Archive for October, 2012

**Petition at Change.org to address this situation is linked below**

**Content of correspondence to date with Amazon is pasted below**

I’ll be the first to admit this…I knew about this issue and when it didn’t impact me, I didn’t do anything about it.  For that, I apologize.  Here is the background, and my attempt to rectify my earlier apathy.

Amazon has been removing customer reviews from indie authors for the past 6-9 months.  Amazon, to my knowledge, has not provided a clear explanation to any impacted author as to why the review(s) were removed.  It is not citing any guideline that has allegedly been broken.  Rather, it is relying on its power and monopolistic position to do what it wishes.  Just so we are all on the same page, here are the guidelines that Amazon has posted on its website regarding customer reviews (taken directly from Amazon’s website):

General Review Creation Guidelines

Amazon wants your opinions to be heard 
We want customers to get the information they need to make smart buying choices, and we’d love to have your help doing that. As an Amazon customer, you can submit written or video reviews for items listed on Amazon.com. We encourage you to share your opinions, both favorable and unfavorable.

Who can create customer reviews?
Anyone who has purchased items from Amazon.com. All we ask is that you follow a few simple rules (see “What’s not allowed” below).

Tips on writing a great review

• Include the “why”: The best reviews include not only whether you liked or disliked a product, but also why. Feel free to talk about related products and how this item compares to them.
• Be specific: Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. For video reviews, we recommend that you write a brief introduction.
• Not too short, not too long: Written reviews must be at least 20 words and are limited to 5,000 words. The ideal length is 75 to 500 words. Video reviews have a 10-minute limit, but we recommend 2 to 5 minutes to keep your audience engaged.
• Be sincere: We welcome your honest opinion about the product–positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions.
• Full disclosure: If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that that you received the product free of charge. Reviews from the Amazon Vine™ program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary.

What’s not allowed
Amazon is pleased to provide this forum for you to share your opinions on products. While we appreciate your time and comments, we limit customer participation to one review per product and reserve the right to remove reviews that include any of the following:

Objectionable material:
• Obscene or distasteful content
• Profanity or spiteful remarks
• Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct

Promotional content:
• Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package
• Solicitations for helpful votes

Inappropriate content:
• Other people’s material (this includes excessive quoting)
• Phone numbers, postal mailing addresses, and URLs external to Amazon.com
• Videos with watermarks
• Comments on other reviews visible on the page (because page visibility is subject to change without notice)
• Foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product)

Off-topic information:
• Feedback on the seller, your shipment experience or the packaging (you can do that atwww.amazon.com/feedback andwww.amazon.com/packaging)
• Details about availability or alternative ordering and shipping information
• Feedback about typos or inaccuracies in our catalog or product description (instead, use the feedback form at the bottom of the product page).

If you have safety concerns about the product you are reviewing please report this information to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or contact Amazon.com directly. Please make sure to include all information about the product (product title, and ASIN or manufacturer’s SKU) and the details of the incident.

Customer reviews should be relevant to the product in question. If you have questions about the product or opinions that do not fit the review format, please feel free to use the Customer Discussions feature on the product page. Learn more about Customer Discussions.

______________

Problem #1If reviews are being removed because they are not “Verified Purchases,” that has never been a published guideline or requirement for reviews.  Let me explain how this would be an unfair basis upon which to remove a review.  First, as noted, this has never been a published requirement.  Second, many of us have spent countless hours under a 10 x 10 tent at fairs, books sales, etc. to sell hard copies of our books.  We have then employed measures to try to get those purchasers to leave reviews.  Obviously, those purchasers cannot be “Verified,” but their reviews should count nonetheless under the currently disclosed review requirements.

Problem #2: Amazon claims to be one of the best customer service companies in the world.  And, as a customer of Amazon who has spent thousands of dollars on the website, I can say that their customer service is largely excellent.  Why doesn’t that dedication to service extend to independently published authors?

Problem #3: If there are guidelines being violated (assuming, for the sake of argument, that some actually exist) then why are indie authors the only ones being impacted?

Problem #4: This is the BIGGEST problem in my opinion.  Impacted authors are not being told why their reviews are being removed.  I can safely say that most authors would be fine with reviews being removed if there was actually a violation of some posted guideline.  I know I would be.  However, to be left in the dark as to its reasons is unjust.  And, Amazon’s actions have transcended from simply leaving authors in the dark to completely ignoring and/or sidestepping the issue altogether.

SOLUTION: It’s pretty easy, Amazon.  Tell us what the rules are, and let us play by the rules.  We will be happy to do so.  Also, have the respect for indie authors to send them an email for every review that is removed which explains the rationale for doing so.

EVEN IF YOU AREN’T IMPACTED (YET), SUPPORT INDIE AUTHORS TODAY BY SIGNING THIS PETITION AT CHANGE.ORG TO MAKE AMAZON CHANGE ITS WAYS:

http://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-stop-arbitrarily-removing-customer-reviews-from-indie-author-books#

First Email Sent to Amazon

Monday, October 29, 2012 at 2:12 p.m.: Please note that due to a perceived lack of transparency and fair/equitable dealings with respect to the removal of customer reviews from books published by independent (“indie”) authors, several authors have banded together and signed a Change.org petition.  The goal of the petition is not to impact Amazon’s business or profit in any way.  The goal of the petition is not to be confrontational with Amazon.  Rather, the goal of the petition is to forge a path of mutual respect and collaboration between indie authors and Amazon.

As stated in the petition, the problem perceived by indie authors is that their customer reviews are being removed from Amazon’s website without any notice from Amazon, without any explanation from Amazon to the impacted authors, and without any chance for the impacted authors to respond to the issue.  As stated in the petition, the goal of the signatories is for Amazon to explain for every author that loses a review (good or bad) why that review was removed, and set forth clear guidelines as to what will and will not be removed in the future.

The petition was initiated within the last twenty-four hours, and already has 116 supporters, primarily comprised of indie authors.  The petition can be found here: http://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-stop-arbitrarily-removing-customer-reviews-from-indie-author-books

The hope of the supporters of this petition is that discourse would initiate, transparency would ensue, and both parties (i.e. Amazon and indie authors) could continue to build a robust world of books on Amazon’s sales platform.  Pre-formed responses will be deemed non-responsive, and the push to build support for the petition will naturally continue until the matter is resolved.

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing from Amazon.

First Email Sent Directly to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Monday, October 29, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.

Mr. Bezos,

My name is Derek Blass, and I am an independently published author.  I have been able to use Amazon’s platform to sell a healthy number of my first two books, and for that I am very appreciative to Amazon.  However, there has been growing discontent in the indie author crowd because of customer reviews being removed without notice to, explanation of, or discourse with indie authors.  Authors have written several articles on this matter, the recitation of which is outside the scope of my intent in sending this email.

The intent of this email is to alert you to a petition entitled “Amazon: Stop Arbitrarily Removing Customer Reviews from Indie Author Books,” filed on Change.org.  The goal of the petition is not to be overly confrontational with Amazon, or to impact (directly or indirectly) Amazon’s bottom line.  Rather, the intent is to initiate discourse with Amazon as to the demands presented in the petition.  These demands boil down to two things: (1) full disclosure of what guidelines reviews must meet for them to withstand removal from the website, and (2) a system whereby Amazon will communicate to authors when reviews will be removed, why, and allow authors to respond within a set time.

The petition is in its infancy, having been initiated within the last twenty-four hours.  Already, there are 119 supporters, and momentum is growing.  The petition can be found at this link: http://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-stop-arbitrarily-removing-customer-reviews-from-indie-author-books

We would appreciate the chance to communicate with you further on this matter, and we would appreciate the opportunity to continue to grow our own careers and customer base with Amazon.

Many thanks,

Derek Blass
Author of Enemy in Blue
Amazon’s First Response
Monday, October 29, 2012 at 6:08 p.m.
Hello Derek,

I appreciate that you took the time to provide us with feedback regarding our Customer Review moderation process and the information concerning your petition. We welcome the diverse opinions of our customers because we believe the differing opinions lead to constructive and interesting discussions about our products and services.

I have passed your message along to the team involved with future development of our Communities features. I know they will want to hear your thoughts.

If you want to find out more about this or other Amazon.com features, please visit our Amazon.com Site Features Help pages:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=16465201

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your thoughts. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here: 
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A11S0WL7351GZF&k=hy 

If no, please click here: 
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A11S0WL7351GZF&k=hn

Best Regards,

Paula

Amazon.com


Amazon's Second Response

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 1:31 p.m.

Dear Mr. Blass,

I'm Deborah Hankins of Amazon.com's Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your email and asked me to respond on his behalf.

I'm sorry you feel Amazon.com is unfairly removing reviews from independent authors.  I can assure you our Communities team considers all reviews in light of our guidelines and will not remove any which are not in violation of those guidelines.  Although I'm sure you've seen them, I'm including a link below for your reference.

http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines/

I hope the above guidelines will provide some insight into why a particular review may have been removed as well as assistance in how an individual might submit an acceptable review.


Regards,

Deborah Hankins
Executive Customer Relations
Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com


Email Response to Ms. Hankins of Amazon

Ms. Hankins,
I appreciate the response, but the issue isn’t that we necessarily believe Amazon is unfairly removing reviews from independent authors.  That may be the case in some instances, but in some instances we actually agree that reviews should be removed.  Rather, our demand relates to transparency that we feel indie authors deserve as towhy reviews are being removed.  We also believe that a system should be put into place whereby Amazon gives notice to indie authors when a review may be removed, the express reason why, and puts into place an opportunity for the indie author to respond regarding the review in question.  Finally, we want Amazon to set forth a clear set of guidelines for what will be acceptable with respect to reviews.  So, your response really does not address those concerns.  Here are some of the comments from the impacted authors who have signed the petition (166 in all at this point).
Reviews were removed from my book. They were honest reviews by readers who really did read my book. I as a consumer use these reviews when I make book purchases and I buy ALOT of books from Amazon.
LuAnn Dill, Evans, CO
I contacted Amazon regarding the removal of some recent book reviews, and was sent information that contradicted the published policy. Abide by the rule set YOU created, Amazon.
Deborah Deming, St. Louis, MO
 
I don’t want Amazon policing to this extent. I am a loyal Amazon customer, but they are creating a lot of anger with what amounts to censorship. And their current efforts are often catching the wrong people!
Janet Buck, Ankeny, IA
Is Amazon willing to have a dialogue on these specific issues?
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation,
Derek Blass

QUICK TIP #5CATEGORIZING YOUR BOOK

I’ve been organizing promotional events for a while now, and when sorting through authors’ books to invite or consider inviting, a recurring theme pops up.  I can’t tell what the heck category the books fall into.  To underscore this point, and to affirm that I’m not just some dolt that can’t figure out a book’s category, imagine you walk into a bookstore (you remember what those were like, right?) and the shelves are filled with books.  But, to your dismay, none of the shelves tell you what kind of books you’re looking at.

Now, imagine that, but on a website with millions of products, and hundreds of thousands of books!  Starting to understand the problem now?

My suggestions.  First, don’t hide the ball with readers.  Maybe you’re afraid that if you categorize your book, some readers won’t like your category and won’t buy your book.  Guess what?  That’s a good thing. You want some thriller junkie reading your romance and leaving it a bad review?  Or, you want some 70-year old devotee to steamy romance novels picking up your zombie apocalypse novel by accident?  Nope.

So, put the genre in the title like I’ve done, or place it prominently in your Amazon description.  Remember, the easier you make it for potential readers, the more sales you’re likely to get!