Amazon | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

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My reviewer friend, C, aka the happy meerkat, recently notified me of some further tweaks in Amazon’s review policy. Most of them make perfect sense, yet a couple raise concerns. The new rules can be read here in their entirety but here are the new points:

  1. If your review is removed or rejected because it does not comply with our guidelines concerning promotional content, you may not resubmit a review on the same product, even if the resubmitted review includes different content.
  2. Reviews may only include URLs or links to other products sold on Amazon.
  3. Customers in the same household may not post multiple reviews of the same product.
  4. Customers can submit 5 non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews each week, starting on Sundays.
  5. When we find unusually high numbers of reviews for a product posted in a short period of time, we may restrict reviews of these Amazon Verified Purchase reviews.

My comments

It’s obvious that Amazon is still struggling to get rid of fraudulent reviews:

  • Rule #1 essentially bans offenders from tweaking their reviews in a way that will trick Amazon’s algorithms into accepting their reviews.
  • Rule #2 gets rid of anyone trying to promote their own shop through Amazon.
  • And rule #3 suggests a lot of people created bogus accounts in order to boost a product’s reviews.

Rule #4 is where things start getting weird. Essentially, Amazon seems to believe that only people peddling reviews for sale will review over 5 items per week. I guess they have metrics that support this, but it still sounds like a strange limitation. Before you start worrying about it, though, keep in mind that music and books are exempt: “This policy does not apply to Vine reviews or reviews on digital and physical books, music, and video.”

As for rule #5, it makes little sense to me. Most of us have ARC teams – people we send our books to, in order to launch our book with a bang. Presumably, they will post their reviews around the time of the official launch. Will Amazon arbitrarily limit the number of reviews? As C points out, the question is how many is too many? After all, Amazon created pre-orders for the sole purpose of promoting authors.

C gives the example of a best-selling coloring book that had plenty of new reviews every hour. Will books be exempt from this rule as well. So far, it appears that no: C cites one writer she has spoken to, who said they had all their release-day reviews deleted. They suspect this new rule was to  blame. However, Amazon constantly tweaks review rules as they strive to balance the need for honest reviews and author needs, so they may quietly or explicitly exempt books, they way they have done in the past.

As for what counts as a verified purchase, buying a kindle copy and reviewing the paperback still counts as a non-verified purchase review and vice versa.

Amazon US vs. Amazon UK

I always assumed that review rules were universal. Turns out this is not the case. For example, Amazon UK does not ban ‘review washing‘ the way Amazon US does. In case you’re wondering, ‘review washing’ refers to the practice where, if a review gets lots of negative votes, reviewers simply ‘wash’ their review by deleting it and reposting. This makes it appear on the front page so, even if visitors don’t like their review, it will always be on the front page of a book/product.

And the UK rules now state explicitly that:

Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempts to influence the review.

Update: A Vine Reviewer Explains Amazon’s Point Of View

Vine reviewer Beetley Pete has kindly provided us with Amazon’s point of view. As he raises a number of excellent points, I decided to share here:

“As a Vine reviewer, I was notified of all these changes from Amazon by email. Although their domination of the market in retail may be of some concern, it is worth considering the other side of the ‘review coin’.

Many sellers (whatever the goods) have only themselves to blame. I am inundated with offers to accept free (or heavily discounted) products from companies who get my details from my reviewer profile. They are mostly from China, but also include some authors/publishing houses. If I took up even one-third of these offers, I would be reviewing close to seventy products a week. Multiply that by the number of reviewers contacted, (at least the top 5,000) and you start to see the size of the problem.

Numerous positive reviews of free goods, whether LED bulbs or an excellent new novel, do not constitute a fair deal for a buyer who is guided by them to spend their own money. Distributing dozens of free books to family, friends, and colleagues is a sure way to see many five-star reviews appear in a very short space of time. They want to help, they are part of your circle, and of course want you to do well. But is it fair to the buyer? Not really.

This works the other way too. Many companies employ specialists to write ‘dark’ reviews, constantly attacking competitor’s products or books under different identities, to try to stop them selling, or being successful. The new rules also stop this happening so frequently, which can be seen as beneficial and balancing the ‘freebie’ reviews.

As for ‘washing’ and deleting reviews, this can also be useful. I frequently update reviews of products. For example, if after testing something for some time, it stops working. I might go back to a previous five-star review and drop it down to two stars, adding that it should have lasted longer, or have been cheaper. This rarely applies to books. Once read and reviewed, opinions about these rarely change. I would only delete a review if it constantly received negative ‘clicks’, or many spiteful comments. This would indicate involvement by the seller/author, or agents of the same. I can then write a new review, stating that I believe this to be happening, and in my opinion, other reviewers should also delete their reviews. No publicity is the worst kind, after all.

Lastly, you have to consider that many top reviewers are jealous of their ranking. This causes many of them to constantly add negative clicks or comments to the reviews of ‘up and coming’ popular reviewers, hoping to downgrade their status and keep their own places near the top. Sad, but true.”

You can read C’s own comments on the new policy on her blog.

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