Amazon’s Karma Backlash

A few days ago, I took my ten-year-old Violet Beauregarde and eight-year-old peacock around the neighborhood to knock on doors and beg for treats. They had a grand time. I even enjoyed myself. Giggling at the poor kids lined up behind my Violet made standing in the cold worth it.

The princesses, witches, and superheroes impatiently shifted while my kid waddled up the house steps to get her candy. Sure, some kids tried to sneak past. They hugged the porch railing and inched toward the candy, but Violet inadvertently crushed them there, small faces smashed into grimaces of faux pain. Soon the kids got smart; they went across the street or just skipped whatever house she was at.

While we braved the cold, streams of cars pulled into the neighborhood. Some parked and a half-dozen hobbits would exit screaming as they ran for fourth dinner. Some cars drove by barely noticing the kids. I heard some parents complain that the kids weren’t even from our neighborhood or that some people were bringing their babies up to doors and collecting candy when the kid was clearly still in diapers. I understood their frustration; it felt like someone was trying to get over on them.

Of course, no one was trying to get over on them. No one tried to hide the fact that they “weren’t from around here.” And most parents take their kids’ candy anyway (at least their favorites), so what if the mom just starts a little early?  Besides, she’s up four times a night with a creature locked on her teat, give her a damn Kit Kat.

This leads me to the latest Amazon kerfuffle.

Not too long ago the Internet was on fire about sock puppets and authors taking on multiple personas to post reviews of their own and their competitors’ books. Amazon felt as if it was a serious enough of a problem to warrant a response; unfortunately, Amazon’s response is causing a whole new set of problems.

Recently a friend of mine, Steve Weddle, tried to write a review of Karma Backlash, my novel put out by Snubnose Press. He’s a damn fine writer and editor and he had read an early draft, so I was psyched that he wrote a review when it came out.

He posted it on Amazon and then it disappeared. After a few days, I asked him why he took the review down. “Are you on drugs?” he asked.

He looked at Amazon and re-uploaded the review. It happened again. You can read about the subsequent mess in all its glory at DSD.

Here is the money shot from Amazon: “We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.” Neither I, nor Snubnose Press, are aware of any financial interest so I am assuming Amazon is treating him as a competitor. It just so happens that the competitor wrote a nice review.

Now, I get it. Accountability. Transparency. These are worthwhile ideals. The thing that bothers me is that Amazon is not transparent in their policy. How do they come to the conclusion that a review written by BookBabe69 is valid versus one written by a fellow writer who never hid behind anonymity?

Some might claim that writers shouldn’t review writers because it could be seen as “backscratching.” It’s absurd. Publishers solicit reviews and blurbs from other writers all the time. Look at any book’s dust jacket the next time you wander through Barnes & Noble.

How is Amazon determining which author reviews are ok and which should be taken down? I was recently looking at a book by Tony Larusa, and one of the reviews is by “Author Geri Ahearn.” It doesn’t look like Ahearn writes in the same genre, but does that matter? Will all her reviews be removed? Some? None? Who decides? And based on what criteria?

Again, I only say this out of the absurdity of the rationale, especially since this policy seems to harder hit indie artists.

By the way, is this happening to all industries or are writers the only lucky ones? Might be worth checking out. Musicians, take heed, you should not review new bands. Amazon is diligently taking down all reviews of anyone who might be a competitor. Watch out Keenan Cahill. And Maria Aragon, don’t think you’ll be let off the hook just because you’re a kid. Amazon is not playing around. Who cares what your review is (Good, bad, or meh); if you play an instrument, you’re out. More importantly, if those reviews aren’t being rooted out and taken down, why not?

For a few years, my neighbors tried to stem the tide of people driving in and dropping off kids by blocking off the street. It brought more people. It seems that parents liked the idea of a neighborhood with no traffic – it is much safer.

Amazon’s policy seems reactionary, randomly enforced, and full of unintended consequences. While I applaud Amazon for exploring ways to keep the system honest, I’m not sure this is the best way.