Recently as many of you will be aware, Anne Rice, acting as a spokesperson for a number of authors on Amazon, posted about a petition they were putting out. A petition asking Amazon to stop the practice of reviews being posted as anonymous.
The reasons for this were mainly that anonymity allowed for posters to post reviews that were in some cases unfair, occasionally sock puppets designed to drive up (or down) book sales, often misdirected against the author instead of the work, and in too many cases actually threatening violence.
Look, I have respect as an author and a reader for Anne Rice's work. I have most of her Vampire novels on my shelves. And as an author also on Amazon who has taken a few hits from readers - some of which I regard as unfair - I have a fair degree of sympathy for the situation she describes. That being said, I will not sign the petition.
My reasoning is that anonymous reviews are simply part and parcel of the publishing world, and that to restrict the practice would be to restrict readers from having their say. Many readers would not post reviews if they had to use their own names, and I believe that most of them would not be those posting these unfair and sometimes threatening reviews. In the end we are talking about only a few reviewers who post inflammatory reviews under the guise of anonymity, but to take the action of stopping anonymous reviews is to punish everyone for their actions. That's unfair.
In my view the correct action is to directly target those who do post these reviews, and the way to do this is to ask Amazon to more strictly enforce their TOS. As part of that I would suggest the following:
First threats of violence. We live in a civilised world and there is absolutely no place for violence and threats. If someone were to come up to me in the street and threaten me, my response would be to go to the police. And if the medium has changed so that instead of a street it's on the Internet, the response should be the same.
Next reviews that can't seem to separate the work from the writer and end up in personal attacks. Look this again is a violation of Amazon's TOS. They should be reported and taken down as quickly as they go up. And if a particular reviewer seems incapable of avoiding the same mistakes repeatedly, they should be prevented from posting more reviews until they can.
Then the sock puppets. This is a complex problem and it actually occurs on both sides. Some sock puppets are actual attempts to drive up the rating and hence appeal of books. Others are by disgruntled readers who are so upset with a work that they believe just saying it once is not enough so they'll use multiple Amazon accounts and identities. In both cases this is a violation of the TOS and should be stopped. I understand that people on both sides feel passionately about various books, but in the end it's not about that. It's about having your fair say. And that generally means one review per person. Why should I or anyone else have more say than others simply because I have the skills to create multiple Amazon accounts etc? Why is my opinion more valuable than that of anyone else?
Anyway, those are my thoughts on this particular petition. In a nut shell it's using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut and it denies many readers the right to give legitimate reviews of what they read in the comforting embrace of anonymity. It discourages reviews, good and bad. And as a published author one of the things we should all want is feedback.