As I was chatting with a fellow author last night, the topic came up of Amazon and their predilection for pulling reviews they find suspicious, or suspending the accounts of authors they think may be gaming the system. It was something John van Stry had talked about on the trends in Indie Publishing panel he and I were on, along with Jim Curtis and Lawdog. (Great panel, I was listening more than talking, and we had almost two hours so we got into the meat of the matter).
The upshot of that conversation, and the more private one later, is that as authors we must avoid all appearance of evil. Evil, in this case being any hint of trading favors for reviews. Even more than that, John van Stry spoke of websites and forums where you really don’t want to hang out as an author, because the tactics being discussed I’ll get you tarred by the same brush when the ‘Zon casts its all-seeing eye in that direction.
This is, as you might guess, unsettling to hear. I joke around about tipping your authors by leaving a review – nothing wrong with that at all. But don’t offer to give anything tangible for a review, without the reviewer making a very clear disclaimer. That’s gaming the system, and Amazon does not like review stuffing at all. Which doesn’t stop it from happening. I was shopping for a coffee pot last week and in a Q&A section there was a comment about a site you can run an amazon product through, to get a grade on how likely the reviews are to be fake.
I think we all know how to recognize the egregious fakes. Bad grammar, vague attributes that could be talking about anything, not just a specific product. And of course the penultimate: nothing but five-star glowing reviews. Which is why I’m kind of waiting for Possum Creek Massacre to achieve a three or four star. Or one of those lovely one-stars that makes people want to read in defiance. But I would never ask for such a thing, much less offer goods for services.
What troubles me is the idea that an innocent interaction with a group of miscreants could lead to an Amazon seller account being switched off. This is… within the TOS. Which you should read immediately if you didn’t know this. And I am not a lawyer nor knowledgeable about this area of the law, but I am fairly sure guilt by association is dodgy at best in court. None of that makes a difference. As an author, proceed with caution if you find yourself signing up for some newsletter peddling Ten Tips to Win at Selling Books or such crap. First of all, it’s probably crap. Second, if you find algorithm gaming or review cramming… run. Unsubscribes and unfollows and get outta that Facebook group but quick.
Amazon is simply trying to protect their business interests. As a business woman, I am sympathetic. They are in the game to make a profit. So am I. I’m going to work in tandem with them to make this happen for both of us, because ultimately if the ‘zon collapses under the weight of scammers and fraudsters, it takes my work to find other more viable venues to sell through.
It could be far worse. It could be ConVergence trying to play Big Brother with their menacing threats to monitor all public interactions, all year long, and if you don’t fit their nebulous standards… these are my middle fingers. I strive to be a Lady in word and behavior. But I refuse to be coerced into that. It’s a matter of my principles. My honor. Not yours, whatever that is.
What does it matter? It’s a private party and they can do what they want.
Indeed they can. I, on the other hand, can look back at history and shiver. I know what this sort of thing brings with it, and it is not healthy. And it’s not like, in the SFF world, they haven’t heard of the Eye of Sauron. They know what they are doing. And they know others will follow.