images (3)Amazon has not responded further to explain the specific reasons why my reviews were removed from its US site. Instead, it has removed them from the UK Amazon site as well – two weeks after the US site did.  (See here for my original post

None of the people who spoke to them on my behalf received anything else but this automated reply:

Hello, images (1)

We’ve removed Customer Reviews left by Mr. Christoph Fischer account because it’s come to our attention that he has violated our policies by manipulating Customer Reviews. Any attempt to manipulate ratings, feedback, or Customer Reviews is prohibited.

After reviewing his account, we’ve determined that his reviews will remain removed from the site. For more information, please review our Customer Review Guidelines (http://amazon.com/help/customer-reviews-guidelines).

We appreciate your cooperation.

Review Moderator Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com

While I appreciate that Amazon wants a sensible reviewing policy, its mystic pointing at a very vague policy without clarification of the specific offence, to me, borders on the absurd and kafkaesque. This is a totalitarian practice we’d expect from Putin, not from a global company with a PR department. It seems as if Amazon doesn’t want our cooperation but prefers for us to guess what its rules are or mean and for us to live in fear of an almighty power rather than be clear about what it wants.

What has transpired from some of the comments and messages I have received from you are two issues:
images (7)
Reviewing for friends and review voting.

I received reports that some reviews have been removed because Amazon has started using algorithms that are allegedly able to determine who is friends with whom and who isn’t. It seems to be watching our every moves now and draw its conclusions – You couldn’t make it up.

Leaving this process to automation is a logical choice considering the volume of potential relations, but again: Transparency is absent and it defies logic when said programme determines who your friends are and who or what you can review without running into trouble. It feels like we are moving in a mine field without proper guidance how to safely go about our business. Amazon “knows” but sadly we don’t who it deems as our friends – until it is too late and our review privileges have been removed. Authors all operate in the same promotional areas and on the same social websites, but Amazon assures us it knows when we are friends with someone. A bit presumptuous, don’t you think?

What is a legitimite review anyway? My neighbour 1 starring my books because my hedge isn’t trimmed the way he wants? A stalker’s 5 star review? Both may never have even read my books. A fellow writer reviewing my book because they saw it on twitter or FB and has a similar interest? A troll?

If Amazon could get it right, it would be great. It would also take care of reviewers who 1 star everything they haven’t even read because they need to offload their hate and anger. It does seem an impossible undertaking, though. The way Amazon goes at it, however, is ridiculous.

The same is true with the other issue they currently have: the voting of reviews as helpful or unhelpful. Which reviews are safe to vote on and which ones are not? Are we not allowed to vote as we want, express our opinions and likes as we wish? If not, then please, Big Brother Amazon, have the decency to lay out the rules. Again, we’re lacking transparency in more than one way: For example, some reviewers hide behind generic names, such as Amazon Customer, or avidreader. They could be my “friends” without me knowing. images (1)

It comes down to their basic and rather vague allegation of ‘manipulating customers’ and ‘customer reviews’.

But: Every review and every review vote as ‘helpful’ is a manipulation at the end of the day. A fault free review system seems impossible, as the current madness shows. Objectivity in art is hard to achieve, whether it be liking a book for political reasons, because you ‘know’ the author, fancy the guy on the cover or hate anything written about spiritualism or abortion. To judge legitimacy of reviews quickly violates free will, freedom of speech and other basic humanitarian and consumerist rights. 

It’s assumption that people set out to damage its business and integrity is paranoid and far-fetched. I have not deliberately broken their rules. Twitter once suspended my account and sent me the same automated messages referring me to their general rules. Eventually, however, they spoke to me and pointed out where specifically I had violated their policies. I was reinstated and have since operated within their framework without running into troubles with them again. Done and dusted. Amazon could do the same and gain my cooperation by being just a little more specific. I respect that it is their company and their rules, but they need to be clear.images (9)

Updates of reviewing policies, if they lead to such non-negotiable trigger happy action should be easy to interpret and communicated to its reviewers and customers. They should not be able to be overlooked. Amazon here reminds me of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” where Earthlings were reminded that the plans to destroy their planet have been lying in an office only a few million lightyears away – for years. Did we not look there? images (8)

But enough of my crying over spilt milk, which has never served anyone. The damage is done and all I have left is to move onwards and upwards, now that I shared my experience with you. I hope it helps you a little and may save others the same fate.

I’ve left Amazon as reviewer and customer and am reviewing any new books I read on Itunes imagesand Smashwords, where I also buy all of my e-books now.

This all has been a useful wake-up call. Having recently moved to a small Welsh town I am reminded of the value and sense of community. I am buying also all other products locally again to support the small businesses that are under threat from cut throat giants like Amazon. images (11)

Amazon no doubt can afford to lose my business. But indie authors need to be aware that Amazon do not have our back (just think of Kindle Unlimited and the refund policy).

We need branch out to other sales sites, so Amazon cannot push us around like a bully, dictate our prices, allow refunds after our books have been read etc. Most of my books are already no longer exclusive to Amazon and soon the rest will follow suit.

We authors need to preserve our precious reviews in other places where they are safe from random and faulty algorithms.

Best of luck to all of you! 41VgkxyAMFL._UY250_

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