My last post on fake book reviews got a bit of a mixed response. I had lots of private messages from authors certain that anonymous and vicious reviews or one star ratings had been posted about their books by people who had never read them. There were an equal number that said we all get bad reviews, ignore them. But my concern wasn’t about bad reviews, it was about bogus ones.
We look at the reviews on sites like Amazon and Google and assume we can rely on them, right? Wrong.
Let’s look at glowing reviews first.
The Freelance Book Exchange has been used by at least one publisher to contract freelance reviewers to post reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu.com. All reviews were vetted before they were posted; the contractors were told to write 5 star reviews. Here’s an ad from Working Base soliciting reviewers for one book–all you need to bid successfully is access to 50 different Amazon accounts. And here’s another posted on Freelancer –“reviewer must have multiple accounts.”
The New York Times has a whole article about this kind of thing. The heading? Five Star Web-Reviews Go for $ 5.
There are also “for hire” PR firms that will offer favourable reviews of new books for a fee. Nathan Barker head of Reputation 24/7, is quoted as saying : “First we set up accounts. For a romance novel we’d pick seven female profiles and three males. We’d say we like this book but add a tiny bit of criticism and compare it to another book.” Barker, by the way, claims this is common. As if that makes it alright.
Another blogger points that one top Amazon reviewer reviewed 77 books in a single day. Quite the voracious reader.
Eyebrows were raised in the press when a book about menopause received 52 five star ratings in the first few days after publication by people who had never rated or reviewed any other book.
Those are the good reviews that skew results. Now let’s look at the nasty, self-serving individuals who use these sites for other, personal agendas.
Rose Allison has hired a company to defend her online reputation. Her book received an unprecedented series of nasty Amazon reviews once it was longlisted for the Orange Prize in Women’s Fiction. The consultant she’s contracted says the reviews look suspicious and appear to be maliciously motivated.
Historian Simon Winder forced Amazon to remove extremely hostile reviews of his book after he discovered the “anonymous” reviewer was a colleague.
Then there is the story of Orlando Figes, a professor in the UK, who was accused of posting scathing reviews on Amazon about books written by his colleagues and other reviews praising his own anonymously. At first he claimed his wife, a barrister and human rights lawyer, wrote them. He was sued for libel and finally admitted he was responsible. (He apologized and paid damages to those wronged. I hope that includes his wife.)
Goodreads, it seems, is not immune. You might find this thread interesting: it discusses “puppet accounts” that have been created only to inflate or trash certain books on that site. By the way, Goodreads doesn’t like this practice and will remove such accounts if they are identified.
There’s nothing wrong with bad reviews; not all books are for everyone. But a drive-by one star rating by someone who’s never read, rated, or reviewed another book is suspicious, to say the least. Those people who trash books because they have their own agendas, or who use sites like these to inflate their own ratings should be outed. Review sites are only worthwhile if we can trust them to be reliable.
Oh, and by the way, the same holds true for products on Amazon. Reviews are apparently bought, faked, and sold there all the time. As they say, Caveat emptor. Buyers (and authors) beware.
Watch the book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera here!