Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What's up with Amazon?

With reviewing, that is. Well, not me, but an author friend of mine. Tony Armitt, who has presented himself as a kind nature, polite, mild mannered and helpful has been struck by Amazon's arbitrariness; he dared to be honest and as a result all his results have been deleted. But let's go back to the beginning.
Below you find what he wrote on the Amazon forum, so you have a detailed 'report'. It is a bit longer, but I thought it might be of interest. It's for sure one reason I don't review at all.
Is Amazon guilty of selective censorship? Please read the following cautionary tale and let me know what you think.

I am a part time writer, and reader of books.

Generally speaking I read at least one book per week, which has usually been purchased from Amazon. As a regular reader, I have a routine for selecting my next book.

Firstly, I make a choice based upon genre or author. Secondly I check the reviews offered by other readers. So far this system has worked very well for me. When I then come to review the book myself, I usually give a rating of 4 or 5 stars. In fact 90% of my reviews fall within this range. I have until now, never given a review below 3 stars. If I know the author, I also declare this in my review.

Last week my run of good fortune came to an end. About a third of the way into a 5 star rated book, I felt as though I was losing the will to live. The book, an anthology of short horror stories, was quite possibly the dullest book I have ever read.

For me, a short story should be just that. It should have a start, middle and an end. It should have only one conflict; characters and scene setting which are more broadly drawn than in novels. The story should race to conclusion before delivering a final and unexpected twist. For me, the book in question failed on almost every level. The stories were in parts, quite farcical, the text over written. After the second reflective monologue, I began to glaze over. In short, I really disliked the book. But that's the thing about writing; it's subjective. A book that I hate could be just as easily loved by someone else.

Based on my reading experience, I gave the book a 2 star review on Amazon.

Within hours, I received an email to advise me that a comment had been posted about my review; a previous reviewer of the book was questioning my motives for posting such a low rating.

Now call me cynical, but once I have written a review about a book, I rarely revisit the book to see how it is doing. This particular `reviewer' must have been a bit of a fan though, because he had not only reviewed the ebook on Amazon UK, but also on Amazon US, and he'd even reviewed the paperback version too! In spite of this, I can only assume that he is not much of a reader. The only other book he has bothered to review at the time of writing this piece is the author's other book.

I replied and explained my reasons for writing the review. If I'm totally honest, I was also a little flippant about how some authors acquire such glowing reviews.

A few days later, whilst reviewing another book, I noticed that my review had been deleted by Amazon. Not to worry, I thought. The review was probably deleted for the inappropriate comment by the `disgruntled reviewer' and my subsequent reply. I posted a second review which was far less detailed than the first and forgot all about it.

Yesterday I received an email from Amazon to advise me that my review had been deleted as it was in breach of Amazon review guidelines. Apparently an author cannot review work that their own book competes with.

I was a little miffed by this. I don't write vindictive or spiteful reviews. All of my reviews are based upon my reading experience. Also, I can very readily find many books on Amazon that have been reviewed and rated by competing authors; I have been doing it all year!

I can only assume that this is not a problem unless the review is less than favourable.

Now I'm sorry, but this strikes me as plain old fashioned censorship. You can only offer an opinion that is positive? It's like only being able to vote for one political party!

What has made this situation worse for me is the fact that after questioning Amazon's decision to remove my original review, I have discovered that ALL of my reviews had been deleted. Most of these reviews are for works of historical fiction; a genre that I do not even write in. I can only assume that Amazon believe that `authors' are not entitled to or capable of offering an objective opinion. This is frankly insulting.

I have written to Amazon to question their decision and validity for behaving is such a way. So far, all I have had back is a sterile, automated reply which directs me to Amazon's guidelines on writing reviews. It would seem that Amazon is more interested in keeping the peace than acting in the interests of its customers.

I will not be writing any more reviews on Amazon, as I now consider it a pointless exercise. I will also be looking to purchase my books elsewhere.

Tony hasn't got a blog, but if you like Horror, you can find his book here:

If you had similar experiences, I want to hear about it.

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