You may have seen this article floating around the writer-verse lately:
It seems Amazon has been cracking down on reviews of things, not only books, that are received free in exchange for a review. In one way, I understand the issue. Since Amazon has existed, the pay-for-reviews system has, as well. In its darkest form, there are those who, for a fee, will write a 5-star review of your product, often without ever really owning said product. Some will guarantee 10 or more reviews for one price. They use multiple bogus accounts and pad the products of those paying them with false reviews.
Let me be clear: I do not condone this practice. It is, of course, deceptive. It is unfair to those shopping because, of course, those reviewers aren’t speaking from their experience with that product, and those types of reviews lead customers to (perhaps) buy an inferior product as a result. I consider this review buying dishonest. Amazon should try to track down and stop it.
At the same time, limiting reviews on products sold on Amazon strictly to verified purchases is going too far, in my opinion. Narrowing the discussion to writers and books, what has been happening is that people who receive advance reading copies of new books (known as ARCs) are finding those reviews being taken down or refused by Amazon.
Here’s the thing: ARC reviews are an established practice in the publishing world, both in traditional and independent publishing. It is common for a publisher to send out copies of a book in advance of the publication date in an effort to get some buzz going before the actual drop date. No strings, no payment (well, sometimes you might get some minor swag- bookmark, t-shirt, etc.), and nothing required in return. The hope, of course, is that those readers will love the book, and write a nice review and tell all their friends. That can often drive sales once the book goes on sale.
Let’s be honest here. We all know that Amazon is the go-to online place for just about everything these days. And those reviews are read and taken into consideration by people looking to buy. We all want our books to have reviews- and they don’t necessarily have to all be 5-star. The more, the better. It can be hard enough to get people to sit down and write a review as it is, and if they think Amazon is just going to either refuse to publish it or take it down after, well, that’s not going to encourage people to review.
I know some independent authors who are pulling out of Amazon because of policies like this. I don’t know if that’s going to become a trend, given Amazon’s market share.
In the long run, I doubt this will hurt traditional publishing. Those folks have other outlets and professional ins for getting the word out in advance. We indies? Not so much. We rely on those first readers, and it’s a small price to send a free copy to someone who might enjoy your book, and ask them to leave a review. Those honestly do help. (Side note: if you’ve read one of my books and not written a review. please do!)
What can you do, as a reader? If you get an ARC, first, please do review it. Try Amazon. I understand some reviews are getting through and not being pulled. But don’t stop there. Copy it to other places: Goodreads, BookBub, and any other place that accepts reviews. Use your social media to tell people you just read a good book, and maybe link to your Goodreads (or wherever) review. If you have a blog where you talk about books and reading, put your review there.
Meanwhile, Amazon says it is not refusing ARC reviews, but there is plenty of buzz in the writerly world about ARC readers being refused or having their reviews removed. I understand Amazon wanting to deal with the paid-for bulk reviewers, but this sort of thing is not in anyone’s best interest. I don’t have a solution. It’s not an easy issue, nor is it, like just about every other issue, one-sided.
Just keep on reading, and talking about the stuff you like wherever you can. Those of us who put our stuff out there for you to read appreciate you- every one!
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