February 2018 Update: We’ve just updated what’s going on with Amazon pulling reviews, click here to find out more!
If you’ve ever had a review yanked off of Amazon you know how frustrating that can be. I’ve spoken to some authors who lost one and others who lost dozens. Each time it’s assumed that Amazon is the devil and that they get a certain amount of enjoyment just randomly pulling reviews. While I was pretty certain this wasn’t true, I decided to call Amazon Author Central and get to the bottom of this.
The rep there was super helpful and very clear about their guidelines. Let’s look at a few:
Friends and family: Amazon considers friends and family to be biased reviews, and, if they can make a connection, they will pull these. This means that while it’s great to encourage friends to review your book if a connection can be made Amazon will pull the review. While you may find this unfair, I do get Amazon’s stance on this. They want reviews that are authentic. We all do. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family will post glowing five-star reviews that just say: I loved this book! Without a detailed explanation as to why. Glad they loved it, but let’s build out this review so it’s not just one or two nondescript sentences. This also isn’t helpful to future readers who may be considering your book *and* while none of us likes 2-star reviews, keep in mind that a book page with all 5-star reviews is regarded as suspect. So there’s nothing wrong with asking these folks to review your book, just know that Amazon may pull the review if they deem it biased.
IP Addresses: This is another place where you need to really be careful. If you have all of your work friends review the book from the same IP address Amazon will pull all of those reviews. This happened to an author I spoke with recently. She lost over forty reviews because of this. It’s fine to encourage work associates to review the book, but not a good idea to strong arm them into reviewing the book on company time or from the same IP address.
Sketchy/Questionable Reviews: As I mentioned earlier, sketchy reviews will always draw attention. And I’m not talking about reviews that are well-written, but reviews that don’t offer some level of detail. Reviews lacking details are often called into question, or at the very least, looked into by Amazon.
Algorithm Changes: As we all know, Amazon switches up the algorithms on their site quite frequently. Because of this, some reviews may vanish for a while only to return later. If you see reviews missing hold off a day or two before calling Amazon to see what happened.
Gift Cards: Here’s another interesting thing I noticed, and let me preface this by saying that Amazon did not confirm this point, it’s just something that I’ve discovered on my own. If you issue an e-gift card to someone and they turn around and buy your book and then review it, Amazon could pull the review. Why? Since this all came from my research I can’t be 100% sure why but I suspect it’s because Amazon may view a gift card as a bribe, especially if the gift card exceeds the cost of the book by a lot. This is one reason why in late 2014 I switched to straight gift cards that you buy at Staples or wherever. We use gift cards a lot for our authors. Gifts for bloggers to give to their readers, raffle prizes, etc. I used to issue them all via Amazon until I happened to stumble on this. Gifting an eBook, however, is very different. I do this all the time for folks who want to review my books on Kindle. I will gift them the eBook with a note thanking them for the read or the possible review or whatever.
What to do if a review gets pulled? Call Author Central and ask them for help solving this. Be polite, not frantic and panicked, and explain that you think reviews are missing. In cases with books I’ve been monitoring, I take screenshots of the reviews every few days or so. Not because I’m being paranoid about reviews getting pulled, but to keep track of the review progress for any particular title. Reviews often move around on the page depending on how many folks find them “helpful” so that’s good to watch, too. In one particular case, I had noticed a review went missing for a title I was working on, and because I had a record I could easily go back to Amazon and ask them what was going on. In this case it was because of the algorithms and the review popped back onto the book page within a day or two.
Having Amazon pull a review does not have to mean that the review is gone for good, sometimes it’s something that’s easily fixed. If Amazon won’t reinstate it, find out why so you can be sure it never happens again. Monitoring the review policy is important and sadly it’s not an exact science. Some of their assessments aren’t always fair, I agree. But having a book on Amazon and adhering to their terms of service is the world we live in.