More on Bogus Book Reviews

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 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.


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7 Responses to More on Bogus Book Reviews

  1. Bruce Trainor says:

    Interesting and informative column. I’ll be buying your book regardless of any reviews. I read few reviews and pay attention to few of those but I do like Canadian mystery stories. Your blog was referenced in one of Louise Penny’s newsletters and that’s why I’m here.

    Have a happy holiday and a successful 2012. If, in your ambles around Ottawa, you should happen to bump into Inspector Green tell him I enjoy his adventures too.

    Take care.

    Bruce Trainor


  2. Lissa says:

    It’s also annoying when you’re an author and a reviewer, and you write an honest review of a very badly written vanity published book and the author sends some people to rate your book 1 star and you know they’ve not read it. But what can we do? Nothing.


    • Peggy Blair says:

      I think it just means spreading the word that these reviews are not as honest as some people think they are, because a lot of people rely on them without knowing. (Your situation, by the way, is beyond annoying.)


  3. Lisa says:

    I had the sock puppet thing happen to my book and another friend’s book on Goodreads. I was impressed by how quickly they handled it, especially because the offender reposted under NEW sock puppets two more times before he/she finally gave it up.


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