No Trespassing

Some people actually believe the content of my blog can be negotiated for their own agenda.

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They are wrong. And should leave me alone.

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Dirty Little Secrets of Review Clubs: #1 is that they’re not connected with Amazon

It looks like Amazon is again cleaning house of coupon club reviewers who have no idea that they are doing something wrong. I should have posted this at the same time as Reviews Deleted by Amazon but better late than never. Once again this comes from Amazon poster Maine Colonial. If any of this information helps you then stop by the Top Reviewers Forum and say thanks.

▶︎ Review clubs are not affiliated with Amazon, even if they have some form of Amazon’s name in their name.

▶︎ The fact that a review club may advertise on Amazon’s website doesn’t mean that Amazon approves of the club’s practices.

▶︎ Reviewers’ personal information is not necessarily secure with a review club. Clubs have had their security compromised and member information leaked.

▶︎ Their rules are not the same as Amazon’s, and some of their rules are directly contrary to Amazon’s. Amazon’s rules for creating reviews are here:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201602680

Here is additional guidance from Amazon on customer reviews:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201077870

▶︎ Amazon has been wiping out reviews and revoking the reviewing privileges of hundreds of review club members, especially AMZ Review Trader members. As of April, 2016, giveawayservice.com reviewers seem to have become a key target of Amazon purges.

▶︎ Nobody knows exactly how Amazon identifies who to purge. Reviewing through review clubs is a common denominator for the vast majority of those purged, but that doesn’t mean that the purges are limited to people who review only through the review clubs. The purges have included people who have been regular Amazon reviewers for years (including Amazon Vine members) and people who review a mix of items they bought for full price on Amazon and items they received through review clubs. People who value the reviews they’ve written over time and who enjoy writing Amazon reviews should consider whether starting up with review clubs is worth jeopardizing their entire review portfolio and privileges.

▶︎ Review clubs want reviewers to subscribe to Amazon Prime so that they can take advantage of Amazon’s free two-day shipping. A reviewer who is purged will *not* get a refund from Amazon for Prime.

▶︎ Review club members who are purged receive no warning, and when they try to get an explanation from Amazon, the most they receive is a form email saying they have engaged in review manipulation or bias. The clubs and sellers who get in trouble for breaking Amazon’s rules get a formal appeal, but reviewers don’t. Reviewers are expendable; the clubs don’t care what happens to them.

▶︎ Reviewers who are purged often feel bad about the products they’ve received and not posted reviews for yet. Not to worry, though. The clubs and club sellers know that huge numbers of reviewers are being purged and they don’t concern themselves about the products they’ve sent out that will never have a review posted for them.

▶︎ Sellers pay review clubs a fee to list their products. The way the sellers see it, they are buying a promotion tool: reviewers. Anyone who becomes a review club member should recognize that the club and sellers see review members as promoters, but that’s inconsistent with Amazon’s rules for reviewers. Amazon wants reviewers to post reviews *as* customers and *for* customers, product promotion is not allowed to be posted as a review.

▶︎ The clubs claim that the people purged were breaking club rules and that’s why Amazon purged them. Travis, the founder of AMZ Review Trader, claims that people purged are only [expletive] reviewers, people who fail to disclose and people who resold club products, but that’s not true. Not only that, but it’s not against any Amazon rules to resell club products. The real problem is that the way the clubs want its members to review breaks Amazon’s rules. The bottom line is that membership in a review club alone hugely increases the chances of a reviewer’s purge.

▶︎ Starting in late 2015, Amazon began removing the Amazon Verified Purchase tag from reviews posted by people who received the product at a deep discount. Review club sellers hate this new Amazon policy, because they want reviews to appear to be from people who bought the product at full price. So they are coming up with all kinds of ways around the new rule. But reviewers who fall for these tricks may find themselves purged.

For example, some sellers are giving out codes that the recipient thinks are discount codes, but they are actually gift codes. It’s against Amazon’s rules for somebody to review a product in exchange for money, gift cards/codes or anything else other than the actual product. This also means that it’s against Amazon’s rules for a seller to ask a reviewer to buy the product and then be reimbursed. We have heard of some sellers who reimburse reviewers through PayPal. This would be considered a paid review and could have severe consequences. Amazon is currently suing many paid reviewers.

▶︎ Asking reviewers to do keyword-based searches on Amazon is considered manipulation by Amazon and is against its rules. To be safe, reviewers should not use any seller links to Amazon other than the actual product ID number, called the ASIN. Other common tactics of review club sellers that are against Amazon rules include asking reviewers to put items on wishlists and asking them to upvote positive reviews and downvote negative reviews. Some sellers also plant questions in the Q&A section of the product page by asking reviewers to post the questions they give to them.

▶︎ Clubs want their reviewers to post photos. This is not required or even particularly encouraged by Amazon. Posting photos is completely irrelevant to Amazon’s decision whether to purge a reviewer.

▶︎ Review club sellers are not small businesses just looking for a fair break so that they can support their families. It is not the job of a reviewer to help sellers. Amazon specifically says that reviews are solely to help customers and that reviews are not to be posted by sellers or as product promotion.

▶︎ In many cases, review club members are not actually getting a deal on items they get at a supposed deep discount from the review clubs. Travis from AMZ Review Trader himself says that sellers there too often just buy a bunch of ultra-cheap stuff from Alibaba, slap on their label, jack up the price tenfold or more and then sell it to club members at a supposed deep discount that is more than they bought it for. Before picking any review club product, check the price elsewhere, especially on aliexpress.com.

▶︎ Speaking of deceptive pricing, once club sellers get a good base of positive reviews, they commonly jack up the price to regular Amazon shoppers. Reviewers were basing their reviews on what they thought would be sold for $10, say, and now it’s suddenly $20 or even more.

▶︎ Some club sellers will do something even more deceptive than these pricing games. They will get a big base of positive reviews for a cheap product, let’s say something like a USB charger, and then they’ll change their product listing so that it’s a much more expensive and entirely different product. All of a sudden, club members’ positive reviews are being used to scam Amazon shoppers into buying a completely different product for a lot more money.

▶︎ Another bit of deception is that a club seller might ask a reviewer to copy and paste his or her review to another listing the seller has on Amazon. This puts the reviewer at risk of being purged.

▶︎ Many review club sellers give out hundreds or even thousands of codes for a single product. This is directly contrary to Amazon’s rules. How useful is any individual review for a product with hundreds or thousands of reviews? The truth is, the seller doesn’t care about anyone’s individual review. The seller wants those hundreds or thousands of reviews not for their content, but because the sheer volume artificially inflates the product’s ranking in Amazon’s product search algorithm.

Sellers who issue excessive coupons aren’t just harming shoppers on Amazon. They are also taking business away from honest competitors who follow Amazon’s rules and limit the number of discount codes they give out.

▶︎ Amazon suspends sellers if they don’t have good seller feedback statistics. Sellers in danger of being suspended will quickly offer a lot of cheap products for free to review club reviewers to get them to post positive seller feedback on Amazon. They don’t even care about having product reviews in that scenario, because these are just bribes to get their seller feedback pumped back up.

▶︎ If a seller gets a couple of negative reviews, it will also use coupon clubs to offer a lot of free product so that positive freebie reviews will flow in and bury the negative reviews. Asking club members to downvote negative reviews is also a little trick they use to try to bury those negative reviews so that shoppers won’t see them without looking beyond the first page.

▶︎ Not all sellers who use review clubs are shady, but many are and review club operators have shown little or no interest in keeping the shady sellers off the club site, which just puts more reviewers in danger of being purged.

▶︎ Some shady sellers frequently offer discount codes that don’t work and then ask reviewers to email them directly when that happens. Club members have reported that this is a trick to harvest the reviewers’ email addresses.

▶︎ Nobody knows what’s really in those beauty products and supplements the clubs offer. But considering price and volume, it’s not likely to be anything of high quality and may actually be dangerous.

▶︎ If a review club or seller asks reviewers to contact them before posting a negative review so that they can “make it right,” this is really just a tactic to prevent that negative review from going live. They keep right on sending out that same bad product and doing whatever it takes to get positive reviews and avoid negative reviews.

▶︎ Facebook-based club operators have been known to go to their reviewers’ personal Facebook pages to harass and insult them if the FB club operator doesn’t like something the reviewer has done or doesn’t think the reviewer has reviewed fast enough. Reviewers who don’t want their friends and family to read this kind of abuse should not join a Facebook-based club. Facebook-based club operators will also organize posses of people to upvote/downvote reviews they target.

▶︎ Some clubs market themselves by telling people that membership is a ticket to becoming a reviewer on Amazon. Not true. All it takes to review a product on Amazon is to register on Amazon and buy one product. Once that’s done, the person can then review any product offered on Amazon, including products they already own or that they acquire elsewhere. Amazon wants people to post reviews to help customers make good buying decisions, and the best source is to have reviews from people who own and use the product.

▶︎ The review clubs say they are just like Amazon Vine, but that’s not true either. Amazon Vine is the only review club operated and sanctioned by Amazon. In Vine, sellers have no contact with reviewers. All Vine transactions are handled by Amazon. They give out the products, the recipients post reviews and that’s it.

A Vine member may only have a handful of products at a time, other than books, where it’s possible to get quite a few more. Only a few of any Vine product are given out to the Vine membership and the recipients have 37 days from the ship date to post a review, though 10-day extensions may be requested. If the Vine review is late, all that happens is that the Vine member can’t select more items until the late review is posted. There is absolutely no penalty for posting negative reviews and no BS about contacting anybody before doing so.

Unlike other review clubs, Vine has rules against publishing a review too soon after ordering. Vine products are also deemed to be taxable income, subject to normal 1099 reporting rules and each individual’s tax situation.

▶︎ Membership in a review club is not a stepping stone to Vine. As far as anybody knows, no Vine invitations have been issued since 2011. Even if Amazon does someday invite new reviewers to Vine, nobody knows what the criteria for selection are. There are many people who have been writing excellent reviews on Amazon for years and who are very highly ranked but who have never been invited to Vine.

▶︎ Club operators and their sellers like the club-based model because it’s so easy to make people feel they are part of something positive and that if they follow the club rules it’s a win-win-win. They like to recruit people who aren’t all that familiar with the world of Amazon reviewing because they know that anyone who is knows that a real customer review looks very different from a review club review. With rare exception, review club reviews stand out a mile–not in a good way–and savvy Amazon customers often report that when they spot a product with review club reviews, they move on to another product.

▶︎ Most coupon clubs have no mechanism for de-registering. However, a reviewer can simply quit choosing products and, if s/he wants, can delete reviews already posted and not post reviews for products received.

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Here are some sources of additional information:

Amazon’s Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200414320

We also have a lot of other information on this forum. Keep in mind that we are all customers on this forum; we don’t work for Amazon. The longtime regulars of the forum have learned a lot about the review clubs, though.

This thread is about what gets reviewers purged: http://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cd_tfp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdThread=Tx1U0Q0A61KKP1Z

Some readers might wonder what a “review club” is. It’s an operation where the operator brings together product sellers and reviewers.

The club operator enables sellers list the products they have available for review and for how much and reviewers identify the ones they’re interested in. Usually, sellers pick and choose among the interested reviewers (typically preferring those who review very quickly and give out the highest rankings), but some clubs operate by emailing notices of available products and awarding product access on a first-come first-served basis.

Typically, the product is listed as being available for free or at a discount. The reviewer agrees that in exchange for the product, s/he will post a review on a particular website; in this forum, we’re only interested in review clubs looking for Amazon reviews.

Sellers who use review clubs to get reviews on Amazon generally pay the site operator a fee for making their products available through the club. They list their products on Amazon, with the listing usually stating that the product is sold by the seller and fulfilled by Amazon.

Some of the more recognized review club names are AMZ Review Trader, giveawayservice.com, Tomoson, Honest Few and Snagshout. There are also many, many Facebook-based review clubs. Review clubs and the sellers they have as clients vary in their rules and practices. Anyone thinking of doing business with a review club, whether as a seller or reviewer, is well advised to first become thoroughly familiar with the club and whether its rules and practices are in compliance with Amazon’s rules for sellers and reviewers.

 

Can You Trust Reviews on Amazon?

All those “honest and unbiased” reviews for products received for free or deep discounts. How do they compare against reviews of products bought at full price? Fifth in the series, this article takes a look at the two groups of reviews and, really, are you going to be surprised by their findings?

By Kriti Agarwal and Rafe Needleman, BestReviews

On Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, user-generated product ratings matter. A lot. Consumers make billions of dollars of purchasing decisions that are influenced by the ratings other consumers give to products.

But on Amazon, it can appear that everyone likes everything.

We looked at 360,000 user ratings across 488 products in various categories [1], and found what is clearly an unrealistic proportion of 5-star ratings. Not all consumer products can possibly be this good:

For more view original post

 

Reviews deleted by Amazon? Here’s why

They come every day, the bewildered, the indignant, and the ones who hope that posters in Amazon’s TRF are stupid. The bewildered and the indignant are looking for help, they have been following the “rules” and have no idea why Amazon has deleted their reviews and removed their reviewing privileges. The ones that hope the Amazon posters are stupid know precisely what they have done and when confronted with the proof they rant, rave, and revile, and keep repeating over and over they were “honest” and “unbiased”.

Um, no.

Coupon clubs like AMZ Review Trader and Tomoson have sprung up a they supply  nd inundated the Amazon review system with thousands of reviews. Despite what they claim these sites do indeed know exactly why their reviewers are getting purged.

What is a coupon club? Very simply, they supply a service. A seller buys a set deal for a number of products and supplies a large number of coupon codes for reviewers. People wishing to obtain discounted or free products sign up with the club and approved for certain products and given a coupon code. We aren’t talking 25-50 codes per product here, we are talking hundreds.

What does this do? It is a form of manipulation, the more “purchases”, the more reviews, the more times a product is added to a Wish List, the more visual recognition that product gets. Until well-known brands are listed under the off brands.

This might not be a problem if you are clued in to what is going on but if not then a buyer could be lulled into thinking that Madame Fou-Fou’s Face Cream is as good as or better than Estee lauder or Clinique or Guerlain. In reality Madame Fou-Fou’s Face Cream may not even contain what is listed on the label. How do you know for sure? Those 300 glowing 5 star reviews? They received the product, let’s say 3 days ago, along with another face cream, an anti-wrinkle serum, and 2 bottles of supplements from God knows where. They slap a little on their faces, down a few capsules, and if they don’t fall over dead or in a coma or have their skin start to peel off their faces then they give it a good review and order someone else’s creams and supplements.

It’s big business for someone, just not good business. The reviewers believe (the bewildered and indignant ones) that they are helping poor, struggling sellers claw their way up the profit ladder at Amazon so they can feed their families and help their communities. Or something like that.

They never stop to ask how those struggling sellers can afford to give away hundreds of their product. And they fail to understand what the Amazon review is for and who the Amazon reviewer is.

Again simply, Amazon reviews are written by and for Amazon customers. Let me repeat that: Amazon reviews are written by and for Amazon customers. And now Amazon is cleaning house. And the reviewers come to the forums looking for answers and help.

So here is help. One of the regular TRF posters, Maine Colonial, created this post. If you are a coupon club reviewer, are thinking about becoming one, know one, were one, or are a customer disgusted by the influx of “honest and unbiased” reviews, then read this:

Amazon has been purging lots of reviewers over the past several months, meaning wiping out all of their reviews and removing their reviewing privileges. People who have been purged often come here looking for answers, because they have received no notice from Amazon or, at most, an after-the-fact email saying they may have engaged in manipulation or violated Amazon’s Terms of Service.

We are not Amazon employees on this forum, but we’ve read a lot here, on Facebook, Reddit and other places; enough to give us some good ideas about what’s behind the purges. And what we see is that by far the #1 common denominator of the purged reviewers has been membership in AMZ Review Traders or another “coupon club” on Facebook or its own website that gives out discounted products in exchange for reviews posted on Amazon. These outfits try to make you believe they are associated with Amazon, which is not at all true. They act as if their rules are the same as Amazon’s but the fact is that they are often contrary to Amazon’s and if you follow them, you’re likely to lose your reviews and reviewing ability.

If you have never done any discount coupon reviewing, then jump way down in this post for some other activities that seem to lead to purging.

First, I have to warn you that ALL of the purged couponers say “I obeyed all the rules and my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased.” You’re kidding yourself, because the way the coupon system works is biased in favor of sellers, and anyone who follows the coupon club rules and requests is almost bound to have violated Amazon’s policies. You may not have realized it, but just being in the coupon club system is a problem, regardless of the content of your reviews and how accurate you believe your ratings are.

Every time you did any of these things, you helped a vendor violate Amazon’s term for sellers:

▶︎ Reviewed a product from a vendor who gave out huge numbers of discount codes (even if those huge numbers of codes were given out after yours);

▶︎ Went to the vendor’s product listing on Amazon by using a link provided by the vendor that included search terms in it, not just the products ASIN identification on Amazon (these links are called super URLs);

▶︎ Added products to your Amazon wish list at the vendor’s request;

▶︎ At the vendor’s request, you upvoted positive reviews on products and/or downvoted negative reviews;

▶︎ Agreed to the vendor’s request to contact it before posting a negative review;

▶︎ Reviewed to help the seller;

▶︎ Got an Amazon Verified Purchase on a product even though you got the product at a deep discount. (Amazon is removing those AVPs now, but that’s a recent development.)

All of these things manipulate Amazon’s product ranking algorithms, which falsely elevates products in the results when a shopper is looking for something on Amazon. Does it make sense that no-name products would dominate search results, so that a shopper would have to wade through pages of them before finding established brands like OXO, Zyliss, Anker, Eucerin and other recognizable names? Of course not, but it happened because of these manipulative practices, and shoppers spending their own money complained loudly. Now Amazon is cracking down and wiping out reviews and reviewers who are part of the manipulative system.

I could stop here and say that it’s not your fault you were purged; you were just an unwitting victim of vendor wrongdoing. But that’s not entirely true.

➠ When a vendor told you that you needed to post your review right away or named a time limit of just a few days, didn’t it occur to you that it didn’t give you enough time to use the product the way a real purchaser would?

➠ When the vendor asked you not to post a negative review, didn’t you suspect that they really just went on selling the product rather than fixing the problems?

➠ When the vendors graded you on your reviews, giving higher-graded reviewers better and more products, didn’t you notice that the way to get good vendor grades was to quickly post high-rated reviews and lots of them? Did you think that was really helping shoppers who are spending their own hard-earned money on Amazon?

➠ Did you post lots of reviews over a short period of time? Do you think it’s truly helpful to shoppers for you write large volumes of short, unspecific reviews that you didn’t spend a lot of time, thought and effort on?

➠ Did your star ratings match up with the text of your reviews? We’ve seen so many cases where a coupon reviewer will report that a product didn’t work or had some real problems, and yet the reviewer gives the product three, four or even five stars. That’s a betrayal of the shoppers who are trying to use reviews to make good shopping choices.

➠ When you posted reviews for multiple beauty aids and/or supplements, didn’t you realize it was dishonest to claim you used them all and could tell which one actually had the effect you claimed in your review?

➠ When you picked these beauty aids and supplements, didn’t you wonder how the vendor could afford to send out so many at such big discounts when the name brands cost a lot more money? Did you verify that they contained the ingredients they claimed? Did it cross you mind that maybe they didn’t and could actually be harmful?

➠ Were you an Amazon reviewer before you started reviewing for discount-coupon products? If not, did you familiarize yourself with the way regular Amazon reviewers write reviews? Did you read Amazon’s guidelines for reviews? (That’s *Amazon’s* guidelines, not what the coupon club and vendors *told* you the rules/guidelines are.) If you had done that, you would have noticed that reviews that Amazon shoppers vote as helpful are full of information that a shopper would want to know about the product, and they tend *not* to be full of misspelled words and incorrect punctuation and capitalization.

➠ When vendors wanted you to have a Prime membership so that they could use that to get free shipping to send their products to you, did you think that was something Amazon would be OK with? Think about it. Shipping is expensive and you were getting that vendor a whole lot of free shipping–for stuff that Amazon wasn’t exactly cleaning up on in a big way.

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What if you aren’t a coupon reviewer but you’ve been purged? Well, we don’t know much about that situation, but there are some possibilities.

Did you do a lot of review “washing,” meaning deleting a review and reposting it? Amazon used to tell people washing was just fine, but they changed their position sometime in 2015. Washing strips away negative votes, so that’s now considered to be review manipulation. It’s still not clear how washing could lead to a purge, though. Some people purged admit they washed, at least sometimes. But others point to a number of very highly ranked reviewers who still do the washing regularly.

Another practice that may lead to a purge is using multiple reviewing accounts. Amazon has a problem if someone has more than one reviewing account and uses them to review the same product(s). This is considered to be review manipulation. Using multiple accounts to vote on reviews is also considered to be review manipulation.

Being a paid reviewer (a Fiverr reviewer, for example) is a sure-fire way to be purged.

Amazon uses various analytics to identify cases in which a reviewer has a relationship with the product reviewed. For example, friends-and-family reviews, quid pro quo reviews (popular among author groups). These violations of Amazon’s reviewing rules are more likely to lead to the offending reviews being removed, not to a purge of the reviewer’s entire portfolio and loss of reviewing privileges.

A murky area is the case of reviewers who post reviews both on Amazon and on their own blogs, with links from the blog to Amazon that result in the blogger/reviewer receiving pay if the person clicking on the link then buys the item on Amazon. It’s not at all clear at this time, but it appears that this scenario can lead to a purge. Until more is known, a blogger who has monetized his/her blog might be better off not reviewing the same product on both the blog and Amazon.

Amazon now invites people to notify them if they think anyone is engaged in review manipulation. So there may be cases where a purge came about because of Amazon studying someone’s review portfolio after that person has been reported.

If you want to appeal your purging, you can write to review-appeals@amazon.com. From what we’ve seen, you get one opportunity to make your case, but your chances of a reprieve are almost nonexistent. If you do decide to write, claiming you didn’t do anything wrong isn’t likely to help you. It’s better to try to figure out what you might have done that Amazon could have had a problem with, acknowledge that problem and affirm that you understand why that’s an issue and you won’t do it anymore.

Practicing My Positivity- Lacey Crowe Style

Yesterday I reblogged K J Charles and linked to Scarlet’s blog on BL wherein an author, Lacey Crowe, blogged about only positive reviews and remarks. Spread the joy around.  Well, I’m gonna give it a shot, just for you Lacey.

Turns out Lacey is an editor and reviewer besides being an author.

 

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This gives me pause because what happens when a total disaster is submitted? Does she say anything relevant or pass it by with a polite but useless to the author thanks-but-no-thanks?

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I applaud the sentiment while wondering how she handles the reality. The reality being most books don’t rise to the lofty heights she seems to be looking for and some books read like they were written by someone who slept through their English classes and dashed off their baby, uh, book while drunk. Then there are those authors who are confident they are the next Dickens or Steinbeck or have written a groundbreaking book like the world has never seen and desperately needs.

How is Lacey going to handle all these authors in a positive manner? And is a positive manner really helpful in some of these cases? These are relevant questions but right now I’m going to practice my positivity.

Let’s look at a review of Lacey’s book, here’s one from Amazon:

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And here is the same review, same reviewer on  Goodreads:

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A glowing review. It just leaves out a couple pertinent details. But first I’m renaming Paul. He is now Paul the Positive Pigeon. Paul is here, and he says:

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“Poo-poo”

Oh-oh. When Paul the Positive Pigeon poos instead of coos there is trouble in River City. What has Paul found? Look at that screenshot that is titled “What We do”.  We. Lacey has a partner. Uh-oh. Could it be?

Why, yes, it positively is.

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Here they are on their BBR&E site.

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Here they are performing together.

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Here they are- married. That’s right, not only business but life partners. Now go back to that review, “This one, however, was well worth my time and money.” Uh, Jason, your  wife made you buy a copy? Somehow I doubt that.

Whoops, that wasn’t so positive. How about this, I’m positive that omitting your business and personal relationship in such a positive review will not be looked on by others with positivity. I’m also positive that Amazon does not allow these reviews. I am further positive that this kind of positivity will arouse feelings of resentment and envy in other authors who have not stooped to doing this because they follow the rules for any number of really positive reasons and they could use another 5 star review but they won’t step over that line like you did. This behavior is neither professional nor positive.

I’m also positive that you can learn something from Lacey and Jason even if it is only what not to do.

Another very dangerous word (very long rant)

[reblogged from Linda Hilton on BookLikes]

 

(Yes, I should have been writing LiNoWriMo.  I wrote this instead.)

 

Honesty.

It does not pay to be honest.  It is not safe to be honest.  Honesty is a very dangerous commodity.

In the past, with my blogs and reviews and other writing, I have tried to be as honest as I can.  I believed very sincerely that that was what was needed.

Honesty may have been needed, but it was not wanted.  I learned that over a year ago when Goodreads instituted the infamous September 2013 Purge.  I learned it again last month when Goodreads permanently banned me.

It doesn’t make any difference.  I don’t know how to be dishonest about these things.  I can lie about other things — I assure you, I’m no saint — but what point is there to lying in a book review?  Or in a discussion related to books and writing and reading?  What’s the freaking point?

Authors need to get a clue.  I am amazed, yes truly amazed, that there is so much ignorance out there still, after all this time.  Maybe it’s more willful ignorance than the innocent kind.  And yes, this is the kind of not-nice-but-honest comment that gets me into trouble.  No doubt I will get into trouble again before this post is finished.

Reviews are not commercials.  Reviewers are not there — wherever there is — to write ad copy for authors.  How difficult is this to understand?  Leaving out the semi-pro reviewers — by which I mean those who have formal book blogs and regularly obtain advance copies for the explicit purpose of reviewing — most reviewers are just readers.  They’re consumers.  They bought the damn book, or obtained it free when the author was giving it away, or checked it out of the library, or whatever, and then they read it.  Where in that commercial transaction is it decreed that the reader owes the writer anything at all?  Where is the requirement that the reader help the author sell her book to other readers?  Or help the author become a better writer?  Or fix the mistakes in the present book?

That’s right.  It’s not there.  Readers do not have any obligation to review at all.  They don’t have any obligation to rate a book on Goodreads, or shelve it on Leafmarks, or proofread it or anything else.  None. At. All.

And readers are most certainly not obligated to lie for you, the author of a terrible book.

You know who you are.  I don’t have to put your name out here for everyone to see.  You know who you are.

I’ve read your books.  Or at least I’ve tried to.  And they’re terrible.  And you just can’t stand to have that truth held up in front of you.  You just can’t stand it.

Truth is a very powerful thing.  It can be painful, very painful, but if it has the power to hurt, then it must indeed be very powerful.

You will hate me, if you don’t already, but you cannot stop me from being honest.  You can, like someone else about whom I dared to tell the truth, take revenge against me.  I already know, however, because I am capable of at least a certain amount of honesty with myself, that I cannot be anything but honest with others, especially if they are being dishonest in a way that would hurt the innocent.  I know, because I do try to be as honest with myself as I am with others, that this makes me Not a Nice Person.  I know that people will dislike me because of it.  I know that I have almost no defense against them or that revenge, because my only defense is the same damn honesty that got me into the mess in the first place.

Your book is terrible.  Whether you’re so ignorant that you can’t see it for yourself, or you’re in total emotional denial, or you know it but you’ve decided to just lie about it anyway, the fact remains:  Your book is terrible.  But you want me to lie about it so someone else will buy it?  Is that the name of your game?  You want me to try to get someone to believe that they will be sufficiently entertained by this piece of tripe you have written and published so that they will fork over $2.99 or $3.99 or whatever the asking price is?  The only way anyone will think this piece of garbage is readable is if people lie about it.  People like me.   Well, no, not exactly.   People like me won’t do it.  We won’t lie.

What will you do then?  You can, if you so choose, pay people to lie about it.  You will pay them to post online that they loved your book, that it’s the greatest thing ever written, that it should be made into a movie starring George Clooney, Orlando Bloom, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian.  Some people will believe those lies.  Most, however, won’t.

Your writing stinks.  But you don’t want anyone to point that out.  Rather than be honest and want honest “reviews” of your book, you want to silence the honest voices.  You throw up a litany of reasons why low ratings and negative reviews are by definition  invalid.  You think no one should read books they aren’t enjoying, that they should not rate or review books they have not completely read, that they should think of the author’s feelings and only review books they can give five stars to.  You declare only other authors are qualified to write negative reviews because they are the only ones who know how much blood, sweat, and agony goes into the writing of a book, any book.  And then you accuse any author who posts a negative review of being jealous and cruel and unsupportive of her “fellow authors.”

By that standard, authors are only allowed to post positive reviews . . . or none at all.  And readers, who by that definition are disqualified from leaving negative reviews, can only post positive ones.

You want readers to lie by omission.  You want them to shut up and say nothing about your awful book, as though that will make your writing any better.  It won’t.

Your book is indeed awful.  You can’t write.  Your story is banal, your characters are wooden, your plot is implausible.  Your cover looks like something knocked together by a couple of 12-year-olds, and your formatting is an embarrassment to MSWord.  This product has no redeeming features whatsoever.

Yet if I say that, and if I provide evidence to substantiate my claims, you will call me a troll and a bully and a meanie.  You’ve done it in the past.  You will accuse me of jealousy, and I will laugh hysterically because there is no reason for someone who is reasonably competent with the English language to be jealous of you and this file of putrescent gibberish that you call a book.

You will tell me that I should think of your tender feelings, but I should not care at all about the potential readers to whom my silence is a lie of tacit approval.  Those readers are nothing to you, or at least nothing more than their credit card numbers on their one-click accounts.  To you they have no feelings worthy of respect, worthy of honesty.

You want me to be what I am not.  I am not a liar.  And I will not lie for you.

A few people stood up with me when I took on Goodreads (which is well on its way to becoming nothing more than the advertising arm of Amazon if it isn’t already) but most did not.  A few have spoken out since my banning, but most of gone back to their previous silence.  It is one thing to “take one for the team” by reading and then reviewing a terrible book, because of course that is done voluntarily and there are a lot of laughs to go around in the process.  And one really doesn’t take any kind of risk when doing that.

I took one for the team over and over and over.  Under my real name.  The blog posts are still on here.  And there are screenshots of many of the now-erased posts on Goodreads.

I put my Goodreads account on the line in the name of honesty.  I am not one to blow my own horn when it comes to my books, but I will blow my horn ’til the cows come home over what I did on Goodreads:  I documented the dishonesty.  And that’s what I was banned for.

The excuse that will probably be given, if there ever is one, is that I wasn’t nice enough.  And that much is true.  I wasn’t nice.  I was honest, but I wasn’t nice.

When authors came onto Goodreads threads and asked whether or not they should buy reviews, I was honest:  I told them they shouldn’t.  I told them those reviews might be removed.  I told them those reviews could be identified and then their books would be labeled as “This one is so bad the author has to pay people to pretend they read it.”

Could I have been nicer?  Could I have written, “Oh, dear, I don’t think that would be a very good idea.  What if people found out you bought those reviews?  What would they think of your book?  What would they think of you?”  Yes, I suppose I could have written it that way.  Would it have got the point across?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Would it have been me?

No, it would not.

I understand the allure of reviews.  I recognize that they are repeatedly touted as the key to making sales.  One has only to read the posts of the frankly desperate authors who beg for reviews because reviews are, they believe, needed to generate sales.  They believe this as surely as they believe night follows day.  Except that night really does follow day; unfortunately, reviews do not generate sales.

Amazon, however, has a vested interest in fostering that belief.

Amazon wants people to keep uploading books.  The cost to Amazon is negligible, since they do none of the actual work of publishing.  They do not edit, provide artwork, or market those author-published works.  They do, however, get a cut of each one that’s purchased.

Though these are rough numbers and there are exceptions on all, these are the basic figures.  On a 99-cent Kindle book, the author’s royalty rate is 35%.   Amazon keeps 65 cents off the top, the author gets 34 cents.  The same percentages hold up to $2.98.  At $2.99 and up, the author can elect a 70% royalty, which means Amazon’s cut is 90 cents plus they charge a few cents to cover the cost of digital storage and delivery.

Amazon is much better positioned to cover the minuscule costs of those thousands of free downloads than the authors are, even the perma-free titles.  Will that benefit someday disappear?  I expect it probably will, but that’s another discussion.

So who benefits from the Kindle Direct Publishing platform the most?  Amazon.   And it doesn’t matter how good or how bad the product is, Amazon still gets a cut.

Crappy books do not sell.  Not even hundreds of glowing 5-star reviews can push crappy books into best-seller status — and profits for the authors.  Some of you who are reading this are very well aware of what you’ve done to rack up those reviews and ratings.

Have you given the books away free and then asked readers to leave a review?  Have you used social media to make friends with your readers, in Facebook groups or on Twitter, on Goodreads and Amazon and Booklikes, and then solicited just a short review from them, telling them how much it would help you?  Did you make them feel obligated to do so?  Of course you weren’t really pressuring them.  You just sort of left the suggestion in their minds, and they of course being flattered were more than eager to do so.  (“She’s such a nice person, isn’t she?”)

Why is it then that the next book, the one you didn’t give away free and didn’t pressure readers to buy and read, didn’t get hundreds of 5-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads?  Why do you suppose that is?  Maybe because people didn’t like it?  Maybe they lied in their reviews on the first book because they’d been flattered by your attention, but in reality they knew the book was garbage?

Amazon doesn’t care why your second book didn’t sell.  Or your third, fourth, or any of the subsequent titles.  Did it ever occur to you that maybe Amazon is using you as their loss leaders to put the competition out of business?  Probably not.  Probably not any more than it ever occurred to you to read the 1- and 2-star reviews that were left for your crappy books on Amazon and Goodreads, on Leafmarks and Booklikes.

Nor does Amazon care if you buy reviews.  Many of you do, of course.  Many of you have been caught red-handed on fiverr.com.  Many of those reviews have been removed from Goodreads and the reviewers’ accounts have been terminated, but very few of you have lost your author status there, unless like Michael Beas and Cheryl Persons you were also selling reviews on Goodreads.  But do you remember how this paragraph started?  “Nor does Amazon care if you buy reviews.”

Amazon doesn’t care because they’ve got that wonderful “Verified Purchase” button.  It’s supposed to imply that the accompanying review is a legitimate consumer opinion, the kind that’s required under Federal Trade Commission guidelines.  There are probably a lot of genuine consumers who trust that label.  But you’ve figured out a way around that, which is exactly what Amazon wanted you to do.  So now when you buy your “reviews” from fiverr and the other shill outfits, you buy another “gig” so the reviewer can buy your book and get that “Verified Purchase” stamp.  And Amazon gets their cut and they’re happy to turn a blind eye to the transaction.

How’s that working for you?  Two fiverr gigs are going to cost you $10.  On your $2.99 book you’ll net roughly $2.00.  You’ll get that back when the reviewer buys your book, and then you have to hope they don’t return it and pocket the extra $2.99.  Even if they honor the agreement and don’t ask for a refund, that review has to generate four more sales just for you to break even.

Amazon got 90-some cents for doing pretty much nothing.  That’s why they don’t care if you buy reviews that say your paranormal YA chicklit book is better than Tolkien and Herbert and Martin and Gabaldon and Rowling all wrapped up together even if anyone with more than twelve functioning brain cells can see it’s absolute dreck.  Amazon has a vested interest in not caring about, well, about honesty or integrity or ethics or quality or any of that bullshit.  Honesty and integrity and ethics aren’t profitable.  And Amazon, like all corporations, is all about profit.

None of the Amazon accounts identified as belonging to fiverr “reviewers” have been removed from Amazon by Amazon.  None of their reviews have been removed by Amazon.  Some of those individuals attempted to establish new Goodreads accounts but were quickly identified and quickly removed.  However, Amazon doesn’t remove them.  Even though Amazon’s review guidelines explicitly state that paid reviews are a violation, no amount of reporting “abuse” will get them removed.  I know this because I’ve reported them.  Repeatedly.  They’re still there.

During the months that I routinely monitored Goodreads and Amazon reviews to connect them with fiverr “reviewers,” I came to be very familiar with the names under which they posted their reviews.   They’re still posting.  That means you’re still buying.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m still monitoring.  I’m still taking screen shots, though not as many as I did before.  And of course I’m not reporting to Goodreads.  Why should I?

I already took one for the team, a big one.  I did my part.  Now it’s someone else’s turn, if they care enough that is.  My guess is that they don’t.

Does that mean you’re in the clear?  Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe I’ll get angry enough with you again and start posting more screenshots here on Booklikes.   Because remember,  I’m not a nice person.  I have no reason to be nice any more.  My being nice or not nice really has nothing to do with it, does it?  No, the real issue is that I’m honest, and you just can’t stand that.  You just can’t stand it at all, can you.

Maybe you’re one of those authors who self-righteously brags that you never bought a review and you didn’t stoop so low as to give your books away to anyone.  You put time and effort into your books and you don’t think you should let someone benefit from your effort without, by God, paying you for the right to read it.

But when I look at your book on Amazon, I see more familiar names.  No, not fiverr shills but the names of other authors, other self-publishing authors, other self-publishing authors who have been desperately looking for people to buy and read and review their books and they’ll do the same in return.  It’s different, you insist, when you agree to swap honest reviews with each other.

You and I both know those reviews aren’t honest in the least.  You and the other author are going to stroke each other’s egos because you’re afraid that if you don’t tell him his steaming pile of manure is the next Hunger Games, he’ll retaliate and let the world know your book isn’t the next Interview with a Vampire.  Both of you believe that 5-star reviews will generate sales, and that’s what it’s all about.  You’re no different from Amazon in that respect (pun intended).  You don’t care one fig about honesty.  You only care about sales.  You will lie, and you will ask someone else to lie, in the name of selling your terrible, terrible book.

The CJRR continues — that nefarious group of self-publishing authors who rate each other’s absolutely suckworthy spewings with unalloyed 5-star ratings and attack anyone who dares do otherwise.  The sockpuppet ratings continue unabated.  The fiverr shills haven’t missed a beat.  It gets worse instead of better on Goodreads and Amazon, because that’s the way Amazon wants it.

Readers may ask, “But why?  Why does Amazon want to promote crap?”

Because it sells.  If it doesn’t sell itself, it at least sells advertising.  Every time a reader clicks on a free book, other items pop up.  Try it sometime.  Recommended.  Readers who bought this also bought.  And so on.  And Goodreads is just an advertising platform for Amazon.  So Goodreads doesn’t really care either.

They cared a little bit for a little while.  They cared long enough to remove a few of the shadier accounts.  Michael Beas with more than 350 purchased reviews.  “Meghan” from Manila with almost 800.  The publicist and her sock puppet army who had over 2500 5-star reviews posted on Goodreads.  Did someone from Amazon come along and tell the Goodreads staff that they had to axe Linda Hilton’s account because Linda Hilton wasn’t being nice?

Did Amazon not like it that I was posting screen shots that linked Amazon “Top Reviewers” to fiverr accounts?

Were publicists like Kelsey McBride buying enough ads for their clients on Goodreads and Amazon that those websites took the cash over ethics to let those publicists, their employees, their sockpuppets, continue to post reviews in violation of FTC regulations and didn’t want Linda Hilton to publicize (pun intended) that information?

Yes, I’m angry at you uploaders — you’re not really authors at all — because you’ve fouled the nest we all need to live in.  I despise you, and I know the risk I’m taking even in posting this screed.  Amazon is big enough and powerful enough, and I am insignificant enough, that they could refuse to publish my books.  Believe me, the loss of my sales wouldn’t hurt them financially.  (Actually, it probably wouldn’t hurt me financially very much either.)  If they do that, you’ll know and I’ll know that what I’ve written here is important enough for them to want to silence me.

They don’t go out of their way to silence the insignificant.  Honesty is never insignificant.  It’s too dangerous to be insignificant.

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