Amazon’s terms of service have always prohibited the use of paid reviews. They’ve even gone so far as to sue people who offer to post reviews in return for monetary compensation. But giving out free products in return for a review. . . that’s a different story.
It was always okay to post a review on an item you got for free or at a discount as long as the reviewer disclosed the arrangement in the review. Amazon allowed this type of review because we all assumed that reviewers could be trusted to tell the truth. But how likely would you be to post a bad review on an item someone gave you for free? You might feel inclined to stretch the truth with a review that mentions mostly the pros while soft-pedaling the cons. Or you might not post at all. Either way, potential buyers aren’t getting the full and proper picture.
Moot point at this point because Amazon just changed the rules of the game:
In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:
- Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.
- Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors’ products or services.
- Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.
- Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.
There are two exceptions to these rules.
One: reviewers who are part of the Amazon Vine program can still post reviews in return for free products. Vine is Amazon’s super secret army of hand-selected reviewers who are above reproach, so they can be trusted to always do the right thing.
“Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.”
I can hear all the self-published authors in my Facebook groups sighing with relief.
Since I am an author, I’m glad to be singled out – but why? Why is a free book any different from a free CD or free dress or free box of crackers? Are people who listen to CDs, wear dresses or eat crackers less trustworthy that book readers? Why can’t they be trusted to post an honest review?
In the grand scheme, it’s better for everyone if consumers trust the reviews they read. Under these new guidelines, positive reviews will be an even bigger boost to your reputation. Unfortunately, these new rules are going to make it tougher for new companies and products to get a reputation – good or bad — in the first place. If people won’t buy without a review and you can’t give the products away to get a review, how does Amazon expect you to establish yourself on the site?
Of course, simply updating the community guidelines isn’t going to be enough to make everyone fall in line. People will continue to review in return for freebies because they don’t know about the rule or don’t care. That’s tough on those folks who do follow the rules, but what can you do?
If you currently offer free products in return for reviews, it’s time to stop. Because as rough as it is to only have a few reviews on your products, getting banned from Amazon for breaking their terms of service is even rougher.