Amazon Banned Me — A Reviewer’s Lament
In 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.
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.
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.