Sunday, February 19, 2012

Amazon is Publishing Reviews? Will You be Next?

You may already know that book reviews can be extremely sweet, or bitter as a mouthful of moth balls. You may also know that a bad review can sit on your book page, festering, scaring readers away until it falls out of sight. But did you know there are some reviews that can be posted to the "Editorial Review" section of your Amazon book page without your consent?

And did you further realize that these reviews are posted via Amazon at the very top of your page… before your product description?

The real kicker is, it doesn't matter if the review is good or bad, once it's published, there's nothing you can do about it.

How do I know this? I was helping an author spruce up his book page this week. I did my thing and saved the changes and told him that the updates should show up in a day or two as usual. They didn't. I didn't understand. I went to his Amazon page and noticed that there were two reviews posted at the TOP. In fact, the product description was pushed out of sight because of the length of the reviews.

I was pleased that one review was a starred review, but the first review was extremely critical. The Good review was published by Booklist and the bad review was posted by Publishers Weekly.

What shocked me more than the fact that the author had a bad review on his page, was that the review wasn't even accessable in the author's "Author Central" account. This is supposed to be the page where an author and/or publisher can access the complete book information, and make changes after intial publication.

I told the author that I couldn't delete that review if it wasn't in his book details. I told him to contact Amazon and have them remove it. Keep in mind, I believe in freedom of opinion, but not on the product description page! That's where the author should be able to pitch his book. The review section should be where reviews are posted.

Here's Amazon's reply to my writer friend:
"My name is Chantel from Author Central.

Publishers Weekly [reviews] are considered licensed content, provided to Amazon.com and owned by the publication. In order to keep Editorial Reviews objective and informative, we rely on many sources to provide content for this section. The reviews may be positive or negative; that is not a factor in our decision. We work to create a diversity of opinion on our site, and this may include negative reviews, when they arise.

While we're glad to offer you the option to add to this section or to correct typos, licensed reviews already appearing on your book's Product Detail page cannot be removed or moved to a different place on the Detail page."

Wow! That's a big deal!

Has this happened to you? Have you submitted your book to these sites for review? If you did, you better hope that they like it because a review by a reputable publication posted at THE TOP OF YOUR PRODUCT PAGE can be as damaging as a shot in your book's head. And you could be next.

If you have experience this, did you resolve it? If so I'd love to know what transpired. Here's a little bit of information (taken from each website) about two of the publications that Amazon is using for this valuable "content". Like I said, I'm all for diversity of opinion, and I'm all for Amazon finding professional methods of weeding out books that are not what they say they are, or riddled with gross errors and poorly edited material. But I think they should be a little more courteous to the author/publisher and let the reader find out what the story is about before they post any review good or bad.

Publishers Weekly is the international journal of book publishing and bookselling, including business news, reviews and bestseller lists  targeted at publishers, booksellers, librarians and literary agents.

Booklist, the magazine the New York Times calls "an acquisitions bible for public and school librarians nationwide," is the review journal of the American Library Association. It recommends works of fiction, nonfiction, children's books, reference books, and media to its 30,000 institutional and personal subscribers. In-house editors and contributing reviewers from around the country review more than 7,500 books each year, most before publication.

Here's an update on The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe: I am getting the book back from Neal Hock (editor) tonight, and will make corrections and format this week. That means it shoul be available in digital formats this weekend. I will make it available in all ebook formats and sell it on B&N, Amazon and Smashwords for now. BOOM!

Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion, and Creepy


21 comments:

  1. I always wondered where those reviews came from. Some of them seem to be out of kilter with the type of book I think I'm looking at. Now I know, and I hope my books don't get the 'top reviews' - good or bad! Thanks for the explanation.

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  2. I don't have a problem with Amazon having a section like that and having control over it, especially from what are considered somewhat "objective" sites. We as authors shouldn't be able to weed out bad reviews - it's part of the process. The only real way a reader is going to find out if he/she likes a book is if he/she reads it, and Amazon is more than fair with allowing readers to download a sample. Take 100 authors, and if they have a lot of reviews, you'll find the gamut of 5 star to 1 star - who do you believe?
    I understand that it can be disconcerting to have this at the top of your page, but what if this person had only great reviews? You'd be fine with a reputable site being right on top, right? But it shouldn't be just if it's a great review. As you say, it's the chance you take.
    If you were traditionally published, you don't have control over this - so why as an indie should you? You have to rely on more than just Amazon to sell your books anyway. If this person can gather numerous 4-5 star reviews, a lot of people will scroll right past that review. And if they can't get a bunch of great reviews, is it possible the "reputable" review might be correct? Too many indie dismiss bad reviews as "they just weren't my audience" or stuff like that. Maybe...maybe not.

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  3. As authors, we must accept the fact that we will receive good and bad reviews; it goes with the teritory.
    Personally I don't think bad reviews do much harm, even those with good purpose. There are always those who like and dislike books. Unless a book had significantly more bad reviews than good, I may read the bad but don't usually let them affect my decision.
    However, for Amazon to post a bad review where it cannot be removed by the author / publisher, and is the forst thing readers see, surely is a bad thing for Amazon. Do they not want to generate sales? So why post a bad review that will probably deter readers from buying that book! ANother lost sale and revenue for both author and seller!

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  4. Since when did authors have control over reviews, ever?

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  5. Anything that weeds the garbage out is fine by me. Amazon cares more about their customers getting a product they'll enjoy than making vendors happy. And Self published writers who upload their manuscripts to Amazon are just vendors. It's no different than any product from any vendor. Amazon's customers want to know if they're buying a bad toaster, a bad lawnmower, or a bad book. It's all the same, and it's all about quality and customer satisfaction. If you don't want bad reviews on your page, don't write a bad book.

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  6. I'm in favor of unbiased reviews, but not placed before the product description. It's kind of crazy. That's usually the spot reserved for positive reviews, trying to interest the reader. It is my belief the reviews should follow the description.
    Bad reviews are a problem in several ways. They can be used as a tool of negativity by competing unscrupulous authors. They can contain factually inaccurate information and there is no one who can hold a reviewer accountable (this happened to us). They can be used as revenge or posted in malice, rather than with the motive of informing potential readers. Still, I understand we must take the good with the bad. Some of the best books ever written have at least a few negative reviews.
    But putting the reviews above the product description seems out of line to me.

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  7. The only sensible thing is to just completely ignore reviews and move on. A stellar review from Publisher's Weekly is no more or less valid than a scathing review from your average, ordinary reader. There's no accounting for taste. I writer shouldn't be elated by good reviews or depressed by bad ones. Ignore it and spend your time on things that actually matter.

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  8. Wow. I'm liking Amazon less and less. As a reader, I ignore reviews anyway, but when I view a book's page, I want to know about the book, not what other people thought about it. As a writer, well... this just angers me. That's my page, not their page to sell "licensed content"!

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  9. @Jemima~You're welcome. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you sign up by email to get my regular posts.

    @Renee ~ I think you're missing my point. I do not have any problem with reviews….good or bad, bring 'em on. And to clarify, I LIKE REVIEWS. My only beef here is that Amazon has the control to totally bock the product description by posting these reviews at random. As the vendor, let me display my wares, and then list the reviews… all of them, I don't care. I just think that's bad business. NOT POSTING the reviews. That's good business. Thanks for your input.

    @WH ~ Thank you. You get my point. Be sure to come back and follow.

    @Matt~Authors should not have control over their reviews. I never said that. Authors should have control of their product description, though. The only issue at hand is that the review completely blocked out what the darn book was about. And that is crazy wrong. The reviews, in my opinion, should all be placed in the "Review" section with all the others. I have no problem with reviews, and no desire to remove them. Thanks for visiting!

    @Veronica~ Thanks for the input. Come back some time.

    @Wodke~ Obviously I agree. Although I've had a couple of those reviews and I believe that readers see right through those. So although they may sting for the short term, those type of reviews generally sink to the bottom because of their unpopularity. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I get a bad review or two from someone who read this just to spite me. Ooops, there goes my paranoia again.

    @RP~Great points. I too believe that a "regular" reader's input is equally valid to me. Thanks for visiting.

    @Liz~ I don't dislike Amazon, in fact, I'm a huge proponent because they REALLY know how to run a business, with the exceptions of a few minor quirks, like this one. But as a whole, their metrics and algorithims far exceed those of any other online retailer.

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  10. I got a bad customer review WITH SPOILERS that gave away something critical in the plot. I complained to Amazon and was told that spoilers are allowed to be posted with proper warning to the reader, which the customer reviewer did. It's a fabulous book with reviews from #1 bestselling authors and her malicious review has thrashed sales to zero. I spent three years writing my book, thousands on editing, book trailers, promotion, only to have some jealous person, possibly with a competing book, trash my book with one star, a spoiler for a WHODUNNIT mystery, and a lot of untrue stuff. Amazon refused to remove it and I went to the second level of support. It sucks how one person can trash your career with a review. p.s. I was a previous bestselling author in print, trying to make my comeback on Kindle and this one person obviously doesn't want me in her universe to compete with her book.

    Love Amazon. Tried to at least get the paragraph with the spoiler removed. Nope, Amazon won't do it...

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    1. That's just wrong, but there's probably little that can be done. I suppose if the publishing community wanted to, they could ruin the reputation of anyone who engages in such bad behavior. Spread a tweet around and that person's reviews are no longer trusted. But that probably won't help your book.

      I can see spoilers being allowed in the review section, but I think they have no place in the product description area.

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  11. From Amazon's perspective, wouldn't putting up blatant and spiteful content (including damaging spoilers) be bad for business? If an author gets good sales from a book, doesn't Amazon profit from it, whether the book is good or not?

    This seems like a bad move on Amazon's part. A negative but tasteful review in the product description area wouldn't necessarily hurt the author or Amazon, but a mean review hurts both.

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  12. @Anonymous ~Sorry to hear that. Many of us get hits like that. But I suppose we have to respect the process of freedom of the press. In time, however, unhelpful and untrusted reviews will fall to the bottom. Just don't click "NO" on the was this review helpful button because the more "NO" replies there are the higher it will rise in "Most helful 'Unhelpful' reviews".

    @Masquerade~ I think Amazon needs to let reviews stay unless they are blatantly about the wrong book. We do have to respect the process because we wouldn't want a "rigged" system which is the alternative to transparency. Again, just keep them all in the "Review" section.

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  13. I have a friend who is an Amazon reviewer. She says that most self-published books are terrible. Could be why they are getting more obvious about the reviews.
    I've never seen any reviews at the top of a page.

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  14. ... hey jeff - wow!... scary to think that this could happen to any of us...my only comment is to make sure u and the author you are assisting stick with the thing and keep pursuing some resolution...i bet there is a solution....in the meantime, one of the unfortunate realities of publ. via Amazon is that that are so gigantic and they just don't care...they have to make decisions in the best interest of their business model and exceptions to the rule are just that.... if we (indie writers) get in bed with the giant, then we have to take what the giant gives us.... and, IMHO, there's mostly good, but occasional bad

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  15. At some point the whole concept of Amazon book reviews is going to tip into chaos first (if not already there) and meaninglessness next. In the meantime, traditional disciplines of criticisms for intellectual product will have been left by the wayside, hard to pick up and be put back in place. See http://www.thebigriverreview.com

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  16. I definitely think that reviews belong AFTER the description. And personally, I don't think spoilers should be allowed in reviews. Eyes scan material--even if it's below the word 'spoiler', obviously.

    A reader just browsing a category needs to know what a book is about. The title and cover simply aren't enough information.

    Reviews are often so biased anyway. Often they are from either author friends--or author enemies. You can tell which ones those are--the reviewer has few if any other reviews. Their sole purpose is to make sure that book doesn't sell.

    As to the comment that all indie books are terrible--that just isn't true. Period.

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    1. Note that she said "Most" indie books are terrible. Which I personally agree with. Every one that can write 5000 words of material, can self publish on Amazon. Thousands and thousands of people do, of which only about 5% are professionally edited and proof-read. I have read my share of self-published books, and on average they are not good.

      Of course, some of them are completely awesome. Perfectly edited, engagingly written. But definitely not all of them.

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    2. You're definitely right. All readers should take advantage of reading the samples, and readers can help by leaving reviews.

      Readers should also check the reviewer--if they have only reviewed one book--perhaps take that review with a grain of salt.

      I've read some good indie stories--and some that weren't so good. Unfortunately, too many assume that all indie books are terrible and won't read any of them.

      There are many reasons why some authors go indie--personally, it was because I make more than I do with my title that's with a publisher. I see no reason to give them money that can go into my pocket.

      Nice thing is that with the internet, we can discuss points on both sides of the argument.

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    3. I've never seen a review as part of the book description which, you're right, is the responsibility of the publisher (or for self published, the author of course). This is an odd, disturbing story: that Amazon would not remove it and put it back in the lot with other reviewers. Presumably Amazon left them there as part of the description because they came from "big media" not customers or bloggers...

      Wow, live and learn! Thanks for sharing this information!

      Delete

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