Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Much less Amazon for me

Back in the day, I wrote a lot of reviews for Amazon, and at certain points, I had a good rank to show for it. That was when it was fun: I read or watched something, then shared my thoughts on it. Some of my reviews were pretty long, but people appreciated my thoroughness. For some reason, I was invited to review for the Vine program, which meant that Amazon would send me things to review. While it was ridiculous to consider that a form of compensation, it certainly made it easier to try new things. I still think thoughtful, non-professional reviews are what gave Amazon an edge: while there were always abuses, for the most part, it was just people giving their opinions.

But then it started not being fun, and then it started getting ridiculous. Some vendors started paying for reviews, Amazon started making it progressively more difficult to leave a review, then started getting rid of some altogether. And that would be okay if Amazon hadn't been so indiscriminate, as they were with things like, for example, where an author put their table of contents. I won't bore you if you're not an author selling on Amazon, but there's a whole universe of ways in which some unscrupulous authors gamed Amazon's system and then equally egregious ways Amazon addressed it. Everyone who's worried about AI taking over the world needs to examine Amazon's dysfunctional algorithms, and then after that read David Gaughran's blog to discover how working with Amazon can feel like a bizarre nightmare.

I knew this and I stewed about it, thinking that my days on the system were numbered. When, finally, I realized that one of my reviews on someone else's book had been removed without any explanation, I'd had enough. Over one weekend this winter I spent hours removing every review on Amazon that I could. You'll still find four reviews from over a decade ago, but that's about 700 less than what was there before. Had I been simply deleting the content, it wouldn't have taken that long, but I wanted to preserve the reviews for many of the books. The majority of them went onto my Boston Public Library account, but a handful went onto Goodreads. Absolutely worth the trouble.

Can someone tell me what that arrow is pointing to?

I knew it was only a matter of time before Amazon started deleting reviews that had been left on my products, so I was only a little disappointed to find that I had lost reviews from two different people this weekend. I'm waiting for more, and frankly, I'm waiting to be delisted from them altogether. No, I haven't done anything to merit that, but neither have a lot of people who have suffered the same fate.

Please allow me to insert the perfunctory "of course I'm grateful to Amazon for opening up the market so indies could self-publish" and "I know Amazon is a private business and they can change their terms and conditions any time they want" yada yada yada. Sure, all of that. But it's also gotten ridiculous. The value they brought was that they eliminated the need for many of the "gatekeepers". And that's great, but at least you knew which rules those parties operated under. It seems they've replaced the old guard with reactive caprice. Sorry, I can't bring myself to say thank you anymore.

I have no idea what the alternative is, but for now, I hope everyone expands their universe beyond Amazon. Aside from your local bookstores (yeah, I know, a lot of them have closed), there's Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, and even Etsy. I know, many of those sites are not perfect, but the point isn't to replace Amazon with something else but to take advantage of all the options in the marketplace. Who knows if that will force Amazon to be better, but I know that nothing will if everything stays the same.

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