ALL BLOG POSTS AND COMMENTS COPYRIGHT (C) 2003-2018 VOX DAY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The clue may be in the name

The Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance is alarmed over a recent mass deletion of Amazon book reviews:
Amazon frightened many conservative authors this week in a mass deletion of reviews. Some authors lost almost 100 reviews on their published works. Others lost all the reviews they had ever written on Amazon. Some lost both. Information about the purge began to trickle out in the closed Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance (CLFA) Facebook group. Member after member began reporting the losses at the same time. Marina Fontaine, whose credits include the dystopian Chasing Freedom, the pro-Trump fiction anthology MAGA 2020, and moderating the CLFA page reported many members experiencing losses. A coordinated effort was launched to contact Amazon for explanation. Jon Del Arroz, a science fiction author who was banned from Worldcon earlier this year, contacted Amazon directly asking for his reviews to be reinstated. Amazon responded:

At this time, we've reviewed your feedback and ensured that appropriate action is taken.  There may be times that reviews must be removed from the site.  Unfortunately, we won't be able to discuss the specifics about why the reviews were removed as we'll only be able to discuss that with the individuals who posted the reviews.  They're welcome to contact us if they'd like additional information.

Del Arroz's reviews were reinstated but the corporate response is less than satisfying to conservatives who know their freedom of speech is under constant attack from SJWs in a big tech industry that rules the socials and platforms writers need to connect with their audience.
Of course, the mere fact that there is a closed alliance of authors with personal relationships who pay very close attention to reviews may explain at least a reasonable percentage of these deletions, given the terms of service. I checked out my reviews and it looks like ten or fewer reviews were deleted across all my various book listings. Not only that, but several of the reviews were one-star fake reviews, so two of my average ratings actually increased. This made me suspect that the deleted reviews were likely in open violation of Amazon's terms of service, which Amanda Green's investigation appears to have generally confirmed.
Checking reviews is part of my monthly “business” I take care of along with paying bills, etc. That’s why seeing so many folks up in arms on Facebook and elsewhere about it brought me up short. It also had me thinking about who the people were, what their relationships with one another might be and then it sent me scurrying to the Amazon TOS for authors and for reviews.

In this case, all my questions were answered in the “Customer Reviews Guidelines Frequently Asked Questions from Authors“. If you haven’t read these FAQs recently, I recommend you do so. Amazon makes it clear what their rules are. Below are a few of the most important ones.

2. Are authors allowed to review other authors’ books?
Yes. Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.). If so, that author isn’t eligible to write a Customer Review for that book. 

3. Can I ask my family to write a Customer Review for my book?
We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book. Customer Reviews provide unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers and aren’t to be used as a promotional tool.
However, the fact that Jon Del Arroz's reviews were restored upon review by an Amazon manager, as were some of the reviews of Declan Finn's books, indicates that there was probably more going on than just legitimate TOS policing. My guess is that a rogue Amazon employee took it upon himself to take advantage of the opening being given to him by TOS-violating reviewers, but got carried away and ended up deleting a number of reviews that were not in violation of the terms of service as well.

This leads me to two conclusions. First, reviews are considered very important by SJWs. Therefore, culture warriors should be diligent about posting Amazon reviews of books that they read. Even if it's only a short, one-paragraph review that only takes a minute to post, it will help build up the total number of reviews as well as bolster the book's average rating against fake reviews meant to lower it.

Second, when you are dealing with an SJW-amenable authority, or even just an authority that happens to employ an SJW, you must keep your nose clean. Don't push the envelope with regards to the posted rules and regulations. Don't give them an excuse to crack down, because when they do, they may not stop with your infractions, but cross the line themselves.

Labels: ,

26 Comments:

Blogger Wild Ape March 17, 2018 11:36 AM  

For me it is pretty simple. If it has a Tor, Orbit, etc. label then I know the book had to go through a gauntlet of blue haired land whales to get published--ergo--the book probably sucks. There are too many good novels out there to choose from now that the Puppy Wars slagged the Hugo. I'm discovering a whole new world of good authors too. I tell my friends. They buy them too. My wife wanted me to clear some space and asked me to put books on digital if I could. I gave away to the kids on my block a lot of good books or got them to mow my lawn for a pile of them. All of the SJW books got tossed in the burner (David Gerrold, Scalzi, etc)

Blogger Amos Bellomy March 17, 2018 11:37 AM  

I hang around the Con-Lib alliance (which is extremely pro-trump, btw, and some alt righters).

Some authors were hit badly, and some did not get their reviews restored. And it appears that the terms of service had little to do with it.

I expect it is a rogue employee.

Blogger Aeoli March 17, 2018 11:52 AM  

Second, when you are dealing with an SJW-amenable authority, or even just an authority that happens to employ an SJW, you must keep your nose clean.

This is good advice, but I'd take it a step further and say you must also have a level of informal power which matches or exceeds their informal attacks. If they aren't dependent on you for something (i.e. hand), like their income, then formal rules won't make a damn bit of difference to the eventual outcome. It will, admittedly, force them to converge faster by burning down the institutions which prop up their business model, but you may be hoping to fumigate and renovate rather than demolish. Anyway, you do need both formal immunity and informal power because they'll use any weapon at their disposal.

Blogger Cataline Sergius March 17, 2018 11:53 AM  

Two questions: Were any "verified puchases" deleted?

And do KU page reads qualify as "verified purchase?"

Blogger Aeoli March 17, 2018 12:00 PM  

A gal I sit next to at work was complaining two weeks ago that Audible screwed over a ton of romance authors by paying them pennies per hour listened on the beta of their "Kindle Unlimited except it's Audible" program, using some very, very fine print in the contracts.

Blogger VD March 17, 2018 12:01 PM  

This is good advice, but I'd take it a step further and say you must also have a level of informal power which matches or exceeds their informal attacks.

No. That's not merely wrong, it's irrelevant. Most people are never going to have any immunity or power. The point is reducing your risk, while at the same time realizing that you are not going to be permitted to utilize their services indefinitely.

Twitter was always going to ban me, because they are afraid of my ability to communicate to people. But by generally refraining from giving them an excuse, they were not able to act as soon as they wanted, and better yet, they were forced to show their hand.

If nothing else, you don't want to give them a legitimate excuse to do what they want to do, thus allowing them to successfully pretend that they are innocent of any ideological bias.

Blogger J Van Stry March 17, 2018 12:19 PM  

I had noticed that the left is very quick to generate false reviews to buttress their favored authors, and I admit that I considered doing the same after learning this.

But a very wise man told me NOT to do it, that it would lead to troubles like this. So I listened to him and didn't do it, in fact I've done my best to avoid any and all semblance of even appearing to be doing it. So I have not been touched by any of this at all.

Thanks for the advice, Vox.

Blogger Nate73 March 17, 2018 12:19 PM  

The more ominous thought here is why do SJWs consider reviews so important? What do they know that we don't?

Blogger Jon D. March 17, 2018 12:21 PM  

This is where this gets very tricky. What is a personal relationship? I try to treat all of my fans as friends— I think that’s sensible marketing for a modern world and I genuinely want to give time to people who show they care for me by buying and reading my work. Is everyone who reads my book and interacts with me a violator Of terms of service? Amazon really needs to make clear lines and I think verified purchases should be it with no exceptions

Blogger J Van Stry March 17, 2018 12:28 PM  

Nate73 - Reviews are important because Amazon uses them to determine (along with sales) your books ranking and how they will promote it. 4 and 5 star reviews push your rank up, 1, 2, and 3 star reviews, which are critical reviews, drop it.

I know Amazon likes to say that reviews don't effect ranking, because people are always trying to game the system, but the plain truth is that they do, and I've witnessed it. I have books out there with over 400 positive reviews. I've watched the system work.

Blogger VD March 17, 2018 12:29 PM  

This is where this gets very tricky. What is a personal relationship?

Don't get Clintonian. It's not tricky at all. Are they family? Are they close friends? Did they work on your book?

If so, then don't review their books.

That being said, I think Amazon would be well advised to limit reviews to Verified Purchases in addition to whatever conflict-of-interest limitations they see fitting.

Let's face it, the world doesn't need any more reviews on the lines of "I am so-and-so's mother and I can't believe he wrote a whole book! It's really good!"

Blogger J Van Stry March 17, 2018 12:34 PM  

Jon D. - to me, a personal relationship is that I know the person, face to face, in 'real life' and that they are people I hang out with on a regular and friendly basis.

That what I consider to be 'I know then personally'. I can go over their house and hang out. If I don't know you that well, or I'm not in a business arrangement with you, I don't consider it to be 'personal'.

That being said, I never review books I haven't read, I never give bad reviews to other authors (professional courtesy and protection from witch hunts), I don't do review swaps, and I don't review books of people I'm friends with.

Blogger Russell Newquist March 17, 2018 12:37 PM  

My own suspicion has been the same - that many of the deleted reviews either violate or skirt the line of Amazon's TOS. Other than our repubs of Declan Finn's books, we lost very few reviews out of this (maybe 3-4 across all of our other books). But we pay a lot of attention to the TOS rules and try to make sure that we're not even particularly close to the line.

The reality is, Vox's advice to hew closely to the TOS isn't even a culture war thing. If you're in business - serious business - it's just not worth pushing the rules too hard. If you can't get the reviews without pushing the rules, you're not going to make it in the long run anyway. And if you can get the reviews without pushing the rules, then why take the chance of getting kicked off the platform?

Blogger Lance E March 17, 2018 12:43 PM  

SJWs try to make the rules as vague as possible so that any behavior whatsoever can be treated as a violation. Twitter even admits that they use activity outside their network as a pretext for punishment.

Amazon's rules are still - thankfully - pretty clear-cut. But what happens when they replace their ToS with a Code of Conduct?

Blogger Aeoli March 17, 2018 1:25 PM  

Sorry, I was mixing concerns. If we accept the organization is converged, then it follows that you cannot have hand. However, you can still have hand in a lightly converged organization, in which case you should use it to smoke the SJWs into rule violations and get them fired.

Blogger Dave March 17, 2018 1:29 PM  

I checked out my reviews and it looks like ten or fewer reviews were deleted across all my various book listings. Not only that, but several of the reviews were one-star fake reviews, so two of my average ratings actually increased.

You authors appear to keep very close tabs on the quantity and rating of your reviews. It's understandable that's _a_ metric you use if it's your profession, however, to immediately be aware of the removal of a handful of reviews when overall you have hundreds across multiple books, is somewhat surprising. Is it rude to ask if you keep a running tally?

Blogger Jeff aka Orville March 17, 2018 2:07 PM  

@16 Review monitoring is a business practice for most writers. I do wonder if a focus on reviews is overrated. Cole and Anspach seem to prove that review counts matter little to how Amazon algorithm promotes your latest book, at least initially or until Amazon tweaks the AI again. Maybe review count and quality matter more for a writer's back list than new releases.

Blogger Q March 17, 2018 4:36 PM  

"Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed."

What's a "personal relationship"? Many authors are members of groups which focus on specific topics or genres. Here's a lengthy list of some of them. Presumably none of these people are permitted to write reviews of each others books?


I think everyone - including the people at Amazon - previously understood "personal relationship" in the more normal sense of being personally related, not in the sense that two people are on the same email list or attended the same convention.

Blogger Q March 17, 2018 4:38 PM  

My list of writers groups didn't publish, let me try that again.

http://bookmarket.com/writers.htm

Blogger NicBoffin March 17, 2018 4:42 PM  

I've been following this fairly closely. I'm not nearly as vocal online as someone like Jon, nor certainly Vox or even Larry Correia or Brad Torgersen. I've also only been a published author for a bit less than a year now.

I am however connected with many of the people who have been losing reviews on Facebook (Friends is too strong a word, whatever Facebook called it, acquaintance not strong enough, I suppose, though I would definitely say I like them)

My reviews (both received and written) were untouched. Even my two-star review of the Collapsing Empire is still there.

While it could be that I'm simply not high profile enough (two books in the last year, one with ~75 reviews, the other with a dozen) I'll bet part of it is simply that I don't review my closer friend's books, and I don't review 'competitors' books anymore. The Collapsing Empire review being the last I did before publishing anything of my own.

The reviews are both honest and overwhelmingly verified purchases. (Collapsing Empire is an exception to that later criteria, but I did force myself through the first 5 chapters before reviewing it, and I was still honest.)

As for Dave's question, it isn't too hard to keep track of. I check sales stats every few days, and reviews. Since the reviews tend to mostly come in at first it isn't hard to notice when it changes when its been 77 for the past two months, and suddenly drops to 76. Telling which of the 77 that disappeared... that's a lot harder, unless you've been keeping very close track.

Come to think of it, I did lose some reviews earlier on... from my mom, my brother, and an uncle. I wasn't about to tell my mom *not* to review my first book, but I also didn't worry when they took it off. I do wonder how they knew my uncle is my uncle, since he lives in another state and does not share a last name with me, but again, they were perfectly in their rights to take that one off too.

Blogger L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright March 17, 2018 4:53 PM  

I looked around online the first day this happened, and found other people who had the same problem, not necessarily on the Right.

This smells like an IT error to me, the kind of thing that happens when someone messes up.

My guess is they messed something up and can't fix it unless people complain, because they don't know which accounts they messed up.

Blogger Dexter March 17, 2018 7:58 PM  

My favorite reviews:

"This book cost too much!"

"This eBook doesn't have good pictures in it like the print version."

Blogger Crew March 17, 2018 8:15 PM  

OT, but commentary magazine has its nickers in a bunch over Karl Marx and his anti-Jewish views. Who knew?

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/karl-marxs-jew-hating-conspiracy-theory/

Blogger Skyler the Weird March 18, 2018 1:21 AM  

But I bet all the fake five star reviews of GRR Martin's last two books are still there.

OpenID paulmurray March 18, 2018 7:31 PM  

"Jon D. - to me, a personal relationship is that I know the person, face to face, in 'real life' and that they are people I hang out with on a regular and friendly basis."

The usage is a bit archaic, but 'person' can mean someone's actual body. Examples include when we speak of seeing someone "in person" or in the idea that one oughtn't make "personal" remarks.

Blogger Bobiojimbo March 19, 2018 12:00 AM  

Does Amazon allow reviews of books not purchased through their site or read through the Kindle app?

Post a Comment

Rules of the blog
Please do not comment as "Anonymous". Comments by "Anonymous" will be spammed.

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts