Monday, November 29, 2010

More strange censorship:
Amazon removed a negative review I wrote but allows meaningless puffery to remain, and combines reviews for a previous book with a new book

Last month a robot censor at Amazon's CreateSpace publishing operation rejected a book of mine simply because it mentioned I eventually received an apology and the project was allowed to proceed without alterations.

A few days ago I posted a one-star review on for April Hamilton's new The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use. A slightly longer version of the review is here.

I had been looking forward to reading the book, and ordered it several months in advance. I was greatly disappointed by the tiny type some unnamed and misguided designer chose to use. I could not read the book. I showed the book to four other people and they all shared my reaction.

I posted my review on Amazon. It was the first review of the book, and for a few days, it was the only review.

On Friday, I saw that my review had been yanked, and replaced by two five star-reviews.

One reviewer says "I have only been able to glance at it."

I did much more than glance at the book. I looked at every page.  My review was critical, but careful and honest. Apparently April or her publisher (Writer's Digest) pressured Amazon to yank my review.
I've submitted about a dozen reviews to Amazon -- almost all of them positive. This is the first one to be yanked after publication.

From Amazon's review guidelines:

What's not allowed . . .  Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)

  • None of my positive reviews about books on publishing were removed by Amazon.
  • I very specifically did not mention any of my own books in my review of April's book, because I did not want the review to seem to be self-serving.
One way of interpreting the Amazon guidline is that positive reviews are not allowed. After all, a recommendation could certainly be interpreted as a sentement published on behalf of (i.e. for the benefit of) the author and/or publisher.

On Sunday, I saw that April's book (not yet officially released) had miraculously gained an additional 18 reviews. When I looked closely, I saw that Amazon had strangely combined the two reviews for the new book with reviews for a related book that April published more than two years earlier.
  • I'm not sure if the combining of reviews was done deliberately to sell books, or was caused by a wayward computer -- but it's very wrong.
  • If April has any honesty, she should ask Amazon to remove the 18 misplaced reviews about her old book, and the reviews from people who have not yet read the new book.
I order from Amazon once or twice a week and am generally a big fan -- but I am greatly disappointed by the deletion of my legitimate criticism and the publishing of inappropriate and irrelevant reviews.


For now, I will not direct the "F-bomb" at April Hamilton, but I reserve the right to do so in the future.

For the record, I sent emails about my criticism to both April and her publisher, but received no replies.


  1. I can think of several reasons why your review may have been deleted by Amazon, but the primary reason is undoubtedly because negative reviews don't sell books. And selling books (along with lots of other stuff) is Amazon's only reason for existing.

  2. To Anonymous:

    Amazon publishes _many_ negative reviews. They provide credibility for the buying experience -- and that helps sell books.

    I know of a terrible book that has 33 one-star reviews on Amazon.

  3. The limitation of reviews by "competitors" is short-sighted and potentially dangerous.

    If a crackpot's book proclaims that cocaine can cure bad breath or that Chicken McNuggets cure cancer, presumably Amazon would block a review from a qualified doctor who had written a book disproving the wacky cures.

    Sometimes the best critics -- or the only knowledgable critics -- are competitors.

  4. To Anonymous:

    No shit! Of course negative reviews don't sell books. That's the point of having negative reviews. If Amazon only allowed positive reviews, it would be more difficult for customers to make an informed decision.

    Another thing wrong with your logic is simply this: A negative review will hurt the sale of the book/product it's criticizing, but it will help the sale of a competing product.

    For example, there are currently many negative reviews of "Sell Your Book on Amazon," which are hurting that book's sales. But the reviewers are also recommending other books in its place, such as "Aiming At Amazon" and "Plug Your Book."

    Like Marcus already said, negative reviews provide more credibility.

  5. Gary may have hit the nail on the head. You identified yourself as a competitor and then not only trashed the book but also acknowledged that you had never read it.
    I'm not saying that your criticism of the size of the type was unfounded, but your focus on only that aspect of the book in an entirely negative review was potentially abusive.
    Speaking for myself, as a regular reader of this blog, I wasn't surprised by the negative tone of your review, nor was I offended by it.

  6. Gary said, "Sometimes the best critics -- or the only knowledgable critics -- are competitors."

    One book about self-publishing erroneously stated that Amazon owns POD printer Lightning Source.

    As the author of a competitive book, I knew enough about the book biz to point out that the other author was wrong.

    "Civilian" readers might not know that the auther is not the authority she seemed to be.

  7. Anonymous # 2 said, "You identified yourself as a competitor"

    Actually, my review on Amazon did not identify me in any way, other than by name. I specifically did not want the review to look like I was promoting my own books.

    I've recommended lots of other books about publishing, on this blog, on Amazon, and even within my books.

  8. Amazon will yank a review by a competitor, but only if the author/publisher complains. They will also yank a review if the reviewer admits they never read the book. It's part of their reviewer guidelines. If you admitted that you didn't read it, that gave them cause enough to yank it.

    Remind me never to send you a book with tiny font (I use 10-point font in my tax textbooks, and the IRS uses 8 point font on it's form and publications).

  9. To Christy:

    It's interesting that the U. S. Internal Revenue Service doesn't meet the standards of the U. S. Supreme Court.

  10. I just looked at April's book. It's actually a second edition of her book "The Indie Author Guide." She must have linked the 2nd edition with the 1st edition so all the reviews would transfer over. But that doesn't explain or justify why your review got removed.

  11. Yes absolutely Amazon removes reviews that impede book sales. There is zero doubt about this. I have posted many really well worked reviews that got nothing but helpful ratings only to have them disappear.

    Sorry but those reviews took work, and what's more, those books cost real money- they were technical books costing into 3 digits.

    I have a very high helpfulness rating at Amazon but I don't post reviews there any more nor do i buy things there if I can come with 20% of the same price somewhere else which I generally find I can do.

    I figure 20% (actually much less on average and in fact the product can usually be had for a flat-out lesser amount somewhere else with enough digging) is a small tax on the small part of my income that would go to Amazon to deprive dishonest people of money.

    I love depriving dishonest people of money, especially my money.

    Yes, Amazon censors negative reviews if they think (know from their data I'm sure) that those negative reviews are going to effect sales.

    Obviously, they can't do this in all cases, so very bad books are permitted very bad reviews. But for books that are being "harmed" by a bad review, those reviews are pulled.

    It's interesting to do a little accounting to see how much the incidents of pulling just my reviews has hurt Amazon.

    1) I don't buy stuff from Amazon.

    2) I don't write reviews there anymore which, judging from comments left by other users, have lead directly to sales of the positively reviewed item.

    3) I assume Amazon's dishonesty is corporate-wide and comes from the top, so

    3a) I personally will not use any of their cloud services to develop applications. After all, if they pull book reviews to goose revenues, why wouldn't they lie to me about how much bandwidth/CPU cycles (the unit of billing) my cloud-based application has consumed?

    3b) (and this is what hurts them most whether they know it or not) I recommend against their services in my professional capacity and promote other company's services to clients and on the web in discussion groups, blogs etc. I can accurately point to the details of Amazon's TOS and billing / dispute procedures which rather unfavorably compare to their those of their competitors.

    4) I contribute posts such as this when the spirit moves me.

    5) I occasionally lend my programming expertise to a few projects which seek to join together book reviews from multiple independent sites, services are in being built now.

    Amazon is a dirty company. In most cases, we're stuck doing business with dirty companies. However, in Amazon's case, we're really not. You have only to Google "Amazon boycott" to see the long list of things they've done over the years.

    I see no reason why Amazon should benefit monetarily from my, and all our collective free labor while dealing with us as duplicitously as they do.

    Sorry, I just hate corporate scum bags. I see where Steve Ballmer CEO of Microsoft and Jeff Bezeos CEO fo Amazon, mounted a campaign against taxing billionaires in Washington State.

    Sure, Jeff, draw everything you need for success from the commons. Refuse to contribute or even deal honestly with the people who worked to create that value. Refuse even to be taxed to support the system of laws and continuing technological innovations which have made you super-rich. Just take everything you can and give back the finger when the people who paid for what you needed to succeed require you to deal fairly with society.

    Sorry, but this is just low-life criminality dressed up in the garb of material success.

    I for one have had enough of this kind of person wrecking our world.

    I really encourage everyone to find other places to shop other than Amazon.

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