Where Are Amazon Book Reviews Going?

looking for amazon reviews binoculars-2194228_960_720If you’ve read this article from Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader  or any of the other articles going around, threads on forums, or whispers in the gossip mill, you might be under the impression that Amazon is doing something different with reviews, specifically those reviews that are written by people who didn’t buy the product being reviewed from Amazon. There is enough smoke for me to assume there must be a bit of a fire. But from what I can tell, there isn’t any reason to panic. Here’s my take.

Nate’s article indicated that he was hearing people weren’t able to post unverified reviews at all. By the time I read the article, there were people saying they were still able to post reviews, and one person indicated there was a limit of five unverified reviews per week per person. Someone else indicated that those limits didn’t apply to certain classes of products including books. Then someone else left a comment that this was all a glitch and it had now been fixed. I think we can safely conclude that no one really knew what, if anything, was going on.

From my poking around, the only change I could find at this point is that in order to leave a review on a product, there is now a requirement to have spent a minimum amount on Amazon in the last year. This limit is counted separately on each separate country site. I found that I’ve now been shut off from posting reviews to the Amazon UK site; I’m sure because I fell under the new, increased purchase requirement. (You now have to have spent a minimum amount on the site over the prior year to post reviews.) But I was able to post ten unverified reviews to the main Amazon site within a few hours, so the five unverified reviews a week limit was no longer in effect, if that was ever really a thing.

This might be much ado about nothing, but I suspect it indicates that Amazon is being Amazon, trying to figure out a way to stop or decrease customer behavior they see as negative. One of the things they’ve shown they’d like to stop is reviews that are presented as customer reviews, but are generated by review mills that will leave positive reviews for a price. Amazon has gone so far as to sue people and companies that do this. The minimum spending on Amazon per year requirement is an increase in a prior requirement that was implemented as a reaction to the review mills. (Prior to that you had to have made a purchase from Amazon, but virtually any single purchase qualified. There didn’t seem to be a specific minimum amount.) I’d suggest that this new rule makes sense, even if it did disqualify me from posting on the UK site. The UK, and I assume other country-specific sites, still display reviews from the main Amazon site after showing the reviews native to the country site, so for books with few reviews, they’re still likely to see and take into account my review when making a purchase decision.

I can see the logic behind a limit to the number of unverified reviews allowed from a single customer over a particular period of time. This could affect me in that I tend to build up several reviews and then post them in a batch, which could be an issue with a rule like that. But how many people are going to read and write reviews for more than five books in a week? If the reviewer focuses on short stories or novellas, that’s possible. I can spin other legitimate situations where a reviewer might review non-book products and exceed that number. But somewhere in the range of five to ten reviews in a week seems reasonable. Someone who is constantly exceeding that is quite likely to be one of those Amazon is concerned about.

I’d be curious to hear what you think about two things. First, is there something in Amazon’s current rules around reviews you think should be changed? (I, for one, think that showing a review as non-verified when a person borrowed a book using Kindle Unlimited is a problem, but can also picture how quickly that could be abused, so I understand why they haven’t.) Second, what are the rumors you’re hearing regarding this subject? Does anyone actually know what is or isn’t going on?

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

28 thoughts on “Where Are Amazon Book Reviews Going?”

  1. Nate from The Digital Reader here. You left out a lot of the background story, so much so that you are misleading your readers.

    As I mentioned in the updates to that post: There was a bug in the Kindle Store that week that prevented people from posting reviews. It was apparently fixed some time on Saturday of that week.

    1. Nate, I’m not seeing the update that says it was a bug. Did Amazon actually tell someone that? I did say that reviews were no longer being deleted.

      1. third paragraph:

        “Update: This problem has reportedly been fixed. Amazon hasn’t responded to my queries, but a couple sources have told me that these reviews are no longer being blocked.”

  2. I can see limiting the number of reviews any person can post in a day as it is a logical step to eliminating the fake stuffers. I disagree with needing to buy from Amazon to be able to leave a review. Aside from the more debatable angles it seems that reviews lead to purchases. Purchases is what Amazon wants – isn’t it?

  3. “I, for one, think that showing a review as non-verified when a person borrowed a book using Kindle Unlimited is a problem, but can also picture how quickly that could be abused”

    This one bugs me. The best way to fix it is to get rid of the label “verified review” and replace it with a label that says what it actually is “the reviewer purchased the book (from Amazon)” which can easily be extended with another label “the reviewer borrowed the book (through KU)”

    1. Daniel, that might be a good solution. Or it could lead to the “borrowed through KU” tag being considered by experienced potential purchasers to be the least credible reviews. My concern was that KU has been misused with scam artists finding ways to abuse the system already. Tagging reviews of book reviews where the books were read using KU might be perceived as a positive until the scam artists realized that and jumped on the bandwagon. At that point the tag would have no value. Might be worth a try though.

      I do wonder how people would react to tags that said exactly what the person had done, as you suggest. I’m thinking of one other flaw that existed, at least when I last check. (It may have been fixed, I don’t know.) That is that if I gifted a book to someone and then reviewed that book myself it would show as verified. Technically, I did purchase it, so I see the logic there, but it is kind of misleading. The person it was gifted to could review the book and not show as verified which also seems wrong. But I’m not sure saying “this person was gifted this book” or “this person gifted this book to someone else” as tags would be helpful, nor do I want Amazon telling the world in general that much about what I’ve been up to.

  4. I am also frustrated with the whole ‘unverified’ review policy. I give books to beta readers or bloggers and they should be able to leave a review that isn’t removed. I’ve had several reviews removed recently for not being verified purchases. As an indie author, this can be devastating since each and every one left is a huge deal. Some of my readers have borrowed the book as well. It’s just Amazon punishing them/me for not getting the sale.

    1. MD, while I don’t know what or why, there has to be more than just being unverified since plenty of unverified reviews are still out there. I suspect Amazon knows or (more likely) think they know something. Since they aren’t very transparent as to why they do such things it is tough to know why they might have thought there was an issue. I don’t blame you for being upset. I’d be upset if the reviews I post to Amazon started disappearing and I get far less out of them being there than the author does (assuming a decent review). Hopefully this situation really is a glitch and not a sign of things to come.

  5. I haven’t had any difficulty posting on AmazonUS – and I am prohibited from buying from that site, being in the UK. You are right, Al, that reviews posted on AmazonUS get shared around the other sites and will appear in due course on AmazonUK. Indeed, if I’ve reviewed an item on AmazonUS then I cannot also review it on AmazonUK. I’m not sure if AmazonUS reviews are counted in with locally generated reviews on (say) AmazonUK site. My (foggy) memory is that they aren’t.

    1. That’s interesting, Judi. My suspicion, possibly incorrect, is that even though you can’t buy books on AmazonUS for yourself, that you might have actually spent whatever amount is required. If you’ve gifted people one of your books through AmazonUS or sent a gift card or other gift of the appropriate amount, it might have been enough. (I don’t know if gift cards count for sure, but know that under the previous rules they satisfied the “must have made a purchase” rule.)

    1. That’s the impression I have too, JB. That’s pretty typical when Amazon makes changes because different people see different parts of the changes, interpret (or misinterpret) differently, and I suspect Amazon tweaks based on reactions.

  6. Reviews certainly are being deleted. Here is what one of my “Frank Renzi” fans got when she posted reviews of two of my books. sorry, tried to paste a copy of the message. It said, “sorry we are unable to accept your review of this product. Your previous review of this product did not comply with our Customer Review Guidlines (linked to another page).”
    Then comes the kicker: “Amazon does not permit reviews from customers whose relationship with the product or the seller may be perceived to be biased.”
    Newsflash! I DO NOT have any sort of relationship with this woman, OTHER THAN the fact that she liked one book featuring Frank Renzi, reviewed it, read another book in the series and reviewed that one.
    This happened eight days ago.

    1. This mess really messes with those of us who have particular authors we love who have asked us to be a part of their ARC review team, and those of us authors who HAVE such a team. These people are in no way related to us other than the fact they truly love what we write and have therefore joined up so they can have freebies and discounts. Many of them get one book that way, and then go ahead and buy other books on the list that were not offered free, but do so when they are discounted. Granted, the author will get more reviews, but those reviews help to drive our sales because more customers will discover the book is there. Any author who has been on amazon five minutes is well aware that a book with no reviews at all will not be found. This new policy–if it is one–could be quite damaging to sales.

      1. Exactly right, Robin Wirth. The true relationship these reviewers have is the our protagonists, not with us! One would think that Amazon would realize this and that it is in THEIR best interest to encourage such reviews, which as Robin pointed out, often result in sales of other books in the series.

    2. You’re right, Susan. Amazon has made assumptions of a relationship in the past based on things that could be interpreted that way, but might not be. For example, if author A sends a gift of some kind to reader B (maybe a copy of their book, Kindle or paper, or a gift card) does that imply a relationship? Maybe (it could be a quid pro quo to write or for writing a positive review or indicate they are friends) but it might also mean the reader was picked randomly from contest entries for a giveaway of some kind. I’m sure it must be frustrating when they overreact or misinterpret.

  7. I have had all my reviews removed- that’s hundreds posted over the past few years – and I am blocked from posting any reviews. Very few of my books show as verified purchases since they are bought through my husband’s Prime account and shared, legally, via our household account. I am devastated that I am branded as a cheat by Amazon. Thus is NOT a storm in a teacup.

  8. Replying to BigAl, above. Amazon definitely likes to see “verified purchase” on the reviews. I’m not sure, but I don’t think they can identify who gifts someone a copy. This, I think, would be rather complicated to do, technically. BTW, they now allow you to gift several copies at a time to different people. So maybe this is an attempt to monitor this. I just don’t have time to figure it out. Happily, Sniper sold 27 copies in one day last week … why? I have no clue.

    1. And at least at one point I think they were setting the filter the controls which reviews show up to default to only verified reviews. It makes sense they would prefer those for the obvious reason.

      As for identifying a gift, they couldn’t with paper copies with any degree of accuracy, but they easily could for Kindle copies. If a gifted Kindle copy was then redeemed by a specific Amazon account and the book subsequently reviewed by that same account, they could easily determine that.

  9. I’m curious why Amazon does not allow reviews across countries. I have received reviews from people in Australia, Germany, and the UK but none of them have shown up on my US Amazon pages and thus are not counted as verified reviews. Yet when I go to the Amazon sites in other countries the book pages list all my US Amazon reviews.

    1. Excellent question, Regina. Same here. I have some nice reviews in the UK and Australia, but they don’t show up on the Amazon US site.

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