Updates To Amazon’s Review Policy Every Author Needs To Know About
By Leigh Holland.
Reviews! Every author and/or publisher needs them. I’ve heard some authors say that the purpose of a review is to help the author. This is inaccurate. The purpose of a review is to provide information to other readers and honest feedback to the author. The honest feedback to the author is so the author can improve their craft. The information provided to other readers is to bring the readers who would enjoy the book together with said book. Reviewers, in short, are literary matchmakers. Many of us are writers and bloggers, too.
Indie publishers and self-published authors have voiced complaints repeatedly and loudly about Amazon’s faulty review system. Amazon has finally listened and made some changes. Authors need to be aware of these changes and how it impacts the reviewing world. Notably, Amazon has filed a lawsuit against individuals who were offering paid services to writers, such as having bots borrow an author’s book through Kindle Unlimited on multiple sham accounts and reading the book hundreds of times in a single day. Kindle Unlimited bases how much of the pot of money authors earn through the program on number of pages read. This practice puts more cash in the hands of the authors who use these services, as well as boosting their book into the number 1 spot for a brief time (which temporarily helps boost marketing within Amazon and sales), at the expense of authors who have followed the rules. They’re also suing persons who use sham accounts to post multiple 5 star reviews for cash without ever having read the book in question. These practices are universally seen as unethical and authors unanimously welcome this turn of events.
Already, some authors in Facebook land have noticed other less welcome changes were made. I happened upon a discussion yesterday in which the author was told that one of her fans who Friended her on Facebook tried to leave a review, but Amazon refused. A couple of other authors chimed in, having experienced the same thing. The updated guidelines indicate anyone who is a relative, friend, employer, co-worker, or business associate is barred from leaving a review. This potentially includes anyone an author has friended on Facebook through their personal account. As one author lamented, “Wow. I’m going to have to unfriend everyone. Everyone.”
It’s not profitable for Facebook to encourage authors to friend their fans and market themselves and their work in a more interpersonal manner. That method is free, delights the fans, and costs the author nothing. It would theoretically make good business sense to Facebook to work with Amazon so that they can push authors to unfriend their fans, get a Facebook page, and pay for advertising. Now THAT would turn a profit. But it’s their business model, their site, so as long as they’re disclosing how user information is used and shared, Facebook can collect and share everything about users the users willingly give them.
Amazon has insisted since 2015 that it has mechanisms in place to determine if a Facebook friend is really a friend or not. If that’s true, that’s both terrifying and reassuring. Terrifying the level of invasiveness, reassuring it may not, after all, affect most friended fans of authors. It’s possible there was some other reason the algorithm prevented those specific fans from leaving reviews. Maybe those fans went to the same high school as the author, for example. Amazon carefully guards how this algorithm works, so it’s difficult to assess its level of fairness.
But I digress. Here are the other important updates to community guidelines authors need to know about:
- Incentivized reviews (ARC copies, free copy of book in exchange for an honest review) are prohibited as of 9/28/2017. Only those through the Amazon Vine program qualify. There is one caveat: authors and publishers can give away free copies of their books but an expectation of a review cannot be part of that process. I can’t tell you if I accept your request if you send me that book in your email, nor can I request a free book from you if I plan to post my review on Amazon. Naturally, my guidelines for book reviews must change. You can view those here.
- The customer has to have spent at least $50 on Amazon using a credit or debit card in order to leave a review.
- Customers are limited to 5 non-Amazon verified purchase reviews per week.
- Anyone under a shared or family subscription service is barred from posting a review as they may be biased.
This article was updated 9/30/17 to remove my time traveling rant about Facebook issues with less user friendly design and to include general information about Amazon’s past statements regarding its review algorithm.