Amazon comes under fire for removal of book reviews

Amazon comes under fire for removal of book reviews

Amazon has come under fire for removing reviews from its online book listings, with some customers having had all their reviews removed or being blocked from posting further reviews on Amazon.

Authors, bloggers and publishers have criticised the development, with many sharing their frustration through the #giveourreviewsback hashtag. Amazon has blamed temporary "technical issues".

Author Isabella May told The Bookseller that she had had a “hellish week” of losing reviews for her two novels, published by a small independent Crooked Cat Books. “I have lost a whopping 11 reviews for my two novels in the space of just a week,” the novelist said. “Everything I am doing now as an author is about raising my profile and following my long-term vision, so as you can imagine, it's quite upsetting to see one book plummet from a very respectable 55 reviews down to 49, and the other (more recently published title) fall from 36 reviews to 31. For a high profile author who may no longer feel the need to check their reviews, this is but a drop in the ocean. But for a new voice, it's everything, and very distressing - particularly as my publisher retail solely online and solely via Amazon.”

Another reviewer and novelist told The Bookseller  that some of their own positive reviews for other writers had been taken down from both Amazon.com and Amazon UK, noting that books from Amazon’s own publishing arm, such as its fiction imprint Lake Union, attract significant numbers of positive reviews. One title White Rose, Black Forest  garnered 2,960 reviews on Amazon.com within three months of publication.

The reviewer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Is this removal of reviews from other authors part of Amazon being at the top in terms of publishing? Because whilst we all suffer, their authors seem to have review numbers the rest of us can only dream of.”

Despite emailing Amazon May was told the reviews would not be reinstated because they were “in violation of our guidelines”. She was not told which specifically but was directed towards its lengthy community guidelines microsite which includes various sections which includes a section on how the company "may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behaviour".

The retailer has developed tools and policies to combat fake reviews amid problems over "reviews for hire".

Another blogger, Emily Radzy Holder, has been blocked from reviewing on both Amazon UK and Amazon.com.“My presumption on why I'm 'biased' is because I don't review books I didn't enjoy,” she said. “As an aspiring author myself, I know the time and effort that goes into every piece of work… The rating on Amazon actively affects sales, and a 3* rating means something very different than it does anywhere else.”

Romance author Kiltie Jackson discussed the increasingly targeted approach from Amazon. In her blog post on the subject, ‘Amazon – Reader Friend or Writer Foe?’, she revealed how over the last eight months there had been much discussion on “over Amazon’s new, heavy-handed approach to deleting customer reviews”. Her recent, positive review of debut novel by Emma Cooper, The Song of Us, was deleted and Jackson believes it was because she belongs to the same online book club as Cooper. She described how “chatter” over the situation is “growing into a roar”.

HarperCollins’ commercial publisher Kimberley Young told The Bookseller that the removal of reviews enables Amazon to promote its own books "at the expense of others".

"Writing an honest review on receipt of a proof copy of a book is both an established practice and also a very modern tool," she said. "Reviews drive word of mouth and help readers find the right books for them. We know algorithms favour well reviewed books and I can’t see how the removal of reviews across so many titles on Amazon can benefit the consumer - it narrows the range and discoverability of books and is another step in Amazon supporting their own books at the expense of others.”

Another senior publisher who wished to remain anonymous told The Bookseller: “This is an example of a megalithic global corporation heavy handedly trying to manoeuvre in the complicated, interconnected world of the modern book publishing community where relationships between people count not algorithms. The fact that someone follows you on twitter or Facebook does not reveal a conflict of interest for their reviews on Amazon and does give the book buyer a really good service." The publisher added: "I suspect this another move by Amazon to favour titles published through their own publishing channels or through their massively profitable self-publishing lines. Amazon have a real problem because while none of their titles published physically through their publishing imprints are carried by any high street retailers and while they continue to sell smallish quantities of millions of titles at 99p in digital, for instance, and making lots of money from that, very few of those authors generate real commentary, hit the bestseller lists, have any media profile or generate enthusiasm among normal book readers."

An Amazon spokesperson said that a technical issue last month affected some book reviews. "Late last month, technical issues temporarily prevented some customer reviews from being submitted and displayed," the spokesperson said. "These issues were quickly addressed and we apologise for any inconvenience. Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job."

Amazon First Reads programme, which launched last month, is an expansion of the previous 'Kindle Reads' scheme. Amazon First Reads offers customers early access to new books—one month before they publish—across popular genres from Amazon Publishing in both Kindle and print editions. Every month, customers can choose one of six Kindle books from its "editors’ picks" for 99p, while Prime members get the book for free and can buy print editions at exclusive prices. The online retailer says this early access is likely to drive a higher number of reviews for some titles and that suggestions that the company favours reviews for Amazon Publishing titles are not correct.

Author Jane Holland, whose novels Forget Her Name and Lock the Door are published by Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint, said on Twitter that reviews for her titles had also been lost. 

Amazon has appeared to ramp up its own publishing in recent weeks. Last week it revealed its first deal with literary agency Caskie Mushens for a “captivating” debut novel from nurse-turned-author Anna Ellory as part of a two-book contract. It signed world English rights in a two-book deal for print and e-book for Patricia Cornwell through its Thomas & Mercer imprint earlier this month while in May it announced it would break into non-fiction in the UK through expanding its US imprint Little A.