Is B & N competing with Amazon for Bad Customer Service?

Guest Post by Irene Watson

You are probably well aware of the issues we’ve been having with Amazon.com removing our (along with many others’) reviews and banning us from posting. 

We contemplated on posting all the reviews on BarnesAndNoble.com but their system is not user friendly nor are reviews a focal point. I contacted B & N to see if I can speak to someone that may consider making some changes to their site and actually was able to communicate with a person in their headquarters in the U.S.  She asked me to send her an email and she assured me it will be directed to the appropriate department.  Well, not to make this story long, it just didn’t happen.  My contact said she forwarded the email but it seems the suits aren’t interested in responding or talking to me.  End of story. Oh well, I tried.

There is more. Even though we don’t like their system, we posted the review for Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby on the B & N site.  A few days later this showed up:

Your Review is no longer visible by others because it contains inappropriate language which violates our Terms of Use. If you update your content, it will be reconsidered by our moderators within three business days. This message will be removed when your content is approved.

When I checked the Terms of Use there is nothing in the long rendition about reviews other than the ability to post them if the person holds an account.  Furthermore, there is no way to “update the content” because there is no edit button nor is there a way to replace the review.

I phoned customer support but I suspected I would be told they don’t have contact with the review department.  I was right.  I was given an email address where to send my query.  I sent an email asking what term we violated, to quote me the inappropriate wording, and instructions to edit. No response.  I sent it again a week later.  No response.  I sent another email a week later.  No response.  I phoned and asked for a supervisor.  I did talk to one that actually was very cordial and said she would contact the appropriate department.  She also said I will get a response from them. It never happened.  This was over a week ago.

Today I went to BarnesAndNoble.com site to see if by some magical chance they fixed the issue but didn’t tell me.  Nope.  That’s wasn’t the case but what I did find was another review, Unthinkable: Tips for Surviving a Child’s Traumatic Brain Injury, had the exact same red notation at the top of the review!  There is absolutely nothing in either review that “contains inappropriate language.”  Yet, when I did a cursory check on some of our other reviews, they were posted.

But, there is even more about B & N.   I’ve recently received emails from reviewers on our site ReviewTheBook.com.  (This is a site where reviewers get the books to review but post reviews under their own name/account with no affiliation to the site.) The most recent was:

I have tried repeatedly to post a review of this book at B&N and for some reason they won’t allow me to do so. They have stopped responding to my requests for an explanation as to why they won’t post it.

I also got (and others that are similar):

I’m attempting to post a review on Barnes and Noble.  I’m able to log into my account, find the book, and enter the review. When I hit submit I’m told the review isn’t accepted. I’ve sent emails to them but I’m not getting a response.

Not getting a response?  Humm…sounds very familiar to me and to the many others that have attempted to contact Amazon.com regarding their reviews.  Is BarnesAndNoble.com trying to compete with Amazon.com for bad customer service?  Sure seems like it.  I was hoping B & N would step-up-to-the-plate and offer better customer service than Amazon.  Instead, I’m finding quite the opposite; it’s just another humongous corporation in the passive-aggressive mode that doesn’t give a hoot about their commodity: the authors who supply the product for them to sell.  

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find  reviews  of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity  and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.

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Posted on January 15, 2012, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I think that these big sites are considering their costs of carrying the reviews of all kinds and are figuring that it is not benefiting the sale of the books. I suspect that reviews as we know them are going to have to seek other outlets such as twitter and facebook. I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon and nook are doing this already to promote books. I've always wondered about the ratio of reviews to sales and also that the reader is not stupid and knows that a lot of the reviews in the big neswpapers and so forth are by the reviewers who are "connected" to the publishers. Remember the reader is not stupid and will seek reviews that come through a simpler and more social area such as the facebook and twitter realms where the reviews can get some cross review by others and some talk back. As writers we have to rely more on social neworks these days. For example see the hashmark for amazon. Amazon is not stupid either. Tom

  2. There was a great piece on TV the other night about customer service (or better, the lack thereof). Most large companies could not care less about their customers…they just want to sell them something, and if it breaks or the customer need help, well, “Hey, thanks for trying, but we hope you’ll soon tire and move on because frankly, we don’t have time for anything if it doesn’t have something to do with taking your money.”Service costs…and people don’t even want to pay for products. Many today feel their music, books, and other things should be free. Hence the rise in piracy. Piracy is everywhere; in books and music; in films; in handbags and watches; ‘among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city;’ (but I digress, with apologies to Dickens). You get the picture.I don’t know the answer. Borders is gone. Soon, B&N will be history. As well, so will paperback books and hardcovers (for the most part…at least, the casual reader isn’t going to purchase them in any great quantities). Others and I probably won’t write as much in the future, either, because frankly, the game isn’t worth the candle.Yes, I enjoy writing. I started my latest novel, a mystery/thriller about a vampire cult, just before Thanksgiving, and it probably will go up on Amazon this week. But this time, to save time, money, and my hair, I’m not working with a publisher—that would simply have done me in! No, this time I’m using a digital conversion house (ebookconversion.com) to go straight from my Word manuscript to the requisite Kindle- and EPUB-formatted versions. But still, given the money spent and the yet-to-be-determined return on investment, only time will tell whether or not it’s worth the effort.You get the picture. Amazon’s and B&N’s stances regarding reviews are just two more impediments in the indie writer’s path. That said, however, the truly ironic thing is, in the end, it’s going to end up killing them because many writers will simply fold their tents and steal away to do other things, leaving behind a plethora of lower-cost, lessor-quality products for future readers to ponder…and perhaps ignore for lack of meaningful reviews to instruct their purchases.

  3. I used to do reviews for a website called PODBRAM (POD Books and More) which is still active, BTW – and we would routinely post a version of the review on B&N and Amazon. Something like three or four years ago, B&N totally revised their structure for posting reviews, and basically anonymized a huge body of reviews that Floyd Orr (the founder of PODBRAM) had created and posted. All of us contributing reviewers found B&N's review set-up very difficult to work with.We finally stopped posting reviews on B&N all together. Yep, everytime one of us had a beef with Amazon.com and took our writing and review custom to B&N – we discovered that B&N were even more horrible to work with! It never failed.

  4. Speaking as a book reviewer, an author has to wrestle me to the ground and threaten bodily harm before I will put a review up on either Amazon or B&N. Leave them to their one line reviews… Great Book, Could not put it down – by Authors manicurist! I think a review looses credibility as soon as either of these monsters publish it. They are vehichles of comerce not learning! Great places to buy from, horrible places to get objectivity. The bigger deal here is getting authors to understand the pointlessness of having reviews posted on these sites. It is not hard to figure this out. Pick an author name, or a book title. And do a search on author/book title review. Amazon almost never scores!

  5. Simon, you give a good example. Thank you. This brings to mind one of our reviewers sent in a review; the book was badly edited, was stilted, and the plot lacked a plot. I check on Amazon.com to see what other reviewers thought of this book. There were five reviews – all with glowing words and 5-stars. When I checked each of the profiles I found that not one of the five had ever reviewed a book before or since. They are pointless reviews.

  6. Despite everything I've read about this review problem, I still fail to see how Amazon and Barnes & Noble gain by blocking legitimate, honest reviews, whether the author has paid for them or not. Readers can tell the difference between a "review" by the author's manicurist and an intelligent reader who has obviously read the book from beginning to end. And yet Amazon insanely promotes its pet reviewers who claim to read several dozen books every week. Readers will soon realize they are better served by independent review sites with trustworthy content. That those sites will be free to the reader and paid for by the authors doesn't bother me in the least.

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