–Calypso Grier, Writer/Editor for Wrought Iron Reads
When Amazon attacks, it makes headlines! Have you guys been keeping up with this story?
As a writer and head of a company that touts, “Life’s too short for bad books,” this news got me to thinking about the e-publishing market in general. It’s relatively easy for ANYONE to put out a new title, which is great. I think hobby writers the world over rejoiced when Kindle Direct Publishing became a “thing.”
The bad news is, however, knowing how to write a story and knowing how to craft a book aren’t really in the same ballpark. In fact, even brilliant writers make flubs–from publishing too soon (before the kinks have been ironed out) to proceeding without an editor.
When you get right down to it, some fly-by-night publishing companies aren’t the least bit concerned with quality-control. They’re all about selling by any means necessary. If you’re a frequent e-reader, then you know the ones I’m talking about.
They’re the ones with the eye-catching cover, the concise blurb, the hundreds of reviews, and the terrible, terrible, terrible writing. I saw someone call these types of books “Spam e-books.” In my opinion, they’re on the market specifically to sell as many as possible to unsuspecting buyers before readers catch on and ditch the author (at which point they just assume another pen name and keep publishing.)
What you end up with is a flailing e-Book trade due to inconsistent quality. In short, bad books. When a buyer has no idea what they’re shelling out money to get, it makes them reticent to keep rolling the die. The good books suffer for the bad. That’s why reviews are so important.
So, I understand why Amazon is cracking down on made-to-order reviews from sites like Fiverr. They are incredibly misleading to the buyer.
On the other hand, I can personally vouch for the difficulty of getting reviews. We’ve never paid for ours. Like most writers, we have to beg, cajole and remind readers to take that extra minute and say whether or not they enjoyed our product. As a new publisher, reviews mean all the difference between obscurity and being seen, which is why I can also understand why people choose to purchase reviews in the first place.
Here’s what Amazon had to say on the subject:
Customer Reviews are meant to give customers genuine product feedback from fellow shoppers. Our goal is to capture all the energy and enthusiasm (both favorable and critical) that customers have about a product while avoiding use of reviews to outright advertise, promote and especially mislead. We have a zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers. Customer Reviews help customers learn more about the product or genre, hear the reasons behind your star rating, and ultimately decide if this is the right product for them or not.
Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. While we encourage reviewers to share their enthusiasm and experience, there can be a fine line between that and the use of customer reviews as product promotion. We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we’ll likely remove your review. We don’t allow authors to submit customer reviews on their own books even when they disclose their identity.
In my opinion, Amazon should take a closer look at their review process. Author Robert Kroese best explains why in an article for Forbes, “Fake Reviews: Amazon’s Rotten Core.”
The prominence of a book on Amazon.com is determined primarily by two factors: how well the book has sold and how positive its reviews are. More highly rated books are displayed more prominently, which leads to more sales. Increased sales leads to even more prominent display, which leads to still more sales. Through the miracle of the positive review snowball effect, a few hundred rave reviews can transform an otherwise unremarkable book into a worldwide bestseller.
In other words, writers have an incentive to buy reviews or otherwise manipulate the rating system, because more reviews mean more exposure. Becoming an Amazon bestseller has less to do with having a really awesome book and too much to do with reviews. (Granted, in the hard copy book market, you’re facing arbitrary factors as well. However, with a good marketing strategy, great books have their chance to shine.)
Amazon might do well to revamp their ranking process. The end solution? Frankly, I don’t have a clue on how to fix this system to benefit writers and readers alike. But I will say, writers should keep things honest. It’s best for all of us.
Ta-ta now, y’all!
Photo: Canstock Photos