Saturday, 18 March 2017

Amazon's review policy: another hoop to jump through

Image result for amazon deleted reviews

I don't know about you, but I, as an indie author working on practically zero budget,  find it very challenging to get reviews.  Many book review blogs and sites are effectively closed to indies, and I can't afford to shell out 425$ (or whatever it is) for a Kirkus review. Furthermore, I don't push my books, engage in review swaps or do other things which reek of aggressive and dishonest self promotion. I publish, offer review copies, network and rejoice when someone likes my book enough to review and recommend it to others.  As simple as that.

You can imagine, then, what I must have felt upon discovering that Amazon removed a couple of lovely, helpful, legitimate and genuine reviews from one of my books. My inquiries led to no actual response except pointing me to the review policy page.

A bit of further digging revealed what the matter probably is: the reviewers are my Facebook friends.

Now, the number of my Facebook contacts is pushing a thousand, and most of those are people I know very slightly, even online. My Facebook is a professional network, not a place to hang out with high-school friends. The reviews came from people who bought the book, liked it and spontaneously reviewed. I didn't even send out a review copy.

But I guess Amazon doesn't care. They are tightening their review policy to avoid fraud and don't mind losing a few dollars in royalties because some indie authors have fewer reviews. Amazon can afford that. Authors backed by big publishers and large budgets probably can, too. Indie authors can't.

The truth is, I have heard warnings from several people telling that Amazon is becoming less friendly to indie authors, being essentially a monopoly with no competition to speak of, but until now I chose to ignore this warning, as KDP has been so convenient. Publishing is quick and easy, and I don't have to mess with multiple retailers for my digital books. Convenience apparently comes with a price, though - that of being at Amazon's mercy.

So what can we do, apart from looking into other places to sell our books (which I plan to do as soon as my KDP select period runs out)? We are not only authors, but also readers. We have the buying power. So we can:

1. Start buying books from other places, even though a mega site like Amazon where everything can be found is mighty convenient.

2. If a book looks good (cover, blurb, etc) but has no reviews, take a chance on it. Consider that the reviews might have been arbitrarily removed by Amazon.

3. Encourage, promote and participate in other venues of book exposure: Goodreads (though it has been purchased by Amazon as well), social media and author blogs. Be generous with recommending books you have read and enjoyed.

Some people told me I put too much stock in reviews. But I can tell that for me, as a customer, an intelligently written, genuine-sounding review is the number one purchase inducer. It's basically an equivalent of the good old-fashioned word of mouth, which remains the most effective way of book promotion I know.

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