Amazon Review Purge

Amazon frown

Has the epidemic of social media censorship that’s seen big tech firms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter persecute users for their politics infected Amazon? A recent purge of book reviews may be a warning sign that the English-speaking world’s biggest online retailer is interfering with its users in subtler but still potentially detrimental ways.

Author Declan Finn shares his numbers.

Has Amazon declared war on authors?

It would seem so at first pass. Last week, I had 315 reviews spread out over my various and sundry projects. Honor at Stake, for example, had 63, 68 reviews.

Today, I only have 238 reviews over all of them. Honor at Stake in particular having only 45 now. When I ask Amazon via email, they know nothing. Could I be more specific? It’s literally EVERY BOOK. They need a road map?

The mystery depends when I looked at reviews that I myself have written. They’re all gone. Poof. Vanished.

What the Hell?

And I’m not the only one. In fact, one writer’s group I’m a part of has had a lot of the same problem.

The Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance.

Funny that. And the one person outside of CLFA who had also had problems is friends with three of us.

However, I’m not about to declare enemy action just yet… 

Declan isn’t exaggerating. One CLFA member had all of her book’s reviews deleted without warning or explanation. Author JD Cowan reported that every review he’d left on Amazon has been erased.

Not even I escaped the review purge. Altogether, I lost six reviews between the four books in my award-winning Soul Cycle series.

None of the reviews I’ve written about other authors’ books have been removed, though.

Since the review purge was first noticed, several possible explanations have been suggested:

  • Amazon is removing paid reviews (If they are, it’s not their sole criterion for deletion, since I don’t pay for reviews).
  • Reviews left by authors’ relatives are being culled (Again, if this is true, I know for a fact it’s not the only reason.)
  • Amazon’s algorithm is flagging reviews written by authors’ social media and blog followers (If this is the case, Amazon is being really inconsistent about deleting these reviews).
  • Censorship targeting the Right and center-Right (Insufficient evidence, though as Declan alluded to in his post, a rogue Amazon employee did repeatedly attempt to sabotage the publication of a Castalia House parody of a John Scalzi book.)

What are we to make of the sudden unexplained disappearance of hundreds–perhaps thousands–of Amazon reviews? Dragon Award-winning author Nick Cole has concluded that reviews don’t factor into the algorithm’s decision of which books to push. Nevertheless, customers rely on honest reviews to help them decide which books to purchase.

One theory is that Amazon is cracking down on “non-organic” reviews, up to and including feedback from authors’ social media followers. That would require a remarkable lack of self-awareness, since Amazon Author Central author pages make Amazon itself a social network.

There’s also the fact that authors have been instructed for years to build relationships with readers on social media. Yes, flogging your book on Twitter might hurt its sales at launch, but social media is vital for back list sales.

Multiple authors are still waiting for Amazon to answer their queries. Until a definitive answer is forthcoming, we’ll just have to stay alert as the situation develops.

Even the most radical right wing dissident would tell you that of all the Big Tech outfits, Amazon always cared more about making money than playing thought police. If Amazon’s stance has changed, there’s no sugarcoating it–lots of authors and readers are in deep trouble. Alternatives to Wikipedia and Twitter seem to be feasible. Facebook is a far tougher nut to crack. Google is impervious to anything but a federal antitrust suit.

Amazon is in a whole other category. You’re just not going to replace it with an alt-tech startup. A major misstep like censoring its users might open it up to disintermediation from an outside source, though.

At the end of the day, only two parties are absolutely indispensable to the book industry: authors and readers. Your favorite authors need your support now more than ever.

Whatever’s happening with Amazon, as long as folks want to read my stories, I’ll find a way to get my books in their hands.

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