Visiting the lovely peeps on my blogroll today, I came across a particular post that spawned a tangential thought-stream. What follows is indeed my own thought stream, concerning a topic about which I know little, because I haven’t had the energy to go full-on activist in recent months. But I’ll share with you those thoughts that did come.
I originally decided that I wasn’t going to name names, but I ultimately decided that I would.
A little background: The post that seeded these thoughts was an ActuallyAutistic review (excellent read!) of the infamous book “To Siri With Love” (by Judith Newman), written by Elizabeth Roderick (whose blog is certainly worth a follow!).
And, in my own Aspergian/autistic systemizing fashion, I got to thinking about Elizabeth’s words and how aspects of The System are…well, systematically dampening my own Aspergian/autistic spirits by repeating the anti-AS drivel that seems to spout from so many mouths (although, encouragingly, the voices of people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum and our allies have begun to speak louder).
And I read the words in Elizabeth’s opening sentences:
“Amazon is now not allowing reviews by people who don’t have a ‘verified purchase’ through Amazon.”
And I thought, somewhat sarcastically, of course.
Please let me state the obvious: I’m pretty sure that Amazon isn’t out to silence the Asperger’s/autistic community on purpose.
Yet, by allowing this policy, that’s exactly what’s happening.
So here we go, with my original thought-stream about this topic…
Some books require a “verified purchase” through Amazon in order to be eligible to leave a review.
I understand that the author might not want flaming criticism from trolls or people operating on hearsay, but…isn’t it a little self-serving to require people to buy the book? Doesn’t that smack of a potential ploy to boost sales? What about those who have read it because they checked it out from the library or borrowed it from a friend?
They may have read the book in its entirety, too.
Do they not deserve a voice?
Should they be silenced just because they didn’t throw money at the author?
Do their opinions matter any less?
Should they not be eligible to write a book review as well?
It’s true that if a purchase of the book can’t be verified in some way, it would be tough to ensure that the review is genuine and that the reviewer has actually read the book. With no way to track the book’s purchase, there’d be no way to limit the reviews to those who actually read the book.
Or would it be so hard?
I propose another system. Let’s take some of that Big Biz Data-Crunching capability and use it for something that might actually benefit the general public. We all know that there are likely to be software programs that can scrape the text of a book and archive it into large servers. This is done with college/university theses, and it has been for a while already. I’m sure that with Amazon’s size, revenue, and tech-savviness (they pioneered many technological systems already, such as single-click checkout), my instincts tell me that they could probably hook that up, maybe even write some original code, implement a first-of-its-kind system, and blaze a trail.
My vision (?): if you want to write a review of a book, you answer a series of questions about the book to show that you’ve read it and if you pass, you get to leave a review. Or you enter in a valid ISBN number or upload a photo of the book or whatever. To show that it’s in your possession, or that it has been at some point. I think the questions are a fairer and more secure/accurate way of doing it, but I’ve presented several options.
We already have all the technological components in place. We have the aforementioned text-scraping capability. We have algorithm generators–or, alternatively, each author could submit with their own sets of questions as part of the process for listing their book on Amazon. We have fillable forms. We have Captchas and “I’m not a robot”s to verify that the review-writer is, indeed, human. We have humongous storage capacity to house all of this.
This would allow for a review system much fairer than the current one. The “verified purchase” requirement is faulty because it automatically skews in favor of the positive review. You’re much more likely to spend money on a book (and support its author) if you’re already fairly confident that you’re going to like the book (or are at least open to its general premise).
Who’s going to buy a book they’re probably going to come out against or has a premise the person already has a feeling they’ll end up rejecting?
Who’s going to support an author whose viewpoint they reject?
(There are, of course, people who read material written by opponents in order to gain a better understanding of “The Other Side” of an issue or a topic. I find it quite understandable that there would be situations in which those people might want to read that material without personally supporting the author of that material.)
Granted, the Write A Review section of Amazon is for book reviews; it’s not necessarily a customer service line or contact form for an author.
But what better way to get the author’s attention?
What better way to make your voice heard, especially in the case of a book causing harm to a group of people?
Amazon, drop the “verified purchase” requirement. Allow for an ISBN number or 5-question quiz about the book itself instead. Please, authors, don’t silence people just because they don’t want to buy your book, through Amazon.
As if the viewpoint of the book itself isn’t self-serving enough, this particular author has shown yet more self-serving behavior by limiting review eligibility to those who have bought her book through Amazon. In doing so, she has effectively silenced many autistic people and our voices.
And she knows it.
The system is rigged. Perhaps unintentionally (which might defeat the definition of the word “rigged”, which implies purpose/intention), but the effect is the same: people’s voices are being shushed.
Thank you to those who are speaking out! (Such as Elizabeth Roderick, Yarn & Pencil, and Eve over at American Badass Activists, just to name a few! I’ll probably edit this post to add others as I’m reminded; please feel free to post blog links on this topic in the comments–yes, including to your blog, too!)
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)