We recently conducted a poll of indie authors, asking about their general impressions regarding three areas of policy change at Amazon.
Coincidental with the recent sock-puppet scandal, Amazon began quietly marching a number of reviews off the site and into the darkness. Their stated reason for these actions are to assure the integrity of blah-blah, something or other, customer confidence, and something else.
I know a number of indie authors think Joe Amazon is the coolest thing ever and would never ever do anything to hurt his sweet little indies. That may be so. I don’t really know Joe Amazon. It’s as easy for me to see him in one light as another. But, when I see one policy change after another, all of which are implemented with ruthless inefficiency and all of which seem to impact indie authors more than trad-published authors, my spidey-senses start to tingle. Of course, Joe Amazon does not have to explain anything to anyone. Just ask him. He’ll make that perfectly clear.
It is his apologists in the indie community who do all the explaining. They know Joe just cares so much about customers, you see. That’s what is behind this whole thing. He just wants to please his customers, and the fact that Joe and the Random Penguin are hanging out at the club smoking Cuban cigars and swilling Napoleon brandy has nothing to do with anything. I know I’m certainly satisfied that nothing unseemly is going on.
Let’s look at these three areas of policy change: Sock-puppet reviews, paid reviews, and author-to-author reviews.
On superficial examination, all these seem to be reasonable changes. Unfortunately, it is at the superficial level that reasonableness changes into something else. The difficulties begin with the definition of terms.
We think of sock-puppet reviews as those written by someone using multiple accounts set up under false names for the purposes of generating numerous positive reviews of his own work, or scathing reviews of a competitor’s work. Amazon (though of course, it doesn’t have to explain) seems to think any friends or relatives who enjoyed your book might just also be sock puppets. And there goes a sizable chunk of your reviews. James Michener? Not so much.
Paid reviews? Oh goodness. We don’t want anything smacking of bribery. Wait—Joe Amazon says that includes gifting your book to a reviewer? Uh… how are they supposed to get it? Do we just wait for them to buy it on their own? No. Evidently, Amazon says we can provide a free copy of the product. They just don’t say how we are supposed to do that without “gifting” it. I guess that doesn’t bother Big Sixers. I wonder why?
And of course, author-to-author reviews are an ethical quagmire. We can’t have that. Whatever will Stephen King do if Stephenie Meyer can’t post her review of his next book? No, it won’t hurt the big guys, but a large portion of indie author reviews come from other indie authors.
So, you’ll probably end up with a mere handful of reviews on your books. Does that matter? Well, it wouldn’t except for the fact that the search engines seem to key on the number of reviews as a part of the decision engine dynamics when it pops up a few thousand pages of search results. Without reviews, guess how many pages farther behind the Big Six authors little old you will be?
Add to all this the unexplained changes in Amazon’s algorithms that keep the books in the KDP program from competing with publishing house titles as best-sellers.
Every single one of these changes hurts indies far more than it hurts the trad-pubbed authors. You are welcome to think that is just an unintended consequence if you like. You can pretend we are merely collateral damage in Mighty Joe’s Shock and Awe campaign for truth, justice and the Amazon way.
It seems to me we are being quietly herded off into a corner, away from the eyes of the public. This is how the Indie movement dies. Not in an epic battle with dinosaur publishing, but in a back room at the club with a stroke of someone’s pen. I am sure the Random Penguin is very happy.
Or maybe it is all just a coincidence. What do I know?