Are There More Amazon Review Deletions to Come?

amazon is ready for battle carnival-787071_640
Amazon is ready for battle. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Yeah, I know. That’s a clickbait title and possibly this article will end up looking like clickbait as well. Only time will tell. But I have a theory that the deletion of book reviews by Amazon might turn even more serious for some authors. Let me explain why.

I first became aware of bunches of reviews being deleted at least a couple of years ago. It happened sporadically; the authors of the books in question were never sure what happened or why. Usually some of the reviewers were identifiable as other authors, but only some. Inquiries to Amazon went nowhere.

More recently reviewers who are also authors have seen all their reviews deleted by Amazon and in some cases their review privileges revoked. Rumors spread that some of these reviewers were in secret author groups who agreed to exchange positive reviews with each other, although in other instances, as Brenda Perlin told us last summer, that didn’t seem to be the case.

On another front, in April of this year Amazon filed a lawsuit against several sites that were set up specifically to sell fake Amazon product reviews. Then in the middle of this month, Amazon filed another lawsuit against more than 1,000 “John Doe” defendants, each of whom has sold fake Amazon reviews on Fiverr.

Now would be a good time to sneak in a disclaimer. I’m not a lawyer. Nothing here is legal advice. Blah, blah, blah. But …

I was reading the comments on the latest lawsuit at The Passive Voice and subsequently read a few articles about the newest suit, one of which had the actual document Amazon filed with the court. And all of this got me thinking.

Among the multiple legal theories Amazon gives for the suit, one of them is that reviewers are intentionally interfering with contracts between Amazon and other parties. (I should give the commenter who goes by the name Arachne at The Passive Voice credit, as I realized while backtracking to write this that he’d floated the same theory I’m about to. It didn’t register at the time, but I suspect my subconscious “got it.”)

Amazon’s obvious goal is to stop the fake paid reviewers. They first went after those who seemed to be the heavy hitters; now they’re going after the multiple small operators that work within Fiverr’s system. If there are other venues like Fiverr where phony reviewers congregate to do business, Amazon might target them next. But what occurred to me is that while they might put these reviewers out of business or make it more difficult for them to operate, others will pop up in their place. It’s an unwinnable and never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

One of the things Amazon asks for as “relief” in the lawsuit is “a full accounting” from the reviewers including a list of each client, how much they paid, and which reviews were done for them. It may take time as the reviewers are thus far not even identifiable, but filing the lawsuit is only the first step. That request for relief indicates that Amazon isn’t just looking to shut down these reviewers, but also identify their clients. The repercussions for that may go beyond just removal of the reviews. Conceivably they could go as far as to remove the seller and his or her products from Amazon. I’ve also wondered if there would be any legal hurdles that would prevent Amazon from setting up a phony review-writer account on Fiverr or elsewhere to uncover authors and/or sellers who took advantage of their “service.”

I think deletions of books, products, authors, and third party sellers is much more likely to have a chilling effect on the phony review market than playing whack-a-mole. If you thought disappearing reviews was bad, imagine the gnashing of teeth to come if all of an author’s books are removed from Amazon and the author banned from publishing others in the future? I’d hate to be one of those authors.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

42 thoughts on “Are There More Amazon Review Deletions to Come?”

  1. Recently I had an author contact me stating she wanted to review my first book .Well I thought, that is a first, someone asking me. After I sent her a copy I received an email that she wants me to review her books. Er, now I’m thinking what is this all about, she claimed to be a top 500 Amazon reviewer? I didn’t return the favor, something wasn’t Kosher. The worst, she never read the book, but used my very own promotion changing a few things around. I’m getting there Al. One day the review is still on my page but with a different name and this continued to happen four more times. Yesterday it was gone in its entirety. I didn’t care that it was removed, because I didn’t earn it, but now I wonder if my page will be suspect?

    1. I think you’re safe, Aron, at least I hope so. At least what I’d expect from Amazon is that they would be much more careful to be sure in a situation like this.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lillan. Kirkus is for sure a different situation. I’m not that familiar with Foreword, but if they operate the same as Kirkus the same would apply.

      The difference is Kirkus doesn’t post their review as a customer review on Amazon. They publish to their website and (possibly?) a magazine or newsletter. If an author has had a Kirkus review and wants it to get attention, they can post it (the full thing or a quote of their favorite part) in the editorial section of the pertinent book page. I think an author pretty much has free rein there.

      I remember reading a few years ago about a review organization much like these except they posted their reviews as customer reviews under an account that had the name of their website/online magazine as the user name associated with the account. Amazon suspended the account and deleted all of those reviews. I don’t remember whether they charged for reviews or not. If they did, that *might* have been mentioned as a reason for the deletion, but I specifically remember another reason given was that Amazon’s rules are that only a single person can post reviews under an account and the site had multiple reviewers.

  2. I am worried. As a writer I read a lot and give reviews. I do not give good reviews to any book unless I think it is a good book. I do review some fellow authors’ books because I do like the books. If I post these reviews on Amazon am I going to get into trouble?

    1. pdr,

      The short answer is I don’t know, maybe. Amazon’s given mixed signals in this area. Off the top of my head they’ve –

      Said that authors are NOT forbidden from reviewing books.

      Deleted reviews written by authors where we don’t know what secondary information, if any was used to make that decision.

      Haven’t deleted all reviews written by authors. Yours are still there and I could point to a ton of others. I also know that some authors who wrote reviews have been invited to join the vine program and were not forbidden from taking participating books to review.

      Deleted some or all of the reviews written by an author based on information that the author reviewer knows the author of many of the book reviewed. (Exactly what this criteria is, nobody knows.)

      But again, there are many others that *seem* to fit the criteria as best as we can guess whose reviews survive.

      My advice is to keep reviewing although you can’t know for sure what the future might bring. But do so honestly. If you only write 5 star reviews (not just limiting it to reviews of books you like, but to reviews of books you like a lot) then I think you’re more likely to get negative attention from Amazon. If you drop one or two 4 star reviews in but overwhelmingly write 5 star reviews and nothing lower than 4 star, I’d expect Amazon to give an author more scrutiny as well. Even if a reviewer doesn’t post 1, 2, or (maybe) 3 star reviews, if 5 stars out number 4 stars, it is going to reasonably cause Amazon to question the honesty of the reviews if they’re looking at that reviewer for some other reason.

      I’d also advise to not do anything that would give Amazon or Goodreads permission to access Facebook or any other social media account.

      1. Very helpful, thank you. It is a bit of a mess right now but perhaps Amazon will work out a set of rules.

        I only attach star ratings if I think the book is a four or five star for me and I say so in the review. Perhaps that honesty may help. Fingers crossed.

  3. I’m glad that Amazon appears to be getting tougher on fake reviews. Going after the clients of fake review sites is probably going to be the most effective strategy. I know this issue covers far more than just book reviews, but part of me wants Amazon to take this a step further. Not only banning those who got caught purchasing fake reviews, but post a list for everyone to see. Public humiliation can be a very effective deterrent.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Bruce. I agree, I think it is good going after the fake reviews. I’m not sure public shaming is going to add that much if they essentially have put that author out of business other than on the also-ran retailers. It would also open them up to potential legal hassles that while they might prevail, they aren’t going to want to have to deal with.

      1. Oh, yes, I agree that public shaming would certainly open up all sorts of legal issues for Amazon. The wish for a public list came from the devious side of me… πŸ˜‰

  4. I thought I was lucky to escape having reviews deleted when it first started but I’ve now come to Amazon’s attention because the reviews on my books are just starting to be removed. I suspect the reviews I’ve written are going to be targeted too, because the last one I wrote and posted–for a book I won in a competition–has disappeared. I came to the conclusion quite a while back that the only safe way is to buy the books I’m going to review. So if anyone now approaches me for a review exchange, and I like the look of their book–because I won’t write a review for one I don’t think deserves a good one–I suggest we buy each other’s book. That way the reviews appear with the tag ‘Verified purchase’. And it would be a tough Amazon that touches verified purchase reviews. So I’m hoping the verified purchase reviews for my books will at least stay in place. But it is annoying, because every review I’ve ever written has been in good faith and honest. It’s going to be even harder to get them if people have the perception that it’s not worth their effort because they may be deleted.

    1. And Alana hit on the problem that’s, at least IMO, causing a lot of legitimate reviews to get tossed. Some of this (like the post) is pure supposition on my part, but it appears to fit the facts.

      Amazon’s review guidelines (which from the language of the lawsuit they feel includes their review guidelines) forbids any kind of compensation for a review other than a free book which must be disclosed. As some of you know, one of the sites I run is The IndieView which has a list of indie friendly book review blogs. One of the rules for inclusion in that list is the blog can’t take payment for reviews. I routinely pass over requests to add blogs run by authors, not because they are authors, but because they explicitly state in the submission instructions that they expect a quid pro quo. If they review your book, they expect you to review one of theirs. An exchange. You mentioned an exchange which I read as you not reviewing a book because you read it and had an opinion, but reviewing it because the author of that book was willing to review yours. An agreement to exchange reviews is still compensation, whether the review is 100% honest or not. (I won’t even discuss how hard I think it would be to be honest if I knew the author of the book I didn’t like is poised to review mine or the fear that they’ll change the glowing review in revenge if I don’t say I liked theirs just as much.)

      There are rumors of secret groups of authors who exchange reviews with each other, promising 5 star reviews for all in the group. If Amazon has heard the same rumors, they’re going to be looking for ways to identify and get rid of those reviews. (I mentioned this in the post and one of the authors whose reviews were deleted and reviewing privileges revoked was involved in one of the rumors I heard.)

      Logically the first cut at trying to identify these situations is going to be by looking for pairs of authors/books where each has reviewed a book or books by the other. The closer in time of posting, the more likely to raise suspicions. A reviewer who rates everything they review as 5 star is going to be more suspicious. Any information that Amazon has tying the two authors together is going to increase the odds that they’ll think something is amiss.

      For example, Yvonne says she can’t review Kat’s books. (Thanks for weighing in Yvonne.) But I believe Yvonne and Kat are listed as co-authors on at least one if not multiple books. As legitimate as I think Yvonne’s reviews were, I suspect that might be the reason. JD Mader got it right. Some legitimate reviews are going to be collateral damage because of the games some of your peers have been playing. Or, to quote another old Stones song, “you don’t always get what you want.”

      Amazon is almost universally praised for their focus on pleasing the customer. The almost, because those who disagree have been the exception to the rule or have an ax to grind. Often they’ll treat authors who publish using KDP as customers, but not always. Usually the exceptions are when doing the right thing by the consumers (their obvious customers) conflicts. This is one of those times. I think they’re serious enough about protecting the integrity of their review system that they’re willing to cause a little collateral damage to do so. Like JD, I’m a little paranoid myself, despite my situation being much different than all of you.

  5. I am glad that Amazon is finally doing something about this. For years now it seems like a smallish percentage of authors and “entrepreneurs” have gamed the review system to the detriment of the vast majority who play by the rules. They have expected to do so with no consequences, under cover of the night, to quote an old Stones song. I wish Amazon would go further, and I hope this isn’t a one-off scare tactic with no follow through.

  6. I’ve lost a couple and can’t review Kat’s books, even though they were all honest and legit. I agree that the fakes need to be dealt with but decry the fallout against legitimate reviews and reviewers.

  7. On the one hand, if someone is paying for or trading for 5-star reviews, that’s something we should want cleaned up. But Amazon can be so maddeningly opaque. I’ve had lovely engagements with people who do appear to be people there, but often I’m left feeling that I just got an auto-response clicked off by some software somewhere and I’d have more luck getting a straight answer from a Ouija board. I’m also not sure that Amazon always realizes that our author account and our reviewing selves are the same, even if we log in with the same credentials. Otherwise, why would they send me emails asking me if my own book “met my expectations”? I could see someone who’s compliant and not too aware of the ethics involved actually responding to that question. How wonderful it would be for them to have an actual human involved in these decisions and willing to explain them to the humans affected.

  8. Really thought provoking. It’s scary the power they wield. I have never paid for, or even encouraged, a fake/softball review. And all this makes ME paranoid. What if, indeed.

    Well done, brother.

  9. And since I just wrote another post masquerading as a comment and I think called out everyone except Sandra, I’ll leave it at thanking Shawn, JD, Yvonne, and Sandra for the comments. πŸ™‚

  10. Great post. Thanks Al. We are all in the dark as to how bad this will get for us indie authors. I am, as everyone seems to know is on the banned list on Amazon. I took the time to read books, give suggestions when there were too many typos and leave reviews. Not because I was asked to but because I wanted to. There were some books that were so bad that I could not review but I did a ton a reviews in the last few years. I never got paid for reviews. I did it because I wanted to support other authors. We are all in it together. Are we not?

    I do fear having my books removed and I am making the steps to put most of my books on other sites… just in case. If it happens, I won’t be as devastated but still it would burn.

    I know there is gorilla marketing in the book business just like most other businesses. That should be stopped but sadly many of the innocents have to suffer as well.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Brenda. I think you’re safe from having your books removed based on what your post said about your situation. Where I see Amazon doing something like that is with paid reviews. As long as you aren’t on the client list of any of the fiverr review writers, I think you’re safe.

  11. Here is the thing I always try to bring up when the subject is Amazon’s review policies: They’re not just going after books. Lots of sellers on Amazon have paid for fake reviews. The Zon’s complaint filed over the summer didn’t talk about book reviews at all. The paid-review peddlers in that case had been advising customers to send empty boxes to reviewers so it would like to Amazon like they actually bought the products they were reviewing. Do your ebooks require boxing and mailing? Neither do mine. We’re just collateral damage in a battle that plagues all websites that allow crowd-sourced reviews.

    That’s not to say there’s no wrongdoing amongst indie authors in this regard. There is. But we aren’t the only targets.

  12. Absolutely, Lynne. That’s why I tried to talk in terms of product as well as book in the post. It’s everything on Amazon that can get customer reviews.

  13. Big Al, et al: It’s rumored that Read & Review programs and ARCs might be adversely affected–that reviews for “verified purchases” will be given precedence. Think this will happen, too? Thanks, Linda πŸ™‚

    1. Linda, it depends on what you mean by adverse. πŸ™‚

      I think the answer is yes, but possibly only in a minor way. Amazon has announced another thing they’re doing to improve the review system. I’m forgetting the exact words they’ve used, but essentially what they’ll be doing is building a system that will look at different factors in what makes a review the most helpful, making judgments based on those factors, and giving more helpful reviews more weight in some fashion.

      What exactly that will mean, both short term and long term, I don’t think anyone knows, including the people at Amazon. But as always, there are plenty of theories floating around. My best guess is that whether the book is a verified purchase could be one of the factors considered. They already have the helpful/not helpful buttons which are a factor in ranking reviewers, but also prone to gaming. At least one form of that gaming, Amazon deals with. (A single person up or down voting many of the same reviewers reviews.) But another form of gaming (an author having all of his or her friends up or down vote a review they like or don’t like) they haven’t.

      However, I also think reviews that are longer and talk more about the specifics of the book (in whatever way Amazon can figure that out programmatically) are going to do better in that kind of system. So books from a read and review program and ARCs (or the published version given directly to a reviewer after release) might suffer in their measurement for not being verified purchases, but assuming they are more detailed and better written reviews than the average which I would expect them to be because the reviewers are writing more and presumably getting better than average, they should benefit because of that.

      Another things they’ve said is new reviews will have more weight than older ones. (Again, this is the same idea as what they do in ranking reviewers. Older reviews and older up/down votes don’t have as much weight as newer ones.) The positive to this is if a book gets dinged in a lot of reviews at release for typos and they get fixed, later reviews which count more and don’t have this complaint will count more. Also good, authors whose first several reviews are 5 stars from friends and family won’t have those weigh as heavily over the long run. The downside is, your good promotion and good reviews up front won’t help as much *unless* later reviewers agree with the verdict from the early reviewers.

      How their grading of the reviews is going to be reflected isn’t clear. One theory is the average review score will not be computed as a strict average, but will reflect minor modifications to the computed averages based on their weighting.

  14. Interesting post, Al. Most of the indies I know who did trade reviews in the past gave up doing quid pro quo a long time ago, luckily for them. Either way, there will be casualties on all sides–fake and genuine reviewers, and consumers not knowing who (whom?) to trust. It’s going to hurt, but will hopefully end up being a good thing in the long run.

    1. I’m hopeful it will end up being good in the long run, but you’re right, there will be casualties. Thanks for the comment, DV.

  15. Strange times. I have a writer friend that I helped with formatting her book. She loaded it from my computer but using her profile account. She had never reviewed my stories. Later I purchased and read through the copy. When I went to review the story Amazon blocked my review from ever being posted. Odd?
    I have since reviewed many other books, no problem. The only thing that makes sense is that they ‘knew’ my IP address. ?? Creepy power.

    1. That’s why Zon won’t let Yvonne review my books. She wanted to change her email address in her account, but couldn’t figure out how, and I’d just done it, so I offered to do it for her. I logged into her account from my home in order to fix it. Ever since then, she can’t review anything I write. *sigh*

      1. Yes, signing on to two Amazon accounts from the same IP address is one way they almost certainly tell that two accounts are “related.” That happened to me. At least in my situation the two accounts really were both me, so them knowing this didn’t cause anything unreasonable to happen.

  16. I believe there will be more deletions to come, because they are trying to clean house of those gaming their 5 star rating system and are trying to reduce the effect of ballot box stuffing when the books first go on sale and over time. I remember reading earlier this year, they announced that they felt that current book reviews were more important than the original reviews posted when the books were first published. The announcement went on to say that reviews over one year old would to removed if those reviews did not reflect the current customer ratings for those books because those books were being scored higher than they should be due to out dated reviews. They appear to be trying to rebalance and even out the playing field to favor current book rating performance by removing the higher ballot box stuffed book ratings. So you just might possibly discover your earlier reviews disappearing as they hit the 1 year mark. Talk about Terrible Twos.

    1. Joe, I doubt they’ll actually go so far as to delete old reviews except for those they see as gaming the system. Instead, as I talked about in another long comment last night, they’ll give them less weight than newer reviews in some fashion. I’ve read several stories where they say they are going to be doing that, although what exactly is meant by “less weight” isn’t clear.

      The current method they use of rating reviewers gives less weight to a review as it gets older. (While they never give specifics, these rankings are known to be based on both the number of reviews and the up and down votes from users, plus the aging factor.) I expect they’ll do something like this. If they chose to, a review older than a certain age could be set to have no weight which would have the same effect as being deleted with the exception that the review would still be there for people to read. I doubt they’ll go that far though.

      Thanks for the comment.

  17. All the comments, but particularly Al’s, have been most informative and really helpful. Thank you everyone, I have information for my students and hope I can avoid reviewing problems myself.

  18. I am feeling somewhat relieved to have only published all six of my books as eBooks on Amazon in the past few months. It is the first time they have been published in any format. I would never stoop to buying reviews because doing so would devalue all honest reviews and everyone would suffer in the long run. I am now trapped in a Catch22 situation, where readers mostly buy books with high star rating reviews, but how can I gain any reviews without readers? Even publicising my books on social media is ineffective if the book in question has no starred reviews. When a potential buyer looks on Amazon to purchase one of my new books that I’m promoting on Twitter, if they see that it has no stars they will probably not buy it. Given the choice, they are more likely to spend their hard-earned 99 pence on a book with starred reviews, whether they are fake reviews or not. With friends and family being forbidden by Amazon to submit reviews for obvious reasons of bias, new self-published authors like me are on a hiding to nothing. We must sit and wait for unbiased readers to randomly discover, buy and review our unstarred books amongst the thousands of starred books on offer, which are often promoted through email by Amazon itself. Fortunately, even if hardly anybody buys my books, it would never put me off writing seven hours a day. It would just be useful to have some honest, unbiased feedback at some point in order to help me develop my writing skills.

    1. Joy, unfortunately, that’s something that has to be worked on before the book is even published. Using ARC readers helps you to get honest reviews out of the gate: https://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/03/25/arc-reader-basics/ If you use Beta readers, they are usually also willing to write reviews once the book is published: https://www.indiesunlimited.com/resource-beta-readers/ After that, soliciting reviews from respected reviewers would be next on my list. We have a resource page with tools for helping you do that here: https://www.indiesunlimited.com/reviews-and-review-sites/

      Best of luck to you with that! We’re all in the same boat.

      1. Thanks for the comment, Joy. It appears that Ms Brooks has already answered your question and (hard as it may be for people who know me to believe) gave a much more extensive answer than I was going to. πŸ™‚

  19. K.S Brooks and BigAl, thank you for your reply which I found very useful. I always produce at least four drafts for each book. My first book was treated to eight drafts. I was confidant enough to know there should be no typos in each book and if there were, I have spotted typos in books of established authors before now, so I will not have an attack of the vapours if a minor error has slipped in. I have asked several people whose opinions I respect that have read my books if they had spotted any errors. They all said that they had not spotted any and I know that they would have been keen to point out any. They were not just being kind and one said that she could not put my last book down. My daughter is deputy editor on a quality magazine and I respect her opinion of my work. I have edited her work on occasion. However, I am looking forward to receiving a few more reviews from the general public that hopefully will come in time. All six books have been published since the end of July, so I should not expect too much interest. I have completed the entire task of writing and publishing completely single-handedly, including the covers. If that is not indie, I don’t know what is. Perhaps I am a living experiment in true one-man bandship. I hope that I won’t be shot down in flames for this post, ha!

    1. Why would anybody here shoot you down, Joy? We’re all doing the same thing you are. Writing/editing/cover design/formatting — I do all of that myself, too (with a little help on the editing, just as you’ve done), and I think most of the minions can say the same.

      What you need to do at this point is take off your writing/editing/publishing hat, and put on your marketing hat. πŸ˜‰ There are a number of things you can do to drum up review, even now that the book has been released. Granted, it’s too late to send out Advanced Reader Copies. But you could sign up for a review-only blog tour hosted by a reputable company (there’s a list around here somewhere, I think); often those bloggers will post their reviews of your book to Amazon. Another thing you can do is give away copies of your book, either at Goodreads (which only limits giveaways to paperbacks, unfortunately) or Library Thing (which does allow ebook giveaways) — sometimes those will net you reviews. I wrote a post a while back (with help from a couple of other minions) on sites that will act as a broker to line up reader/reviewers for you. You could also sign up for NetGalley, although it’s pricey.

      Is your book in KDP Select? If so, you can use your free days to get things moving. Readers will often take a flyer on a free book, even if it has very few reviews. And make sure, in your Author’s Note, to ask readers to go back and leave a review. That’s how Shawn Inmon racked up so many reviews on his books.

      Those are just a few suggestions off the top of my head. If you poke around here at IU, I’m sure you’ll run across others that have slipped my mind right now. Good luck! πŸ™‚

  20. Thank you so much for your reply Lynne. I actually doubted that anyone in this discussion would shoot me down. I was being silly. I said that because I’m so used to feeling I might be shot down and classed as an inferior author by traditionallly published authors in group discussions. Traditionally published authors might be horrified that I have not spent any money at all to produce my six eBooks, especially if they have poured money into their finished product. It’s not that I couldn’t pay for publishing services. I just wanted to see if I could do it all for free. I was euphoric when I overcame the challenges and managed to publish all six myself. Even though I know they are worth more, I only charge 99 pence a book because I have no money to recoup. Any sale is a plus. Lynne, I enjoyed your blog on feeling sceptical about marketing, which is how I feel at present, but it is very early days for me. Thank you for the useful information in your post above and there are a few avenues you mention that I will look into. My problem is that I enjoy the process of writing so much that it is hard to allocate time and brain power investigating the rather bewildering world of marketing books. If I can eventually manage to find a way of marketing all my books for free, thereby not breaking my 100% record of spending zero money, plus avoid the scam merchants, I will be an even happier woman.

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