Amazon.com Review Censorship - The Plight of New Authors

Fellow writers and author, as the title implies, I have recently come across an issue with Amazon.com’s eBook publishing services and was wondering how many others have similar opinions on the matter.

Believe me, I’m a firm believer in a company’s rights to regulate how their services are used. However, I do not think censoring the reviews of someone’s copyrighted, artistic work and limiting its potential growth is a justifiable fair business practice.

Here is what an Amazon review moderator recently sent back to me via email in an ongoing correspondence:

Hello,

After receiving your response, we have reviewed your account and re-evaluated the Customer Reviews removed from your book.

Unfortunately, we cannot post the reviews to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the reviewers. Our evaluation process takes multiple criteria into consideration when establishing relations between accounts.

We encourage your friends and family to share their enthusiasm for your books using our Customer Discussions feature. To find Customer Discussions, go to the book's product detail page, scroll down past Customer Reviews, and click on the Start a Discussion button. Anyone who visits Amazon can read a discussion.

Thank you,

Review Moderator

Just because I know the person, why are they deemed unworthy to voice their opinions? If they genuinely liked my work or consequently did not, why are they unable to share their thoughts? My fiancée, who does not share my last name or residence was someone who was excluded. How does Amazon even know of our relationship? Unless they are simply mining my account and noticed that I have had purchases shipped to her house, how did they make this connection? Not to mention they also excluded my future mother-in-law, who has no connection to my account other than through what I have already specified with her daughter. The two do not live in the same household nor do they have the same last name, as her mom remarried. So how did Amazon arrive at that particular conclusion?

But I'll take this inconsistent, unregulated madness a step further. One of my sister's friends, who I've never met before, had her review rejected for the same reason. The only association with me is that my sister recommended that she read my book.

This is the response every single one of them is receiving:

Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:

We encourage you to revise your review and submit it again. A few common issues to keep in mind:

  • • Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/feedback.
  • • We do not allow profane or obscene content. This applies to adult products too.
  • • Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam.
  • • Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review.

With none of the above outlined broken, I think that Amazon should at least be a little more clear that no family member or friend can review an author's work, if that is indeed part of their policy.

Is Amazon utilizing a method of disabling anyone associated with an author's account, based on last name, shipping addresses, or household? Oh undeniably, but the silencing of my friends' reviews, who only share geography with my account, demonstrates that there's more going on here than simple blocking techniques.

Also, do movie producers or other manufacturers face similar treatment on the Amazon Marketplace? As it is less likely to effect their ability to move their product, it would obviously not cause them such detriment. Maybe I'm completely off my rocker here, but I really doubt when Steven Spielberg releases a movie that his family and friends would not be able to post reviews of it on Amazon for the same reason.

To refer back to the response once more, does anyone truly check out the customer discussion boards? I've been a loyal Amazon customer for years, but cannot honestly recall ever spending any time on them. So would this in any way further help in moving a book or any other product for that matter? Unless the consumer was doing some serious research, I would have to say no. This lesser alternative appears to be nothing more than a way for the company to attempt washing their hands of any further criticism.

Next, let's take a quick look at just what rule they're citing. Upon extensively reviewing Amazon’s short list of review guidelines (Click here), the provided is the only one that is truly relevant to this very issue. This is listed under their restrictions of promotional content:

“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)”

Okay fair enough, but does a friend of my sister or even a distant cousin of mine, who chose to review my book have any real type of financial interest in the product? I think that it would be a stretch to say other than wanting to help me succeed; they will not reap any financial rewards in doing such.

Another problem is that the eBook juggernaut unjustly blocks the review of anyone who shares your last name. For me, this is not the most frustrating factor, as my own is uncommon. However, while we're on the subject of laying out the flaws with this system, let's speak out for those who do possess relatively common surnames. what if your last name was a common one, such as Smith or Jackson? Would Amazon truly not let anyone with these post a review for that reason alone? According to the response they gave me, yes, they would not be able to review the product, as a result.

Now I get that some people take advantage of such practices, but how is it fair that you are penalized as an author for knowing a lot of people. As I am rather skilled at networking and Amazon’s customer reviews are an essential part of marketing your book to a wider audience, this is clearly an unfair business practice.

These practices are hindering the progress of new authors, for it does not matter how good your book is, if no one knows of it. With an endless sea of eBooks, authors count on reviews to help propel their books to the surface, as they can easily be buried in the digital marketplace. If a book is simply bad and is only collecting negative reviews, that’s unfortunate, but a reality of works that fail to meet readers’ expectations.

However, the scale is tipped unfavorably for new authors, if consumers are not able to review your book because they cannot even find it, as a direct result of the company’s overly strict and unexplained rules. As with any other producer, we rely on reviews to persuade others to purchase our provided product. This is especially true, with eBooks, as the marketplace is more limited.

If you’re an aspiring author, let your voice be heard. Feel free to contact me with the message feature on here. Maybe we should pursue a petition that clearly outlines the unfairness of this business practice, as a community.

Do you think Amazon's censorship of eBook reviews is justified?

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