Is Amazon censoring book reviews?

Amazon has had a troubled relationship with its customers in the past, whether it’s over the safety and welfare of its employees working in warehouses, cookies and tracking information being recorded without customer consent or simply its choice of what items to stock and which to avoid, but if there’s one thing that has always seemed to be entirely free of #amazonfail hashtaggery, it’s been the company’s hands-free approach to their product reviews.

Well, that might not be the case anymore.

Author Michelle Gagnon shared an unusual story via the Kill Zone blog about some fans’ trouble getting a review onto Amazon’s listing for Gagnon’s latest book. “Apparently these fans tried to submit reviews of my book on Amazon, and their reviews either a) never appeared, or b) were abruptly taken down,” she wrote in response to the fans contacting her to alert her to what had happened. “Two of the fans send transcripts of the reviews, and they were standard (and positive, thankfully): nothing offensive at all in terms of content,” Gagnon wrote, continuing,

One of the fans took the time and trouble to write to Amazon, asking why his review was removed. He received this form letter reply: “I’m sorry for any previous concerns regarding your reviews on our site. We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.

“We have removed your reviews as they are in violation of our guidelines. We will not be able to go into further detail about our research.

“I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.” Now, I’ve known this fan for years–he’s read (and reviewed!) all of my other books. And he has no financial stake in my work. He also doesn’t sell anything on Amazon, ever–never mind competing products (which would be what, exactly? Other books? Does this mean that I’m no longer allowed to review thrillers by my contemporaries?)

Further, Gagnon went on, when the fan responded to Amazon to explain that he was had no financial interest in the product, he was told that should they receive another letter from him on the subject, they would remove Gagnon’s book from the site altogether. “Needless to say, I found this very disturbing, particularly since it doesn’t appear to be an isolated case,” she wrote. “After all, two other fans sent similar messages; and I can only wonder how many others had the same experience, but didn’t write to let me know.”

The story seems unexpected, but it’s the second PR black eye for Amazon this week, following the news that the company wiped the Kindle purchases of one customer without warning (Only to later reverse this decision in the face of public outcry). Perhaps the company may need to take another look at its relationship with customers – and with publicity – before it heads into the all-important holiday period…

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