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Amazon's Vague Policy on Incentivized Reviews

Amazon's customer review guidelines state the following:

Offering payment or any other incentive for a Customer Review is considered compensation. This includes giving someone money or a gift certificate to purchase your book. We consider incentives to be any type of reward that is given in return for a Customer Review, including but not limited to bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, and other gifts.

In true Amazon fashion, this policy is intentionally vague and therefore gives Amazon tremendous power to flex its muscles on what is considered to be an incentive and what is not.

With this wording, we can even claim that Amazon is breaking its own rules. Amazon's Top Reviewer Program can be viewed as an incentive to leave a customer review. Reviewers are technically incentivized to leave a review because they might end up on the Top Reviewer list and ultimately get broader access to more free products in the categories they like.

Some authors and ARC services also remove a reader from their ARC team if they don't leave a review. Does this also count as an indirect way to incentivize a review according to Amazon? It is unclear.

Amazon's wording does use the word your in the second sentence which makes it sound as though this policy is directed to the owners of the item under review. Therefore, ARC services and Amazon are not subject to this rule since they don't own the product. But that claim stands on shaky ground given the first and third sentences are standalone sentences and are not necessarily directed at the owner.

BookSirens plays nice with Amazon's policies to the best of its abilities. But we can still dream of a better worded policy. Before talking semantics, lets break up incentives into two types:

  1. Incentives by the owner of the product under review.
  2. Incentives not by the owner of the product under review.

We think Amazon's policy is spot on for the first type of incentive. The owner cannot incentivize reviews for his / her products. So: no payment from the owner, no gift certificates / future discounts, no entrance into contests organized by the owner, etc... This also means that an author should not be able to remove a reader from his / her ARC team if they don't leave a review. Sorry, authors.

The second type of incentive should be okay. Since these incentives are not connected to the owner, there is no risk of biasing the review. Amazon's Top Reviewer program falls into this category as it is agnostic to the items being reviewed (we think). An ARC service removing a freeloader from their ARC mailing list falls into this category. Any sites awarding badges or some other form of special recognition to users who have completed a certain number of reviews (ex. NetGalley) should be okay. Similarly, any site enrolling readers who have reviewed X books into a free Kindle giveaway should be allowed (shoutout to Jessica from Cali Book Reviews for this idea).

The above examples are incentives, but they are not incentives by the owner. They are agnostic to the items being reviewed. Therefore, the reviews should remain honest and ultimately be valuable to the potential buyer. Incentivized reviews do NOT imply dishonest reviews. This relationship is not obvious in Amazon's wording, in our humble opinion.

Neither type of incentive should bias a review. Honesty is paramount. So while an ARC service can remove a user for not reviewing enough, it should not be able to remove a user for leaving a negative review. There shouldn't be special recognition or badges awarded for the "most critical reviewer" or the "easiest reviewer", though that could be interesting.

We want to end this post with an alternative wording, in the off chance someone from Amazon reads this post. Here it is:

The item owner cannot offer payment or any other incentive for a Customer Review. This includes giving someone money or a gift certificate to purchase your book. We consider incentives to be any type of reward that is given in return for a Customer Review, including but not limited to bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, and other gifts. Incentives are allowed by third parties as long as they don't incentivize a biased review.