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Should Amazon allow anonymous reviews?

March 11, 2014

Anne Rice

The novelist Anne Rice is no stranger to either success or to angry, negative reviews. When Interview with a Vampire was first published, the negative reviews caused her to shift to other genres for a while. It was only after some forays into other types of literature (specifically historical fiction and erotica) that she tried again with The Vampire Lestat. Then, when she shifted from the vampire stories her fans loved to Christian-based stories, many of her fans weren’t excited about the change, especially considering her previous work and atheism. (In 2010, Rice renounced Christianity, but not Jesus, but that’s another topic for a different blog.)

Anne Rice’s name is a brand. A bunch of negative reviewers trashing her work on Amazon probably won’t influence her earning in any way she’ll notice. So it was noteworthy when she signed a petition requesting that Amazon remove the ability for people to leave anonymous reviews of works sold there. Rice isn’t the only one receiving breathtakingly negative reviews. According to an article in The Guardian, Charlaine Harris (True Blood) and Veronica Roth (Divergent) have both received extremely negative reviews, some of which included wishes of personal harm.

To some degree, that kind of response goes with the territory. If you talked to fans of LOST or Dexter after those series ended, you would have gotten the same types of angry, over-the-top responses from some of them.

But this isn’t just about the Anne Rices and Charlaine Harrises of the world. According to a blog post by an author named Jane Devin, there’s a vocal set of people on Amazon, an online gang, that seeks out certain authors with the goal of devastating them on Amazon.

Devin says that there’s a group on Amazon that more or less trolls its cyberhallways looking for victims, and then pounces. Her explanation of what happens–that the bullies use any commentary as arguing and even bullying of the reviewers themselves. Devin says she’s been accused of stalking reviewers. According to her, she received four negative reviews and hosts of negative comments–and the people who favorably reviewed her book were also called into question as fake reviewers. The experience is also something I heard about from another author with whom I am Facebook friends (but whose work I haven’t read).

While I have no first-hand knowledge of these circumstances, when the big publishers adopted the agency model for book prices, which raised prices, many reviewers posted negative reviews based solely on the price of the books, as if they were entitled to a $9.99 or lower price point.

Certainly, posting negative reviews for books you haven’t read (or positive reviews, for that matter) isn’t terribly ethical. But you can only go so far to assure someone’s identity. You could require a Facebook account to comment (something ESPN has recently done), but there’s nothing stopping me from creating a fake account linked to a fake email address to get around that limitation. If I took a few steps (like not naming my user I. P. Knightley or something similar), people would tend to take my comments seriously.

Unfortunately, Amazon can only do so much to respond to such a situation. And individual authors don’t have a lot of leverage either. But if you’re just starting, and you run afoul of the ravenous Amazon gangs, it’ll be hard for you to find success.

Has this happened to you?

  1. March 11, 2014 8:46 am

    I think the problem with the floor of online reviews is that, as a reader, I tend to ignore them. Ratings, stars and number of reviews has little to no weight on my book purchases.

    Between the tendency for people to feel better by trashing others through mass bad reviews, or people giving good reviews to anyone who gives them a free ebook, online book reviews have become nearly useless.

    I suspect this will change in the future. I have a group of bloggers and book reviewers that I trust and those are the people I ask for their opinion on books before I purchase. When the bullies get board and move on and the suck ups stop being rewarded with free books, reviews will start to matter again.

  2. March 11, 2014 9:00 am

    I have also run across the problem of Amazon not uploading outstanding reviews of my latest novel, “Letting Go” on line. Amazon wouldn’t allow several people who tried to put up outstanding reviews of my book on line, but mediocre reviews from Amazon reviewers were allowed. Amazon even sent me a form letter that they didn’t believe the positive reviews were true reviews and couldn’t be posted on my Amazon site. I don’t know what to do about this situation as I only have three reviews posted near my new book and I usually receive a lot more. Belinda Tors (pseudonym for Barbara Fifield)

  3. March 11, 2014 1:00 pm

    Why would anyone want to be such a bully? What’s the point? Who are these people? What are they like in their daily lives? Are the writers themselves?
    I personally never leave an anonymous comment on the Internet. If I say it, I’m willing to stand by it. An anonymous comment, even if well reasoned, is fairly worthless in my view, since nobody said it or is willing to stand by it.

  4. March 12, 2014 2:02 pm

    I wish I knew the answer to help this situation. Personally, if I don’t like a book I read, I don’t leave a review at all. I only review one if I feel it deserves 3 or more stars. Mostly I’ve left 4 and 5 star reviews. However, I have left a bad review or two on products that came to me with problems.

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