Let's get honest about honest reviews
January 23, 2013
Suppose for a minute you attend a football game. You pay your money, take a seat in the stands. When your team makes a good play, you cheer. You boo when the other team has the ball. A few minutes into the game, the person from whom you bought your ticket comes up and taps you on the shoulder.
“You are not permitted to root for your team or yell at the players on the other team,” he says.
“Why?” you ask. “That guy is yelling.” You point at a fan the next row down from you in the stands.
“That’s different,” the ticket taker says. “He’s never played football.”
“I can’t yell if I’ve ever played football?” you ask. “Why?”
“Because some football players have been sneaking into the home team stands and making snide comments about the home team.”
“I am a fan of the home team, and I am sitting on the home team side.”
Not when it comes to book reviews.
If you are an author, Amazon says you can’t root for the home team or yell at the visiting team. In Amazon’s view, authors are all on opposing teams from each other, so they can’t post good or bad reviews about the competition.
What is not allowed in a review?
While we appreciate customers’ time and comments, we reserve the right to remove reviews at any time without notice if the content includes any of the following:
…. 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 authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product) …
When authors have challenged Amazon about the removal of reviews they have written, Amazon has focused on the language “with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.”
In other words, since I write thrillers, I am disqualified from writing a review of a thriller. The rationale appears to be that all other thrillers Amazon has for sale are competitors of my thrillers, so I have a financial stake involved. The implication is that I would trash other thrillers in my reviews of them in order to make my books look better. This would drive readers away from the books I slam and decrease my books’ competition.
What a weird deal. Let’s look at the situation this places most authors in. If they are like me, they buy a lot of books from Amazon. Most writers buy books in the genre in which they write because that is the sort of book they love to read. That’s why they write the books they do. So, if I buy ten thrillers, Amazon says I can’t post reviews of them on its site, even if I wanted to post rave five-star reviews of my “competing product.”
I suppose this policy means that if I write thrillers and want to do a customer review of a romance novel it would not be a violation because my competition is not romance books. The thing is that I don’t read romance novels as a general rule.
I titled this blog “Let’s Get Honest about Honest Reviews” because Amazon’s focus should be on honesty. Instead, it has chosen to target authors as an inherently dishonest group of people.
Amazon would say that a few bad apples ruined the whole barrel. Much has already been written about a handful of authors who admitted trashing the works of their fellow writers, seeking to gain an advantage in the marketplace.
Shame on the unscrupulous few.
This is a really touchy and important issue for readers and authors. Readers look to see how many reviews a book has when they make their buying choice. Authors work hard to obtain reviews. To see them disappear is painful and disheartening.
So, for the time being, authors’ hands are tied when it comes to writing reviews of books in their genre on Amazon.
That’s a crying shame.
What do you think about Amazon’s review policy?