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Promotional Content

Reviewing 101: Understanding Promotional Content on Amazon

Last week I introduced the Amazon Community Guidelines and the concept of promotional content. Amazon give examples of what isn’t permitted on their About Customer Reviews page. This week we are going to go through those examples:

A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posting as an unbiased shopper.

Amazon doesn’t permit reviews of any product you have a financial interest in, which includes books you’ve written, edited or published. Not under your own name, and especially not under a fake name.

A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product

Amazon only allows reviewers to review each product once (so you can’t review the hardcover and the Kindle edition of the same book), so anyone posting multiple reviews must be using multiple accounts or circumventing the system in some other way. It is possible. It isn’t permitted.

A customer posts a review in exchange for $5

This specifically refers to reviews from ffiver.com, but $1 or $1000, the amount of the payment isn’t the point. Amazon do not permit paid reviews in the Customer Reviews section, as customers expect these reviews to be from impartial customers.

Amazon expand on this on their About Promotional Content page to veto reviews in exchange for:

  • Cash
  • Free or discounted product
  • A gift certificate
  • Discount off a future purchase
  • Entry into a contest or sweepstake
  • Entry into a membership programme

Why are contest entries not allowed? Because they can be valuable. Karen Kingsbury once offered a free cruise-for-two to the reader whose review most “touches her heart”. As one reviewer commented, that was never going to be a one-star review, was it?

Posted by Karen Kingsbury on Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Note that if you have paid for a review (e.g. from Kirkus Indie), you can quote it in the Editorial Reviews section of the book page.

A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits

In-game credits have a financial value, so this concept is a variation on a paid review. When Amazon found a puzzle company were sending Amazon gift vouchers to people who had reviewed their games on Amazon, they deleted all reviews for the games in question, and also deleted the entire reviewing history of some reviewers.

Amazon saw the gift cards as compensation. Amazon’s Selling Policies clearly state that sellers cannot offer a refund in exchange for a review:

“you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance; no refunds are permitted after the review is written. Product review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”

A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales

Amazon prohibits reviews from people with a financial interest in the product, which would include family members like a spouse or dependent children.

The key phrase is: “to boost sales”. If your friend or family member is reviewing as a way of encouraging you, they should have no problem acknowledging the relationship in the review.

This is one instance where I make an exception to my “Authors should never comment on reviews” rule. If Mum, sister or favourite cousin has written a glowing review and you can’t get them to delete it, add a comment to the review acknowledging the relationship and thanking them for their wonderful, albeit biased, review.

A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange

This is another variation on a paid review, and is also against the Selling Policies. If Amazon find a reviewer receiving a ‘gift’ from an author (e.g. a 99 cent gift card) after the reviewer has reviewed a book by that author (such as a 99 cent Kindle book), they can and will delete the review.

I’ve seen it “recommended” that authors “thank” their reviewers by gifting a $1.00 gift card for a 99 cent book. This is a deliberate effort to circumvent the Amazon guidelines, and I have trouble believing that suggestion came from a Christian. But it did.

Amazon frowns on gifting Kindle copies of books to reviewers, as the reviewer can then either on-gift the gift or refuse the gift and use the credit towards any other Amazon purchase. You are better to either send the reviewer a copy of the book directly (as a mobi, prc or pdf file), or gift a copy through BookFunnel or Smashwords.

A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product

This concerns authors, as it gives rise to the myth that authors shouldn’t review (which we’ll discuss next week). Authors can review, but should be extremely careful about posting critical reviews of books in the same genre, as such reviews can be seen to fall foul of this guideline. For this reason, many authors chose not to review in the genre in which they write, or to only write positive (four-star or five-star) reviews.

An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them

I have seen review swaps offered on Facebook and Goodreads. Authors mean well, but review swaps are explicitly prohibited by Amazon, and are frowned upon by readers—because we don’t trust the reviews. Think about it:

We agree to swap books and honestly review each other’s books. I read yours and hate it. It’s not just that the main character is too stupid to live, it’s that it’s supposed to be a romance but they don’t meet until Chapter 38, and it’s full of spelling mistakes (the heroin lives in Sidney, New South Whales, and wheres a high-wasted dress). Do I:

a) review honestly, knowing the other author is going to be reviewing my book and might take this as an excuse to drag me and my book through the mud; or
b) lie.

That’s not a decision you want to make. So stay away from review swaps and reviewing circles (where several authors agree to review each other’s books).

This doesn’t stop authors supporting fellow authors in other ways.

Authors endorse books all the time. They post reviews and recommendations of author friend’s books on their blogs. Great. But these are endorsements, and are better placed in the Editorial Reviews section of the Amazon page.

To summarise, please don’t try and come up with a creative way to get around the rules. It’s not ethical. It’s not honest. At the most basic level, if you are trying to use Amazon reviews to promote your book, it’s likely you are going to fall foul of Amazon’s Community Guidelines or Selling Policies, which could get you banned from Amazon as a customer and as a seller. It’s not worth it.

Understanding Amazon Community Guidelines

Reviewing 101: Understanding Amazon Community Guidelines

There is a lot of confusion regarding what is permitted in terms of online reviewing. This isn’t helped by the fact that each site has their own rules, and some enforce them more than others. Today I’m going to take you through the Amazon Community Guidelines, which cover writing reviews. I’ve chosen Amazon because for several reasons:

  • Amazon is the biggest online retail site.
  • Amazon is the site authors most want (and need reviews on).
  • Amazon has the most reviewers (over 20 million).
  • Amazon has the most product reviews.
  • It’s also the site I know best.

Amazon has clear reviewing guidelines and will take action to remove reviews that contravene the guidelines. Amazon gets a lot of attention regarding “fake” reviews (which exist in greater numbers than most people realise) and “bully” reviewers (who are far less common than the media implies).

Amazon’s focus used to be on what was not allowed, including:

  • Objectionable material
  • Inappropriate content
  • Off-topic information
  • Promotional material.

Amazon have now rephrased their rules to focus on the positive. The Amazon Community Guidelines say:

Eligibility

Only customers can review. An Amazon.com customer is (currently) defined as someone who has spent $50 on Amazon.com in the last year. Other Amazon sites have similar spending requirements. This isn’t to deter honest reviewers, but to make it harder for fake reviewers to set up multiple reviewing accounts.

Be Helpful and Relevant

That should be obvious! It means reviewers should focus their reviews on the product. Information on price, packaging, shipping or the seller aren’t considered relevant to customer reviews, as Amazon has other forums for offering feedback on sellers or packaging.

Amazon Community Guidelines don’t permit links to external websites (including your own). Amazon won’t delete a review with external links, but it will delete the link and replace it with […].

Respect Others

Amazon do not permit swearing, calling people names, using inappropriate language (like calling someone an idiot or a nazi), or promotion of illegal conduct.

Customers are also not permitted to post from multiple accounts, or to coordinate with others. This means sellers (including authors) can’t ask their fans to upvote or downvote specific reviews, or report them for abuse in an effort to get the review deleted.

Customers can disagree with others as long as it’s done respectfully, without name-calling, without attacking the other person, and without posting content that invades someone’s privacy.

Promotional and Commercial Solicitations

Customer reviews are meant to be just that: customer reviews. They are not meant to be a way for sellers (including authors) to promote their products. Amazon will therefore delete reviews they consider promotional.

This specifically includes posting content (i.e. reviewing) your own products (books), or those of a close family member, friend, or business associate. There is ongoing debate as to how Amazon decides a reviewer is “close” to a seller, but here are my views:

  • Reviewer and author use the same IP address.
  • Author has gifted the book to the reviewer via Amazon.
  • Author quotes the reviewer in Editorial Reviews.
  • Author thanks the reviewer in the Acknowledgements to their book.
  • Author identifies the reviewer as their editor, cover designer, or other business associate.

Amazon say they do not track users social media connections (e.g. Facebook friends), but Amazon owns Goodreads which does allow linking to your Facebook account.

Amazon also does not allow:

  • Reviews of competitor’s books (although “competitor is not defined. Does this mean authors can’t review? We’ll discuss that in a future post).
  • Reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind (i.e. paid reviews).

Authors may provide reviewers with a free copy of the book (paperback or ebook), but the book must be freely given without any expectation of a review. This isn’t actually a bad thing: if you offer a reviewer a book and they don’t review it, it’s probably because they either haven’t read it or didn’t like it.

If you find reviews which include inappropriate information (e.g. saying the book is too expensive, or saying it arrived damaged), you can Report Abuse.

What is Report Abuse?

If you look at the bottom of any Amazon review (except one you’ve written), you will see three options: Helpful, Comment, and Report Abuse. If you believe a review contravenes the Amazon Community Guidelines in some way, click Report Abuse. You used to be able to give a reason, but Amazon now currently doesn’t give this option.

If you are given the option to say why the review is inappropriate. It’s best if you mention a specific reason that is against the guidelines (e.g. the review is self-promotion, the review is written by the author/editor, the review is about price or delivery and not about the product, the review includes spiteful remarks about the author).

This feature can be used by anyone, author or reader. If, as an author, you believe the review is against the Amazon Community Guidelines or Conditions of Use (often referred to as the Terms of Service, or TOS), this is the responsible and ethical way to report it, rather than leaving a comment on the review. Note that Amazon do not remove reviews simply because they are critical—they must contravene Community Guidelines.

It usually takes several reports from different people before a review is removed (although I don’t know exactly how many). However, sometimes the response is extremely fast: I once reported a review for soliciting helpful votes (which is against the guidelines), and the review had been edited by Amazon within half an hour to remove the promotional content.

Of course, the big question is: What is promotional content?

We will look at that in more detail next week.

Meanwhile, are you aware of the Amazon Community Guidelines? What do you consider promotional content?

Best of the Blogs 7 October 2016

www.christianediting.co.nzThe best of the blog posts I’ve read this week on changes at Amazon, writing, editing, publishing and what comes next … and a fun post which basically describes my dream job. Well, apart from editing!

Changes at Amazon

But first, an announcement: Amazon have updated their rules around product reviews. They will no longer permit “incentivized” reviews, i.e. reviews where a free or discounted product was provided in exchange for a review. There are two and only two exceptions to this:

  • Advance Review Copies of books (including ebooks)
  • Products from the Amazon Vine programme

They have also expanded their Community Guidelines (including the new requirement that reviewers must have spent at least $50 on Amazon using a valid credit or debit card) and have refined their guidelines around what constitutes Promotional Content.

These changes are an attempt to close loopholes exploited by fivverr reviewers and coupon clubs. It shouldn’t mean any change for honest book reviewers, although I have seen some people saying reviewers they know have received warning letters from Amazon for breaching the guidelines.

Watch this space … and if you’ve got any questions, ask in the comments.

Now to the best of the blogs …

Writing

Setting is an important part of writing a novel, and this week Cara Lynn James visited Seekerville to give us some handy tips on the relationship between setting and character: How Setting Affects Character

Editing

Self-editing. How do you do it? In this post at Writers in the Storm, Fae Rowan shares her self-editing tips for getting a lot done quickly … and check out the comments for more handy tips: How I Edited 1200 Pages in 12 Weeks

Publishing

A lot of people get worried at the prospect of self-publishing, because there is so much to remember. If this is you, you’ll either love this post (because it’s a LIST of everything you have to do! No more forgetting things!) or you’ll hate this post (because it’s a list of EVERYTHING you have to do and it’s soooo loooong): A Checklist for Publishing Your Book from April Brown at Writers Helping Writers.

And After You’ve Published …

I know a lot of self-published authors are worried about ebook piracy (trade published authors might also worry about it, but they have agents and publishers they can delegate that to!). In this post at Molly Greene’s website, attorney Kathryn Goldman shares her tips on How To Beat Ebook Pirate Sites.

My Dream Job

Lexiographer. Yes, getting paid to read all day. Okay, so being an editor is close!

What’s the best post you’ve read this week? Leave us a link in the comments!