Are writers entitled to review other writers on Amazon?

AmazonThere’s a controversy going on right now on Amazon. (Isn’t there always.) There’ve been numerous controversies in the past of course, but the one I’m talking about today is the recent bar Amazon have put on authors reviewing other authors books on Amazon. Some writers have seen dozens or hundreds of reviews vanish from their profiles. Amazon’s position is that it doesn’t allow a review on a product from the maker of a rival product.

Who’s right and who’s wrong?

I do believe there’s a logic to Amazon’s position. They can’t let someone working for Apple come on the site and diss products by Samsung for example. There’s an obvious conflict of interest. But is Amazon right to treat authors like the manufacturer of a product? Or are writers special? Or are other words for special in this case “privileged” and “entitled”? What about favourable reviews? Is there a conflict of interest if the writer is reviewing a friend’s book, or someone in their own genre, or someone who’s with the same publisher. I know I’d feel a bit inhibited about publishing a negative review of a book from my own publisher. And does what applies to writers apply to other creative people whose work is sold through Amazon, like musicians?

Are writers actually in competition with each other in the same way as two manufacturers of the same product? Does it depend on how close they are in terms of genre? Two people writing m/m romance can obviously be seen as directly competing for the money of the buying public. But what about a writer of m/m romance and a writer of YA? Or a writer of non-fiction? They’re all books, but are they in competition with each other any more than a desktop printer is in competition with a TV rather than only with other desktop printers?

How close do the books have to be in content before they are considered competition? What’s the competition for a romance novel? All books? All fiction books? All romance books? Or only books in the same romance sub-genre? But many readers don’t stick purely to one sub-genre, so a m/f sci-fi romance and a m/m historical romance could indeed by competing for my finite book budget money!

Amazon’s owners can do what they like with their site of course, but Amazon is so important in the book business that it’s natural people are going to get wound up about what they do. The stakes are very high. And even if they are right in principle that doesn’t mean they’ve handled the issue well. Personally I’ve stepped back from doing any more reviews in the m/m romance genre, and am cautious about others if I’ve got a connection to the writer or if they are also published by Loose Id. Reviewing is a total minefield right now, on Amazon and elsewhere and this is only one of the controversies. I’m waiting until the dust settled before I dip my toe back in those waters.

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9 thoughts on “Are writers entitled to review other writers on Amazon?

  1. I’ve never considered writers to be competitors of each other. It’s not like buying a TV or washing machine, where you buy one and won’t again for years. You buy a book, or two or three, and the next week, you buy another, or two or three… It’s rather ridiculous for Amazon to go this route, when there are so many other major problems with their review system (like spiteful reviews from readers or fans of other authors, or paid reviews, or sock puppets, or – well, you name it.). But then I don’t like Amazon any way. I go there to find a book and then buy it from some other place. :p

    1. The whole reviewing system (and nt just for books) seems to be a big problem. A reflection of how important Amazon is considered to be, I suppose.

      I like the idea you look at info about a book on Amazon and then buy elsewhere. That’s like the opposite of what lots of people do, leading bookshops to complain about being Amazon’s store front. A nice switch to do it to them. Understandable too, since Amazon has such a great website, that most of the other online retailers just can’t touch for usability and innovation.

    1. That’s definitely the core of the issue I think, treating books as a product, which to a retailer they are, but to the writer they are definitely not. It’s a clash of perspectives.

  2. I think it’s pretty ridiculous when applied to books or other creative forms. It’s been traditional for decades (at least) for publishers to get a well known author to write a pithy review comment that they can quote on the book jacket. Is it unbiased? Heck no. But it is moderated by the author’s willingness to have their name attached. If the book is crap and you recommend it, it reflects back on you in the reader’s eyes. It’s a standard sales technique. I don’t see that writing a review on Amazon is any different.

    Frankly, I think Amazon is insulting its customer base with this position. I’m entirely aware that the reviews I read are probably not unbiased, and I like to think that I’m smart enough to consider what they say and decide if the opinion is relevant to my needs and my tastes. I’ll ignore a 5-star review if all it says is “Fantastic book. Couldn’t put it down.” because there’s nothing there that convinces me the person has actually read the book.

    1. Good point about Amazon not trusting the customers to interpret reviews in their correct context and consider what bias the reviewer might have one way or another. Question is, for the average user, rather than a writer, or someone who’s got an interest in the whole politics of Amazon thing, then are they right? Do most people take a review at face value?

  3. I can understand the logic in theory, but you’d expect ‘producers of a rival product’ in this case to be more knowledgable, and therefore able to give better reviews.

    Maybe there should be a need to declare a conflict of interest at the start of the review, but given that Amazon allows people to give 5* reviews for books that haven’t been released yet, saying how excited they are for it, it seems silly, to say the least.

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