Besides one-stop shopping and low prices, consumer reviews are one of the top draws to Amazon. Publishers and authors in particular have found this to be a real sweet spot to draw sales; the Amazon currency is in review stars.
As with monetary currency, striving for star currency can lead to cheating. Complaints are rife about author family and friends posting glowing reviews or trashing competing authors’ books, authors swapping 5-star reviews with each other, even authors creating “sock puppets” and reviewing their own books under a pseudonym. Amazon has not paid much attention until now.
Per a New York Times article, Amazon has been quietly cracking down further on “promotional” reviews. A year ago, Amazon banned professional reviewers from posting, intending to stop paid reviewers but catching the free Midwest Book Review in the net, too. (Ironically Amazon then began promoting the expensive Kirkus Indie reviews for self-published authors.) Below is a clip from what is actually the same old policy Amazon has always had but is now trying to enforce, at least haphazardly:
What's not allowed
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package
• Solicitations for helpful votes
Soliciting book reviews has always been done—that’s where those back cover blurbs come from. Payment is usually just an advance reading copy. Many lesser-known authors, particularly those self-published, find it necessary to solicit Amazon reviews (easy via Twitter or Facebook) to get their books noticed at all. Their friends and family members often respond, with good reviews, of course. Since authors usually know other authors, they respond, too—with good reviews.
Per the NYT article, a number of authors say some of their reviews have disappeared. How does Amazon know who their families and friends are? These authors say even legitimate reviews have been deleted, so Amazon employees are either using a heavy hand or Amazon is using some kind of software search and auto-delete. Fellow author reviews are okay if the author is not a friend, but reviews by fellow genre-writers are not since they are competitors. Amazon must have its hands full trying to root out the possibility of evil.
Inquiries to the St. Louis Writers Guild and St. Louis Publishers Association did not turn up any deleted reviews for authors or by authors. Kimberly Schneider, author of "Everything You Need is Right Here: Five Steps to Manifesting Magic and Miracles," says she does ask readers who tell her they loved the book to write a review. She says, “While I'm grateful to have my book available at Amazon, their solution to the real problem of reviews with agendas (whether positive or negative) seems a bit extreme. It must be so frustrating for authors to be losing legitimate reviews.”
Amazon might be better off responding to complaints as they occur rather than taking a machete to a problem and angering authors as well as legitimate reviewers. Perhaps readers ought to use the Search Inside function and know to take the 1-star and 5-star reviews with several grains of salt.