What’s Going on with Reviews, Amazon?

If you’re an Indie author, you’ve heard it all before. It doesn’t matter how many books you actually sell, without reviews your book is going to take its own sweet time getting anywhere.

The publishing world has changed dramatically over recent years, and if we’re completely honest, there is some utter crap out there; poor storylines, pointless characters, and appalling grammar and spelling (my biggest personal bug-bear!)

But despite it all, some of these books are out-selling some truly amazing, well-written books. Why? Reviews, is why. A book without reviews is like a movie without a budget – it can be brilliant, but if no-one knows about it, then no-one’s going to read it. Conversely, get enough people talking about a truly awful book (mentioning no names, but they come in varying shades of grey!) and it’s flying off the shelves.

This is where Amazon comes in. Amazon is a titan in a sea of giants, with a monopoly stretching, well everywhere. And we, the consumer, have put them there. In the book and publishing world alone, as well as Kindle, Amazon also owns Goodreads, Audible, CreateSpace, AbeBooks, Alexa.com…the list goes on.

The problem is, Amazon has got a little too big for its own boots, which, incidentally, it’s using to trample the very people who got it to the gargantuan status it has today.

If you have a book on Amazon, you’ll be all too familiar with the ‘culling’ of reviews, the very breath of your book. Amazon says it does this to prevent friends and families from giving five stars through nepotism rather than genuine deserving. What Amazon doesn’t explain, however, is the algorithm it uses to determine who constitutes friend or family.

The Indie publishing world is quite small, and most of us know fellow authors in the same way that footballers know fellow footballers, nurses in a hospital know other medical staff, or teachers from one school know many in surrounding schools. It’s not because we’re ‘friends’, it’s because we’re fellow professionals.

We’re used to different shopping sites using our shopping habits to make suggestions for future purchases based on our preferences, but isn’t there something wrong when it’s determined that two people are friends simply because they’ve maybe commented on the same blog post?

If you have a book (or many books) on Amazon, chances are you’ve lost more reviews through their Friends and Family Algorithm than you’ve got remaining. And that’s just wrong.

Amazon aren’t very forthcoming about how their algorithm works, but it’s generally accepted that people with a similar last name will be flagged (mine is Gray, there are a lot of Grays out there that I’ve never heard of, but that, it seems, is irrelevant if they post a review!) If you’ve spoken to someone on Social Media, and either of your accounts are linked to Amazon, reviews will be flagged (no networking allowed?) Or if Amazon are just being snarky, showing off the power they yield over the lowly Indie author, expect flagged reviews. And all the time, potential readers are skimming right past hundreds of good books because they’re lacking in reviews.

What’s even more amazing is that, with all its advanced technology, Amazon is unable to ensure a review posted on Amazon.com, for example, is automatically duplicated across all Amazon countries. Your book can be posted instantly to all Amazon sites, just not your reviews.

You have to wonder, if Amazon had been around in the good old days, would any of us have heard of the Bronte sisters? Virginia Woolf? Or more recently, James Herbert or J.K. Rowling?

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