Episode 66 – Scribd, Flip-Outs, and Indie Reviews

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Question of the Week: Is Amazon’s removal of some indie reviews fair? Why or why not? Should Amazon change its policy? If yes, how so?

Between book launches (Bryan’s new novella) and other podcasts (Jim’s upcoming Authorpreneur interview with Andy Weir), the turbulent twosome brought you one of their most info-packed shows yet! They discussed three tips on hiring a virtual assistant, pitching new readers, and occasionally turning off the computer. The news was even meatier than usual this week with stories on social media, Nook’s new website, the Amazon review removal controversy, the reaction to the KU pages read rate, and Scribd’s culling of romance titles. This week’s Question of the Week: Is Amazon’s removal of some indie reviews fair? Why or why not? Should Amazon change its policy? If yes, how so?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How hiring a VA can cut down on your marketing time
  • Why you should devise “pick-up lines” for new readers
  • What you should do to recharge your writing
  • Why the social media era may be changing dramatically
  • What Nook’s recent website troubles could mean for authors
  • Jim’s opinion of why Amazon instituted its review policy
  • Around how much authors will be paid per KU page read
  • Why Scribd’s romance decision could hurt them significantly
Links: 
Question of the Week: Is Amazon’s removal of some indie reviews fair? Why or why not? Should Amazon change its policy? If yes, how so?

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  • “BS&N”

    hehehe If that is a typo, leave it.

    • Bryan

      Not a typo :).

  • We wish Jim would flirt with us

    • I’m married Roland.

      • Bryan

        It never fails. Jim only responds to the jokes ;).

  • Kate M. Colby

    Obviously, there are authors out there who try to boost their ratings by having family and friends provide positive reviews. Sometimes, I feel like this is blatant gaming of the system, but sometimes, the book may be worthy of those five stars.

    Personally, I would like to see Amazon leave these reviews on the book’s sales page, but qualify them the way it marks whether the review comes from a “Verified Purchase.” Instead of removing the review, it could say “This reviewer may have a personal relationship with the author.” or something to that effect. It would be a shame for honest family/friend reviews to be removed and/or positive reviews from strangers/acquaintances to be removed in error.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, the qualifying thing is a good idea. Thanks, Kate!

  • I’ve got to go with Jim on this. Worrying about it is meaningless. Every author will be effected, so none of us will be hurt by it more than our competition. The ones who will get hit the hardest are those who are truly gaming the system. So yeah, bring it on.

    • Bryan

      90% of what you worry about never happens anyway. So good point.

  • Patrick Stemp

    The reviewer thing shows Amazon doesn’t fully get (or maybe doesn’t care) how it works these days. Everything we hear tells us to build one on one relationships with our readers. That’s how you find your 100 true fans. But if you do that, their reviews get removed? Why would Amazon want to make it MORE difficult for authors to find great reviews…when those reviews drive their business? Most people are honest, so simply ask them to be. If you know the author, say so in the review. Done.

    Are Amazon’s bots crawling SMBS? If any of us here have reviewed Ted Shaves the Girl (that would sell more copies than Saves the World BTW), are those reviews going to be removed because we commented on the show?

    • Bryan

      Oh, man. I’m pretty sure Amazon would block that title. 😉

  • Raphyel M. Jordan

    I think the reason so many authors are up in arms about this issue aren’t due to their concerns of losing a review, but many are worried that this may become a downward spiral, where multiple honest reviews might be taken down.

    I know, coming from an author who struggles to get reviews, the thought of losing one can be like a slap in the face.

    • Bryan

      Good point, Raphyel. I’ve worked like crazy to get my reviews. I’ve had several taken down, and it’s never fun.

  • Kim smith

    I want an episode where you guys talk to a VA. It’s a fascinating subject!

    • Bryan

      Great idea. We’ll keep this one in mind :).

  • RachelMedhurst

    I don’t think Amazon’s policy is fair. A reader is savvy enough to see when a review is fake, they don’t need Amazon to make that assumption for them. So far, there have been many reports of legitimate reviews from people that are not friends or family with the author not posting.
    If Amazon were able to actually be so thorough that they could pick up on the fake reviews, then maybe it would be okay. But at the end of the day, who is it really benefiting by blocking the reviews in the first place?
    Maybe I’ve not done enough research, because to be honest, I don’t worry too much about it.
    Is the review process so game played that it’s making a lot of people rich just because they have loads of family and friends posting reviews for them? (I’ve never had one review from a family member because they don’t read my books lol!)

    I’m typing this in my British accent…I can’t remember how Bryan referred to it now! 🙂

    • Bryan

      Snooty!

      • RachelMedhurst

        I thought you were calling me snooty because of my comment. I’d forgotten that I also posted about the accent haha! I don’t have a snooty accent. Even though I was born in Surrey, it wasn’t in the posh part. 🙂

  • The low hanging fruit of obvious abuse should be dealt with, but the free market takes care of the rest. If a bad book has a couple of good reviews from family and friends, that will quickly change once others buy it. The impact on Amazon’s bottom line if that occurs has to be minimal at best. It’s also fair to say the opinion of my book by a co-worker is equally valid as a stranger. Getting traction on books, especially first in series, is hard enough. As Jim said, I don’t think algorithms effectively understand the nuance of human relations. Amazon’s algorithmic hardline seems to be going too far. But it’s their show. Our participation in their world is voluntary.

    We can have opinions about all this, but Amazon is like America and our books are like small business. We may not like regulatory changes decided by the government, but what can we do about it? Suck it up and adapt.

    • Bryan

      Well, in America, we can at least pretend our votes can change policies ;).

      • Haha. True. I love to pretend our politicians aren’t wasting my money too.

  • Just a thought – You wonder how Amazon knows if you are friends with the person giving the reviews. Don’t they own Goodreads where you are Friends. Kind of simple to find out if the author and reviewer know each other.

    • Great observation Vinny. Didn’t think of that.

    • Goodreads friends are like Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Most aren’t actual friends.

    • Marianne Sciucco

      I think we need to define “know.” If the reviewer is my mother, BFF, or dependent on my success, that’s one thing. If it’s someone who follows me on Goodreads, that’s another.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, good point, Vinny. Time to liquidate my Goodreads ;).

  • Sandy Williams

    Simple solution: instead of Amazon taking reviews down if their algorithm decides there’s a connection between a reviewer and an author, they could put an asterisk on the review saying their might be a connection. Readers are smart. They can decide on their own how seriously to take a review.

    I completely understand Amazon’s paranoia over possibly fake or biased reviews, though. My faith in Amazon reviews–mostly for products, not for books–has decreased tremendously over the last year. I hesitate a lot longer than I used to before making a purchase, and that can translate into lost sales.

    • Bryan

      I like the asterisk idea!

  • Marianne Sciucco

    All readers should be allowed to review the books they read whether they know the author or not. If a suspect review is in line with what other reviewers are saying, it seems fair to allow it to be published on the site. But if a book is getting 1-3 stars and terrible reviews and a handful of people proven to have a personal connection to the author are 5-starring it and giving it rave reviews, perhaps the reviews should be removed. Allowing these reviews to sit in the Editorial section and not the customer section seems odd to me because I believe these reviews carry more “weight”; at least they do on my Amazon page. Amazon should change its policy and stop “Big Brothering” its customers.

    • Bryan

      Maybe if enough people sign that petition, Bezos will listen to you, Marianne.

  • I agree with others that Amazon’s review policy doesn’t sit well with me. On a small scale, one or two reviews here and there don’t matter much, but as an overall trend, I think this could be an issue–especially as someone who spends a lot of time fostering a community with book bloggers and readers via social media. I’d hate to hear that any of my readers were blocked from posting a review because of haphazard application of this rule. I *do* agree with the spirit of the rule (I get that they’re trying to eliminate sock puppet reviews, etc), but as others here have said, readers are pretty good at spotting sham reviews.

    To address another issue, I was one of those unlucky authors who had her books taken down from Scribd this week. I never made much money there (Oyster has done much better for me), but I would MUCH rather they cut royalties and given authors the choice about whether or not to withdraw their books based on the new terms. The 60% royalty rate always seemed a little bit too good to be true, and I was never expecting it to last forever–but I always figured I’d make the decision about whether to stay when the time came for the model to change (that’s what I get for assuming! haha). And I agree that the tiered payment/subscription system would have also been a better alternative. Instead, they’ve potentially upset/driven away a portion of their subscribers, which seems like the WORST possible solution (though… I’ve heard some tin-foil-hat theories that that’s exactly what they’re trying to do… refocus their product to attract only their *ideal* customers, those who WON’T be reading 3-4 books a week. And on that note–if romance readers’ voracious book-reading habits took them by surprise, their market research probably wasn’t very thorough. 😉 )

    Sad to see it happen, since I *do* like the idea of subscription services… but I’m not sure what the solution is to keeping both users and content creators happy while also keeping the business afloat. (Which is why I’m not running one myself. 😉 )

    • Bryan

      That stinks that your books were pulled! Yeah, I would not want to run a subscription service right about now. Or ever :).

  • Spider McGee

    I prefer to answer the question that wasn’t asked.

    I commented a few weeks ago that I was re-booting my writing career with this snazzy new pen name and Amazon exclusivity. After thinking about it, I decided to just go wide through Draft2Digital and see what happened for a while. I can tell you, after a few days, nothing happened…and my only sales so far have been on Amazon. However, I can report to you that B&N are taking their sweet time approving a book (actually a short story) I uploaded three days ago. In fact, of the four titles I’ve put up, they’ve successfully populated quickly on every possible platform (and I checked them all) *except* B&N. I’ve never dealt with them before, so I don’t know if they’re just slow or if my allegedly misogynistic typewriter-and-monkey-heavy stories are just too much for them. Are they always this slow or have I just submitted to B&N the week of the final e-book meltdown?

  • Owen Zupp

    It is somewhat disappointing although I won’t lose sleep over the issue. I had a promotional giveaway of my titles, however when some of the winners purchased subsequent titles their reviews were blocked. It effectively nullified one aspect of the initial promotion, which was disappointing….but not terminal. 🙂 Keep up the great work lads.

    • Bryan

      Glad it wasn’t terminal :). Thanks, Owen!

  • Chris Syme

    It’s okay to not like the new system–and most of us don’t–but it doesn’t matter. Amazon won’t budge. Being able to be gamed is much more of a concern to Amazon than kicking out a few legitimate reviews. The system doesn’t favor the collaboration and fellowship culture of indies, so be careful. I do like Sandy William’s idea of a disclaimer of association on questionable reviews. That, to me, is a bigger deterrent than removing them. It makes us all more cognizant of who we ask to review our books (and our conversations w/people on Goodreads).

    And a p.s. on the social media issue: social media isn’t going away. But the trouble is effective strategies evolve–that is where the time suck is. To keep up takes lots of time. In social, strategies are like vapors–they disappear when the climate (culture) changes.

    • Bryan

      Great points, Chris. Thanks!

  • Daniel Martone

    It is in the author’s best interest to connect to their audience… now they will need to be careful how close they get.

    • Bryan

      I will no longer be hugging my fans.