Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's Stop Blaming Amazon and Focus On the Real Problem

The Problem With Amazon

If you are a member of the indie authors community, you have no doubt heard complaints about Amazon's strict policies regarding self-published books. If you're a newcomer, here's a quick summary. Amazon reserves the right to ban your book or terminate your account at any time. If they do, they will send you a letter giving you a vague reason but no specific details then tell you not to inquire further. Amazon will also remove any review of your book that they deem dishonest, and they include reviews from your family and friends under the heading "dishonest". And too many "dishonest" reviews is another reason they could potentially terminate your author account.

No, I have never been in trouble with Amazon, and I hope I never am, but like all indie authors, some of these policies make me more than a little nervous. But I'm not laying all the blame on Amazon.

The One Problem I Do Have

Most of these strict policies scare me, but as I said above, I'm not blaming Amazon completely. The only area where I agree wholeheartedly with the authors who are lodging their complaints is communication. It seems to me that keeping authors informed would be a good thing. After all, if you don't fully understand what you did wrong, how can you be expected to improve? It seems to be Amazon's practice to have very little communication with indie authors, and I disagree with that practice. Communication is always good. But as far as everything else goes, I think we should be focusing our attention elsewhere.

What Is Amazon?

Amazon is an online retailer. Amazon is not YouTube. People can put crap videos up on YouTube, call all their friends, and get those friends to view those videos, like those videos, and follow that YouTube channel, and that's perfectly okay. Why? Because YouTube is not selling these videos. They don't have to keep people satisfied with the content of the videos made available there because people aren't paying to watch them. Yes, YouTube does have policies, but for the most part, the atmosphere there is "anything goes."

Amazon is different. Amazon is a store. People pay money for what they get there and if the customer is dissatisfied, the store's reputation suffers. And what's bad for Amazon is bad for indie authors because if we want to be able to sell our books there, well, we want Amazon to have an impeccable reputation. Many of their policies that sometimes hurt indie authors are just good business decisions, pure and simple. We are not their only reason to exist, so they are not going to cater to us and us alone. And if it's the choice between us and a paying customer, of course they're going to put the customer first. I think most business owners would agree with that philosophy.

The Real Problem

Why would Amazon have such strict policies for indies? There could really only be one reason. Because people have abused their policies in the past. Take reviews. Why would they delete reviews by friends and family members of the authors? I would imagine it's because there have been a lot of really bad books published recently boasting pages and pages of five star reviews. How would such terrible books get such great reviews? Because the reviews were all written by friends of the author. Does that mean that any review by someone who knows us personally is dishonest? No! Of course not. That's what makes it so infuriating. If we have a friend who reads our book, and actually likes it, we'd naturally like for them to be able to leave us a glowing review. It's very frustrating that they aren't allowed to do that. But at the same time, I understand Amazon's issue. We are asking people to pay for our books. If they see a string of positive reviews and buy our book on the assumption that it must be pretty good if that many people like it, then find it to be a mess of grammar errors, plot holes, and flat characters, that not only reflects badly on us but also on the retailer making money from our book. And Amazon is going to protect itself first. That's the only way they can stay in business.

What Can Be Done?

There's no easy way to solve this problem. We can't control what everyone else does. We can't stop people from engaging in dishonest business practices. And we can't do anything about the consequences that fall on the rest of us when other people do that. But if we can't be part of the solution, we can at least vow not to be part of the problem. So if you are an indie author, please, write a good book. Edit your book ruthlessly. Proofread meticulously. And when you are finally ready to publish, run your marketing campaign with the utmost integrity. Remember, your book does not just represent you, it represents the entire indie community. We have to protect our reputation just as tenaciously as Amazon does, so do the right thing. Sometimes the best way for indies to help each other is by tending to their own business first. That's how we'll show the world that our books deserve just as much respect as those published the old-fashioned way.


  1. Well said. I've been reviewing on Amazon for years (and blogging my reviews for five), so have seen the rise of indie authors and personally witnessed many of the review scuffles.

    You're absolutely right: most of Amazon's crackdowns on reviews (and indie publishing in general, such as the change in the way KU borrows are paid) have come as a direct result of one or more authors abusing that loophole in the system. So Amazon closes the loophole.

    And while I can empathise with your frustration over Amazon's lack of communication, I can also see the other side of it: if Amazon told authors why they'd been banned, sure, honest authors would take that as a way to improve.

    But scammers would then know which loophole had been closed, and find another, making it tougher for authors all round. And no one wants that.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback. As an indie author I share the frustrations of all my colleagues. I can't say I don't wish that Amazon had more relaxed policies, but my frustration is with those who want to take advantage of the system. I absolutely take my writing career seriously. I don't feel that self-publishing should diminish my status as an author in any way, but when others fail to do the right thing that reflects on indie authors as a whole. Does Amazon have trust issues when it comes to indie authors? I believe they do, but I think this cause is most likely the people who have abused that trust in the past. It's sad that everyone should have to pay the price for the wrongdoing of others, but I don't know if there's any other way around the problem.