Amazon removing reviews by authors – sock puppet scandal

Many people have been complaining about the sock puppet scandal of reviews on Amazon which has been going on for some time. This is where people give positive reviews to books where they have some relationship to the author or some incentive to do so, and where they give negative reviews to their competitors. There have even been “Make Money Online” products specifically designed to encourage people to join schemes where they could all become sock puppets for each other. I wrote about one such scheme on the Experienced People forum. It’s a bit of a saga – it runs to 13 pages of forum posts. But you can read it if you want all the sickeningly gory details of what I ended up calling “The Great Kindle Swindle”.

The gist of it is that Ryan Deiss started a “Kindle Challenge” back in September, in which he showed how “easy” it is to start from scratch and sell “1,000s” of Kindle books. The challenge was, unsurprisingly, a big scam. What he omitted to tell the participants until they’d already committed their time and efforts to it was that he, er, wasn’t starting from scratch at all. He had a ‘book’ ready to go, a large budget, a complex marketing plan, and a big team of staff behind him. Easy when you know how, huh? No. This wasn’t a “challenge” at all; it was nothing more than a pre-sell for his Number One Book System. NOBS, yeah.

NOBS was all about creating a back-scratching club where “authors” would review other “authors'” books. These favourable reviews, although shills, would drive their fellow members up the ranks in the Amazon search engine, thus resulting in more sales for the cheats. What added insult to injury about this was that much of it wasn’t intended to be for real authors – those who conscientiously research and write their books with original content. This was intended for the “build a book in 27 minutes” brigade of those who use PLR, stolen content, and content scraped from elsewhere. The price of joining this quagmire of shills and cheats was only “three easy payments of $97”. Yet another plan to push the decent authors down the ranks while the cheats rose to the top and profited.

Anyone who knows anything at all about Amazon publishing complained bitterly about this type of shill activity being the latest flavour of the month in the MMO industry, but mostly just muttered that as long as Amazon was still making money, then they probably wouldn’t do anything. How wrong we all were! Morris Rosenthal – BTW, I’ve just reviewed his book about copyright infringement – gave me the heads up that Amazon is indeed cleaning up their act by attempting to remove these sock puppet reviews.

Now, I know that Morris is well-respected in the self-publishing industry but this was the first I’d heard of this clean-up, so I thought I’d better follow up on the lead to see what was being said about it elsewhere. (Must have been on another planet earlier this month. My excuse is that I was working on a book about MMO scams.) Yes. It does seem as though Amazon is cleaning up. Sadly, there’s good news and bad. Amazon is being as subtle about it as a rabid Panda high on cheap whisky. Here’s more on the story.

The Guardian reported on 5 November that Amazon was removing reviews by sock puppets. On the face of it, one might think that’s a good thing. Well, it would be if they were actually removing sock puppet reviews, but it seems as though they are also removing peer reviews by other authors. I would have thought a peer review was a valuable one. After all, who knows the subject, the industry and the quality of your work better than your peers? But Amazon appear to be putting all author reviews into the same “sock puppet” bucket.

Needless to say, some well-established authors are up in arms about Amazon’s mishandling of this and the inequities they’ve now created instead of implementing any kind of sensible solution. You can read all the details in the Guardian article, which concludes:

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Next up, let’s see what Forbes has to say on the subject.

So it’s clear that Amazon now forbids authors from leaving reviews on any books because it sees all authors as direct competitors. The logic of this position is simplistic and flawed.

It’s pretty much more of the same as already published by The Guardian, but with some more specific examples and quotes from respected authors.

So, from my little bit of research today, it really does look as though Amazon is “doing something” to tackle the problem of shill reviews and sock puppets. Sadly, it appears that they’re wielding an axe instead of a scalpel.


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