It can often be the make or break factor when choosing a book to buy. If the novel you’re browsing has a great review from an author you love, it can make you want to pick it up and read it.
But now Amazon is under fire for preventing authors from leaving reviews about others’ work which falls into the same genre.
Writers on both sides of the Pond have been complaining that their views have either vanished from the site or were never published in the first place.
Now Amazon has confirmed it has changed its policy so that authors are now banned from leaving reviews about books in the same genre because they may pose a “conflict of interest”.
So, thriller writers are prevented from commenting on thrillers, horror authors can’t comment on works that are similar and so on…
Critics have slammed the move, saying those best placed to review a work are authors working within the same type of genre.
But, it’s perhaps understandable that Amazon felt it had to make a move after some authors were exposed for writing fake reviews about others’ work.
Recently, a group of 49 bestselling authors, including Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Helen FitzGerald condemned the practice, known as “sock puppeting” in which reviews are written under fake names. In an open letter, they said: “These days more and more books are bought, sold and recommended online and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers.
“But some writers are misuing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large.”
One of those authors is RJ Ellroy, who apologised for his “lapse of judgement,” after admitting he had used fake identities to give himself five-star ratings on Amazon.
But Amazon has now been accused of being heavy-handed. Chocolat author Joanne Harris said authors were perfectly placed to review books as they are experts on them. She urged Amazon to simply abandon its star rating which she described as “inherently corrupt”.
And spy thriller author Jeremy Duns, who first revealed what Ellroy was doing, said it was “unfair and bizarre” to target authors, adding: “There needs to be change but not like this.”
Tim Worstall, who writes for Forbes, said: “I can see why they’ve done this, banned authors from reviewing other books in the same genre they work in, but it does sound like a very bad decision by Amazon here. For the people who actually know whether a book is any good or not do tend to be those very same authors already working in the genre.”
Nick Yapp, who is chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s Books Committee, said it wasn’t fair to discriminate against authors. “Amazon should either reject all reviews or accept all reviews,” he said, “ordinary law of the land permitting. We don’t see that they have the rights or the qualifications to be choosy.”
However, Amazon said authors were welcome to review works unless it was perceived they had a “close personal relationship” with a rival whose fiction they were writing about.