Very briefly, because there are better things to do with my time - these nuts won’t scratch themselves, after all - but I’ve been linking to Amazon’s sudden deletion of masses of book reviews on Twitter all week. Now Joe “Moral Panic” Konrath has weighed in, blaming this all on the sock puppet scandal of earlier in the year.

In short, short, shorts:

  • Amazon’s new review guidelines mean that if you’re an author you can no longer review books because you have competing products. Existing reviews are being deleted where detected.
  • Lots of people are weeping bitter tears over their lost reviews. Not least Joe, whose reviews represented “a significant time investment” and whose loss means “many authors who don’t sell as well as [him] do now have lower star averages”, hurting their sales, and this isn’t fair. (I appreciate that Joe’s reviewing is as genuine as the next guy’s, but what a strange way to make a point. To me, anyway.)
  • Amazon has a million billion customers (give or take an order of hyperbole). At most, probably a quarter of a million, maybe half a million, are authors (250k ish self-published books per year, n self-published authors, x published authors, etc. Wild estimate but let’s call it a ball park figure). A significant number of both groups leave no reviews anyway.
  • The loss of author reviews on books therefore represents - MATHS! - ((one gigagagillion - half a mill)/one gigagagillion) * percentage of OMFGbestthingeveronestarthisisshitism in population, or approximately one sparrow’s fart of overall give-a-shit impact so long as other customers aren’t all swept up in the Rapture in the meantime. It is not, frankly, that big a deal, aside from making people pissed that they took the effort and now it’s all for nought. Which is a shame, to be fair, but still.
  • Amazon cannot possibly check every review posted by hand. It must therefore employ automated systems.
  • Amazon’s detection system apparently is incapable of detecting reviews from an author’s account (secondary or otherwise) that’s not linked to an author page (i.e. one used to log in to Author Central). If this is supposed to prevent abuse of the sock variety (and that’s not a wanking reference), and this failure is genuine, this will therefore do nothing to prevent such abuse because everyone - with the exception of the occasional caught-out editor - was doing it from multiple named accounts linked to one credit card.
  • Amazon’s automated deletion system is therefore a sack of piss, if the above reports are true. The equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a hazelnut, missing, and taking out the neighbour’s window. “Your review system is open to abuse!” some people said. “Sure,” they replied, “how’s THIS for a fix?” “It’s a bit shit,” everyone said.
  • Amazon is in the happy position of not really having to give that much of a shit. The company can point at the attempt made and tell everyone to shut up. I’m frankly amazed they did anything at all.
  • Freedom of speech does not extend to privately-owned slabs of internet, much less ones run as vast commercial enterprises, any more than it does to privately-owned slabs of physical real estate when you’re not the private owner. If Amazon were pursuing authors across the net, sending legal threats to those caught reviewing books on their own websites, you would have a point. They are not and so you don’t, just the same as every other numpty on the net who’s tried to claim it.
  • If, like one commenter, you genuinely suggest "Instead of targeting legitimate reviews, why doesn’t Amazon weed out the one star reviewers? Reading the average one star review its patently obvious they have never read the book they have in their sights…" then you’re totally fucking barking.

(On a side note, that open letter wasn’t a “petition”. Petitions have to be to someone. You petition someone for something. You can’t petition the world in general, or petition yourself. It’s more of a declaration, if you want to get fancypants with your lingo.)

(Obviously I brought up that subject at the weekly meeting of the Witch Hunt Association, alongside changes to our regulation sinister robes to make them even more menacing, and upping our lobbying and/or bullying levels to national election levels of shit-shovelling. We burned three minor authors who may or may not have been guilty of something and formally castigated twelve more with a barrage of hateful email. There was a hog roast and we drank the blood of a Vine reviewer. It was good times.)

(On a further side note, I’m aware the commenter in question is actually concerned with review-spiking on both Goodreads and Amazon, and there’s a genuine point in there; the blanket suggestion is nuts though.)