Joe Konrath and Steve Weddle report loss of ‘more than 50’ reviews in what may be a response to the sock-puppet scandal
Amazon is understood to have deleted a wave of reviews by authors of their fellow writers’ books in what is believed to be a response to the “sock puppet” scandal.
Authors including Joe Konrath and Steve Weddle have reported that some of their reviews have been removed from Amazon, and the Kindle talk boards are also awash with discussions about disappearing reviews.
On enquiring about the deletions, Konrath and Weddle say they were pointed to updated guidelines. These state that “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)” are not allowed.
“I took a look at the reviews I’d written, and saw more than 50 of them had been removed – namely reviews I did of my peers. I don’t read reviews people give me, but I do keep track of numbers and averages, and I’ve also lost a fair amount of reviews,” wrote Konrath, formerly a staunch defender of Amazon who has published novels on the Kindle.
Konrath and Weddle both believe the move from Amazon is a reaction to September’s revelations that authors were posting positive reviews of their own work, and negative writeups of rivals, under pseudonyms on the Amazon website. This led to a host of authors including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Roger McGough signing up to a letter “condemn[ing] this behaviour, and commit[ting] never to use such tactics”.
In Konrath’s letter to Amazon about the move, which he posted on his website, he writes that “people are seriously disappointed in how Amazon handled this”. He suggested it was “a kneejerk, inappropriate reaction to a ridiculous case of unjustified moral panic, and a Big Fail”, adding: “The fact that a binder can get a thousand fake reviews because of Romney’s comment, but I can’t honestly review one of my peers because I’m an author, is a bit silly, don’t you think? Amazon allows one-star reviews from people who haven’t even read the book, but deletes positive reviews from people who honestly enjoyed it, and somehow that’s improving your review system?”
Weddle also believes the move was the wrong one. “The problem with the sock-puppet scandal is that Amazon had authors reviewing their own books. So they’ve attempted to correct that by prohibiting authors from reviewing other authors’ books. That’s just making a new problem,” he told the Guardian. “Again, I completely appreciate that something needs to be done, and I applaud their doing something. Just, you know, not this thing that they’ve done. What happens when a publisher such as Randy Penguin (or whatever the new name will be) asks Lee Child to blurb the new Alafair Burke book? Since they know each other, will this not be allowed on Amazon’s site? … As an author whose stories have popped up in a number of anthologies, am I not allowed to review a book if I’ve shared space with another author? If I’ve had a drink with a fellow author at the Bouchercon bar, can I not say that I enjoyed their book?”
Jeremy Duns, the author instrumental in outing RJ Ellory as the author of pseudonymous reviews, and in putting together the letter condemning the practice, said it was “absurd to blame a letter condemning some writers’ fraudulent review practices and calling on readers to counter them by writing their own genuine reviews with subsequent repeated heavy-handed and unfair responses from Amazon”.
“I also don’t think they necessarily decided to act as a result of our letter,” said Duns. “It seems it may be a renewed attempt to crack down on writers who ‘gift’ reviewers copies of their ebooks so they increase their sales ranking, lifting their visibility on Amazon as well as meaning that any subsequent review is marked as a ‘Verified Purchase’, giving it more authority.”
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.