Books escape Amazon crackdown on product reviews

Amazon is tightening up its guidelines on product reviews but it won’t affect the book business as it’s given the go-ahead to ‘continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books’.

The company has banned ‘incentivized’ reviews where a reviewer has received a free or discounted product unless the reviewer is part of the invitation-only Amazon Vine Network.

Vine has been running for several years and it operates by Amazon — rather than the product seller — picking out trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products. Amazon says it does not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written and the total number of Vine reviews displayed for each product is limited.

Amazon VP, Customer Experience, Chee Chew says, “Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job.

‘In the past year, we’ve improved review ratings by introducing a machine-learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews, applying stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge, and suspending, banning or suing thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.

The changes will apply to product categories other than books.

Advance reading copies of books and/or ebooks are an integral part of most publishers’ marketing plans. The publisher of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins sent out a massive total of 4,000 ARCs to booksellers and reviewers in a bid to build up awareness and the book has now sold over 11 million copies.

Amazon has quickly hit problems with major publishers after opening its Kindle Unlimited subscription service in Japan just over a month ago.

In a confused situation, it appears that Amazon has unilaterally withdrawn hundreds of titles from Kindle Unlimited after they proved to be too popular under an incentive system designed to attract some of the big traditional Japanese publishers.

In the US and UK, the Big 5 trad publishers largely shun Kindle Unlimited, which has become an indie stronghold, but in Japan some of the major publishing firms, such as Kodansha (the country’s leading publisher), Kobunsha and Shogakukan signed up to enrol at least some of their titles in Kindle Unlimited.

Bloomberg is reporting that Kodansha had over 1,000 titles removed from Kindle Unlimited while both Kobunsha and Shogakukan had hundreds of books withdrawn by Amazon.

It’s not the first time that an ebook subscription service has withdrawn books that have been popular as Scribd ditched many in-demand romance books that were costing it too much in July 2015 and then went on to scrap unlimited access in February 2016 to restrict members to borrowing just three books a month.