Amazon propping up Hillary Clinton's new book?

It can be hard selling books, as anyone who’s ever had one published can tell you. Hillary Clinton is apparently no exception. Her latest offering seems to be of great interest to a group of political reporters scattered around the country, but aside from that it’s not going to come anywhere near paying back the advance her publisher gave her. One powerful outfit which seems to be trying to prop up her literary efforts, however, is retail giant Amazon. First they slashed the price of the tome by 40% before it was even released. And now it’s being reported that they’ve been deleting negative reviews of the book on their website. (Washington Times)

“What Happened,” the former Democratic presidential nominee’s tell-all about the 2016 presidential race, currently boasts an average rating of 4.8 stars out of 5.

The only problem is, Amazon admitted to deleting negative reviews that apparently violate the company’s “community guidelines.”

“In the case of a memoir, the subject of the book is the author and their views,” a company spokesperson told Fortune. “It’s not our role to decide what a customer would view as helpful or unhelpful in making their decision. We do however have mechanisms in place to ensure that the voices of many do not drown out the voices of a few and we remove customer reviews that violate our community guidelines.”

So it’s estimated that Amazon deleted more than half of the reviews under the cover of saying they violated community guidelines. But what does that mean? I suppose if people were leaving reviews peppered with obscenities they should be deleted. (And it’s not terribly hard to imagine.) But that certainly can’t account for all of them. Beyond that, it would require some amazing skills at mind-reading to know why someone’s opinion of the book was either positive or negative. How do the community guidelines handle that question?

I took at look at their Reviews and Comments Policy page and found this:

You may post reviews, comments, photos, videos, and other content; send e-cards and other communications; and submit suggestions, ideas, comments, questions, or other information, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, infringing of intellectual property rights (including publicity rights), or otherwise injurious to third parties or objectionable, and does not consist of or contain software viruses, political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, mass mailings, or any form of “spam” or unsolicited commercial electronic messages. You may not use a false e-mail address, impersonate any person or entity, or otherwise mislead as to the origin of a card or other content. Amazon reserves the right (but not the obligation) to remove or edit such content, but does not regularly review posted content.

Unless making negative comments about Clinton constitutes “political campaigning” I don’t see anything here which would disqualify a negative review absent any obscenity. Amazon also goes out of their way to say that they don’t “regularly review posted content.” Really? Somebody seems to have been working overtime to review the comments about Clinton’s book so this is being treated as a special case.

Of course, let’s also accept the fact that a lot of those reviews probably came from people who haven’t even purchased or read the book. (Despite CNN’s efforts to portray it as a best seller.) And this ties back to a long running discussion I’ve engaged in about the overall usefulness of online rating systems. Web sites like Yelp have been notoriously corrupted by trolls and scammers seeking to drive up their own ratings while dragging down those of their competitors. An orchestrated campaign can quickly swamp product reviews in one direction or the other.

Is that what happened with Hillary’s offering at Amazon? Beats me. While it’s possible, there are also a lot of people out there who simply don’t like Clinton (and that includes a lot of Bernie Sanders fans, not just conservatives). It could just as easily be a grassroots backlash. But the real question remains… if Amazon is going to have an open comments and review section for all of their products, how do they justify fluffing up Clinton’s review numbers?