Publishing blogs will be burning up about Amazon’s new review policy tonight. Here’s my soothing balm: I think the idea of clamping down on authors reviewing their “competition” is so nuts, somebody on Amazon’s end will step in and say, “Sorry! Never mind. It was Todd’s first day and he locked himself on the bridge and took the helm and we almost crashed into that small moon.”
(Everybody all together now: “That’s no moon!”)
This is such a classic overcorrection to the comparatively minor problem of sock puppetry that I have to believe cooler, smarter heads will prevail. This is Amazon. They’re smart! (“…right?” said a small, nervous voice.)
In case they aren’t smart about this issue, here are my thoughts and predictions for what might happen if they don’t break past the locked door to the bridge and wrestle Ensign Todd to the deck.
1. Following this logic, if Steven King were to step out of a pillar of literary white light, lay his sword upon my shoulders and give The
Dangerous Kind & Other Stories his blessing, Amazon wouldn’t want a share in my ensuing windfall? (I choose that book because, hey, comparisons have been made and, ahem, Steve, if you’re reading this…)
Okay, that’s not going to happen, but the principle strikes at the heart of the problem. If Steven King — or any other writer who springs to mind — says a book is good, that recommendation is given more weight in the real world, not less. We’re writers and we’re serious. We might know a little something about craft. I wrote two guides to writing and publishing and used to work in traditional publishing. For that reason, I should get less of a voice and opportunity to exercise free speech? To put it less eruditely but more succinctly: Um…huh?!
2. She Who Must Be Obeyed pointed out that the Oscars would have to be closed down by this policy’s logic. In that group, only directors can vote for directors and cinematographers vote for cinematographers. No one questions their moral fortitude and how honest their opinions are. Amazon’s giving me less credit for honesty than Hollywood people?! Again: What?!
If the core issue is trust — and we do want to trust that the review system works despite some evidence to the contrary — that trust is tested in two directions, not one.
3. Amazon’s great at a lot of things. If they keep this review policy, they will give their competitors a chance to be good at something at which Amazon, at present, suckeths. It doesn’t help that the policy is an insult aimed right at us. Most people can be trusted to write an honest review. My fear is that this move enables a lot of bad reviewers (who happen not to be authors) to go rogue and unchecked. Without balance, we all fall down.
4. I’m concerned that there’s a bunch of fear cropping up around this issue. As someone on Twitter told me today, it doesn’t help that they threaten to pull the book down if you argue with them. In dealing with artists, authors and content providers, threats are a tactical error. We’re all adults here, so let’s take this as an opportunity to solve problems. I’ve already been told, not unkindly, that I should watch what I say for fear of punishment. JA Konrath has mentioned that he’s got so many reviews, he’s above the fray. I have few enough, I’m beneath it. Take me down and I’ll get more publicity from the capricious attack.
5. The Law of Unintended Consequences is one of my favorite laws. It rules throughout my plots. In fact, as Konrath has pointed out, it’s this bitch of a law that got us into this mess. If this policy stands I predict:
A. Fewer reviews on Amazon. Well, d’uh. If they just take them down, why bother?
B. Bad reviews stay up, depressing our star ratings. What many readers suspicious of reviews don’t understand is how incredibly difficult it is to get any reviews at all. That’s especially frustrating because many sites won’t help us promote our books until we have at least 10 reviews that yield a ranking above four stars. Put up another barrier to our livelihood and hopes and dreams and you get…
C. More paid reviews will rear up from clever, shady companies who will get around the system. Put desperate authors in a game they can’t win and more will cheat (only this time they’ll feel justified instead of furtive.)
D. Reviews will matter less than they do now. Many would say “even” less, and I repeat my oft-repeated plea: Read the sample and base your buying decisions on that, please.
E. Competitors and book review sites and book bloggers will rise higher as this policy change makes reviews less relevant. In many cases, authors will have to pay for those reviews, too, just to get to the head of the line.
Sigh. Okay…it’s off my chest. Now what?
Get back to NaNoWriMo and have some fun being awesome.
Get back to reading something great and review it.
By the time you do so, this mess will probably be sorted out and Todd will be safely stowed in the brig.
*Geek test: Yes, I’m aware I mixed allusions to Star Trek and Star Wars in this post. Climb down off my back. It was a joke.
FRESH UPDATE: My crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus just reached #1 in Hardboiled and #9 in Action/Adventure. That’s an example of something Amazon does very well. Click it to grab it free until November 9!
ANOTHER UPDATE: Through further reading, it’s come to my attention that the time/space continuum has a rip in its fabric. Authors apparently started losing reviews prior to the sock puppet debate so, since I’m down one Time Lord, we won’t attribute the debacle to that. We’ll blame Todd. He’s still at large. If you see Todd, tell him to stop using a bot to take down reviews willy-nilly. The programming is faulty.
- Joe Konrath: Amazon Deleted My Reviews (huffingtonpost.com)
- Amazon removes book reviews by fellow authors (guardian.co.uk)
- Has Amazon gone way overboard with its new review policy? (chazzwrites.com)
- Fake Reviews Be Gone…But at What Cost? (kellielarsenmurphy.com)
- Disappearing Amazon Reviews (laurenwaters.net)
- Don’t Let Your Amazon Reviews Be Deleted (joannegphillips.wordpress.com)