book! I was tempted to write a review (after all, they ASKED ME TO), but I didn't. :-)

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a good move on Amazon's part. They don't want fake reviews like those Joe posted clogging up their system. And they don't want authors posting reviews of other others to try and skew the system.

It'll take some time to sort out. It's complicated. But it will get Amazon nearer to where it wants to be with a trusted review system.

It will never be perfect. But it can be better. As Joe says, it's Amazon's system so they can police it however they like. But at least they are now policing it.

kriley97 said...

Unfortunately I can see this leading to more "sock-puppeting". Authors will have to set up fake accounts just to leave honest reviews.

Alan Tucker said...

I know of a group who filed a petition at change.org in response to Amazon's actions. You can find it here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-stop-arbitrarily-removing-customer-reviews-from-indie-author-books

While I agree in spirit with the sentiment as I've lost a few legitimate reviews as well, I declined to sign because of the language of the first paragraph. It felt to me to be too similar to the spoiled child foot stomping the Big 6 did in reaction to the DOJ. Why does it seem to be so difficult to find middle ground to calmly discuss issues?

Joe Konrath said...

We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.

True, Jeff, but I've been blogging for years about how ebooks aren't zero sum. There is no competition. Fans won't buy a Noah Braddock mystery of a Jack Daniels mystery. if they like funny thrillers, they'll buy both. It isn't like buying a rake, where you only need one.

My hope is that they will iron out the wrinkles.

I think they will. Amazon isn't perfect. They make mistakes. But they learn from those mistakes. That's how they became so good at what they do.

Joe Konrath said...

Wait... actions can have unintended consequences?!? What!?!? You mean, if I publicly complain about something I haven't fully thought out, and then rally my peers and the media to get up on the high horse with me, bad things might happen?

I almost pissed myself laughing on Twitter. One of the pinheads who created the petition (and yes, it is a petition) has no idea why Amazon removed one of his reviews.

Oh irony, you're a harsh mistress.

Joe Konrath said...

I still maintain that authors gaming the system with fake "reader reviews" is someone trying to con me and other readers out of our money.

The conned can return their books and get their money back. We can't get our reviews back.

Joe Konrath said...

They don't want fake reviews like those Joe posted clogging up their system.

Those reviews are still up. The honest ones I wrote discussing the merits of books I enjoyed were the ones removed. As were reviews of my books written by fans I never met.

I doubt that was Amazon's intention. Whatever they're doing, they should have done more testing first.

Grace Brannigan Romance Author said...

Everything is changing so fast in the epub world. Hopefully this will be corrected. They must still have the removed info backed up in their system. I'd personally hate to have my reviews deleted, even though I don't have that many yet.

Jeff Shelby said...

True, Jeff, but I've been blogging for years about how ebooks aren't zero sum. There is no competition. Fans won't buy a Noah Braddock mystery of a Jack Daniels mystery. if they like funny thrillers, they'll buy both. It isn't like buying a rake, where you only need one.

Totally agreed. And I don't really think Amazon believes that, either - I just think they are using it at the moment as a protective umbrella to try and clean up the system. The language is purposely vague to give them a wide latitude to do what they want, which I understand. But I don't think it will work for very long for many of the reasons that people have pointed out here and I don't think Amazon intends it to be permanent, either. It's a stop-gap on the way to a permanent, hopefully more balanced, fix.

Dan Holloway said...

This is an instance of a much wider dilemma that applies in virtually every area in life, and it has to do with what your aims are - whether they are to keep everything bad out, or to ensure that everything good gets in.

People can argue about the detail of best compromises till they're blue in teh face, but it's a pretty basic tenet that you can't do both, so you have to decide where you pin your colours to the mast. Most legislatures adopt the former tack - they want to stop bad things happening - corollary: good people will be stopped from doing good things to make it happen. On the other hand, those who truly advocate free speech tend to the latter - corollary: bad people will be allowed to say bad things with bad consequences. Heck, self-publishing as a whole is a microcosm with many of us arguing that flooding the market with slush is worth it to allow the undiscovered gems to get out there (certainly that's my position) while others argue the gates should be slammed shut so the bad stays out and if good books are sacrificed too so be it.


In this instance, Amazon has come down on the side of the former strategy - trying to keep out the miscreants. My sense is that as companies, and other organisations, evolve, mission statements that initially embraced the "let in all the good" position get hardened by various external pressures - from regulators, shareholders, media, widening consumer bases outside of their natural liberal constituency etc - until they are forced to become more "keep out the bad" in order to protect their position (retrenching where they were once frontiersmen)

Charles Harvey said...

Almost everything Amazon does these days seems to suppress sales. I wonder if they're finished? I'm still seeing mediocre to horrible books with dozens of 5 star reviews.

Seeley James said...

I'm trying to figure out how Amazon went about this mass removal. My novel is 5-6 weeks away from hitting Amazon and all of my reviews are still showing as far as I can tell. Are these other authors seeing reciprocated reviews deleted?

Amazon had to use some algorithmic method, and a program that DELETES Joe & Mary IF Joe-reviews-Mary-Mary-reviews-Joe. It would be a simple routine that would cause this kind of havoc...

Peace, Seeley

BTW: Only Amazon can be held accountable for their actions, not the petitioners.

Seeley James said...

I think Amazon's response would be in answer to the New York Times article that reached 5-6 million readers -- not the petition from 400.

Peace, Seeley

Anonymous said...

Per the comments on this similar piece at
http://dosomedamage * blogspot * com/2012/10/amazonreview * html

it appears that only the reviews linked to an amazon author account were removed. One writer in comments above notes that he has several other amazon accounts, and any of his reviews made from those accounts are still there.

In other words, the new amazon policy encourages sock-puppetry. FAIL>

Joe Konrath said...

Only Amazon can be held accountable for their actions, not the petitioners.

If not for the petitioners,Amazon wouldn't have done anything.

I'm not absolving Amazon. They screwed up. But they were responding to moral panic started by a few misguided morons who didn't think things through but loved to point fingers and get their names in newspapers.

If I invented a time machine and eliminated three or four pinheads, we wouldn't be having this problem. Which I still might so, as no on will mourn their erasure from human history.

Jacob Chastain said...

Hey Joe, you might this interesting.

I've been trying to get the discussion going on my second twitter account @PenNameofJC about this.

More specifically though, I have been trying to add both sides to the nay sayers of this blog post, such as @EvilWylie aka: Andrew Shaffer.

He keeps posting about you and Eisler and how wrong you guys are on this issue... The thing is he isn't talking to you or him, but rather commenting where you can't see (which is why I have been re-tweeting his stuff just so you guys can see)...

I asked why he won't come to your blog and talk and he said you called him names and that is why...

I asked him why he won't address you in his tweets on twitter with your @ and he said because he blocked both of you guys so he doesn't have to listen...

Can you spot the silliness?

My point of course being, why are authors against talking in a rational way? Why are the trad. published fighting the indie? Why is their such a crappy level of discourse?

It's like watching the presidential debates...

I like Andrew. I like you and Eisler.

But damnit, I'm tired of this "war". We are all authors in this together.

Is it worth trying to get the dialogue going? Am I wasting my time?

NOTE: I'm posting this here because I know you and your readers have a keen eye for rationality and reason.

Surely it is worth taking down old walls and building new cities of writers all working together? At least to debate in a way that isn't childlike...


Jim Self said...

I agree with you about free speech, except for one part. Free speech is sacred, but you still can't use it in a way that harms others ("Fire!" in a theater.) Why? Because my rights don't allow me to infringe on yours. The Sock-Puppeteers and review mills and cooperative review rings are all using speech, yes, but in a harmful way.

I know you don't think that it is harmful, or not enough to justify policing. That seems to be the point where most people disagree with you, and not really on a matter of morals. Marketing genius Seth Godin says the most important thing is trust, and fake reviews destroy trust.

On a technical note, I think the system would be better if it flagged reviews instead of deleting them. A note that explains why a review might be fake is enough for a reader to make their own decision. And how about some filtering tools that eliminate author reviews, single-review accounts, what have you?

Amazon not saving the deleted reviews in case they screwed up is probably their biggest screw-up in this. They should have trusted readers, like they did when they made the review system, and given them tools to filter out fake reviews themselves.

Joe Konrath said...

I think Amazon's response would be in answer to the New York Times article that reached 5-6 million readers -- not the petition from 400.

I disagree. That article was without judgement or opinion. People formed opinions after reading it, created a petition, and then the drama really got going.

If memory serves (and it might not), the moment that stupid petition went live it was already in the media. Meaning the writers informed the media about what they were doing. Which in turn led to a lot of other media sources picking up on it.

Amazon doesn't change things because of the NYT. The NYT is opposed to Amazon's policies on practically a regular basis. But when a bunch of authors whined, Amazon acted.

Of course that's just may take, and I could be completely wrong. I have no way of knowing.

Jim Self said...

I meant to add above that fake reviews destroy trust, and not only in the book in question, but in other books and the whole reviewing system. That hurts everyone that doesn't have thousands of reviews (enough to have surpassed the fake review point).

Joe Konrath said...

The Sock-Puppeteers and review mills and cooperative review rings are all using speech, yes, but in a harmful way.

I disagree.

Ebooks aren't zero sum. Someone gaming the system with bought reviews doesn't hurt you. And someone posting a bad review happens all the time, anonymous or not. Anonymity is protected under free speech.

Slander and libel aren't protected. But Amazon already had libel policies in place. And yelling "fire" isn't protected because it is physically hazardous.

As for flagged reviews, Amazon already had that. They had review comments, helpful votes, and ways to report inappropriate conduct. They didn't have to fix anything, IMHO.

Joe Konrath said...

I meant to add above that fake reviews destroy trust, and not only in the book in question, but in other books and the whole reviewing system.

Show me a reader who is so stupid he takes every review as gospel truth.

Trust was in no danger of being destroyed. Anyone who has been on the Internet for longer than five minutes learns to parse good data from bad data. And if a reviewer is duped, he can return the product for a full refund and write his own negative review.

The system was fine.

Seeley James said...

Joe, "Amazon doesn't change things because of the NYT." Sorry, but I've worked with C-level executives at F500 companies for 30 years. My closest friends are on boards of F500 companies. Any public company's CEO/CFO will tell you his #1 biggest fear that comes up every morning: Being called out in the NYT or the WSJ.

Yes, that article hurt Bezos to the core. He wasn't named or blamed, but the inference was there for the entire business world to see. Amazon has no integrity.

Of course, if you want to dive into conspiracy theories: The Big 6 may have said to Amazon, we own $6 billion of your revenue. We can move it to B&N or Direct Brands -- or you can start gently squeezing out the indies. Truth be told, there are several things going on at Amazon that point in that direction. Like the minimum advertising commitment...

Peace Seeley

Anonymous said...

The Amazon review "community" as it stands has become corrupt and useless. Amazon has finally come to the conclusion that something needs to be done about it, but with its usual arrogance, it iss making its moves unilaterally and without explanation. It failed to keep its review process honest in the runup to this problem, and now it's blundering ahead in the other direction. See http://www.thebigriverreview.com

Jim Self said...

Joe: Agreed no one would believe everything they read. On the other hand, if the review system is worth anything, filling it with fake reviews lowers that value. It's like spam email. Spam doesn't give me carpal-tunnel syndrome, but it annoys me and consumes my time as I have to deal with it. Sometimes it keeps me from dealing with my email at all.

Seeley James: Most CEO's probably do worry about their press coverage, but I don't think Bezos does. Amazon gets constant hate from major media outlets, yet they keep on breaking things and making them better.

Jim Self said...

Mr. Anonymous:

"but with its usual arrogance, [Amazon] iss making its moves unilaterally and without explanation."

Who exactly does Amazon need permission from? Do you own the site you linked to?

Joe Konrath said...

The Amazon review "community" as it stands has become corrupt and useless.

I love it when anonymous folks make nonsensical blanket statements like this. It brightens my day.

Amazon might as well just eliminate all reviews, because that would most certainly and unilaterally help sales, according to this ridiculous statement.

Or maybe, just maybe, customers can distinguish helpful reviews from suspect reviews. But that would assume customers have the intelligence to be able to work a computer.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Joe,

Congratulations on your spot-on-ness (if you'll pardon the use of a quaint English expression!) Amazon's removal of lots of legitimate reviews is direct proof of what you have said all along: that the NSPHP brigade behaved in a way that could easily result (and now, indeed, has resulted) in an attack upon many reviewers' freedom of speech. In the summer, some of your critics accused you of being melodramatic when you said that NSPHP was antagonistic towards freedom of speech - and now, lo and behold, their group action has led to Amazon disallowing the free speech of many sane, sensible and honest reviewers. The Amazon review system is precisely 0% more perfect or pure than it was before, and yet reviewers' freedom of expression has been significantly curtailed (significant in the nature and unsavouriness of the curtailment, if not in the number of reviews affected).

Not one of the NSPHP people has said, 'Oh dear, this is truly an unfortunate consequence of our open letter in the summer'. I would think more highly of them if they did. I can't see how they can fail to see the connection. Their group action has made the system worse; surely this fact is undeniable?

Barry Eisler is also spot-on as ever, with his law of unintended consequences reference. Unintended, yes, but unforeseeable? Not at all. It was entirely possible, in the summer, to see that that the NSPHP initiative could and indeed almost definitely would lead to bad things happening: random vilification of people who are no more morally corrupt than NSPHP's signatories, for a start. Nastiness, abuse, even death threats. And I think it was also eminently foreseeable that Amazon might respond in an ill-thought-out way that would restrict freedom of speech. So...from an ethical point of view, an action that has an unintended and unforeseeable negative consequence is far easier to forgive than an action that has an unintended but totally foreseeable harmful consequence. The NSPHP people ought now to apologise to all Amazon users - either for their sheer stupidity, or for their recklessness in not caring about what might happen to freedom of expression as long as they got to look righteous for five minutes.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

http://juliarachelbarrett.net/2012/10/ive-been-hit-with-the-dreaded-review-removal/
Et tu?
There must be a way to control sock puppets without targeting random reviews.
No, I didn't sign any petition.

Delle Jacobs said...

Joe, I think you've actually found the clue in the reply email from Amazon. I also talked with an Amazon guy at a conference last week, and was also very interested in the dumb-founded expression on his face when the question of vanishing reviews surfaced. Two pieces of circumstantial evidence don't mean all that much, but when paired with the usual Amazon approach to a problem-assign a computer to fix it-I'm guessing that's what's going on. If I were building the program (and I have no such capacity) I'd model it after spam filters. And we all know that after all this time of refining them, spam filters are still not so reliable that human beings don't have to double-check them.

Here are two more clues: For a while, all Kindle KDP books appeared to be automatically run through Auto Correct filters. And these played havoc with my medievals, changing perfectly good Anglo-Saxon names into modern words (Anwealda into Unwieldy, Fyren into Firing). A perfectly normal thing for Amazon to do, considering the personality of the organization. But a disaster for historical fiction.
And last, some reviews I've reported as unacceptable by their own standards have continued to be attached to the books (Gabby Giffords and her husband being called "brain dead"). But the review-culling computer program would not be the same one attached to responding to responding to complaints. So it might make sense that both are doing imperfect jobs, but in completely different ways. Heck, it might even be that a real human gets to investigate complaints. Whatever, the approach to the two problems is clearly different.

Peggy Ireland said...

The nasty email I received from Amazon after I queried the removal of a number of book reviews I had done was a prime example of overkill. They threatened to remove the books in question if I continued pursuing answers. I am sure that Lawrence Hill, Donna Leon and Joe Finder have the clout to keep their books on the site if I made a fuss, but I do wonder about the ramifications for some of the indies.

Nikki said...

Truthfully, I think the only real blow back from this is from authors who notice it. This is something the average reader pays attention to. Perhaps I could be wrong.

I review quite a bit on Amazon, and not just for books, and I couldn't tell you what, if any, of my reviews were removed. And I'd hardly, as an average reader, be up in arms about it and just assume some sort of glitch if I did happen to notice it.

But I doubt Amazon is thinking of this as a PR nightmare in any context other than their authority community. And as what is likely a one time thing, maybe not even that.

Soon enough, this will go the way of the mysteriously listed, unlisted, and listed again erotic incident.
FYI, love the Binders reviews.

Anonymous said...

Just picked up on this again. Legally, Amazon doesn't need anyone's permission to do anything. But it has placed itself in the business of offering reviews of the products it sells, and, in the case of books, creating a critical environment for intellectual product. We use to have an environment of newspaper, magazine, etc. print book reviews that carried the requirement of writer/editor relationships to promote ethics and standards in book reviews (had its own abuses, but some accountability). That has been missing from Amazon since the beginning, and it only makes sense that the void has been filled by fakes, barters, revenge reviews, dollar a piece five star reviews, marketing ploys to use Amazon reviews as selling tools, etc. The site linked has been keeping track of the development of the problem for the last three years. It (I spend money on it but receive no revenue from it), and I, are anonymous because I have several conventionally published books sold on Amazon, and the research will show that authors can be peremptorily deleted by Amazon without explanation and there is a track record of doing so when when A. hasn't been pleased by an author's actions. I owe it to myself and my publishers not to jeopardize my place in a very important marketplace. I am pro-Amazon in terms of the visibility it gives to my books worldwide, and the (necessary I think) innovations it continues to brink to book publishing. But we got to this point because of the company's arrogance in allowing the review problem to become unmanageable, and now they seem to be trying to fix the problem in the same way - which I believe is the original grip on this blog. The site has put me in touch with some higher ups at Amazon. It's been friendly, remaining anonymous, and I've told them: you have a problem, you know you have a problem, get out in front of it. Take credit for the revolution you've brought to publishing, and say publicly that now we're going to take the next steps to address this particular problem publicly, proactively and with the involvement of authors, publishers, etc. Instead, we've got everybody blogging about legitimate reviews gone missing, asking what's going on. Amazon should respond: This is the problem, this is what we're trying to do, let's collaborate on this.Maybe some day they'll get it. In the meantime we need to keep complaining.

Joe Konrath said...

The NSPHP people ought now to apologise to all Amazon users - either for their sheer stupidity, or for their recklessness in not caring about what might happen to freedom of expression as long as they got to look righteous for five minutes.

True. But it won't ever happen. One of Joe's Truisms is that people will defend their beliefs to the death rather than consider they are wrong. The masterminds (I laughed when I wrote that word) behind the NSPSP petition will dig in, defend their position, and deflect blame.

And I don't care. I've made it my policy not to respond to pinheads, either on their blogs or on Twitter. I don't read their comments. I don't seek out their silly opinions. I don't Google myself, so I don't know who is talking about me or what they're saying, because I don't care.

I've also tried to cut down on responding to anonymous pinheads on my blog, but I confess weakness and sometimes can't control myself.

I do, however, love to respond to well-thought out comments on my blog, even anonymous ones such as yours.

When I am wrong, I admit to being wrong. If I do something stupid, I apologize. As new information comes in, I change my mind.

I realize much of the above has nothing to do with your comments, but I felt this was a good place to explain the reason I'm not wasting my time debating morons is because I don't care. Not because I'm afraid. Not because I'm wrong. Because it is a waste of time, like teaching a cow to drive a car. The cow is simply too stupid to ever learn.

Joe Konrath said...

That has been missing from Amazon since the beginning, and it only makes sense that the void has been filled by fakes, barters, revenge reviews, dollar a piece five star reviews, marketing ploys to use Amazon reviews as selling tools, etc.

I agree those things exists. I disagree they caused harm.

I believe removing thousands of legit reviews is indeed harming authors and their sales.

I'd say that the average customer is pretty savvy in spotting shill or fake reviews. And if they're duped, they can return the product for a refund and write their own negative review. No harm there.

But when thousands of honest, helpful reviews are taken down, customers are mission out on making a more informed decision.

The Internet is filled with bad information, and we all seem to manage to separate the good from the bad. I'd rather take the bad with the good than eliminate a lot of the good. And I don't think innocent people should be punished in order to stop the guilty.

I can sort through phony reviews myself. Amazon has tools in place to help me, like comments and helpful votes.

AlĂȘ said...

I Don’t think Amazon understand how valuable those reviews are, they are free work, given on good will to Amazon, imagine if Amazon paid a professional reviewer to do the job, this will cost a fortune. They even don’t have man power to sort things out, imagine to write the reviews, some are lame, but others are excellent, a lot of that even better than work of a lot of professional critics.

This reviews are the only difference Amazon site have to their competition, if customers delete their reviews and put than on another seller, Amazon will be finished! Infuriate their customers, and everyone will leave the site together, moving the community to greener pastures. If they don’t realize that they are bloody stupid.

Anonymous said...

Amazon is a business and it will do what it needs to do for its business. I give credit, again, to A for leading the way in the use of the Internet for consumer reviews. I use them extensively for my own purchase decisions (last time to find the right lawn-edger), and I am a Sr Reviewer on Tripadvisor which has been very valuable to me. But all of these Internet review environments are under attack now for the same problems A has. The consumer review potential of the internet is very important. It has empowered all of us as consumers,but it has to be protected, and if companies like A and Home Depot, TripAdvisor, whatever see it falling apart they will have to fix it for their own well-being. A just continues to screw it up. And you should Google yourself occasionally. It's been very helpful to me in making the small course corrections we all have to make - my opinion.

Joe Konrath said...

Good points, Anon. The only one I disagree with is this:

And you should Google yourself occasionally.

I'm lucky to have a very smart peer group who takes me to task when I'm wrong, so I don't need the comments of strangers to give me course corrections.

I also get lots of email, which I read, so I'm fortunate to get enough feedback without having to look for it.

Criticism is essential for learning. I've just found better ways to get the criticism I need. And it ain't Twitter, Google, or the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Amazon has a "report abuse" button right by the review. That system works well on other sites to narc out the sock puppets without having to resort to scorched earth policy carried out by heartless algorithms. I sometimes search subgenres by rating, just to see what pops up, and its clear as day which books have cheezball 5-star reviews and which are genuinely will-liked. And so what if some cheezy review has ten 5-star ratings from the authors family. If it sucks, it will eventually get knocked down with honest reviews. Plus, Amazon lets you read samples of almost everything before you buy it. I can usually tell within about two sentences if it's written by some rank charlatan, or a well-skilled artist. So you've got to be pretty stupid if caveat emptor still bites you in the ass. Algorithms are bad for society.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I don't think those who are deleting the reviews are honestly aware of what the heck they are doing. I had one book that was on the best-seller free list for three days in a row, and in the same day got attacked by the Amazon mafia with six one-star reviews, followed by comments from those who agreed, along with helpful votes. Then the mob turned on those who wrote the five star reviews and questioned their credibility, when they were all legit. Definitely a "kill the indie attack." Did any of those get removed? Nope. They are still there, but they have removed a four-star review from an author who I didn't even know existed that read the book and left a review. There is no justice or rhyme or reason behind the deletions. Every time I complain, nothing happens. In the last review I got the reviewer said I'd make a better prostitute than a writer. They told me there were no violation of terms in her comments. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Fr. anonymous 1 re Google. I used to be in a different creative pursuit which had an active award culture. One time when I googled myself I learned that I had won an important award on the other side of the country, didn't even know I'd been entered in the competition. Called them up and they said "Where ya been? We've been looking for you." Just sayin.

Belinda Frisch said...

Consider me in the irate author category, not only because I lost legitimate reviews, though I did lose two on a new book that DID lower it's overall rating, but because I contacted Amazon recently about a 1-star review (on this same book) where the reviewer(wsmith) consistently rates other zombie fiction one-star except for one book. Now I'm not saying people have to like my book, but there should be some consideration given to the content of the review and the reviewer's track record.

If the person is doing nothing but hurting authors ratings, they should be stopped. Especially if their reviews say nothing about the book.

To lose two of "Cure's" best reviews while at least one BS review sticks, even after I asked for it to be investigated, is crap. As an author, I'm a customer, too. My livelihood depends on my reviews. Amazon deleting ANY review arbitrarily is nonsense, but this whole thing is beyond. DON'T help your authors by giving them a means of self-preservation, HURT them by deleting the one thing that incentivizes sales: good reviews.

Good job, guys.

http://www.amazon.com/CURE-Strandville-Zombie-Novel-ebook/dp/B0088QHDCQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Anonymous said...

In relation to the fake reviews Joe posted, Joe said:


"Those reviews are still up. The honest ones I wrote discussing the merits of books I enjoyed were the ones removed. As were reviews of my books written by fans I never met."

Yes but maybe Amazon's algorithm spotted that you'd been writing fake reviews and so considered you fair game for deletion.

If you post fake reviews on other products, what's to stop you posting fake reviews of your own products?

Don't say fake reviews don't matter and then complain when Amazon try to do something about them. Clearly they do matter when the whole system is being overhauled to prevent them.

Seems reasonable also that the algorithm looks for people who are gaming the system by posting fake reviews or tit for tat reviews. Some errors will be made. We don't know the background of any of the cases.

But someone who clearly is posting fake reviews, like Joe, might have brought trouble to their own door.

I doubt Amazon will elaborate. The algorithm is probably commercially sensitive. They may deal with individual cases depending on how many there are.

Seems as if authors are finally understanding that not everything is rosy in the Amazon garden. Any monopoly has the potential to create problem. This is just the first one to hit authors.

Maybe Joe will start a petition :-)

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

"The conned can return their books and get their money back. We can't get our reviews back."

Hard luck.

Better to protect Amazon's customers than authors who try to con them.

Besides, weren't there people on this forum who said reviews don't matter.

Suddenly, when they disappear, they matter a lot.

Joe Konrath said...

Yes but maybe Amazon's algorithm spotted that you'd been writing fake reviews and so considered you fair game for deletion.

Sure. And maybe the cops gathered evidence I was a murderer, then arrested me for speeding.

Makes no sense. If they were concerned about my fake humorous reviews, those would have been deleted.

This is something different. Some bot doing something it was programmed to do.

If you post fake reviews on other products, what's to stop you posting fake reviews of your own products?

Does trolling give you an erection? If so, are you embarrassed by it?

If I ever do post humorous reviews of my own products, they'll be easy enough to find, because unlike you I sign my name to my words.

Scott Nicholson said...

"I love free speech, except the speech I don't personally like or agree with. That kind of speech should be banned."

Joe Konrath said...

Suddenly, when they disappear, they matter a lot.

Not to me. But I seem to bring up a lot of things on this blog that don't effect me, in order to help other writers.

Amazon's customers didn't need protecting. But the NSPHP folks needed to be bitch slapped. Which I did. And continue to do, because they created a situation where writers are being harmed.

Customer buys book because of fake review = zero harm. I've gone into length why, and am bored with repeating myself.

Customer doesn't buy book because lots of honest, positive reviews are no longer there to help the customer make an informed choice = author harmed.

Joe Konrath said...

"I love free speech, except the speech I don't personally like or agree with. That kind of speech should be banned."

Keep up the smart comments, Scott, and I'll ban you! :)

Author Scott Nicholson said...

And the sweetest irony is that this is a MAJOR COUP for sock puppetry! Legitimate reviews from real people are now second class to anonymous reviews from fake accounts.

Anonymous said...

At least four of my thought-out, generally positive reviews seem to have disappeared, even as one-star reviews complaining about shipping problems proliferate.

Hard to fathom authors thinking a few sock-puppets are a bigger problem than scores of irrelevant shipping complaints.

Gary Ponzo said...

Amazon is a huge corporation and getting bigger every day. It makes sense that they would put robotic parameters around this problem because unfortunately that's what big corporations have to do. They can't afford the labor costs to handle these review issues individually, so they use technology to solve the problem.

I say this because we love how much Amazon's growth has helped many of us achieve thriving ebook sales, so it's growth it essential to our future success. Yet, the downside to mega-corporations is they're not very light on their feet and are occasionally clumsy around these delicate issues.

I'm a huge Amazon supporter. I think they've been remarkably supportive to the Indie cause,and I buy product from them every month. But sometimes I see the big picture and realize you can't have it both ways. You're either a mom & pop hardware store who gives you individual attention, or you're Home Depot.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Peggy Ireland said... The nasty email I received from Amazon after I queried the removal of a number of book reviews I had done was a prime example of overkill. They threatened to remove the books in question if I continued pursuing answers. I am sure that Lawrence Hill, Donna Leon and Joe Finder have the clout to keep their books on the site if I made a fuss, but I do wonder about the ramifications for some of the indies.

I had a fan contact me absolutely furious after having three reviews of my HF removed and receiving exactly such an email. It is insane to respond to customers in that tone. I really do expect better of Amazon.

J S said...

Readers are getting "review anxiety" - just like you Joe! - asking themselves if they want to waste their time posting something only to have it disappear.

A reader has to be passionate about a product to even take the time after finishing a book to log into their Amazon account, find the book, and post a review.

It only takes one instance of their 'work' disappearing before they say screw all these reviews I don't have time to put that kind of work in it. Especially since reviews are really a pay-it-forward system, no direct benefit to the reviewer, just the next reader that might find the information useful.

If that happens more than a few times, and it will, then Amazon's whole system breaks down.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that all these intelligent writers have missed the main point: The framers of the constitution could not imagine a private communications company so pervasive that it threatened free speech. Yet, here we are. Now there are a handful.

The first amendment should apply to privately owned publishers on the internet!

Think analogy to common-carrier laws; what if the U.S. mail refused to carry letters containing opinions contrary to those in power???

Charity said...

I completely agree, Peter. It would've only taken one person at Amazon to stand up and use that tiny bit of reasonable thinking.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Tell you what, I'm with Joe on the sock puppet "problem" being made far bigger than it actually is. However, if Amazon is intent on tightening up their reviews, they have an easy way to do it - restrict reviews to verified Amazon purchases.

No that doesn't solve the whole "problem", but it goes a significant way. If you buy something, you should have the right to leave whatever review you want within certain decency standards. Singing your own praises or denigrating a competitor shouldn't count.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Joe, you're the best and I love your blog and your books, but because you can't quantify whether it was just a few sock puppet reviews and thousands of legitimate reviews that were wiped out, I don't think that's a fair statement to make. If anything, I imagine the purge took out a much larger quantity of sock puppet reviews.

I never agreed with the witch hunt (and yes, I agree that phrase is appropriate), but this might not be such a bad thing. Amazon reacted to customer impetus; laudable, in my view. The question now will be, how will the review system function moving forward?

If we are to make this here www the best it can be, a part of that is at least attempting to encourage authenticity.

I know it's not profitable, but can you do a collection of new horror shorts? Love your short stories...

Annette Reynolds said...

Joe, Just want to say "thanks" for a terrific letter, and the support you give all authors (whether they understand it, or not).

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I think this is a reminder of just how much power Amazon has versus the individual indie author. I've just recently jumped back into KDP Select because of my wild success last winter (and because of my relative low sales over the summer), and already it's paying off. But they hold all the cards and until we are big name authors or have some group clout, they can do just what they want.

Remind anyone of the writer's position vis-a-vis traditional publishers?

Patrice said...

P.S. Joe, I love your shorts too. :-P

Jude Hardin said...

I'd say that the average customer is pretty savvy in spotting shill or fake reviews.

I'm afraid a lot of people just look at the number of stars a book has, and never even bother reading the reviews. That's why shills and sock puppets work. Who has time to sift through hundreds of reviews to see which ones sound legit?

The customer review system will never be honest, and therefore should be eliminated altogether.

Joe Konrath said...

The customer review system will never be honest, and therefore should be eliminated altogether.

Says the man with his latest novel in the Vine Program...

Jude Hardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jude Hardin said...

In theory, the Vine Program should work. It should provide the most honest of all customer reviews. The problem, though, I think, is that some of these people, by being invited into the program, suddenly feel they've been promoted to the rank of Professional Critic. And they're not professional critics. They're just not. Some of them start ranting about things they have no clue about, leave spoilers, etc. Proficiency with language doesn't seem to be a prerequisite...

I need to take your course, Joe, and simply stop reading reviews of my own work. Period. I'm sure that's the best way.

Joe Konrath said...

In theory, the Vine Program should work.

If Amazon puts books it publishes in the Vine Program, it ain't theory. They have the data. They know it works.

And yes, you should stop reading your reviews. No good comes from it.

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of the asshats who signed that stupid ass petition; there was a lot of talk about it too on and on at DorothyL - where a lot of uptight assholes dwell. At any rate, the whole of it stunk to high heaven so far as I am concerned and thanks, Joe, for tackling it. I had totally wished to ignore the whole damn business as it was distracting and stupid and immature and foolish and well you get the message. So what do I do now for more readers? I know, I will become a poet to sell my wares and stand on the street corner and say things like this:


I got cut worms and poltice for burns, vampire sweat, zombie debt; I got werewolves in grief and mourning as well as in a bayou morning. I got cops and robbers, killers and thieves, creeps in suits and queens in sheets. I have heart-takers and shakers, cannibals on camels, and spaghettie confetti on walls and chalk lines in halls. Got belly rub, sexy scrub, witches, warlocks, revenants, and old-fashioned cemetery ghosts...heroes and heroines with picks and sticks and posts, not to mention the scalpel of Dr. Jessica Coran. Find em all here and become a fan: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?rh=n%3A133140011%2Ck%3Arobert+w.+walker+kindle+books&keywords=robert+w.+walker+kindle+books&ie=UTF8

Robert W. Walker (Rob)




Clytie said...

"P.S. Joe, I love your shorts too. :-P"

Get out of this man's shorts! Have you no decency?

/simulated_outrage

I'm a reader only, not an author, and, looking at the list of reviews in my account, I don't think any of my contributed reviews have disappeared. Then again, I only review books which stick with me (I've reviewed all three of Raymond Benson's Spike Berenger titles, and written a diatribe against Joe for keeping me up when I should be sleeping).

It does look like the algorithm is based on assumed guilt-by-association, which always suppresses independence and creativity.

Amazon needs to fix this. It's removing, and preventing, well-considered and sincere reviews, which are invaluable data for purchase. I should know: I spend way too much money on ebooks. ;)

Kiana Davenport said...

Joe, if you don't blame Amazon, who do you blame? Their method of cutting was blunt and crude. I don't mind losing a few reviews... by the way, what the hell is their criteria for choosing which ones to scorch?...

What I DO mind is spending half a day writing a review for a book I think is worth it... (Yes, I knew the author, but it was not a quid pro quo)...and watching it disappear before my eyes. Half a day down the #$%^ tubes.

Thank you, Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Cutting sockpuppet reviews wouldn't be so bad if Amazon was consistent about it. Unfortunately, at least in my case, they only cut the five-star sockpuppets. The one-star sockpuppets still remain! I say cut them all or let them all stand. Sheeesh!

MJ Ware said...

Author's complain too loud about fake reviews; Amazon starts removing real ones.

Authors will think twice before complaining about anything else--mission accomplished.

Anonymous said...

Amazon reviews always have been and always will be a total joke. In the beginning (in the late 90's and early 2000's) they were written by Amazon employees. This is documented in the working at Amazon tell-all by Mike Daisey titled 21 Dog Years: A Cube Dweller's Tale which is actually available on Amazon (
http://www.amazon.com/21-Dog-Years-Cube-Dwellers/dp/074323815X) so I give them credit for not suppressing that author's free speech even when the book portrays the company negatively.

The reason I had to come back here to comment today is, after reading this blog post and hearing of so many reviews removed, I stumbled across a good one. I found an author who left reviews on over 30 different books from other authors...in each review, she put a link to one of her own books! She casually mentions it every time saying something like, "Before reading this book, I just finished such and such a book... Of course "such and such" is one of hers...over 30 times!

First, links are not even allowed in Amazon reviews. Second, authors are not supposed use reviews of other books to pimp their own!

The fact that all her reviews are still up while other people lost legitimate ones just underscores what a joke the whole review system is.

Anonymous said...

Amazon reviews always have been and always will be a total joke. In the beginning (in the 90's) they were written by Amazon employees. This is documented in the working at Amazon tell-all by Mike Daisey titled 21 Dog Years: A Cube Dweller's Tale which is actually available on Amazon (
http://www.amazon.com/21-Dog-Years-Cube-Dwellers/dp/074323815X) so I give them credit for not suppressing that author's free speech even when the book portrays the company negatively.

The reason I had to come back here to comment today is, after reading this blog post and hearing of so many reviews removed, I stumbled across a good one. I found an author who left reviews on over 30 different books from other authors...in each review, she put a link to one of her own books! She casually mentions it every time saying something like, "Before reading this book, I just finished such and such a book... Of course "such and such" is one of hers...over 30 times!

First, links are not even allowed in Amazon reviews. Second, authors are not supposed use reviews of other books to pimp their own!

The fact that all her reviews are still up while other people lost legitimate ones just underscores what a joke the whole review system is.

Amanda Ollier said...

Thanks for this great article. Now I understand why I've lost some legitimate reviews.
It really is very heavy handed I feel and disappointing too.
I've given away thousands of books through KDP Select this year and the number of reviews I've received is proportionately tiny in comparison. Given the beneficial effect on ranking that initially came from being part of KDP Select appears to have disappeared, I'm putting my books with Smashwords now when the Select period expires and this latest slap only serves to compound my actions.
Boo Amazon, you leave one star reviews by people who have clearly not even opened my book and remove reviews by people who have just because they've written a book too. Surely that makes them better qualified to comment, not worse?

Martyn Waites said...

First off, I should say I was proud to add my name to the No Sock Puppets open letter. And it is a letter and not a petition, despite what you say. You may want it to be a petition and keep calling it that but it still isn't going to turn into one. And it isn't a witchhunt, it's a letter. A statement of intent. So get your facts straight.

We wrote the letter in response to the behaviour of writers such as Stephen Leather and R J Ellory (who I assume is posting on here under the name sympathyfothedevil - it sounds like his usual messianic self love, outright lies and inability to see he's the cause of the problem and not the victim) in which they tried to actively destroy other writers' careers by issuing fake reviews. With your usual stunning logic, Joe, you complained that the writers who signed the letter only did it because our sales aren't as high as yours. That would be writers such as Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly. Yes, those bitter outsiders. Since that has been pointed out to him he's since decided that we're holier than thou and on a witchhunt. Right. I've no idea what your sales are, Joe, and I couldn't care less. I just know I do aright from mine.

And now Amazon has responded by taking down reviews that it believes are fake. Including ones by you where you've reviewed your friends books. And vice versa. And fake reviews you've also done. And that's going to harm your sales and those of your friends. And it's all the fault of the writers who signed the letter. Not Amazon for taking down the reviews from their own site. Not the writers who were discovered writing fake reviews to try and destroy other writers' careers. Not you for writing fake reviews to big up your - and your friends - sales and deliberately do down others. No. They're all blameless. It's the writers who made a public statement that we want no part of the underhand tactics writers like Leather, Ellory and, by your own admission, you and your friends resort to. Hilarious.

You could have signed the letter too, Joe. You could have showed you don't support writers who try to destroy other writers' careers. That you don't support corrupt and illegal business practices. You had the same opportunity as everyone else. It was an open letter.

But no. You decided to take an opposing view. You decided to side with the corrupt, illegal career destroyers. And claim that anyone not engaged in that was holier than thou and jealous, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, of the rewards those tactics bring. Fine. Do what you like. But don't blame other people for taking an ethical stand even if you don't agree with it and don't complain when your actions come back to bite you in the ass. Take responsibility for your own actions like a grown up.

Martyn Waites said...

As a postscript to my comment, Jeremy Duns has succinctly summed up what I've just said. 'The open letter condemned sockpuppets and asked for honest reviews. Not to delete genuine reviews and ignore sockpuppets.'

So as I said, if you want to blame someone blame Amazon.

Joe Konrath said...

Hi Martyn--

Thanks for helping me prove Joe's Law. :)

A petition requests and gathers signatures of like-minded people who want change. NSPHP more than fits that definition. Open letters aren't per se signed by mobs of people. Wikipedia is your friend. Embrace it.

in which they tried to actively destroy other writers' careers by issuing fake reviews

"Hyperbole" is another Wiki you might look up. As I see the facts, the only concentrated effort to destroy writers' careers was the NSPHP petition condemning Leather, Ellory, and Locke.

Show me harm done by these three. I found zero, and blogged this point extensively. Show me they were "actively trying to destroy other writers' careers." That's just silly.

I'd say being demonized by the media and witch hunted by a mob of peers is much more damaging than writing a 1 star review, using sock puppets, or buying reviews.

With your usual stunning logic, Joe, you complained that the writers who signed the letter only did it because our sales aren't as high as yours.

Please cite me. I seem to have forgotten where I complained in such as way. Perhaps because I never did.

I've no idea what your sales are, Joe

That's because you don't read my blog carefully, Martyn. I post my sales all the time.

And now Amazon has responded by taking down reviews that it believes are fake. Including ones by you where you've reviewed your friends books. And vice versa. And fake reviews you've also done. And that's going to harm your sales and those of your friends.

Martyn, really, my blog post is right in front of you. You're commenting in a post I wrote. Try reading the post. You got this entire paragraph wrong. Every single point wrong. C'mon, man.

Amazon is taking down legitimate, honest reviews. It hasn't removed my fake ones. My friends and I don't leave fake reviews for each other. And I clearly stated I wasn't harmed by this.

I'm tempted to stop responding, but my will is weak...

and, by your own admission, you and your friends resort to.

You're trolling, right? I hope so, because if you aren't I weep for you. Or maybe I can start a petition (you incorrectly call it an "open letter") where I rally my peers to chip in and buy you reading comprehension lessons, and perhaps a pair of glasses.

You decided to side with the corrupt, illegal career destroyers.

You haven't proven corruption or any career destroying behavior. But illegal, too? I'd love to hear you explain that one. But I won't hold my breath.

Take responsibility for your own actions like a grown up.

I'm renaming my blog A Newbie's Guide to Irony.

Alicia Street said...

Thanks for once again trying to bring some sanity into this crazy business and for using your more respected voice to speak for the rest of us who will not be heard. (Like the reader who wrote Amazon asking why her review was taken down and the response stated no reasons would be given but if she asked again the reviewed author's book would be removed.)

Joe Konrath said...

Jeremy Duns has succinctly summed up what I've just said. 'The open letter condemned sockpuppets and asked for honest reviews. Not to delete genuine reviews and ignore sockpuppets.'

And creating gunpowder was to make fireworks, not to kill over a billion people throughout history.

Oops.

But you do have my admiration, Martyn. Honestly. Your argument is poor and you obviously skimmed my blog rather than read it carefully, but at least you had the guts to post here and sign your name, and I appreciate that and salute you for it. No sarcasm.

Many of the other signatories of the NSPHP are afraid to post on my blog, yet seem obsessed with me (as evidenced by how often they talk about me.) But you manned up, said your peace right to my face, and if we ever run into each other the beer is on me.

Kevin F Quinn said...

This is clearly Amazon being sloppy; blaming those highlighting the gaming antics of the sockpuppets is disingenuous.

Someone above compared sockpuppet ratings with low ratings provided against shipping problems, suggesting the latter is important and the former of no real consequence.

Difference is, sockpuppetry is targeted manipulation by the reviewer to distort the buyer's perceptions unfairly. By contrast, shipping complaints are indiscriminate and affect all books to the same degree.

Amazon could easily reduce the shipping complaint issue by providing easy and obvious ways for purchasers to comment separately on content and delivery, perhaps requiring purchasers to affirmatively select whether their rating & review is about the book or Amazon's delivery process.

Sockpuppetry is much harder to deal with because essentially it's a measure/countermeasure game. It's no surprise that Amazon will make a mess of it first time around. Blaming those who are highlighting sockpuppetry is simple mis-direction.

Joe Konrath said...

This is clearly Amazon being sloppy; blaming those highlighting the gaming antics of the sockpuppets is disingenuous.

I've been called many things, but never disingenuous.

While this blog is meant to enlighten and persuade, I have no stake in if my arguments are believed, or my advice followed. I supply information, and people can do what they wish with it. But I make a concentrated effort to NOT be disingenuous. I own my opinions, and fully believe them.

Difference is, sockpuppetry is targeted manipulation by the reviewer to distort the buyer's perceptions unfairly

That sounds familiar for some reason.

Now I remember. Targeted manipulation to distort buyers' perceptions is also called something else: advertising.

As I've blogged before, EVERY review, real or not, signed or not, is meant to manipulate buyers. That's what the system is for. To claim abuse of a system with intent to manipulate when that system was created to manipulate is, well, disingenuous.

I agree with you that Amazon made a mess of this, Kevin. But I don't think pointing fingers at the NSPHP petition is misdirection. I think it's a cautionary tale that should be discussed.

If you don't see a causal relationship, that's fine. But I'm not trying to pull wool over people's eyes by stating these probably is one, nor am I downplaying Amazon's mistakes.

But maybe, just maybe, the next time a bunch of my peers want to jump on a witch hunting bandwagon and stir up some moral panic, they'll think twice because those unintended consequences are a real bitch.

Adrian said...

Joe:

Why do you assume that Amazon's actions are a result of the no sock puppet petition?

I work for a company that deals with user-written reviews online, so I'm aware that such companies have had concerns "fake reviews" for quite a while--long before the no sock puppeters started making noise. The online companies have been trying lots of different experiments to (1) determine if questionable reviews make a difference and (2) reduce their impact and visibility. I suspect this move by Amazon was just their latest experiment, and I highly doubt that it's in reaction to the very recent kerfuffle of the no sock puppet petition.

By the way, I only heard about the no sock puppet thing from your blog. Perhaps you should check out the "Streisand Effect".

Martyn Waites said...

Thank you for your response Joe. Pretty much what I expected.

You're fact checking with Wikipedia? Sounds about right.

Illegal - check Amazon's terms and conditions for the UK. In fact, check UK law too. They're British writers. They engaged in misrepresentation. What they did was illegal in this country.

Trying to destroy writers' careers - Leather spent a year victimising someone who disagreed with him online. He actively tried to destroy this other writer's career. It's been well documented, not least by Jeremy Duns who is now the subject of another of Leather's attempts at destruction. Don't take my word for it, check with him.

In addition to proclaiming himself a 'magnificent genius', Ellory posted fake reviews that were not only libellous in their inaccurate accusations but deliberately targeted at Amazon's algorithms in order to destroy other writers' sales. The writers concerned have elicited private apologies from him.

I know you post your sales figures. I said I didn't know what they are because I'm not interested. Read more carefully.

Cite you about the sales thing that you said? Sure. To quote you from a comment you made in your blog dated September 23 2012 concerning writers who signed the open letter: 'They're whiny little bitch boys, major league assholes, and their sales suck so bad the only way they can get any media attention is by pissing on their peers.' There you go. Happy to oblige.

By all means rename your blog. May I suggest 'Assholier Than Thou'? It seems a perfect fit.

Now if you'll excuse me, while arguing with idiots is fun I have work to do.

Joe Konrath said...

Now if you'll excuse me, while arguing with idiots is fun I have work to do.

That's the first and only smart thing you've said.

Kevin Quinn said...

If you don't see a causal relationship

With respect to the claim the letter caused Amazon's actions, I doubt Amazon took the action it did predominantly as a result of the letter highlighting sockpuppetry, which is how I read your blog.

It is reasonable to assume the letter had some impact on Amazon's deliberations, and may even have catalysed action, but it doesn't follow that Amazon's actions are the fault of those who signed the letter.

If we are to track causal relationships, I contend the most significant cause is the few who have been writing dishonest reviews under hidden fake identities, intentionally causing damage to others.

In that respect, pointing the finger squarely at those writing the letter seems to be shooting the messenger. That's what I meant when using the words disingenuous and mis-direction. Disingenuous may have been too strong a term; reading back it implies an intent that I can't substantiate and didn't consciously intend.

Quick word on the "distort buyers perceptions" and advertising thing - the key word in that respect was "unfairly".

To move on, I believe what Amazon should be focusing on is ensuring that reviewers are correctly identified, with appropriate disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Reviews by successful authors are hugely valuable - second only to those of professional critics - so if anything they should be encouraged.

Deletion in general seems too much. A more moderate approach could be to mark suspect reviews so the reader can judge for themselves, and perhaps exclude the associated rating from the aggregate figures if a higher threshold of suspicion is reached. Then the judgements of the system are open and visible, and can be contested if appropriate.

Joe Konrath said...

I doubt Amazon took the action it did predominantly as a result of the letter highlighting sockpuppetry, which is how I read your blog.

Locke mentioned in the NYT article he bought reviews. In the meantime, witch hunters were actively working to incriminate Leather and Ellory.

Amazon was already aware of Leather--they'd deleted one of his comment threads over a year ago. The one who "exposed" Ellory was one of the NSPHP drafters.

When that petition went live, it did so concurrently with media attention. The focus of the NYT Locke article wasn't to shame him--he admitted it freely. But the media attention really began after the petition was posted.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/03/rj-ellory-secret-amazon-reviews

The petition was signed by four hundred authors. Amazon is deleting reviews written by authors. Authors complained, and Amazon is trying to cater to their complaints, albeit poorly.

I believe the conclusion I drew was correct.

The dishonest reviews didn't spark Amazon's action, because there have been dishonest reviews since ten seconds after they implemented the review system.

As for "unfairly" we can debate the definition and usage of that word in this case. I'd say it was deceptive to buy reviews without disclosing that fact, or using anon accounts to leave 1 star reviews, but is that unfair? Within the boundaries of the system, I'd say it wasn't. No one was hurt. There were no damages.

Amazon had several safeguards in place. Suspect reviews could be reported for abuse. Reviews could be commented on, and liked or disliked. Opposing views could be freely aired.

Now, not so much. And my guess is it is because a bunch of whiners bemoaned how unfair things were.

I could be wrong. If I am, I'll admit it.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Martyn Waites, I am not Ellory.

Like Joe Konrath, I have never argued that giving oneself 5* reviews on Amazon is a great thing to do. Ellory doesn't think so either, I assume - or else, instead of apologising, he would have defended his actions. But, no - he apologised. And shortly afterwards one of the writers to whom he gave a 1* review said, 'I've accepted his apology - let's move on.' And yet here you are, Martyn: not moving on, but instead still attacking Ellory in your comment here on this blog, accusing him of messianically portraying himself as a victim. Er, no, sorry - I'm the one doing that, not Ellory. So...you're attacking an innocent man in this case. Or do you think anyone who's ever done anything wrong deserves to be attacked in the future for stuff they haven't done? (Incidentally, Stuart Neville once accused me of being Stephen Leather. I don't see how I can be both Leather and Ellory at the same time.)

Ellory screwed up, yes, but he is a victim of, among other things, your unforgiving nature. He has suffered public vilification and some say his reputation might never recover. Yes, he reviewed his own books and, spitefully, those of others - that's bad. But (and I'm not saying this to attack you, Martyn, but to point out a discrepancy in your reasoning) you fraudulently signed the NSPHP letter twice - under your own name and Tania Carver, who is only half you. You allowed readers of the NSPHP letter to believe that Tania was a whole other person, different from Martyn. That's massively hypocritical. The half of Tania that is Martyn should not have been able to sign twice. You passed yourself off as one and a half people when in fact you are only one person. Incidentally, long before Ellory wrote those two 1* reviews - years before - I have heard crime writers slander and attack Ellory verbally at many a crime festival: mockery, derision, very vocal and nasty. So there's the issue of who started the nastiness, but that's another issue.

Now - genuine question - why do you and others have no moral problem with taking such a condemnatory moral high ground stance about dishonesty in the form of sock-puppeting when some of you are, just to pick a random example, cheating on your wives? Is that not equally deceptive and potentially devastating? I think it is. Flawed human beings do it all the time, of course, but shouldn't those flawed human beings be a little less vocal in denouncing the moral failings of others? Because I don't believe in publicly hauling people over the coals for their moral imperfections, I have no intention of mentioning precisely which signatories are long-term love cheats, but I have to say I find *utterly staggering* the hypocrisy of someone who can cheat on his wife so significantly and substantially (and so publicly, and with such enthusiasm), and then get all morally outraged because someone has reviewed their own books favourably on Amazon and other authors' books unfavourably. I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts on this, Martyn. I am baffled by what I see as hypocrisy of gargantuan proportions.

I would like to live in a more forgiving environment, one in which people who are themselves regularly dishonest, think, 'Oh, that other guy was dishonest too - exactly like me, but just in a different sphere'.

You want an end to sock-puppetry? Then do your bit towards creating a world in which people feel they are accepted and welcomed in spite of their imperfections and, yes, their weird spiritual beliefs. And forgiven when they've done something, yes, wrong, but certainly not unforgivable. A world in which people feel they will be attacked, condemned and bullied for ever if they're caught doing something wrong is a world in which people will feel the need to create false identities in order to praise and support themselves because everyone else might be out to get them.

Joe Konrath said...

.You passed yourself off as one and a half people when in fact you are only one person

LOL. Assholier than thou? Really? Does that mean you're 1.5 assholier than I am?

I love people. What other species is this inadvertently entertaining?

Jude Hardin said...

What other species is this inadvertently entertaining?

Squirrels!

Ari said...

I've had several legitimate reviews disappear. One from someone I know, and one from someone I don't. The one I knew contacted Amazon, and asked why their review was deleted. Here is the main portion of the email they received back (emphsis added):

>
> We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company
> with a financial interest in the product or a directly
> competing product. This includes authors, artists,
> publishers,
manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling
> the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for
> these titles. Any further violations of our posted
> Guidelines may result in the removal of these items from our
> website.



The reviewer was just a reader who enjoyed my book, and wrote a
review--the review did not break any Amazon guidelines, and they are not an author, publisher, etc., etc. Upset, they wrote back and told Amazon so, but Amazon basically said, Tough. Basically, the return email said Amazon could do whatever they want, and they don't have to explain it to
anyone.

Please note the parts above that I made bold. It appears from this email that authors and publishers are now prohibited from posting reviews for (directly competing--from Amazon's viewpoint, whatever this means) books on Amazon. Does this mean from now on? Or will Amazon go through all our past reviews and delete our reviews for all other books? (I read in the genre I write in. Can I not post reviews for the book genre that I love most now?) Will these reviews be flagged as false or violating their guidelines? Will that
hurt other authors--see the next paragraph?

Last, look at the last paragraph in the email from Amazon. They are
clearly threatening to remove books if they receive more "false"
reviews. Fake, of course, according to their unknown algorithms, which are mistakenly deleting legitimate reviews. So now not only do authors
need to worry about legitimate reviews being flagged and deleted, but they need to worry about their BOOKS being deleted, too. This is scary. What can we do?

Joe Konrath said...

I asked why he won't come to your blog and talk and he said you called him names and that is why...

Shaffer is a coward. Worse, he doesn't have anything salient to say. He also seems to have some sort of crush on me, as often as he talks about me.

I'm glad you found something in him to like, because I just don't see it.

Joe Konrath said...

Perhaps you should check out the "Streisand Effect".

It wasn't my blog that put this issue in the public eye, it was the NSPHP petition.

If Amazon did read my blog, they know my position was not to do anything. Since they did do something, I can't point to my blog as the problem. I tried to diffuse the situation by explaining how it was No Big Deal.

Joe Konrath said...

I gotta get some work done. If I post again before tomorrow, I want someone to track me down and slap some sense into me. Please.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Flatten the existing review curve (via removals) then exclude reviews from the ebook author community (as writers tend to be readers).

Reviews have value. Anything with value can be sold. I predict online coop becoming a major issue in the near future...

And that petition made for a tidy little scapegoat, also.

Anon Because I'm nobody important(also lazy)

Barry Eisler said...

For anyone who's interested, I think there's a fairly nuanced discussion in the comments of the website linked to below regarding causality and why it might be worth considering the nature of the connection between the No Sock Puppets Here Please website and Amazon's subsequent policies.

http://namelesshorror.com/post/34778277625/amazon-reviewhouhaha

Among other things, I say in those comments:

"Obviously no one can prove a causal link between NSPHP and Amazon's new policy. It's possible Amazon never even heard of NSPHP. It's also possible NSPHP was the only reason Amazon designed their new policy and the only thing on their minds as they did so. Or anything in between. But on the (reasonable, I think) assumption that there likely is a causal link between NSPHP itself and Amazon's unwelcome new policy, I think it's worth considering whether people like Joe might have had a point in arguing that NSPHP was going to lead to unintended consequences and would likely cause more harm than good."

There's also some discussion in the linked-to comments about what constitutes a petition. My sense is that NSPHP's authors are shying away from acknowledging that NSPHP functioned as a petition (even if they didn't conceive of it in those terms) because they're concerned a "petition" might be seen as having a closer causal link to Amazon's subsequent action than would a mere "open letter." I don't think it matters either way, but I do think words should be used in accordance with their dictionary definitions, and, if my dictionary is right, it's pretty hard to argue that NSPHP wasn't a petition. That's not to say it couldn't be other things, too -- an open letter, a cri de coeur -- the categories aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

Jacob, I met Andrew at a conference a couple years ago and he seemed like a nice guy. Online, though, I find him a quite different character. I tried to engage him a few times when he accused me of saying things I didn't, thinking it was just a good faith mistake, but I quickly realized from his responses that the distortions were a deliberate bid for attention. In other words, online, at least, Andrew's a troll, and I don't want to waste time trying to reason with a troll.

Barry Eisler said...

Martyn said:

"You could have signed the letter too, Joe. You could have showed you don't support writers who try to destroy other writers' careers. That you don't support corrupt and illegal business practices… But no. You decided to take an opposing view. You decided to side with the corrupt, illegal career destroyers."

Martyn, when George W. Bush told the world "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists," did you find that a particularly intelligent, coherent, or useful message?

If someone disagrees with your means, it doesn't he ipso facto follow that he doesn't support your ends.

"Jeremy Duns has succinctly summed up what I've just said. 'The open letter condemned sockpuppets and asked for honest reviews. Not to delete genuine reviews and ignore sockpuppets.'"

I don't think anyone is accusing NSPHP of intending to cause Amazon to implement its new policy. What Joe has suggested (so have I, elsewhere) is that NSPHP's execution was so poorly considered and so much of an overreaction that it was likely to unintentionally cause more harm than good. Google "Law of Unintended Consequences" and "Moral Panic" for more.

"You're fact checking with Wikipedia? Sounds about right."

Martyn, are you claiming cites to Wikipedia definitions are invalid? Why would you say that? I find the site enormously useful and, other than WRT a few hot-button topics (politicians, that kind of that) have always found the information there to be reliable. It's often even cross-referenced to primary sources. In fact, the extremely reputable journal Nature conducted an independent study that demonstrated Wikipedia is about an accurate a source as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

http://news.cnet.com/2100-1038_3-5997332.html

If you have some reason for disputing the validity of Wikipedia as a source, will you provide it? In the absence of that link, your breezy dismissal of an incredibly useful, reputable, and widely-used website is going to look like a cheap attempt to dodge an argument to which you otherwise have no response.

Rick Gualtieri said...

I signed the NSPHP letter. I have no problem admitting it. Personally I considered it more of a pledge against using black hat tactics to either increase my sales or hurt someone else's. I neither consider it a petition nor an ultimatum to Amazon to clean up their act. I'm also doubtful that it's the main cause of Amazon's new filter.

I'm in a couple of Facebook groups and likewise on a lot of boards, and reports concerning disappearing reviews have been coming in for quite a while now. I personally suspect that Amazon has been beta'ing for a while and only recently rolled it out enmasse. I would also consider the NYT article and subsequent other newspaper articles to have had a larger effect towards Amazon's policies. Why? Simple. 1) as I said, I didn't see any ultimatum within the NSPHP letter and 2) I'm doubtful that 400 names, most of whom probably represent less than peanuts to Amazon (not trying to be insulting, just realistic), would have much sway against a company that has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the big 6 publishers. I mean last I checked I didn't see people like EL James, JK Rowling etc on that letter.

That all being said, I have no problem with Amazon updating their algorithms to at least attempt to deal with the problem. It's a start, and I'm sure it'll be a rocky road, but I like to hope they'll eventually fine tune things enough so it's effective without being heavy handed.

I'm also not going to throw myself a pity party should I find some of my reviews missing (which might have already happened...I'll admit I don't keep a running spreadsheet of how many reviews my books have at any given time). If I'm going to feel bad for anyone, it'll be the people who took the time to write them, because ultimately the review was theirs not mine. At the end of the day, though, I try to keep things in perspective. Even if Amazon deletes every single review attached to my books, as long as they continue to let me sell my wares there then I shall continue to be grateful to them for the opportunity.

Sock Puppet said...

This is epic.

Shawn Stjean said...

I have written a lengthy blog post about how this review policy contributes to a monopoly, and also compare it to DRM:

http://clothosloom.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/cowboys-and-indies-amazon-and-monopoly-in-the-free-market/

Since posting the article a couple of days ago, I have confirmed from three separate reviewers that, not only have their legitimate reviews been removed, but they cannot even submit completely new reviews for the products, in strict conformity with the guidelines. In other words, Amazon is banning PEOPLE, not just REVIEWS. The business about violation of guidelines is nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Until recently I was a book reviewer and ran the blog Science Fiction Addiction. Some of you may have submitted books to me. I’m not a writer, I tried that years ago and have a great respect for what it takes to do what you all do, because I sucked at it. So I thought I might be able to help out by writing as thoughtful reviews as I could and sharing them with the reading public. I focused on indie books because I figured indie authors were the ones who needed me more, and because I like the idea of art outside of corporate manipulation.

My blog never got many hits, and the hits it got I’m convinced were mostly writers so I can only assume most of the people who read my reviews were on Amazon where I cross posted my reviews. (I also cross posted some of my reviews to Goodreads, but I don’t care for that site’s layout or functionality, so my time there was limited.)

Anyway, my reviews have begun disappearing and indeed my last review never showed up at all. I contacted Amazon and only got a form-letter type response, similar to what’s already been posted in these comments. It’s pretty frustrating. I don’t even know what I did to get flagged? At first I thought it was because none of my reviews were verified purchases. (Authors send me free copies in exchange for reviews, which I always disclose.) Then I remembered the NSPHP fiasco and it all clicked. Lo and behold Joe (and others) came to the same conclusion.

Will we ever know for sure if that’s what caused it? Probably not, but I think it’s more than likely.

I certainly never became a popular reviewer but I was proud of what I did, and I was proud to play my very small part in what you indie authors are doing. But not anymore. Between NSPHP overreaction and the same type of witch-hunting over reaction that shut down Lendink, a legitimate business doing something that had the potential to help indie authors!

I feel like Amazon is punishing me for a lynch mob I had no part in, and I’m done. I’ve closed my blog down and I’m not going to bother reviewing any books after this. And I’m probably not the only one.

Derek Jahns formerly of sciencefictionaddiction.blogspot.com

TJ said...

Last night's "Review Show" (UK) where Lionel Shriver reviews Tom Wolfe's latest calling it "rubbish" and "unreadable". So less than 1-Star then...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nrgf1/The_Review_Show_02_11_2012/

Kelly S. Bishop said...

And now someone's started a petition on Change.org asking Amazon to stop removing the reviews. It just keeps getting better and better.

I wonder if the same 400 writers will sign this time??

Jude Hardin said...

I have started a blog called NaNoDoMo (National Novel Donate Month). I'm donating all profits from my horror novella UNBORN to relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy, and I'm hoping many other authors will join me.

Please stop by and leave a link to the book you would like to donate from for the month, and please spread the word. Together, we can make a real difference.

E.C. Belikov said...

Jude,way to take initiative. I'm happy to put The Destiny Engine on NaNoDoMo.

And just so I say something that's on-topic, I've also had a couple reviews disappear--it's easy to notice when you have very few. With the first one I thought it was a glitch or maybe the reviewer deleted it for some reason. After the second I realized something was going on but I didn't imagine it was this widespread. I don't see it being a big thing to people with hundreds or at least dozens of reviews, but for people just starting out, if legitimate reviews keep disappearing it's going to be very difficult to gain any traction.

Delia Colvin said...

I am a new author who lost several reviews. Very upsetting!!

Isn't the point that FAKE reviews get removed?

Frankly, it feels very much like an attack against the author!

thip said...

As to which / whose reviews get deleted ... I have done a small number of totally un-solicited reviews, some before and some after pubbing three books of my own. My stuff has only one review. my reviews of other people's stuff were all five- or four-star, very positive in tone. None have been deleted. The books pubbed were graphic novels / comic books, rather than "real" books, but I doubt THAT could be part of the algorithm's criteria for who's a sock puppet and who's not ... ;-)

thip said...

Oh, and as to the NSPHP debacle ... I didn't sign it (because, author-wise, I am nobody), but we can be responsible for only for what we control, and the NSPHP signers do not control Amazon. They spoke up against authors abusing the review system, no more, no less. And the signers may be, to a man, unethical or not in other areas of their lives, but that does not change the fact that the sock-puppeteering is unethical - and saying "sorry" or "mea culpa" does not change the fact that some of those authors have earned money on their artificially-inflated reputation (such as Locke's book about becoming a bestselling author, wherein bought reviews, AFAIK, are not mentioned). It's easy to understand why people who are making a good living on Amazon prefer to shoot the messenger, but that is not quite ethical, either ...

Lee Child said...

Not long ago, I had some closets redone. The guy lined them with oak in a nice medium honey shade. I thought, "Time to get rid of the dozens of kinds of crappy old hangers I have accumulated over the years." So I searched Amazon and found some nice oak hangers, which had the advantage of coming in bulk economy packs. So I bought 240.

I still get, if not daily, at least weekly, e-mails from Amazon trying to sell me hangers.

I think: "Guys, I just bought 240. Don't you realize I'm done with hangers for now?"

Truth is, Amazon's famed algorithms aren't very good. (I also get blasts trying to sell me my own books.) So what has happened here is that a problem was perceived (much more likely via the NYT than anywhere else) and Amazon tried to solve it via robotic automation, and failed to hit the spot.

They'll try a few more times, and eventually they'll get it a little closer to right. Amazon does plenty of pedestrian things very well, but its "quant" stuff is still relatively hapless and primitive. Don't let Stockholm Syndrome lead you to believe any different.

Deb said...

Quote from above: "It seems we all got hit!"

Except that we didn't. I went hunting for my own reviews of books I've liked. They were all there. I know how many reviews I've posted, because I don't write directly into Amazon's window, but copy/paste the review from Word. All of them were there as posted.

I then went to my own books; all of the reviews that "should" be there still appear.

Apparently this so-called algorithm can be selective about which reviews are considered legitimate and which are not. I won't remark on a pattern, because I sense none here, but if they're really serious...wouldn't it make more sense for ALL author generated reviews to vanish?

Terry Spear said...

I've written reviews in the past because I've LOVED an author's book and just had to say something about it. I read tons of authors' books a year, but now because of Amazon's algorithms, I'm a bad risk reviewer?

I WON'T write any reviews on Amazon. It would be a waste of time. I buy books from Amazon. Shame on them for discounting my views as a reader just because I'm an author.

J S said...


Reviews are a pay-it-forward system, no direct benefit for the reviewer. So they just stop posting reviews, in the beginning.

Cross some misty tipping-point and suddenly the social media aware and internet capable reader groups that pushed books like Twilight, Hunger Games, or Harry Potter up the charts by word-of-mouth suddenly spin that sword around and boycott Amazon?

Or how convenient if a conspiracy of old-guard companies could demolish or at least benefit from a damaged Amazon review system?

Barry Eisler said...

Thip said:

"[W]e can be responsible for only for what we control, and the NSPHP signers do not control Amazon."

I don't think this principle -- that we are only responsible for what we control -- is workable.

If an earthworm is inching by -- disgusting, perhaps, but otherwise harmless -- and you and a bunch of friends start screaming, "Wasp! Wasp! It's gonna sting! They swarm! Oh God, please, somebody do something!", and someone grabs a sledgehammer and puts it through the floor trying to kill the worm because you made them imagine a fearsome wasp… again, you didn't control that person's overreaction. But were you in some sense responsible for it? Is there anything you might have done differently that might have lessened the likelihood that someone was going to overreact? Is there anything you could learn from this sequence of events such that you might do better next time?

"I have no ability to control that outcome, only to influence it -- therefore I am in no sense responsible for what happens" sounds like a recipe for social disintegration to me.

Again, as I said above:

"Obviously no one can prove a causal link between NSPHP and Amazon's new policy. It's possible Amazon never even heard of NSPHP. It's also possible NSPHP was the only reason Amazon designed their new policy and the only thing on their minds as they did so. Or anything in between. But on the (reasonable, I think) assumption that there likely is a causal link between NSPHP itself and Amazon's unwelcome new policy, I think it's worth considering whether people like Joe might have had a point in arguing that NSPHP was going to lead to unintended consequences and would likely cause more harm than good."

So again, no one is arguing that NSPHP controls Amazon. But that's hardly the point. The point is, might NSPHP have taken a more judicious course that might have lessened the chances of an Amazon or other overreaction? Unless the answer to that question is "Absolutely not, it's inconceivable that NSPHP could have done anything differently that would have lessened the chances of an Amazon or other overreaction," than I don't know why its authors seem so reluctant to do even a minimal version of what the military calls an after-action report. Or maybe they are doing it in private, which is a little less honest (if you make a public mistake, don't you owe it to the public to come to grips with it publicly?), but still potentially useful.

Rick Gualtieri said...

"But on the (reasonable, I think) assumption that there likely is a causal link between NSPHP itself and Amazon's unwelcome new policy"

The problem with this statement is that it's entirely subjective. Why is it reasonable? Is it simply because a few people, Joe included, think it is? Seriously, I'd like to know.

I'd argue that it's far more reasonable that the might of the NY Times combined with the myriad other newspapers that covered this easily trumps the signatures...if they're even considered that. Was this "petition" ever actually presented to Amazon? If so, I haven't heard it...of just 400 writers within Amazon's vast ecosystem. I'd consider this to be the reasonable assumption, with the other being more of a stretch of logic.

J. R. Tomlin said...

@Deb I think you're making a couple of invalid assumptions such as that this was all done at once. It is still ongoing. Nor is it proposed that it is only being an author. There seem to be a number of factors involved in the algorithm and it's unclear which ones are more important. It looks like being a KDP author is one factor but so are other factors such as time between purchase and review and repeat IP address (NOT necessarily that of the author just two accounts from the same IP reviewing the same book). And they seem to be using a "spider" to crawl through the reviews so it is very hit and miss who gets looked at--entirely random but if you fall afoul of the factors the review is jerked with no recourse.

J. R. Tomlin said...

@Rick Gualtieri so if I cry fire in a crowded theatre, unless I myself jumped up and down on a fallen body it wasn't really my fault? Mmmm... not a very strong argument imo.

On the other hand, paybacks are a bitch and I happen to know that some of that crowd have lost reviews.

Anonymous said...

A while back I wrote a review of my own book. It was a harmless enough act, I think, one review out of four, the book an immediate flop. This review was submitted using the same PC I had uploaded the book with (i.e. same IP address) and the credit details on the fake reviewer identity were the same as those registered with KDP. Review is still there. Obviously, I'm posting this comment anon...

Rick Gualtieri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn Michel de Montaigne said...

I'm not the Amazon fan you are, Joe. In actuality I can't stand Amazon. But I publish there because--for now--they are king.

I've confronted Amazon over this issue multiple times. So has my GF. Their responses are disingenuous and vague, at best.

I pray for the day that Amazon loses market share to the point that Kobo or another retailer provides them with real competition. When you enact totalitarian policies, such as the policy under discussion, you've stepped upon a slippery slope, and that's that.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I thought the new review removals was based on how long they were up. I didn't realise it was targeted. I've lost at least one review, I only noticed because it was the first one. I don't have many reviews because I didn't request any friends to review it for me.
Still, I guess I feel the same way, it's their site and I'm grateful to have my book up. It's gone quite well (based on my expectations) and I've been happy with the service.

Ramsey Campbell said...

Mr Konrath, I apologise for being a moron or a pinhead (you'll say which I am, if not both).

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

"I've been called many things, but never disingenuous."

You need to Google more. I'm afraid that you have been called "disingenuous."

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/09/2012/konrath-posts-fake-amazon-reviews/#comment-52978

Of course you've been called generous and inspirational too!

Anonymous said...

A Google Search will reveal that Amazon has been deleting reviews since at least 2007. Any increase in deletions might be due to varying unknown factors. There was a flurry of deletions in 2011.

All these took place before any so called petitions.

There's a well balanced view of the current panic over deletions here:

http://namelesshorror.com/post/34778277625/amazon-reviewhouhaha

As Joe says, if a reader doesn't like a book, they can always return it. No reviews are better than gamed reviews.




Anonymous said...

Must read post here on the Kindle forums re Amazon's review rules.

http://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cr_tr_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdThread=Tx3B0Y9RZMNHY4O

Would they delete a review made by your cover designer? Possibly.

Caroline said...

I don't understand why you are blaming a group of authors for this. It was Amazon's (bad) decision and they need to fix it. If one of the Big 6 made a boneheaded move like this, you'd be all over them.

I have learned a lot from your blog, but I think you're off base on this.

St. Andrew said...

Joe and Barry,

Jacob asked me why I had no interest in engaging either of you on this site or on Twitter. I replied I was tired of being called names for refusing to drink your Kool-Aid. Thanks for not disappointing me in your responses ("coward," "troll").

- Andrew

Joe Konrath said...

I replied I was tired of being called names for refusing to drink your Kool-Aid.

Where have I called you names, Andrew? Cite me in context.

Anyone who looks at your Twitter feed or your blog posts can see the unhealthy fixation you have with me and Barry. It's sad.

Joe Konrath said...

Don't apologize to me, Mr. Campbell. I wasn't harmed by your petition. The reviews I lost didn't effect my sales.

But here's a thread of people who do feel they've been hurt.

http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,129759.0.html

Joe Konrath said...

You need to Google more. I'm afraid that you have been called "disingenuous."

I don't Google myself. If someone wants to say something behind my back, I don't care. If they want to say it in my blog comments, that's how they'll get a response.

But the majority of my detractors don't want a response from me. Which is why they don't engage me directly.

Barry Eisler said...

Andrew, I don't know what you mean by "Kool-Aid." I doubt you do, either.

I do know that you've put words in my mouth, and ignored my corrections, so many times I've reluctantly concluded you do it on purpose in a bid for attention. Your latest was this:

"Who's to blame for Amazon deleting author reviews? Not Amazon, says Amazon authors Konrath and Eisler. *headdesk*"

http://twitter.com/EvilWylie/status/264392941110456321

In fact, I never said anything of the kind. In the comments to this post, I pointed out that Amazon's policy was "counterproductive," and "doubly ironic" given NSPHP's aims. On another blog, to which I linked in the comments here, I've explicitly and repeatedly pointed out that ultimate responsibility for Amazon's policy obviously lies with Amazon. These are the only two places I've discussed this issue, so you must be referring to one or both.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/11/amazon-removes-reviews.html?showComment=1351827111010#c6193316445879868691

http://namelesshorror.com/post/34778277625/amazon-reviewhouhaha

If I'm mistaken, please just provide me with an exact quote and a link where I say something like "Amazon is not to blame for deleting author reviews," and I'll be grateful. If you can't provide that link, I'll look forward to your public retractions, here and on Twitter. And if you don't even bother trying, we'll both know the shorthand I use to dismiss you is correct.

If you want to have a productive online conversation, a good way to do so is to use exact quotes, provide cites, and acknowledge your mistakes when they're pointed out to you. If you consistently ignore these easy, common sense steps, you won't be in a good position to complain when people conclude you're a troll and stop taking you seriously.

As for Joe calling you a coward, I'm not sure showing up merely to complain that someone has called you a name on the Internet is a great way to dispel that impression, either.

As I said in my earlier comment, I enjoyed meeting you at RT a couple years ago. You and your wife both seemed like nice people. I wish I could say something similar about how you comport yourself online. Regardless, I do wish you the best.

Ramsey Campbell said...

"The reviews I lost didn't effect my sales."

Well, I wouldn't have presumed it.

Jacob Chastain said...

And that right there is what I wanted to see. Andrew made claims as to why he didn't want to bring his comments to this blog.

But knowing both sides are notoriously talking into echo chambers, I confronted him on the issue to get him to come say what he has to say here. At least for credibility sake....

Barry, you have put the ball in his court. Hell of a response, and one I think will hopefully get his point of view over here.

(I don't mean to come off as some moderator of superior anything, but I just get bummed
when two sides don't collide in rigurious dialogue. A lot of writers use this blog for inspiration. We owe it to everyone to debate vigorously until the facts and reason are all that is left.)

Hopefully Andrew will respond with evidence and reason.

Jacob Chastain said...

NOTE: Typos will be the death of me.

Joe Konrath said...

Well, I wouldn't have presumed it.

And yet you did presume I would call you a moron or pinhead, which I did not.

Creating and signing that petition was a hasty, short-sighted, and foolish thing to do, and I said as much at the time. I also warned against innocent people being hurt.

I was right. But I suppose its easier to defend your actions and take pokes at me than it is to perhaps consider the NSPHP letter set into motion unfortunate consequences.

Hopefully next time a group of authors get together to incite moral panic, they'll let common sense override the heat of the moment, and perhaps thing about the potential ramifications of publicly whining in the media.

Jude Hardin said...

It would be nice if 400 authors could get together for a good cause.

NaNoDoMo

St. Andrew said...

Barry writes: "The NSPHP crowd seems to have helped catalyze a reaction that's the exact opposite of what they claimed to be trying to do... This all really ought to be included in the Wikipedia entry on the Law of Unintended Consequences so future generations can learn from it." And, in another comment, "...there likely is a causal link between NSPHP itself and Amazon's unwelcome new policy."

I don't see how anyone can read this and not see it as shifting the blame from Amazon to the "NSPHP crowd."

If you want to talk about "the law of unintended consequences," perhaps we can go further back and blame this entire scenario on John Locke, Stephen Leather, and the (likely) dozens of other authors who utilized paid reviews and sock puppets in the first place. After all, the "unintended consequence" of their actions was the NSPHP petition, right?

Joe Konrath said...

"Who's to blame for Amazon deleting author reviews? Not Amazon, says Amazon authors Konrath and Eisler.

This is called "cherry picking", Andrew. It's a type of trolling, focusing on quotes taken out of context, in an attempt to mislead.

I spent half of this blog post chastising Amazon for messing up. I called Amazon's actions a "Big Fail." Where was your tweet of that? I also chastised NSPHP for setting the wheel in motion.

If you disagree with things I say, my forum is the place to show the world how wrong I am. Remember to cite and quote correctly, and focus on the argument, not the person.

The only time I call people names is when they begin personal attacks. I don't put words in my opponents' mouths, misquote them, or take their arguments out of context. I am as polite as the person I debate. If you disagree, show me where I'm wrong.

K.C. May said...

I haven't lost any of my reviews. Nobody is responsible for my success or failure as an author but me. If someone should be "blamed" for Amazon trying to improve its flawed review system, it should be the people who take advantage of the flaws (socks, shills, authors who buy reviews in bulk, etc.), not the authors & readers who expect honesty and transparency.

Nick said...

I agree with so many of the things you post, but I can't agree with you blaming authors for something Amazon handled very poorly. You blaming a silly petition is a red herring to distract from the fact that Amazon screwed this up big time.

You're always quick to lambaste other organizations when they mess up, yet here you are making apologies for the company that is responsible for a lot of your success. We get it - you're in bed with Amazon.

Your letter to them was quite fair, and I applaud you for it, but your subsequent justification and blame shifting does not wash with me.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Joe calls us holier than thou authors - but at the end of the day we just want truth and Konrath is as guilty of cronyism as anyone. Stephen Leather, Joe Locke etc have been discredited in the eyes of readers and not because of some media frenzy but because of their own despicable and dishonest actions. I've not had any of my Amazon reviews removes but then I don't review my own stuff.

Nana Janet said...

Speaking as a reader who is not an author, Amazon's actions increased my confidence in the reviews that are on their site. I had stopped buying unless it was a book recommended to me by someone I know and trust. I never saw the petition that you reference. My decision was based on the articles in news publications such as the New York Times who estimated that around 30% of Amazon reviews were fake. There were numerous other trusted news organizations that published similar stories. I am now back to judiciously using reviews to help with my purchasing decisions. I am now back to searching for new, undiscovered, self-published authors. This would not have happened if Amazon had not taken action to delete reviews that appear to be fake.

For those of you who have lost legitimate reviews, I know this is a bitter pill to swallow. I hope knowing that Amazon's actions took a small step towards increasing reader confidence in the review system makes it a little easier.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Joe said - The cheaters will find a new way to cheat. Only the honest people get hurt.

I would like to ask how is posting fake reviews honest, well how is it Pinhead?

Tom Maddox said...

I would like to ask how is posting fake reviews honest, well how is it Pinhead?

I have not agreed with Mr. Konrath that the reviews are harmless and have said as much here on his own blog.

If I am not mistaken, that quote of his you used was in response to my comment that said

“ I will also liken Amazon's response to DRM, in that I believe it will not stop those abusing the system. Those people will just get better at masking their actions.

The response, like DRM, will be more of a hassle for legitimate customers and reviewers.”


Your question would be valid question IF only the fake reviews are being removed by Amazon but the early indication is that many legitimate reviews are being removed as well. So, similar to how DRM does not actually prevent pirates from copying any digital content I think that dishonest writers will find other methods of gaming the system while legitimate reviewers are occasionally hurt by an over-zealous AI routine deleting their reviews.

And again, this is from someone who is against authors deceptively using the review system.

Barry Eisler said...

Andrew said:

"Barry writes: 'The NSPHP crowd seems to have helped catalyze a reaction that's the exact opposite of what they claimed to be trying to do... This all really ought to be included in the Wikipedia entry on the Law of Unintended Consequences so future generations can learn from it.' And, in another comment, '...there likely is a causal link between NSPHP itself and Amazon's unwelcome new policy.'"

And:

"I don't see how anyone can read this and not see it as shifting the blame from Amazon to the 'NSPHP crowd.'"

I can see how someone *could* read it that way, if he were sufficiently dull and tendentious. But there's *no other way* to read it? Especially in light of my criticisms of Amazon in the very comment you're (ineffectively) cherry-picking from? And in light of what I've written elsewhere and repeatedly linked to here -- and that you've repeatedly ignored? That you're ignoring even now, after I've rubbed your nose in it?

Moreover, Andrew, you didn't say I "shifted the blame." You said I claimed that Amazon is *not* to blame. If you want to have a nuanced, intelligent conversation about what various causal factors are related to Amazon's unfortunate new policy and what we might learn from those factors -- the kind of discussion I've been part of at Nameless Horror, to which I've linked here at least twice and which you've repeatedly ignored, apparently because you don't want to acknowledge that I've said the exact opposite of the words you keep trying to put in my mouth -- then accusing me of of making an argument I demonstrably didn't make is a pretty counterproductive way to go about it. [continued below]

Barry Eisler said...

[continued]
In fact, not just the claim you attributed to me, but your entire tweet was dishonest. The import was, Amazon Authors, Sucking Up Or Otherwise In Thrall To Amazon! And yet Joe calls Amazon's new policy a "Big Fail," writes everyone he knows there a letter expressing his displeasure, posts about it here, gets quoted in the LA Times… and you're intent on suggesting that he's sucking up to Amazon? If sucking up were primarily on his mind, don't you think he would have written something outright *praising* the new policy, or at a minimum just keeping his mouth shut? If he wanted to suck up to Amazon, on balance, do you think his public commentary on the new policy has helped him, or hurt him?

But none of that seems to have occurred to you. Meaning either that you're especially slow, or especially tendentious, or both.

As I said in my previous comment: "If I'm mistaken [about whether I ever claimed Amazon was not to blame for its own policy], please just provide me with an exact quote and a link where I say something like 'Amazon is not to blame for deleting author reviews,' and I'll be grateful. If you can't provide that link, I'll look forward to your public retractions, here and on Twitter. And if you don't even bother trying, we'll both know the shorthand I use to dismiss you is correct."

You haven't provided that quote. You've ignored all the quotes that prove the opposite. I haven't seen any retractions -- just more dishonest and ineffective tendentiousness. So what can I conclude? I've given you every chance, and yet you continue to give me no reason to take you seriously.

But since you're a demonstrated fan of assigning responsibility where it belongs, might I recommend that you take some time to ponder what you might be doing that has brought me, reluctantly, to conclude that despite apparently being a perfectly pleasant person in the real world, online you prefer to be a troll?

Or you can just continue to complain that mean people called you a coward and a troll on the Internet totally undeservedly, because after all you're such a good, honest, well-intentioned person. That's fine, too. It's your choice. To me it'll just seem like more embarrassing trolling.

St. Andrew said...

I'm not a "perfectly pleasant person in the real world," so I'm sorry if I gave off the wrong vibes in person, Barry.

Barry Eisler said...

No need to apologize for that, Andrew. The mistake was mine. Again, good luck.

Joe Konrath said...

I would like to ask how is posting fake reviews honest, well how is it Pinhead?

Who said posting fake reviews is honest?

In the case of the fake reviews I posted, it is funny. Very funny. But I certainly didn't post them to cheat. Anyone with even an average IQ knows that.

You accused me of cronyism. Please explain and cite. I'm more than happy to disabuse you of that notion, because it is false.

You said you don't review your own stuff. Neither do I. Are you implying I do?



Should we blame Amazon? said...

"But I don't blame Amazon for this."

Got it.

Steven Wolff - Author said...

As a new author, I am missing at least 4 reviews that aren't even clearing the censors from legit buyers that I know of. I can't imagine how many are trying to leave a review and it's not showing up. It's frustrating when you're trying to make an honest name for yourself and everything seems out of whack. Thanks for posting this article. I thought I was going crazy. I too wrote Amazon before I saw this post and they chalked it off as "just wait" -- It's been several weeks, nothing is posting. I'm so frustrated at them right now. GRRRR.

http://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Stories-Paranormal-Activity-ebook/product-reviews/B009EDU5RC/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_recent?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

Steven Wolff - Author said...

If anything - I think this only encourages and promotes "Sock Puppets" because those are the only reviews that will clear the censors.

GRRR!

Joshua Simcox said...

I don't think you have much to apologize for, Mr. Campbell.

A small group of your peers behaved in a fashion that many interpret as unethical and dishonorable. How much genuine harm their actions caused is up for debate, but the ethics involved are--in the opinions of many--shaky at best. You joined a like-minded group of fellow authors in speaking out against those actions. That hardly calls for an apology.

I'm not condemning the Sock-Puppet Mafia, least of all John Locke (considering that he solicited only for honest reviews), but nor do I feel that you owe anyone an apology for taking a stand for something you believe in.

Condemning you and the others who signed the NSPHS petition as "holier-than-thou" and "foolish"...well, that just isn't playing fair. You had an issue with the integrity involved in certain decisions of a small group of your colleagues and you chose to call them out on it. You had every right to do that.

Your ethics may not be my ethics or Joe's ethics or Barry's...but don't apologize for them.

--Joshua

Joe Konrath said...

That hardly calls for an apology.

He wasn't apologizing, Joshua. He popped in for a cheap shot at me.

He doesn't have to apologize for that, either. People take shots at me all the time.

But saying I called him names (which I didn't) isn't hurting anyone. The authors losing their reviews certainly feel hurt.

Barry's worm/wasp analogy fits. Making a big fuss over nothing is essentially crying wolf. And we know that fairytale didn't end well.

Do the NSPHP signatories need to apologize? I don't believe so. But they should think harder next time they decide to hop up on a moral high horse and condemn bad Internet behavior. Because sometimes the Internet responds, and not in the way they'd hoped.

Libby Hellmann said...

Agree with you completely Joe. And no, I didnt sign the petition.

Libby Hellmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sympathyforthedevil said...

In response to the disagreement here between Barry and Andrew:

Andrew, I have read every single word that Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath have written on the subject of the Amazon/Sockpuppet issue, so I regard myself as something of an expert here. I am also a fan of close textual analysis. Please, Joe and Barry, correct me if I've got any of this wrong, but... here, clearly laid out, is what I think both Joe and Barry believe:

1) Amazon is responsible for its own unfortunate deletion of reviews. In no way is Amazon NOT to blame for what it has done. It is wholly and fully responsible, and should seek to rectify the situation as soon as possible.

2) The signatories to the NSPHP letter/petition/thingy-whatnot (or whatever one chooses to call it, which is in itself a deeply political decision) are likely to have contributed to Amazon's decision to do entirely the wrong thing. This in no way absolves Amazon, who remain culpable, but does assign some responsibility to the NSPHP lot for creating a situation that might have inspired Amazon to do the wrong thing.

Andrew, I think you mistakenly believe that if Barry and Joe think that NSPHP might have contributed to Amazon's flawed action, then they must therefore think Amazon is somehow either a) not to blame, or b) less to blame. This is simply not the case, I don't think. The crux here is that responsibility is not a zero-sum game. Let's take the play Julius Caesar as an example. Brutus is wholly responsible for his decision to murder Caesar. The fact that Cassius was partly responsible for persuading him that Caesar needed to be killed IN NO WAY detracts from Brutus' fulsome responsibility for his own actions.

I hope this helps to clarify things. Andrew, I believe that Barry is right to say that you have misrepresented his position. I think, if you were being strictly accurate, what you disagree with is Barry's having assigned some/any responsibility to NSPHP, rather than what you imagine to be his absolving of Amazon.

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