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Cheating with supply of review copies - the Amazon Verified Purchase scam


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Initial post: Sep 18, 2012 6:59:41 AM PDT
This is my analysis of the important points resulting from the thread "Amazon removes HUNDREDS reviews which do not violate Guidelines".

It seems that some people - suppliers and reviewers - have done things in all innocence (see paragraph about Kindle applications), not realizing they were breaking Amazon's rules. Now they know, a friend suggested that I post my analysis here. It is in its own thread because it's the only way anybody who hasn't been reading the other thread will find it.

Some authors and publishers, seeing that some customers attach an importance to those Amazon Verified Purchase badges that I think they don't deserve, have tried to get round the problem by sending Amazon gift cards for the value of the product to their reviewers, who then use that credit to buy the product.

Amazon are now cracking down on this and have deleted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of reviews that they regard as paid for by the publishers. This is one problem that they can deal with, because they know who bought each gift card and who received it, and whether that person reviewed it. This extract from a standard e-mail that some reviewers have received is now clear enough :-

The only form of compensation that Amazon allows is a free copy of the product (provided up front) in exchange for an unbiased review. Refunding of a product or providing funds to purchase the product are considered compensation and not allowed.

It is in any case deceitful to have reviews with Amazon Verified Purchase badges that the reviewer used a publisher's gift card to buy. Customers are duped into thinking that the reviewer chose the product and paid with his or her own money when that wasn't the case. In some cases, the reviewer may have had to pay shipping costs and not recouped them, but so what? The Amazon Verified Purchase badge is pretty meaningless when we know that publishers ensure thay the Amazon Verified Purchase badges appear on reviews of their products to make them look legitimate.

Another effect of this scam is that it boosts the sales ranking of the products. It may even be that some suppliers regard that as more important than the Amazon Verified Purchase badges, but who knows?

This scam is not just used where unsuspecting but genuine reviewers are involved. It is also used for shill reviews. However, at least Amazon have identified the problem if gifting is involved.

Kindle Applications Caught In The Trap?

There appears to be a problem (as of September 2012) whereby there is no way of supplying review copies of Kindle applications except using the above method. The supplier who brought this problem to my attention had my sympathy up to the point at which he said that one of the problems of using a different method of distributing review copies (if it were provided) would be that the subsequent reviews wouldn't have those Amazon Verified Purchase badges.

Variation - No Gift But Low Price To Reviewer

The supplier. usually an author in these cases, lowers the price temporarily to allow the reviewer to buy the e-book for well below the normal price, usually for 99 cents in America. (I don't know what the UK price would be, but I'd guess it would be 99p or less.) The reviewer having got his or her copy, the supplier sets the price back to normal. When the review appears, it carries an Amazon Verified Purchase badge. So the reviewer paid for the e-book out of his or her own money, but secured a price way below that paid by non-reviewers.

This variation on the scam is harder for Amazon to detect, although since Amazon has all the purchase details, it ought to be able to trace some of these cases.

Always Remember

1. Computers are not intuitive. They are totally moronic, blindly obeying their master's instructions. They cannot and do not deviate. (They can use random numbers to generate some deviation essential for games, but this is not applicable to the issues raised here.)

2. Amazon know who sent each gift card, and the recipient.

3. Even if the recipient does not accept the card, the implied relationship is there, so a decision not to accept is irrelevant from Amazon's perspective.

4. Amazon keep the purchase history for all customers. We can each see our own purchase history, but Amazon can see everybody's.

5. The purchase history includes the price paid, so if Amazon need to, they can tell whether it was bought for $0.00, $0.99 or whatever.

6. Amazon also record direct gifts, i.e., where one Amazon customer buys something for another Amazon customer within Amazon's ordering system.

7. If there is no way of reviewers receiving free review copies of Kindle products without the use of gift cards or direct gifting, the correct procedure is to persuade Amazon to upgrade the software.

8. Reviewers should not get involved in anything that Amazon can interpret as paid reviewing.

8a. Only accept gifts or gift cards from people who do not produce anything that you have reviewed or might review in the future,

8b. This may be hard if you have authors as friends, but there are other retailers on Planet Earth. You can still buy everything else from Amazon.

I also came across this, posted on the thread that we've seen.

A graphic designer, who does book covers for authors, received an email from Amazon that she is not allowed to review the books/stories that she designs the covers for, even though she gets paid a flat rate, regardless of sales of the book, even though she chooses to review only the books she likes or reads when she makes the cover, etc., but they still consider that a monetary and material connection to the product, so she can't review them any longer.

I've learned more about Amazon shenanagins since this thread started than I have during any comparable period for a very long time. Hey, there's always something new to learn.

It is crucial for everybody to understand Amazon's definition of compensation. We may not agree with it, but it's their website. We have to play by their rules. I repeat from earlier ......

The only form of compensation that Amazon allows is a free copy of the product (provided up front) in exchange for an unbiased review. Refunding of a product or providing funds to purchase the product are considered compensation and not allowed.

It has also emerged that prizes of any kind also count as compensation, but I'd be surprised if they didn't.

..... Of course, Amazon never provided that level of clarity before, but since they are removing reviews that they think fail to meet that criteria, it is necessary to heed their words.

If authors must give gifts to Amazon reviewers who are interested in the author's books, they should do it via another retailer such as Barnes and Noble.

Posted on Sep 18, 2012 7:39:38 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 8:41:44 AM PDT
If you only knew how many "do not buy" lists you were making

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 9:39:21 AM PDT
iGertrude says:
14 so far. And probably more who didn't other to vote.

Posted on Sep 18, 2012 9:46:17 AM PDT
Thank you for taking the time to sort all of this out. The information has helped a lot. I think we all (reviewers) will have some thinking to do and some decisions to make for the future of our reviewing and where we place our reviews. All of this mess has made something I really enjoyed into something I'm not sure I want to deal with anymore, but we'll see what the future holds.
Thanks again :))

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 9:48:28 AM PDT
federname says:
> There appears to be a problem (as of September 2012) whereby there is no
> way of supplying review copies of Kindle applications except using the above
> method.

Apparently the Kindle Fire can be configured to allow the installation of apps from "unknown sources." With this set, you can download and install apps from outside the Kindle appstore, e.g. from the developer's site. Of course, convincing a Kindle owner to wander outside the safe confines of the appstore may be difficult and not in their broader best interest.

See http://www.ubergizmo.com/2011/11/kindle-fire-sideload/.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 9:50:17 AM PDT
iGertrude says:
WHY should Amazon provide a way to circumvent its own reviewing program?

Posted on Sep 18, 2012 10:20:14 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 18, 2012 10:22:38 AM PDT
ilbob says:
There is a related issue. All the books downloaded on free days appear to count as AVP. So the AVP is pretty much meaningless for self published stuff that has had one or more free days, as is the sales ranking. If getting the AVP badge and improving the sales ranking is what matters to the publishers, a free day is the way to go.

Incidentally, there is nothing to stop a publisher from providing the book to a reviewer in another format that bypasses Amazon altogther if they did not care about the AVP so I suspect the gift card nonsense is mostly about trying to claim it as a sale.

I wonder how long it will take the publishers to figure out that Amazon takes Visa gift cards.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 10:29:33 AM PDT
Teahouse Fox says:
Sideloading is not specifically a circumvention of Amazon's review program, but a means to get around an installation setting in the Android OS. Indeed, to install the Amazon Appstore app on my Droid phone, I had to enable the phone's ability to install applications from "unknown sources".

Amazon even helpfully provides instruction on how to do this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000626391

The feature is the same one provided by the OS on the Fire.

Posted on Sep 18, 2012 1:42:56 PM PDT
Hmm. I recently ran a coupon promotion for my novels, in which buyers could enter a code and get 10% off the cover price. Are their reviews now going to be dumped, because they received "compensation"?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 2:00:03 PM PDT
D .Smith says:
Muffy, Stop with the spam your going to be blocked from even getting the great novel posted here,please do not act like you never seen these remarks your all over and hundreds have told you stop only at MOA>nobodys going to touch your book at this point.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 2:37:39 PM PDT
Ursiform says:
They still paid for the product, and the discount wasn't linked to writing a review, so it's not "compensation".

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 4:37:35 PM PDT
I might even be tempted to pretend I read The Muffin Chronicles and say it sukked. Or even say I didn't read it but I presume it sukked. And Peter did an awesome job with this summary on post #1. Just wanted to say so, because the y vote was not sufficient for me.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2012 2:37:09 AM PDT
Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2012 2:38:43 AM PDT
Given that Amazon know that it was free, they should have a different badge to say "Amazon Verified Free Promotional Copy" or somesuch.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2012 4:32:15 AM PDT
Isn't this nit-picking? After all, in order for the reviewer to have reviewed this free book they must check the freebie lists and then research the selections until they find something that they think will appeal. As far as I'm concerned that is no different than what I have to do when I pay for a book. So why a differing badge?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2012 3:04:23 PM PDT
I like that Peter! Good point because when something is free you actually didn't buy it. Makes sense to me.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2012 7:35:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 20, 2012 6:29:11 AM PDT
Helen A says:
This is a different issue. Items offered for free (temporarily or otherwise), may count as AVP, but they have their own sales ranking. They are not included in the paid rankings. Things purchased through a gift card are included in the paid rankings.

NB. I have no issue with items being counted as an AVP when purchased while offered as a freebie because
a) The item was available free to everyone at the time (not just those willing to write a review)
b) It is the same principle that applies to an item being discounted - there aren't different rules or badges in place if a customer buys an item normally offered for $9.99, at $0.99.
c) The customer still made the decision to "buy" the item. It was not offered by solicitation.

Helen

edited to fix typo

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2012 2:19:28 AM PDT
"why a differing badge? "

To help customers who might appreciate the clarification.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2012 5:19:17 AM PDT
There's no need for a differing badge on an item purchased when the price is $0.00. That is an Amazon purchase, period. If you review the free app of the day, you get an AVP badge. That's because you bought it from Amazon. The $0.00 price makes no difference. Anyone could buy it for $0.00 on that day.

You could buy something for $20 on a deal, which would cost everyone else $40 on a different day. Do you need a badge to show you got a discount? No.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 21, 2012 9:08:45 PM PDT
We do still have the option of saying we didn't buy it and got it for free. Just have
to uncheck a box.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 22, 2012 1:48:21 AM PDT
Paul says:
I had no idea that publishers have done this (providing an Amazon gift card to buy the book). Obviously it is not proper. One other thing that i noticed some time ago was when a 'prominent' historian published a work on George Washington, all on one day, his wife, relatives and friends flooded the reviews with 5 stars and the bare minimum of words to qualify for the review. it was obvious they had NOT read the book but were attempting to pump sales. Amazon should have some standard to deal with this.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 22, 2012 5:50:26 AM PDT
Yes, we can decide not to mark our purchases as made from Amazon. But if we buy an item that is priced at $0.00, we have made a purchase, and it is rightfully reflected in that item's sales rankings.

I'm sorry. What was the original question :)

Posted on Sep 23, 2012 6:11:08 PM PDT
Brian R. says:
Amazon could include a checkbox to indicate the review is one which falls under the disclosure requirements for free copies. This would allow AVP and a disclosure plus avoid the "free x of the day" consideration. Then the review could include a standard disclaimer similar to the Vine review banner. Reviewers wouldn't have to paste in a boilerplate, Amazon could track them, etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 23, 2012 6:47:38 PM PDT
Antony Chow says:
I agree that the publisher is using the gift card nonsense as a way to claim a sale. It's like a few years ago when some new york newspapers were caught giving away free copies, and then claimed them as paid sales. It is unfortunate that reviewers are getting caught in the crossfire.
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Discussion in:  Top Reviewers forum
Participants:  55
Total posts:  197
Initial post:  Sep 18, 2012
Latest post:  May 17, 2013

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