Wednesday, 21 March 2012

What's up with Amazon?

With reviewing, that is. Well, not me, but an author friend of mine. Tony Armitt, who has presented himself as a kind nature, polite, mild mannered and helpful has been struck by Amazon's arbitrariness; he dared to be honest and as a result all his results have been deleted. But let's go back to the beginning.
Below you find what he wrote on the Amazon forum, so you have a detailed 'report'. It is a bit longer, but I thought it might be of interest. It's for sure one reason I don't review at all.
Is Amazon guilty of selective censorship? Please read the following cautionary tale and let me know what you think.

I am a part time writer, and reader of books.

Generally speaking I read at least one book per week, which has usually been purchased from Amazon. As a regular reader, I have a routine for selecting my next book.

Firstly, I make a choice based upon genre or author. Secondly I check the reviews offered by other readers. So far this system has worked very well for me. When I then come to review the book myself, I usually give a rating of 4 or 5 stars. In fact 90% of my reviews fall within this range. I have until now, never given a review below 3 stars. If I know the author, I also declare this in my review.

Last week my run of good fortune came to an end. About a third of the way into a 5 star rated book, I felt as though I was losing the will to live. The book, an anthology of short horror stories, was quite possibly the dullest book I have ever read.

For me, a short story should be just that. It should have a start, middle and an end. It should have only one conflict; characters and scene setting which are more broadly drawn than in novels. The story should race to conclusion before delivering a final and unexpected twist. For me, the book in question failed on almost every level. The stories were in parts, quite farcical, the text over written. After the second reflective monologue, I began to glaze over. In short, I really disliked the book. But that's the thing about writing; it's subjective. A book that I hate could be just as easily loved by someone else.

Based on my reading experience, I gave the book a 2 star review on Amazon.

Within hours, I received an email to advise me that a comment had been posted about my review; a previous reviewer of the book was questioning my motives for posting such a low rating.

Now call me cynical, but once I have written a review about a book, I rarely revisit the book to see how it is doing. This particular `reviewer' must have been a bit of a fan though, because he had not only reviewed the ebook on Amazon UK, but also on Amazon US, and he'd even reviewed the paperback version too! In spite of this, I can only assume that he is not much of a reader. The only other book he has bothered to review at the time of writing this piece is the author's other book.

I replied and explained my reasons for writing the review. If I'm totally honest, I was also a little flippant about how some authors acquire such glowing reviews.

A few days later, whilst reviewing another book, I noticed that my review had been deleted by Amazon. Not to worry, I thought. The review was probably deleted for the inappropriate comment by the `disgruntled reviewer' and my subsequent reply. I posted a second review which was far less detailed than the first and forgot all about it.

Yesterday I received an email from Amazon to advise me that my review had been deleted as it was in breach of Amazon review guidelines. Apparently an author cannot review work that their own book competes with.

I was a little miffed by this. I don't write vindictive or spiteful reviews. All of my reviews are based upon my reading experience. Also, I can very readily find many books on Amazon that have been reviewed and rated by competing authors; I have been doing it all year!

I can only assume that this is not a problem unless the review is less than favourable.

Now I'm sorry, but this strikes me as plain old fashioned censorship. You can only offer an opinion that is positive? It's like only being able to vote for one political party!

What has made this situation worse for me is the fact that after questioning Amazon's decision to remove my original review, I have discovered that ALL of my reviews had been deleted. Most of these reviews are for works of historical fiction; a genre that I do not even write in. I can only assume that Amazon believe that `authors' are not entitled to or capable of offering an objective opinion. This is frankly insulting.

I have written to Amazon to question their decision and validity for behaving is such a way. So far, all I have had back is a sterile, automated reply which directs me to Amazon's guidelines on writing reviews. It would seem that Amazon is more interested in keeping the peace than acting in the interests of its customers.

I will not be writing any more reviews on Amazon, as I now consider it a pointless exercise. I will also be looking to purchase my books elsewhere.

Tony hasn't got a blog, but if you like Horror, you can find his book here:

If you had similar experiences, I want to hear about it.


  1. Thanks Stella,
    I knew there was a purpose to blogging... perhaps I'll have time to start my own now I won't be providing Amazon with any more free reviews ;-)

  2. People (visitors to the website) hate bad reviews on Amazon. I don't know what it is, but they just don't. I mostly give positive reviews as well, but recently I read a horribly mundane YA book that had all 5-star reviews on Amazon. I don't know how this book got 5 stars, but it barely deserved one. It was trash. I wrote a fairly honest review, but nothing that was mean-spirited or scathing. First time around my review got deleted automatically; so I edited a bit and re-posted. Since then I've had a number of commenters give me a hard time about my review and I have a "0 out of 10 people have found this review helpful."

    I'm trying to help you not buy a shitty book. How is that not helpful?

    Sorry to hear about your saga, Tony. That's a total crock. I hope you have those reviews saved somewhere so you can post them on a personal website or blog.

    1. Hi, Kiersi. Thank you for posting about your experience and welcome to my blog. ;-)

      I've been saying it for a while now: the review-feature for books is rubbish. For mp3 player, yes, granted, but for books?
      As long as they're there, I have to say, I take a look at how many 5-star reviews a book has, then only read the negative reviews. If I detect a pattern, I'll pass, often. I find them more helpful than the raving reviews because it's all down to taste. I rather decide if I don't mind what people 'hated' in the book.
      I could imagine that the downvotes were all friends and people the author asked to downvote. You are quite right, you are trying to warn people and if you do it in a 'polite' way, then it's more than helpful. At least to me, it is.

  3. Hi Kiersi,

    Fortunately, quite a few of my reviews are saved on Goodreads... I will post the non-conflicting reviews back onto Amazon in a week or so after the fuss has died down. :-)

    1. Are you really going to bother? I mean it's a wonderful thing to do, but that's hell lot of work to do: 40 reviews... Luckily, yours on my book is still on the US site. hahaha. Under editorial reviews. If you like, forget about mine; I'm fine, seriously.

      It shows what a nice guy you actually are, but I think you should invest in your writing, rather than the reviews, especially since they were mostly for trad. published books. Only my two pennies' worth.

  4. Wow...that sounds positively Orwellian. Doesn't *every* book in some way compete with another, if we structure this as a competition? Isn't it more about the more great reads there are, the better for writers everywhere? Since when does being a romance author mean you can't review romance--in some ways you are supremely qualified to, right? This worries me...

    1. I think this only applies if the author of said review complains, which they will only do if the review is less favourable.

      I said it before and say it again: getting rid of the review system and making the sample bigger instead if probably the best bet. Instead get some people in voluntarily, like the grape programme and let those people review. It's a very difficult matter if authors review each other and I don't think just because someone writes, he or she is qualified to reivew. I had authors reviewing my book and left me shaking my head to be honest.

  5. well, well, wonders never cease... Amazon wrote to me today to apologise for the mix-up and have promised to re-instate all of my non-horror related reviews. I still can't review anything that falls into the 'horror' category though, as I have not followed their guidelines (naughty me), but hey an apology from Amazon! (Still feels like somewhat of a pyrrhic victory though).

    More interestingly though, they have deleted five of the other author's 5 * reviews as they too 'violated their guidelines'. Does anyone else think he may have wrote them himself? LOL.



    1. At least something, Tony. Still it's wrong to remove your honest review. I feel they make decisions as it fits them.

      Authors shouldn't be able to review at all, but Amazon can hardly check every review now, can they?