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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-12-14 05:34
Suspicious minds
The Semper Sonnet - Seth J. Margolis

When Stephanie at Stephanie's Book Reviews reviewed this book, I was intrigued enough to check it out on Amazon.  The Kindle edition was only 99 cents. so I splurged and bought it.

 

Disclosure:  I paid the full retail price for the Kindle edition.  I do not know the author, nor have I ever had any contact with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of contemporary gothic and historical romances.

 

This is not really a review, since I've only read a couple chapters and may or may not read any more.  But I'm so disgusted by what I found that I feel compelled to post this information.  As an author, I cannot post it on Amazon; authors are not allowed to post negative comments/reviews.

 

I know virtually nothing about the publisher of this item, Diversion Books of New York City.  They have a website that makes them look professional, and they seem to have a number of authors and titles in their catalogue.  But I personally would never recommend them to anyone, based on my reading of the opening chapters of this book.

 

Editors are supposed to fix errors.  Although editors are human and make mistakes, they shouldn't make big fat obvious ones.

 

 

Screen shot from K4PC

 

 

 

 

Copied text from later in the same chapter:

 

Lee Nicholson would not be wounded. She would not bleed.

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Location 245). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

Copied text from the next chapter:

 

“You haven’t been charged with anything, Miss Nichols.”

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Location 292). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

Copied text from later in the next chapter:

 

Where would she go?

“Miss Nichols?”

Detective Lowry was staring at her with something verging on concern.

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Locations 317-318). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

 

And later:

 

“Leslie Nichols?”

She turned from her dresser to face one of the plainclothes men sifting through every item in her bedroom.

“I’m known as Lee. Lee Nichols.”

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Locations 365-367). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

An error like that is pretty much unforgivable.  I caught it on a first reading late at night when I was tired as hell.

 

Names are important . They are one of the first identifiers of a character.  They can also stop a reader in her tracks if they're wrong or jarring or . . . too familiar.

 

From early in Chapter 1:

 

Her mentor at Columbia, David Eddings, had assured her that it was her looks and not her scholarship that had landed her a spot on the news.

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Locations 224-225). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

David Eddings was a well-known author of several best-selling fantasy series.  Coming across an unusual name of a real person like this is a jolt that pulls a reader out of the make-believe world of the novel.  Had the name been Donald Eddings or David Geddings, I would never have noticed it.  But I did notice "David Eddings" and was immediately on alert.

 

When the main character's name changed from "Lee Nicholson" to "Lee Nichols," the importance of the other name doubled.  "Leigh Nichols" is one of the many pseudonyms of another best-selling author, Dean Koontz.

(spoiler show)

 

 

Had this been a self-published book, I probably would have stopped reading at that point and just posted a DNF review.  There were other elements of the plot that bothered me even at less than 4% into the book, but I could have overlooked those if I felt confident of the writing.  But because it was published by a third party, I decided to do a little more research.

 

The first stop was Amazon, to see what the reviews were like.  Oh man, oh man, oh man, here we go again.

 

The Semper Sonnet's dedication:

 

For Jean Naggar

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Location 64). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

 From the Amazon page for the book:

 

 

Full transparency my ass.

 

Oh, and that 1 comment?  It's Jean Naggar's link to her own book.  Follow that up and you'll find that Ms. Naggar is a literary agent.  I'd be willing to bet she's Seth Margolis's agent.

 

Full transparency my ass.

 

So now I have a really bad taste in my mouth about this author and this book.  I regret spending even 99 cents on it and putting 35 cents in Margolis's bank account, 7 cents of which probably went to Naggar.

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text 2016-10-27 23:49
Speculation regarding Amazon's "new" product review guidelines

http://greywarden.booklikes.com/post/1488937/presenting-amazon-s-early-reviewer-program

 

Not sure whether reblogging would mess things up worse, but I didn't want to hijack the original post with a huge long reply.  Then again, that may have been the best solution.  Oh, well, I usually screw things up anyway, so what the heck.  I'll cross reference this to it just in case.

 

Disclosure I:  I do not and will not review anything on Amazon.  As an author, I'm restricted to posting only positive reviews of books like might be close to my genre, which currently means anything in the romance category, plus paranormal/fantasy and mystery/suspense.  Rather than risk losing my KDP privileges, I just don't review anything.

 

Disclosure II:  Being banned from Goodreads for daring to call out shills and unethical authors, I don't review there either.  I never had any secret accounts there and have never attempted to set up any.  I have no interest in being on a site where I can't be honest, or where the dishonest are given more credibility, visibility, and leeway than I am.

 

After reading the Amazon info that Grey Warden posted in the linked blog and the subsequent discussions there and on Obsidian Black Death's reblog, I took about an hour away from the computer and did some thinking.  Which leads to - - - - -

 

Disclosure III:  As an author re-entering the publishing arena with new material, rather than just republishing old stuff, I have ulterior motives.  I do not have the means to pay for promotion, and I'm uncomfortable doing it myself, so I have relied on occasional mentions of my work here and on Facebook, then on word of mouth (or fingers, as the case may be).  I DO NOT READ ANY OF MY REVIEWS, but I do track my sales and sales ranking, and that requires a glance at the listing for my book on Amazon.  (I do not look at Goodreads or any other site, including BL)  As of this afternoon, the book has 7 reviews and an average of something around four stars.  I'm happy.  I have no idea who reviewed it or what they wrote, but my sales and Kindle Unlimited reads have been satisfying.  I sent out exactly one free ARC; all other copies have been purchased at full retail price or borrowed through Kindle lending programs.

 

With all of that out of the way, some observations and speculations.

 

Though it's been over three years since the Amazon merger with Goodreads and the subsequent GR September Purge, my belief is that Amazon has been under some pressure -- perhaps from the FTC but perhaps internal pressure -- to clean up the review mess.  I haven't even followed this "coupon club" issue, but from what I saw today, it looks like just another venue for scamming, and Amazon already has enough of that.

 

The fake reviews, whether they come from fiverr, from indie blogger shills, from review swap groups, or from reviewers who like the freebies that come with high reviewer ranking, could only hurt Amazon's brand.  I think we all know this.  And while Amazon may be the biggest online retailer and have a huge, huge, huge share of the SPA ebook market, thousands of five-star reviews for crap products could not be good for their brand.

 

If there were threats of enforcement from the FTC, that would make it even worse.

 

So down comes the hammer on the shills on 3 October, and now, less than a month later, a new program designed/hoped to further restrict the fake reviews.

 

The key part of the Early Rewards program, in my opinion, is that the product has to be purchased from Amazon.  This prevents sellers from shipping out freebies to solicit reviews.  It does not, however, weed out the organized shills, such as on fiverr, who simply charge the price of the product so they can buy it and review it and get the "verified purchase" tag.  And in the event of fulfillment by Seller, rather than by Amazon, more shenanigans are possible.

 

If the ER program is limited to fulfillment by Amazon, that problem may be taken care of.

 

But the real problem is still being masked, and that is the issue of Amazon selling crap products.  It's not the reviews that are hurting their brand; it's the crap they're allowing to flood their marketplace.

 

A year ago, when Amazon launched their Handmade @ Amazon platform, sellers had to apply and be accepted before they could list items in the marketplace.  Once a Seller was approved, they could pretty much list just about anything within the parameters; they weren't required to have new products juried in.  Though I haven't done any research at all, I suspect there are some sellers in the H@A marketplace who are selling items that would not have passed the original vetting process.  There's nothing *I* can do about it, though Amazon should take a hand in policing it.  They probably don't and probably won't.

 

Because they're so damn greedy and want every single selling fee they can get their hands on, consumers be damned AND sellers be damned.

 

There are crafters and artisans who will not list on H@A because they don't want to deal with the policies of the customer is always right and refunds are always given to quell complaints.  This has fostered an attitude amongst sellers -- it's rampant on eBay, too -- that the customer must be satisfied at all costs to avoid any kind of negative feedback.   Some Amazon sellers are successful enough that they can afford this kind of refund-on-demand, but others can't and are intimidated by it.  This, of course, encourages the purchasing of positive reviews, and it's what has gotten everything so messed up.

 

(The review policy on Etsy.com is much more restrictive -- only persons who have purchased the item can review it, and they can only review that specific product.  The system gets gamed, but not as badly as Amazon or Goodreads.)

 

At some point, Amazon may find itself forced to restrict what products it allows independent sellers to list on the site.  Attempts to regulate reviews and reviewers may simply not be enough, because if there are sellers who are trying to game the product system in the first place, they will continue to find ways to game the review system.

 

And at some point also, Amazon may very well have to take a position on how it justifies treating books as a separate product category.

 

Why is an ARC of a book any less of a free product than a bottle of organic vitamins or a non-stick waffle iron or a solar-powered phone charger?

 

Furthermore, why is a perma-free Kindle book, downloaded 20,000 times to get 100 five-star reviews, any less an incentive?

 

And what about the incentives and solicitations listed in the books themselves, encouraging readers to leave good reviews so the author can sell more?

 

How will all of the new regulations -- not just the October 3rd memo with its requirement that the reviewer have purchased $50 worth of merchandise but this new program and any others -- affect reviews on Goodreads?  They are no less sales devices than the reviews on Amazon, and I have a feeling it wouldn't take me long to find that some of our favorite fiverr shills are still at work there.  (The last time I looked was a few months ago, and it took me about ten minutes to locate the first one and then tie it to an Amazon review.)

 

Amazon wants the best of all worlds.  They want to sell all the products all the time, but they only want legit reviews, and preferably positive ones that sell product.  They don't want the hassle of vetting the products -- or the legal liability that would come with it -- but they want all products under the Amazon brand.  I think this newest program is an attempt -- and it has both strengths and weaknesses that I can see -- to clean up a horrific mess of their own making, but without actually cleaning it up.

 

As long as Goodreads is under the Amazon umbrella, there will be just as much dishonesty there as on Amazon, and perhaps much more.  Will GR start requiring purchases from Amazon in order to review?  What about reviews for out-of-print books not for sale on Amazon, or only on sale through affiliate/independent sellers?  What about reviews of library books, borrowed from friends?  Many of these books may not even be listed on Amazon.

 

If reviews are restricted on Amazon -- which they should have been from the beginning -- because Amazon is a retail site, will authors/publishers turn to Goodreads for shilling?  Will Goodreads be able to regulate it?  Or will Goodreads have to start instituting the same kind of restrictions as on Amazon?

 

I think that down the road, this new program by Amazon is going to have a big impact on book bloggers.  If ARCs and Kindle freebies are allowed to be reviewed, then why not free products in exchange for reviews?  And if free products are not permitted, then ARC and freebies should be banned, too.

 

I can't speak for non-book products, but I do believe, in all sincerity, that without a fully independent book reviewing site, this problem is going to continue and continue and get worse long before it gets better.

 

And now I'll shut up.  At least for a while.  Long enough to fix supper.

 

 

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text 2015-10-17 21:58
This didn't take long.

(Edited to provide additional screenshots and to crop others so they are not complete versions, though of course I have those. -- LAWH)

 

How do I feel about this?  Well, Booklikes doesn't have an emoticon for disgusted but not surprised.

 

On fiverr dot com, her name is saffronblossom. 

 

 

 

She claims to have a law degree.

 

 

 She's been selling reviews on fiverr for quite some time.

 

She used to review on Goodreads under the names E. Lovett, Dianne Lucas, and E. Lucas.  All of those accounts were closed in August and September of 2014 -- more than a year ago -- based upon evidence provided to Goodreads that the reviews violated Goodreads' Terms of Service.  E. Lucas is the name under which she reviewed then and continues to review at Amazon.

 

Here is her review of Zay Heron's "Hunt for the Defender" on Amazon.

 

 

Note the date of 7 October 2015.

 

Here is the testimonial posted on Saffronblossom's fiverr profile from zayheron.

 

 

Circumstantial evidence?  Oh, let's go one further.  How much are you willing to bet there's a review within the past two weeks by E. Lucas of a book by Michal Hartstein?

 

 

Here is E. Lucas' Amazon review of "Unrequited" from July 2014.

 

 

 

 

And E. Lovett's review of the same book dated the same day on Goodreads.

 

 

This was sufficient evidence for Goodreads to remove the E. Lovett account in early August 2014.  Saffronblossom came back with another account, Dianne Lucas, which was also removed, and again with another E. Lucas account, which was also removed.  There's a very good possibility that she has returned with another; I gave up in frustration.

 

The point of this is, of course, that she was routinely and repeatedly reported to Goodreads and they dealt with the situation appropriately.

 

 

She was never removed from Amazon.  The review for "Unrequited" is still there under her account.  She has 1146 reviews.  She is a Top 500 reviewer.  She is a fiverr shill.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A3K1FJNOECNX8R?ie=UTF8&display=public&page=57&sort_by=MostRecentReview

 

Interestingly enough, saffronblossom is not among those named in the complaint filed last week.

 

 

 

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text 2015-10-17 16:07
Re: Amazon Lawsuit against 1,114 fiverr reviewers
 [Text of email I sent to the lawyer who filed the complaint on Amazon's behalf and to the reporter who wrote the article in the Seattle Times about it.  There are two links in the text that may or may not work from this post, but I think anyone here can figure them out.  More later.  -- LAWH]
 
 

Amazon lawsuit against 1,114 fiverr reviewers

To
  • david.bateman@klgates.com
  • jgreene@seattletimes.com
  • Linda A. Hilton

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a seller on Amazon. I have four novels and two non-fiction books published through the Kindle Direct Publishing program, and I am also one of the artisans selling on the new Handmade at Amazon platform.  My Handmade shop is Arizona Angel Feathers.
 
 
 
 
image
 
 
 
 
 
Amazon.com: Arizona Angel Feathers: Handmade
I've been a rock hound since early childhood. Moving to Arizona from the Midwest in 1985 allowed me to indulge that passion fully, for Arizona truly is a place of r...
 
Preview by Yahoo
 
 
 
 
I am also a former member of Goodreads, until I was banned for, apparently, telling the truth about the thousands of bogus reviews on that site.  Yes, thousands.  Goodreads, as you know, is owned by Amazon.
 
I tried to report the fake reviews to Amazon, but for some reason or other they never did much about them.  I began at least as long ago as June 2014, and possibly a month or so before that.  Though many of the fake reviews were in fact removed from Goodreads, the same reviews remain to this day at Amazon.
 
After almost a year of researching the fake reviews from fiverr.com that were posted on Amazon and Goodreads and blogging the results of my investigations at Booklikes.com, I posted this in April 2015.
 
 
 
image
 
 
 
 
 
Amazon has always had the ability to stop the fake revie...
Screenshot taken today, 8 April 2015, of the Terms of Service at fiverr.
 
Preview by Yahoo
 
 
 
I don't expect either of you to reply to me.  Mr. Bateman, you are in Amazon's direct pay and are therefore going to present their interests and do nothing that would hinder their efforts, regardless what the end objective of those efforts might be.  Mr. Greene, you write for a Seattle newspaper, and Amazon is one of the twin gods of the region (the other being Microsoft) so I don't expect you to write, or your publisher to publish, anything critical of Amazon.
 
But the information is out there.  It's been out there for a very long time.  I'm not an investigative reporter and I don't have access to anything secret or private or confidential.  What information I obtained was readily available to anyone with the time and curiosity to find it.
 
I have hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of screen shots:  of Amazon reviews, of Goodreads reviews, of fiverr profiles, of fiverr testimonials.  And I have evidence that Amazon has made almost no attempt to protect their own reputation.  Fake reviews have not been removed when Amazon is presented with the evidence. 
 
I'm going to state that again just to make sure you're understanding clearly.
 
Amazon has not removed fake reviews even when presented with the evidence that those reviews were written by fiverr members who were advertising that they would post guaranteed 5-star reviews to Amazon, including evidence that those reviews were paid for by the product sellers, evidence that those reviews were posted in violation of Amazon's Terms of Service and Federal Trade Commission regulations.
 
I've given you a link to just one of my posts on Booklikes.com in which I've documented this information.  You can check out the rest of my posts there, going back to approximately May 2014, for some of the evidence.  I have more.  A lot more.  And I'm not afraid to share it.
 
I also understand that giving you this information puts myself and my ability to sell on Amazon at risk.  I really and truly don't care.  I was sickened when I first discovered the fake reviews, and I'm still sickened.  Amazon has no integrity.  None.  Except to their own bottom line.
 
You have my personal email address.  My home physical address is (removed for Booklikes).  My phone number is (removed for Booklikes).  I only answer the phone if I know who's calling, so if your number comes up and I don't answer, you'll have to leave a message or I'll just delete the number from the log.  I'll get back to you.
 
Sincerely,
 
Linda Ann Wheeler Hilton
 
 
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text 2015-04-10 15:29
It boggles the mind: An update on arrogance, hypocrisy, and deceit

http://lindahilton.booklikes.com/post/977093/when-arrogance-hypocrisy-and-deceit-all-come-together-in-one-place

 

Self-publishing author Sandy Nathan, who calls reviewers stupid and tells them how to review, who buys reviews and perhaps Amazon up-votes on fiverr, is a Vine Voice preferred reviewer on Amazon.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Prayers-Heart-Year-Old/product-reviews/1499632401/ref=cm_cr_pr_btm_link_2?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=recent&reviewerType=all_reviews&formatType=all_formats&filterByStar=all_stars&pageNumber=

2

 

 

"Vine Voice" reviewers are selected by Amazon and invited into the program.  The invitation is based at least in part on the reviewer's ranking, especially on how "helpful" their reviews are.  At least that's what Amazon says; the actual process of selection remains . . . mysterious.

 

Amazon Vine invites the most trusted reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make informed purchase decisions. Amazon invites customers to become Vine Voices based on their reviewer rank, which is a reflection of the quality and helpfulness of their reviews as judged by other Amazon customers.  (http://www.amazon.com/gp/vine/help)

 

Since it's very possible Sandy Nathan was buying "helpful" votes from fiverr sellers, was she essentially buying her way into the Vine program?  (Nathan has, apparently, been a Vine Voice reviewer since 2012, so it's not likely she used fiverr votes to get into the program, but it's possible.)

 

That "Vine Voice" label, along with other marks of Amazon reviewer status such as numerical ranking, implies a certain stamp of approval by Amazon that the review and the reviewer are somehow a little more credible than the average "Kindle Customer" or other screen name chosen by the reviewer.  After all, "Vine Voice" reviewers are chosen by Amazon,  One can't apply to be a Vine Voice reviewer; there are no auditions.

 

Even if the review written isn't of a Vine product, the review still shows the reviewer's tag of "Vine Voice."

 

I found Sandy Nathan's above review quite by accident last night.  After the news of Amazon's lawsuit against a supplier of fake product reviews was announced a few days ago, I went to check on some of the fiverr reviewers I'd tagged months ago.  Many had been removed from Goodreads, but none, not a single one, had ever been removed from Amazon.  I wasn't the only person reporting them, but still, nothing happened.

 

So last night I just went to the Amazon.com page and keyed in the name of an author I knew had been buying fiverr reviews and who was himself a fiverr reviewer, Michael Beas.  You can see my Booklikes report on Mr. Beas's relationship with fiverr here.

 

The first of Mr. Beas's books to come up on Amazon was Reflections: Prayers from the heart of a 14 year old boy.  As I skimmed down through the reviews written for this book last summer and fall, I recognized a lot of the old familiar fiverr account names:  Chloe H, R. Coker, Stan Law (who bought lots and lots and lots of fiverr reviews).  I wasn't shocked to see Sandy Nathan's name, because I already knew she was affiliated with fiverr as a buyer of reviews and other stuff, and because I knew she wrote in a shall we say spiritual vein. 

 

What did surprise me, however, was that "Vine Voice" seal of Amazon approval attached to her name.

 

In the wake of the recent lawsuit filed by Amazon against a company that sold "fake" product reviews, there's been additional attention given to Amazon's own policies on reviewing.

 

Two specific policies appear to apply to the Sandy Nathan "Vine Voice" situation.  I'll address the second one first, since it's more relative to what I've already posted.

 

Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact. Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary.

 

Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are designated by a green line (which I can't personally verify because I didn't take the time to go looking for a verified Vine Voice green lined review), but all reviews by a Vine Voicer receive that tag.  How many Amazon review readers are aware of the distinction?

 

Furthermore, however, if Amazon does not permit helpful votes to be purchased, what is their mechanism for verifying that?  How is anyone supposed to know that any given reviewer -- Vine Voice or not -- has achieved their ranking via legitimate votes or via purchased votes?

 

It should be noted, also, that fiverr.com has apparently cracked down somewhat on Gigs(r) openly offering such votes for sale, whether they are "like" votes on Facebook or Twitter or other sites, as they violate the Terms of Service on those sites.  No one has any way of knowing, of course, how many such votes anyone has already purchased.  Again, it is possible that Sandy Nathan purchased the votes that put her into the Vine Program and gave her reviews the added weight of credibility.

 

But there is another part of the Amazon review guidelines that applies to this situation.

  • Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.

As an author, Sandy Nathan is not permitted by Amazon to post a negative review of a competing product.  Although Amazon used to specify that authors could not post negative reviews of other books in their own genre, the parameters were never spelled out.  Could an author of historical romances write negative reviews of contemporary romances?  Could an author of academic non-fiction write negative reviews of popular fiction? 

 

As a Vine Voice reviewer, however, Nathan is supposed to be scrupulously honest.  Well, we should all be at least reasonably honest, but for those bearing the Vine Voice tag, you would think a higher level of honesty on reviews was in order.  Of course it is quite possible that Sandy Nathan reviewed Michael Beas's because it's in the same sortof spiritual category that she writes in, but she's required by the Amazon guideline posted above to give a positive review . . . or none at all.  She can't, if she wants to abide by the review guidelines, be honest.  And yet honesty is required of Vine Voicers.

 

Amazon has filed suit against a supplier of paid, fake reviews.  It looks like maybe Amazon should either stop throwing stones from their own glass house, or sue themselves.

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