Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Five Star Killer

I'm not a proponent of big brother conspiracy theories. Maybe I'm naive, or ignorant, or think too small, but I can't get myself too worked up when Big Brother stories circulate. So this is not the direction my mind goes, but after about six weeks of evidence, I've begun to believe that there is a Big Brother.

He works at Amazon.

(Perhaps it's a Sizeable Sister, but whatever. They work at Amazon.)

The BB/SS was brought to my attention by a sweet librarian in the Midwest who was baffled by strange goings on surrounding the removal of a review she submitted for Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack.

Perhaps authors should have better insight into the workings of this book-selling giant. I'm sure some do--I'm just not one of them. I spend my time writing, not analyzing Amazon. So when the correspondence came from this librarian, I initially thought that her experience reflected a simple glitch in the web giant's posting system. After all, the review (which she sent me) had nothing objectionable in it, and she was a legitimate reviewer--an educator at a middle school. What reason would Amazon have to remove it?

After I told her I was clueless about why it would be removed, she waited a few days and when she was sure her review was not magically reappearing, she contacted Amazon directly.

They wrote her back, saying:


We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for this title. Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website. 

She wrote them back explaining who she was and that she had no vested interest whatsoever in the book.

So they reinstated her review.

And the next day it was, once again, removed.

This librarian works at a school that annually does an all-school read to tie in with a theme. This year their theme is"super heroes" and their book of choice was Justice Jack. They liked the book's theme--that one person can make other's believe in and act upon doing the right thing. So lots of people at this school have read this book. And in addition to the librarian's review, the assistant principal posted (from a separate computer and through a separate Amazon account) this review: 

Sammy Keyes is a great read! I am an assistant principal, and I have always tried to read the books that the young people I am working with may be reading.  I recently read Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack and found it to be a wonderful read.  The book was very entertaining. It flowed very nicely, kept my interest, and made me laugh at the escapades of the superhero Justice Jack.  I love the author’s colorful descriptions of her characters.  The characters are easy to relate to, and the moral behind the story was positive and easy to discuss with young people with an opportunity to encourage them to incorporate it into everyday living.  I strongly recommend this book to read with your children. In fact, I read this book with my eleven-year-old daughter, and it was a great father-daughter bonding experience.


Very nice, and nothing that puts up any red flags that I can see. But it, too, was mysteriously removed shortly after it was visible on the site.

When the librarian told me this, I searched the ol' gray matter for a reason. There had to be a reason! And what I hit on was that the school had ordered a large quantity of books through Amazon and somehow Amazon could track the school's computer system (BB/SS!!) and saw the reviewers as having some resale interest in the title.

But guess what?

The school did not order their books through Amazon!

Since nobody could figure out what's going on, the librarian contacted Amazon again and asked for an explanation. She got the same message as before. So at this point she was ticked off enough to track down a real person via phone (not an easy thing to do). She explained the situation to this real-life person, and the next day both 5-star reviews were reinstated.

Twelve hours later, poof, they vanished again

About twelve hours later, poof, they were back up! 

Then poof! they vanished again!

At this stage this librarian and I are e-mailing back and forth like mad. They're up! They're down! They're up! They're down!

And I'm finally the one who says, "Man, this feels so Big Brother."

In the end, after Amazon threatened the librarian with future reviews (for any books) being automatically blocked should she persist, I told her that she didn't have to be a superhero about it. She could just let it go. 

Which she has. 

But not before sharing Amazon's final correspondence: 

"I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter."

That was it. No actual explanation.

My theory is that the librarian was dealing with two people at the Big A. One daytime, one nighttime. And as the Up and Down Battle ensued, the person in a position of greater authority exercised that authority and shut down the conversation. 

Who knows what the actual truth is. After all, they're "unable to offer any additional insight", so that leaves it to our dangerous imaginations.

Besides not being able to get to the bottom of this mystery (and the little fact that the Five-Star Killer got away), what irritates me is that there are presently only 2 reviews--one 5-star (from a legit outlet) and one 2-star (from someone who clearly has no sense of fun or humor). So the average star rating looks pretty bad! Which is sad because everyone tells me that the book is really good! 

People are entitled to their opinions--I can live with the negatives. But Amazon shoppers do judge a book by the customer reviews (I know I do), and to have the positives excised without justification seems wrong.

Justice Jack would be appalled!

32 comments:

Yusa said...

Yes he would be appalled! That's not justice. Well there goes my respect for Amazon... At least she stood up for herself. Those people working there have a glitch in them.... All the board game talk makes me want to design a Sammy Keyes Clue. So manu possibilities.
--Yusa

gabrielle said...

Stupid amazon!!!! That is rediculous!! If something like that happen to me I would be really mad too!!! Justice jack would be appalled!!! And a negative comment on that book!? Well obviously that person has no taste in good books!! Because that book (and all the other Sammy Keyes books) are amazing!!!

Kylie said...

Well that is stupid that it wouldn't post. I don't really care for amazon. I don't like any of their systems that they use. I prefer Barnes and noble much more.

Kylie said...

Oh and I love the picture. Is that stars with guns? Love it!

gabrielle said...

Oh,yeah,I do like the picture with the stars and guns,it's seems appropriate for the situation and the title of the post. But I have lost a lot of my respect for amazon.

gabrielle said...

I went on amazon and read that 2 star review,it was ridiculious!! That person was sooo wrong about JJ. And it makes me even madder about how they got rid of those the comments by the vice principal and librarian,because those were positive comments!!

Ling said...

I, for one, enjoyed Justice Jack tremendously, and will provide a a five-star review for it. I hope it will boost the book's rating, because it is unfair that Amazon is removing comments without further explanation. It would make sense if the two reviewers did not follow the policy, but the librarian and assistant principal did nothing wrong.

This makes me lose faith in Amazon, where I shop frequently, basing my opinion on prospective purchases on the reviews. Now, I'm going to be wary every time I make a purchase, wondering whether or not some people's reviews were deleted because they ordered a large amount, raising a red flag that they may be reselling it, so their reviews are deleted.

gabrielle said...

Ling I was thinking the same thing. Post a good comment so the rating will go up. Because in my opinion the rating should be five stars. :)

MEB said...

Had a review up on Goodreads, just transferred it over to Amazon! Also, as alliteratively as possible, the picture for this post is perfect.

Caradith Craven said...

I love how this story has motivated several of you to post positive Justice Jack reviews on Amazon! That's the response you should have. You're not letting a Big Brother conglomerate corporation like Amazon "win" in this situation. YOU do have the power and justice will reign victorious in the end.

bookworm said...

I'm going to write a review now. :)

Jessica said...

Ah, the nefarious world of Amazon reviews. There's a whole underground market where people sell reviews to increase a book's rating (usually, through multiple accounts, in batches as big as 100 reviews). And there is a certain famous "novel" that started out as a Twilight fan fiction; the fan-fiction community bombarded it with 5-star reviews as soon as it was released and turned it into a bestseller.

I wonder if there's someone abusing the "report abuse" button, and that kept getting the librarian and assistant principal's reviews taken down (often, this is an automatic thing after a certain number of reports, sometimes a single report). That brings to mind a whole different conspiracy theory! It seems like it would be easy to remedy; there should be a hidden field associated with each review that confirms it's already been checked by Amazon, so that all future reports are ignored. But for some reason, companies struggle with this -- I know Facebook has the same problem; there have been groups that have had false-reporting campaigns against them, and their accounts kept getting suspended, while the false-reporters went unpunished. Like Amazon, Facebook grew increasingly hostile and finally tossed their hands up, saying "stop complaining."

I just checked my Amazon account. I could have sworn I reviewed "The Running Dream," but I guess I didn't (unless my alternate conspiracy theory is correct). I'll be remedying that shortly, and reviewing the other books of yours that I have read. (A note to Amazon if you're reading this: Wendelin never asked her fans to review her books on your site; we just realized we've been remiss in doing so and this post inspired us to correct that. We want more people to read her books because they are awesome; we have no financial interest in them.)

Regarding reviews, you can vote on whether or not they're helpful. I know when I'm reading reviews, the votes can influence how much weight I put on any one review (in addition to the content of the review itself). I'm not suggesting we conspire to down-vote or up-vote any particular reviews; I'm just suggesting that you might want to help this feature work (the "most helpful" reviews are at the top, and those are the ones that help people to decide to buy).

Could the assistant principal and librarian submit new reviews from their home computers, using different accounts? They'd probably need to make sure the wording was different since they already got that warning from Amazon. This might help figure out if the conspiracy is an Amazon BB/SS, or perhaps Wendelin has a rival who is afraid of the power of Justice Jack. (Sorry, I tried, but I could not resist that pun.)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Wow. I booted up this morning to your rallying cry. I'm very touched.

Jessica said...

Alright, I wrote my "Running Dream" review. I'm waiting for Amazon to "approve" it, but I posted it on my blog here.

I'll have to review JJ tomorrow; I spent too long on "The Running Dream" today.

gabrielle said...

I posted my review on JJ earlier,it's probably not the best review but hey I've never actually put a review for a book before. :)

Yusa said...

I'm going now to post a review. We will get it 5 stars!

gabrielle said...

Yeah!! It's already at four stars!! :D

Kylie said...

Whoop, Whoop!

Yusa said...

Just a couple more good reviews.

Bella Honeydew said...

Man that person who gave it two stars and wrote a review . . . I would honestly like to see THEM try to write a book. Why wasn't there's the one that disappeared?

gabrielle said...

So close to five stars!!! Yay!! You are soo right Bella,that person has know idea how hard it is to make a book. But there has to be something wrong with that person if they didn't like Sammy Keyes!!

Bella Honeydew said...

I think the worst was that they where so wrong about was 'the abuse of Hudson's charater' =(

Does anyone know if there is a 5th book for the gecko & sticky? I really like those books, and I HAVE to find out who Damien Black called at the end there!!=)

Yusa said...

I actually haven't read gecko and sticky. I feel so bad....

Bella Honeydew said...

You should! It is really good, there is a talking gecko lizard who speaks spanish, a 13 year old boy named Dave, and a evil villian named Damien Black.
It is not some magical book where animals talk either, they are on a misson to get back something that shouldn't be in the evil hands of Damien Black.
Oh! And there is a (very stupid) marachi band who make the story ten times funnier!! =)=)

Yusa said...

I guess i felt like i was never at the age to read it... i kinda went straight to sammy keyes and everything past it.

Yusa said...

Happy Halloween everyone by the way....
And soon Day of the Dead and Day of Skulls. :)

Yusa said...

Oh and vite for Sammy keyes and POJJ for the goodread voting

Jessica said...

Happy Night of Skulls! (Er, is that an appropriate greeting for that holiday?)

Yusa said...

Yeah that's what i was wondering.....

Sammy Keyes said...

I'll review it on Amazon because it totally needs 5 stars!

Sammy Keyes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raisa Karim said...

now i need to go post a review