Amazon Banned Me — A Reviewer’s Lament

Invested_Ivana_100In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that Amazon has banned me as a reviewer. I, Invested Ivana, can no longer write product or book reviews on Amazon. AND . . . they have taken down all the reviews I had left in the past—close to 200 reviews.

My Audible reviews seem to be intact, as are my Goodreads reviews, and of course my B&N and LibraryThing reviews aren’t affected. I don’t think my fellow reviewers have been affected either, though Nell has had some of her reviews rejected, which seems to be the first step toward being banned.

I’m not the first book reviewer to whom this has happened. For a while now, Amazon has been on a massive kick to weed out “inappropriate” product reviews on their site—”inappropriate” meaning reviews they believe were paid for or written by biased parties, such as family members, friends, or clients. Many individual reviews have been rejected, and several book bloggers have been banned. The viciousness with which they have gone about this makes me wonder if it is a reaction to some actual or threatened law suit.

amazon-banned-me

For me, this began about three months or so after we started One Book Two back in March 2015. Reviews I posted to Amazon would disappear. I inquired why the reviews were taken down, but Amazon seemed very reluctant to share any information, other than the generic, “We have determined that your review has violated our policies.” When I tried to ask for more information, I was met with a very stern, nearly hostile demand to stop asking.

Like many other reviewers whose reviews were rejected, I read the review submission guidelines and policies about 50 times, and I cannot figure out what I’m doing wrong. Since Amazon wouldn’t clarify anything, I started looking for patterns in my reviews that might indicate the problem.

Of the approx. 180 reviews I posted to Amazon from One Book Two, around 15 had been taken down. Most of the reviews were for independent authors, but not all of them. Most of the reviews were for books I had actually purchased, even though I also received ARCS of many of them so I had a review ready for publication day.

apothecary-reject

Of the authors whose reviews were taken down, I met all of them through the blog; I didn’t know any of them prior to a request to review their book on our site. Some of them I haven’t even talked to directly, and most of them I’ve never met in person.

However, all of them have some sort of email chain related to them—an email exchange with the author or with the publisher or publicity agent about the review. This is common for a book review blog—requests to review books come in via email all the time, and the reviewer emails back to coordinate dates or get more information. I’ve been chattier with some authors than others, but I wouldn’t call any of my relationships with authors “biased.”

What scares me, though, is . . . how does Amazon know who I’m emailing? If, indeed, they are calling my reviews “biased” because of a pattern of emails with an author, how do they know? Communications over social media I could understand, as that’s probably public. But email? I’ve never really gotten up in arms about the lack of privacy on the internet, but the thought that Amazon knows who I’m emailing kinda bothers me. They already get a massive chunk of my money and have a full purchase history; do they really need more information about me without a warrant?

Anyway, I’m sure Amazon has a reason for what they’re doing; but it’s confusing and frustrating for reviewers and authors alike, particularly independent authors. Amazon has created a system where independent authors’ book sales depend heavily on customer reviews. But yet they are also creating a system where people who write and post those reviews with any regularity are suspect. And since they have a near monopoly on the independent publishing market, they get to call all the shots.

I’m very confused about why they can’t explain themselves better. I’m pretty sure that all the reviewers who have been banned would gladly fix whatever mistake they are making. It makes no sense to me to tell someone they are doing something wrong, but not provide feedback to fix it. I can only assume that 1) they don’t want to risk telling truly inappropriate reviewers how to get around the system, or 2) if they do have, legally or not, lots of information about our internet lives, like who we email and how often, they are not willing to advertise that fact. To me, that seems very unethical.

In any case, it’s unfortunate that this is the system they’ve created. They are alienating both the authors and the customers to whom they cater. In the long run, this isn’t a good business strategy. It may not feel like it, but even a company as big as Amazon can be knocked out of the market if enough people are frustrated with them and a positive alternative is presented. Hopefully, Amazon will fix their review system before that happens.

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About Invested Ivana

I'm currently a freelance line editor, a book blogger at One Book Two, and lifetime reader. I like geeky things. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the opinions of Red Adept Editing or any of my clients, the other reviewers on this site, or this site as a whole.

Posted on October 17, 2016, in Book Chat. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. How horrible! I’m so sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I ranted about this two weeks ago and it doesn’t do any good. Amazon thinks they own everything, unless, of course, you are a Vine member.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about this! Amazon definitely has questionable practices and they don’t seem to understand that they’re hurting independents of the industry. Personally, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. They are, but for whatever reason, they’re too stuck up to know about it. I hate asking them for help because they’re so vague, but unfortunately I don’t have much of a choice but to publish with them. All this ranting aside, know that I still love your reviews and will be excited to continue working with you and the rest of your team. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Nervous Nell Justice

    It’s totally insane to refuse a review. Amazon can ‘verify purchase’ of a book or product. If you bought the item, you should have the right of free speech to review it and give your opinion, right? Maybe I’m off base, but I can understand banning if there were a pattern in which a reviewer would constantly give 5 stars to purchases, but as far as I know, no one on our team is ever dishonest. All I know is that should I falsely give a review for a book I don’t believe in, I would not be able to live with myself because doing that would constitute lying. Can’t do it. Won’t do it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wow, this is so crazy. I’m sorry Ivana, you’re a stellar reviewer with supreme integrity and Amazon is wrong to do this. I can understand them targeting pay-reviews from Fiverr, but you and Nell and popular, ligate book reviewers. Regardless of what Amazon says, your reviews are still gold in my book.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Below and beside this post was an ad for Amazon Echo. Just saying.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! That is rediculous your reviews are very helpful and are never mean-spirited so I don’t understand why they are doing this. You can’t like everything, I know I can’t but just because I don’t does not mean it is bad..that is after all the reason for the review. Ultimately they are wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so sorry this happened to you! I don’t know what’s going on, but my best guess is that Amazon must going by some sort of algorithm they’ve used in the past to legitimately catch those involved with unsavory practices like buying reviews and such, and you just got undeservedly caught in the wide net they’ve cast. Hopefully that will at least put your mind at ease at least knowing that Amazon is likely just going by patterns, and they don’t actually know who you are emailing. Is there any way you can get your account cleared? Because if you did just get banned because of a trigger-happy algorithm through no fault of your own, that is seriously unfair and you should be able to fight it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is scary to read. It would be nice to know what they are looking for so you could avoid doing it like you said.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, everyone, for such supportive comments! I really, really appreciate it.

    It’s a frustrating situation, but certainly not personal. My guess is that Amazon isn’t any happier about the need for all the monitoring than we are about the results. As Mogsy suggested, it’s likely the majority of the monitoring is done by algorithm supported by a staff not large enough to deal with all the questions and backlash.

    A few friends have sent some very interesting links talking about this very issue. Here’s one from the Amazon forums that was just updated last week when some new rules came out:

    https://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdThread=Tx1U0Q0A61KKP1Z

    And here is an analysis of the new rules for authors:

    http://annerallen.com/amazons-new-review-rules-should-authors-worry/

    Here’s one from an author with some very good, practical advice for reviewers:

    http://tracycooperposey.com/amazon-reviews-being-deleted/

    Interestingly enough, here’s a link to an app created by some data analysts comparing the ratings on incentivized reviews vs. non-incentivized ones. This one really made me think.

    I’m going to be studying the new rules and policies very carefully, then attempting an appeal. I don’t know if it will do any good, but we’ll see.

    Like

  11. So, just to follow up on this, I think I’ve figured out some of the things I’ve done to violate Amazon’s review policy. They aren’t things I would have thought of on my own, so I should have been doing more research. But to help anyone else who might be having the same problems, here is what I discovered:

    1. My FTC disclosure said I received an ARC “in exchange” for an honest review. Receiving anything of value in exchange for a review means the review is “incentivized” and is therefore banned by Amazon’s rules as of 10/3/2016. If you receive the book as an ARC or giveaway or free for any reason, you do have to disclose this on your Amazon review, but the words “in exchange” will flag it as an incentivized review by the search algorithms. I think the majority of my reviews were taken down because of this.

    2. Reviews that are written as part of a blog tour are considered incentivized by Amazon. While the reviewer isn’t getting compensated (except for the free book), the author or publisher paid for the blog tour, so the review was essentially “purchased.” I had a few reviews on Amazon that were part of blog tours, and those were taken down. I don’t know HOW the algorithms know which reviews are a part of the blog tour, however.

    3. Any gift–book or gift certificate–given through Amazon from the author to a reviewer for any reason will prevent that reviewer from ever posting a review for that author. Even if it’s for a random drawing or something not related to a review, if Amazon can show a monetary (including books) connection between a reviewer and author, that’s the end of reviews. I think this was my “last straw” event that got me banned. The publisher and author were sweet enough to send me a gift copy, through Amazon, of a book I had just reviewed. There wasn’t any connection between the gift and the review in any of our minds; I was one of 15 recipients from a pool of the author’s newsletter subscribers. But Amazon perceived it as a “reward” for reviewing the book, which makes it an incentivized review, and therefore prohibited under the new rules.

    I still wonder if Amazon’s algorithms use data about social media and email exchanges between reviewers and authors. But if they do, I doubt they are going to disclose that. The three issues I list above do seem to cover all the reviews I had taken down prior to being banned, and #3 is a clear violation of the new prohibition of incentivized reviews.

    It seems it’s easy to violate these rules unknowingly, so I encourage all reviewers and authors to not only read Amazon’s rules, but some interpretations of those rules to be sure they are not jeopardizing their standing with Amazon. I wish I had do so a lot sooner.

    Like

  12. Could also be that indie authors are supplying a link that identifies them as the originator of the request. Dave at Kindlepreneur explains it better than I can (https://kindlepreneur.com/amazon-search-url-isbn-ref/), but anything after the isbn in the url basically alerts Amazon to reviews that have all come from the same referrer. If that referrer is the author, then Amazon morph into the Hulk and take it down…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. @mikhaeyla That is very interesting! I would have never thought that a link would make so much difference. Thanks for sharing that.

    I also read that one should unlink Amazon from their social media accounts. Supposedly, this prevents Amazon from using your social media activity in their algorithms. I have no idea if this is true or not, though. Here is a post about it from an author.

    http://www.tinareber.com/2016/07/the-secret-behind-disappearing-amazon-reviews/

    Liked by 1 person

  14. @Ivana – thanks for the link (just went and checked that all social settings are unchecked). It is hard for indie authors (who need to engage on a more personal level to generate a squadron of fans) to separate social media ‘friends’ from readers (and reviewers). Lots of food for thought…

    Liked by 1 person

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