Amazon Review Purge

Amazon frown
Has the epidemic of social media censorship that's seen big tech firms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter persecute users for their politics infected Amazon? A recent purge of book reviews may be a warning sign that the English-speaking world's biggest online retailer is interfering with its users in subtler but still potentially detrimental ways.

Author Declan Finn shares his numbers.
Has Amazon declared war on authors?
It would seem so at first pass. Last week, I had 315 reviews spread out over my various and sundry projects. Honor at Stake, for example, had 63, 68 reviews.
Today, I only have 238 reviews over all of them. Honor at Stake in particular having only 45 now. When I ask Amazon via email, they know nothing. Could I be more specific? It's literally EVERY BOOK. They need a road map?
The mystery depends when I looked at reviews that I myself have written. They're all gone. Poof. Vanished.
What the Hell?
And I'm not the only one. In fact, one writer's group I'm a part of has had a lot of the same problem.
The Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance.
Funny that. And the one person outside of CLFA who had also had problems is friends with three of us.
However, I'm not about to declare enemy action just yet... 
Declan isn't exaggerating. One CLFA member had all of her book's reviews deleted without warning or explanation. Author JD Cowan reported that every review he'd left on Amazon has been erased.

Not even I escaped the review purge. Altogether, I lost six reviews between the four books in my award-winning Soul Cycle series.

None of the reviews I've written about other authors' books have been removed, though.

Since the review purge was first noticed, several possible explanations have been suggested:

  • Amazon is removing paid reviews (If they are, it's not their sole criterion for deletion, since I don't pay for reviews).
  • Reviews left by authors' relatives are being culled (Again, if this is true, I know for a fact it's not the only reason.)
  • Amazon's algorithm is flagging reviews written by authors' social media and blog followers (If this is the case, Amazon is being really inconsistent about deleting these reviews).
  • Censorship targeting the Right and center-Right (Insufficient evidence, though as Declan alluded to in his post, a rogue Amazon employee did repeatedly attempt to sabotage the publication of a Castalia House parody of a John Scalzi book.)

What are we to make of the sudden unexplained disappearance of hundreds--perhaps thousands--of Amazon reviews? Dragon Award-winning author Nick Cole has concluded that reviews don't factor into the algorithm's decision of which books to push. Nevertheless, customers rely on honest reviews to help them decide which books to purchase.

One theory is that Amazon is cracking down on "non-organic" reviews, up to and including feedback from authors' social media followers. That would require a remarkable lack of self-awareness, since Amazon Author Central author pages make Amazon itself a social network.

There's also the fact that authors have been instructed for years to build relationships with readers on social media. Yes, flogging your book on Twitter might hurt its sales at launch, but social media is vital for back list sales.

Multiple authors are still waiting for Amazon to answer their queries. Until a definitive answer is forthcoming, we'll just have to stay alert as the situation develops.

Even the most radical right wing dissident would tell you that of all the Big Tech outfits, Amazon always cared more about making money than playing thought police. If Amazon's stance has changed, there's no sugarcoating it--lots of authors and readers are in deep trouble. Alternatives to Wikipedia and Twitter seem to be feasible. Facebook is a far tougher nut to crack. Google is impervious to anything but a federal antitrust suit.

Amazon is in a whole other category. You're just not going to replace it with an alt-tech startup. A major misstep like censoring its users might open it up to disintermediation from an outside source, though.

At the end of the day, only two parties are absolutely indispensable to the book industry: authors and readers. Your favorite authors need your support now more than ever.

Whatever's happening with Amazon, as long as folks want to read my stories, I'll find a way to get my books in their hands.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier
If you’re a fan of mind-bending fiction, epic tales spun out over centuries, of heroic heroes you can love, check this out.


  1. My reviews are still up on authors I follow on social media, but I'm nobody and use "Amazon Customer" for my review name.

    Maybe it's another rogue employee. I hope that's the case.

    1. I would guess rogue employee as well. We'll see how Amazon responds -- that will tell the tale.

    2. I'm now hearing that Amazon launches half-assed review purges every 6-12 months to maintain an air of legitimacy, but it fails since they don't want to invest real money in the review system.

    3. And that's a serious mistake becaise somebody will create a review site that preserves the reviews.
      Amazon can't be that stupid ss reviews drives sales.reviews should be treated a part of the profit making machine that's Amazon


  2. Over the past few years I have seen this happen numerous times, to various different people and groups. I believe that it is a consequence of Amazon's click farm hunting algorithms.

    The way it seems to happen is that an item has a sudden jump in popularity from some promotion, and that shadows on their computers as manipulation of the review system.

    My theory is that they pull reviews as screening measure--legitimate authors will complain about the reviews being pulled, and they'll get reinstated. Sock-puppet farms will just fade away and come back under new account names.

    It's inconvenient for the authors and reviewers who are affected, true, but given the sheer mass of data that Amazon has to deal with, I don't have a better idea.

    But I don't think it's remotely political. I have seen it happen with authors of all different orientations. I remember a group of lesbian erotica writers who got hit with a similar mass takedown of reviews who were convinced that it was a right wing Christian plot to silence them.

    The fact is that a lot of people do manipulate the Amazon review system, and Amazon takes measures to curtail that. Since the measures are automated, sometimes they will yield false positives. I'm pretty sure that's what happened this time.

    1. Yours is the best explanation I've heard so far.

      If this is the case, Amazon needs to bite the bullet and invest some real money in updating their review system. Honestly, they should probably start from scratch at this point.

      For instance, it would be great if when I went to write a review, there was a series of check boxes along the lines of: "I was compensated for this review", "I received an advance review copy", "I am a friend or relative of the author". If I check any of those boxes, my review gets tagged accordingly.

      Of course, that kind of self-reporting relies on the honor system, but that's when you call in the algorithm.

    2. The thing to keep in mind is that Amazon's review system is not designed to benefit authors. Everything Amazon does is built around satisfying customers.

      When a book gets bumped to the top of a category because of a marketing blitz by a group of bloggers working together, that's gaming the system. It differs from buying reviews from a click farm only by degree.

      That's why I refuse to take part in street teams or blog tours or cover reveals or any of that stuff.

      And that's also why Jon Del Ego gets more reviews in a month than I get in five years. But on the plus side, I've never had a review for one of my books, or a review I've written, get deleted.

    3. The customers who've had their reviews deleted are far from satisfied.

      Amazon manages their reviews as if this were still the late 90s and they were operating at a loss. Time to bite the bullet and invest in a review system that doesn't instill readers with the fear of having hours of effort deleted if they dared to blog about books they like.

  3. I had written reviews years ago for CDs that stayed up for years. Once I started writing book reviews, this happens.

    Amazon needs to fix this.

    And I still have gotten no response.

    1. That's a significant observation. If this were just a general policy affecting Amazon's entire review system, you'd hear about reviews of other products getting purged. But as far as I know, it's only book reviews. Curious.

    2. Brian

      Could this be related to the purge?

    3. The reviews were finally restored, including some CD reviews I made 10 years ago. No reason given for their removal.

    4. Good for you for calling them out on it.