Sunday, May 10, 2009

Amazon, Reviews, Free Speech and More. C'mon, Let's Rant!

Many of your know that I am very touchy about free speech rights. After all, I am a writer and writers who live where speech is curtailed are, to say the least, limited creatively as well as politically.

As a former retailer, I am also sensitive to the needs of retailers. I also know that retailers need to be sensitive to the needs of their customers. Online bookstores are indeed retailers. That includes Amazon.com. Thus when my friend John Kremer sent this letter that he had received from one of his readers around, I was...mmm, on alert! You can read the letter (with permission) below as well as John's answer and then one from me. I'd really, really like to hear from you all on this! See the comment link below this post.

Letter from Cheryl Kaye Tardif send by John Kremer:

"I am bcc'ing this to ALL my author friends because I really want you to have this information before Amazon deletes all your reviews.

"A week ago I found that all 85 of the reviews I've written for other books had been deleted. It has been a very difficult and stressful week dealing with Amazon. They are not very accessible and I was given at least 3 different reasons why my reviews had been deleted. After numerous e-mails, this is what it's come down to:

"Their final ruling: 'Please know that our participation guidelines don't allow customers to promote their own titles in their reviews.' If you sign your review with anything other than your name, your reviews could be deleted.

"If any of you are in the habit of signing your reviews with something like "..., author of Whale Song", which has been common practice for years, Amazon has deemed this as "inappropriate" and will be deleting them. It seems they're on a campaign to go through reviews posted.

"Amazon recently made changes to the Amazon Connect program and all our blogs were temporarily gone too. Most are back up.

"Amazon will delete your reviews if you have added the book link (that they supply) and directed it to your own book title's Amazon page. Many authors have used links like that in their signature line. It can lead to deletion and suspension, according to Amazon's latest e-mail.

"I argued the that thousands of authors sign their reviews like this,and that it's common practice in our industry. I was told by my last publisher to sign my reviews like this... . It made no difference to Amazon that this is what my publisher wanted me to do; they aren't accepting signatures with titles.

"Amazon is starting to take note of such practices and you'll get no notice; they'll just pull all the reviews you have written. That's what they did with me, even though many of my older reviews were signed with just my name.

"So to clarify, according to Amazon, when posting a review, you are not allowed to have a signature of anything more than your name, and NO links to or mention of your books whatsoever in the review or sig line.

"I am giving you the heads-up now so you can go in and edit your reviews if you choose. That's what I'd do, to be honest, because fighting with Amazon is not easy. There is no one who will talk to you by phone, and waiting for their response is not easy.

"This rule also applies to any comments you leave on a book review. Amazon does not want authors to mention their own books anywhere on the review pages.

"I haven't heard from Amazon.ca yet, but I expect this will be funneled over to all the Amazons, so I'll be working on editing my reviews there next week..."

John Kremer's response:

I think Cheryl's e-mail sums up the problem with Amazon.com right now. How stupid can they be! How really, really stupid. This leaves the door open for someone to create an unAmazon that really serves authors rather than exploits them brutally.

Amazon is stupid. Amazon is stupid. I want them to know that I think they are stupid. I hope they read this newsletter (which will be reposted to my Website). I think Amazon is incredibly stupid, stupid, stupid. I really do hope someone creates an alternative.

I do agree with them that reviews written only to insert your link do no good for the book buyer, the author, or Amazon. But legitimate reviews that reveal that the reviewer is an expert (a book author) should be allowed, indeed should be highlighted.

Amazon is stupid. The people at Amazon.com are imbeciles. Jeff Bezos is sleeping at the wheel. This is what happens when one Website becomes too dominant. Watch out for Google next. Start sending your customers to BN.com today.

Signed -- John Kremer, author, 1001 Ways to Market Your Books
You can order my book at BN.com here: http://search. barnesandnoble.
com/1001-Ways- to-Market- Your-Books/ John-Kremer/ e/9780912411491

From My Letter to John

John, you said policies like this open the door for "someone to create an unAmazon that really serves authors."

Well, I'm not big like Amazon but I've had a sort of "unAmazon" for a long time. Authors may submit their reviews (up to one a month) to my www.TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com. I let them put a nice tag/credit on their review. After all, reviews ARE about selling books and though my blog doesn't get any money for doing so, still the more books that get sold, the better for the entire publishing industry.

Recycling reviews this way is a great way for reviewers and authors to get more exposure for their favorite books. They need only get permission from the reviewers to reprint their work. Reviews must be submitted according to the guidelines in the left column of the blog where they'll find the e-mail address for submitting, the format, etc.. I need submissions to be pretty much a copy and paste process because, unlike Amazon (ahem!), I'm not automated.

BTW, I'm not going back to fix any of my Amazon reviews. I'm a Vine review for Amazon and will be cautious about credits in the future but as for back reviews. Nope. Not going there. It's time consuming and I have better things to do with that precious commodity.

A few years ago Amazon deleted all my Listmanias with the same excuse, too commercial. It seems they don't know that THEY are in the business of SELLING books, too! I even used my Listmanias as references for the classes I teach at UCLA (so of course they had to include my books. I mean, they were texts for my classes!).

Those Listmanias were such a handy way to recommend books on the subjects I was teaching and still build traffic for my lists. I view policies like this as Amazon's loss. There are other ways to promote. Your 1001 Ways, my book and many others are full of them. If they take down my reviews, I will simply move on to other promotions.

I’ve long recommended writing reviews as a good way for new authors to build a platform. There are many venues other than Amazon available for that. MyShelf.com is looking for reviewers. Norm Goldman at BookPleasures.com may be open to taking you on. BN.com and Powells. Both allow authors to post their reviews of others’ books as do many other online bookstores.

So, go for it!

Oh! Also look up Mayra Calvani’s The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (note I’m not including the Amazon link--I’m a little ticked this morning, but I get over those things fast!) and the section in your copy of The Frugal Book Promoter which gives tips on how to use reviews to help others, to network, and to promote your book.

So, what do you think? About free speech. About a commercial entity denying commercialism to its customers. About reviewing as promotion. About Amazon's short sightedness.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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