Tuesday, October 15, 2019

79. Trying to communicate with the black hole that is Amazon

A few months back I used this space to needle Google a little, poke around at the edges of one of the world's most powerful companies, and ask the question, "Will Google come after me in the middle of the night if I make fun of them a little?"

I'm delighted to say that I am alive and well. Google never sought revenge, and they even responded the way I hoped they would in the end.

So...I went up against one ultra-powerful corporation that I do business with and survived to fight another day. Who to fight next, then? Well, if Google didn't come for me in the middle of the night, then surely Amazon will...right?

Well, here goes...

In many ways I am at the mercy of Amazon. Increasingly, the entire world is at the mercy of Amazon. They have cornered the market on...well...on MARKETS.

My books are 'available wherever books are sold.' You can go to your local independent bookstore and, even though you won't them stocked on the shelves (except for a small list of stores I know of) you can go up to the counter and ask to order them. you don't NEED Amazon to order my books online - you can order them through Barnes and Noble - but in the end the vast majority of my book sales are through Amazon.

A few writers have many hundreds, even thousands of customer reviews on Amazon. Compared to these mega-writers I have to humbly hold onto a small number of customer reviews. Those few reviews mean a lot to me.

So...when customer reviews disappear from the site, especially when they disappear for what I am fairly certain are reasons, not of policy or standards, but reason of confusion and miscommunication, it gets under my skin a little.

My Key West series - 1950, corrupt politician vs. a relentless journalist - is really just 2 books in various editions. It is this 'various editions' business that has become a problem for Amazon. the original novel was published in January, 2013 by Wheelman Press, a small independent press in Atlanta run by Greg Banks who, bless his soul, has since passed away (R.I.P. Greg). In 2014 he contacted me to say he was in the hospital and would have to close down his company. He very graciously helped me start my own company - Azzurri Publishing - based on the same model as his company. He transferred all original files over from his account to my new account. The original novel remained available throughout this process, but even though the original novel was unchanged, it now existed on a new page on Amazon. Then I added the "Special Edition," (original novel plus prequel short story).

For a while Amazon managed to understand what was going on, and moved all the old customer reviews over to the new 'original novel' page. Then for a while they 'bundled' the original novel and the Special Edition. I didn't like this. It meant that people who were looking at the kindle page for the Special Edition, then clicked on 'paperback,' were taken to the paperback of the original novel, not the Special Edition. They are different editions, I told Amazon through email, and should not be bundled.

So... Amazon unbundled them. Prior to this they had about 20 customer reviews applied equally to both editions. There was also, somehow, an additional page for the original novel, which I was pretty certain belonged to the old Wheelman Press page. It was all very confusing.

So...in my attempts to straighten out the various different editions and sales pages, Amazon somehow decided to delete a good chunk of the customer reviews.

Are you still with me? This is where it gets good...

I emailed Amazon to try to get the dropped reviews put back up. I received the following corporate-speak meaningless form-letter email:


For privacy reasons, I can only discuss specific Customer Review removals with the person who
originally posted the review.

However, I can tell you that reviews are typically removed from the Amazon.com website for one of
four reasons:

1. The review conflicted with our guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines). This
includes reviews that were posted as promotional content.
2. The review was removed by the customer who submitted the review.
3. We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews
that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site.
4. We detected unusual review behavior.

For more information, search Seller Central / Vendor Central / Author Central Help for “Customer
Product Reviews.”

We appreciate your understanding. We hope to see you again soon.

We'd appreciate your feedback. Please use the buttons below to vote about your experience today.

Best regards,

To this meaningless form letter email I responded snarkily, "Yes, but you didn't remove the reviews
because of policy. You removed them because you were confused about the various different editions.
Please correct your mistake. - Peter Wick"

A few days went by before I heard from Amazon again. Maybe this is when they plan my murder, I thought.
Maybe I crossed the line. I'm going to quietly disappear and my friends will never know what happened
to me.

Then the new response finally came...in the form of... the exact same meaningless corporate-speak

Receiving the exact same letter a second time made me realize that I was going to have to take
matters into my own hands. Amazon has made the mistake of giving me access to all the original
customer reviews, on my Author Central page (and it's too late to delete them now, Amazon - I've
printed them all out).

I'm not going to reprint ALL of them here, but...YES... I AM going to reprint a couple of them. Again, these
are customer reviews for Key West - the original novel, that Amazon deleted because they were too
confused to follow the progression of editions when the original publisher passed away (reprinted here
word for word):

-5 Stars - 'jes' Another cannot put it down 
Beautiful descriptions of the locale. Author takes us in and out of situations using the environment
as an aide. New idea which made for easy reading.

-5 Stars - 'Lele' I could see it as if I was there
Felt like I was there...well, I HAVE been in Key West traveling in via sailboat. Description of everything
took me back and the action was superb in this book. I look forward to more of Peter Wick's descriptive

So, there you have it. there are more where those came from, but I'll settle on those for now.

If you don't hear from me ever again, I would find someone willing to bring Jeff Bezos in for questioning.

Just saying...

Oh, crap, I've really sealed my fate, haven't I.

Peter Wick
October 15, 2019