by Steve Laube
You may have read or heard of the NY Times article where an author admitted to using a now-defunct service that wrote positive online reviews for a fee. Unfortunately I was not surprised. There have been many attempts to game the system over the years.
One man bought thousands of his books in various locations to launch it onto the NY Times bestseller list (Read a report about it here). And here is a link to a recent article which helps authors strategize how to get on the Amazon.com bestseller list. I remember back when I ran a bookstore a well-known author refused to let our store run an event’s booktable because we did not report our sales to the New York Times.
Having a system to create fake reviews only reduces our confidence in the reviews we read online. In fact there are laws in place now whereby a reviewer must reveal whether or not they got the book for free in exchange for a review. (Here is the Federal Trade Commission guide concerning the “Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.“) Booksneeze.com is a great source for bloggers to get books in exchange for honest reviews.
I know a voracious reader who will not buy a new book unless there are 20 or more 4/5 star reviews on Amazon.com. She says that is a reasonable threshold.
There are times where I have scanned an author’s reviews and recognize a dozen of the reviewers. They are other writers within that author’s circle of friends. I’ve also noticed occasions where every reviewer is from the same town or have the same last name as the author. The purpose of an objective evaluation seems to have been defeated.
Last year I wrote a piece on “Curation” as one positive function of the traditional publishing model (letting the publisher decide what should be published and what shouldn’t). I’ve been criticized for that saying that the market is smart enough to provide its own curation or make its own choices. Point taken. But if part of the “objective” nature of the marketplace includes reviews, what happens if those reviews are fake? The whole system begins to break down.
So what do we do?
Are reviews that important?
What if your book is reviewed negatively by one person but received accolades from everyone else?
Do we stop asking friends to help with reviews?
Do we just “hope for the best”?
If others are gaming the system, why can’t you?