Rave reviews, for a fee

Note: Clare was on sick duty yesterday, and I must piggyback on her excuse with my own today. A close family member had a stroke last week, and has just returned home  from the hospital. I’m helping him with his recovery, so I must beg off.

I’ll leave you all with a link to an interesting article in the New York Times. It describes the emerging trend of fake book reviews–positive reviews that are purchased for five bucks a pop. Here’s the link:

In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5 

Just a few years ago, rave-only reviews were likely to come from the author’s friends and family. Now, it turns out, you can buy ’em by the bushel. The practice even extends to book blogs, where you can buy full-length, positive reviews.

Many people don’t pay attention to online reviews, but for those that do, do you think that this practice will devalue them? Have you run across any reviews you suspected weren’t “real”?

(My thanks to Patricia Smiley for bringing my attention to the NYT article.)

17 thoughts on “Rave reviews, for a fee

  1. I don’t see how the practice can do anything but lower the value of online reviews. As John said above, it’s low, on both sides.

  2. I’m not sure how this can be policed, but at some point the meme will develop that such ratings can’t be entirely trusted. What may happen is some new form of “prestige” review sites, the online equivalent of PW that is reader oriented.

  3. That’s really sad because I do pay attention to online reviews. I guess for me though, I know the reviewer in most cases and will pick accordingly. However, I do read a lot of reviews on amazon and will choose a book based on the reviews.

  4. Jim, I’ve always distrusted Amazon reviews when they were uniformly glowing. The conventional wisdom was that unless a book had a few negative or mediocre reviews, people would suspect the reviews were all written by friends and family. If everyone feels pressured to purchase positive reviews to stay competitive, you’re right–the practice will fall into disfavor. Perhaps a system of “trusted” reviewers will emerge online, perhaps even at Amazon. BK, I agree, being caught cheating would be much worse than a negative comment! Dana & John, I’m with you–how low can it go?

  5. Clarissa, to stop the practice, perhaps reviewers should be required to indicate whether they received payment for the review. That might be a simple, effective solution. I know blogs have to post whether they received free books or payment–perhaps all reviewers should start being required to do the same.

  6. I’m influenced more by the number of four and five star reviews than by the content. If I’m on the fence, I tend to read the bad reviews first. Most tend to be bizarre screeds that have nothing to do with the book itself, but more to do with outside factors like pricing or politics.

    My actual buying decision is often governed by the mid-range reviews, where I think you find the most meat.

    John Gilstrap

  7. I’m going anon on this one because it’s not my proudest moment.

    I used to work for a place that did paid reviews. We weren’t even required to read the book, just skim it to be able to sprinkle in enough info from the book to be able to write a “guaranteed 5-star” review. Mostly vanity pubbed, I became adept at phrases such as “unlike anything I’ve ever read before.”

    After a few months, I couldn’t do it anymore. It felt wrong and, frankly, most of the books sucked. There are easier ways to pick up pocket change, like writing porn or being a telemarketer.

    After that little walk on the dark side, I can usually spot a paid review a mile away from the weasel wording.

  8. Like John G said I like to read the mid-range reviews to get an idea of the books real rating. I tend to read the reviews from the bottom up (worst first) and find that this gives a good sense of people’s impression of the work.

    For someone to buy good reviews makes me think of a carnival hawker trying to hide the tattoos covering his arms while he attempts to look and sound honest about the cheap garbage he’s hoping to convince you to buy.

    On the other hand, I recently started using a service called Bookrooster.com to both be a book reviewer and to have my own reviewed. While the review service does cost the author ($67 per book) there is no guarantee of the level of rating, or even that they will be positive. If a book totally sucks, they ask the reviewer to be constructive and not just post a tirade. So in that sense it is a good thing.

    But to buy a ‘guaranteed 5-star review’…well that’s just stinky.

  9. Basil, I tried Bookrooster too but haven’t seen any reviews yet. I tried it with one book, simply because it’s SO hard to get reviews. I sell books every single day and I’d say less than 1 in 100 readers come back to post a review. I’ve gotten a better percentage with giveaways, but managing and promoting a giveaway takes a lot of time and commitment. That’s time I’d rather spend writing.

    I’ve also been told that the odds of getting a bad review are higher, because satisfied customers go on to the next book while unsatisfied customers feel obligated to let the whole world know why they’re pissed off. Slowly but surely my reviews are adding up, but it’s taking a long time. The other problem for an Indie writer with no reviews is that some of the important blogs won’t review your work unless it already has enough reviews posted on Amazon. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to accomplish, since reviews can obviously be bought, but that’s what we have to deal with.

  10. I am shocked SHOCKED to learn that there is fakery on the internet.

    Seriously? Are people really surprised by this? The only thing that surprises me is how much weight some people give to the opinions of people they don’t know and will probably never meet.

  11. I’m not sold on the idea of reviews at all. I’m not sure you can gain anything from them.

    My first noir novel got a good review from Booklist, something which should please anyone, right? But when I read it, the reviewer liked it all right, despite the fact he clearly did not get noir, not in the least. In fact, I cringed at the idea of someone buying the book on the strength of that review because they might be misled.

    As for phony reviews, I don’t know what can be done about them.

  12. Hope your family member is recovering well after the stroke. I am not surprised by anything anymore when it comes to book reviews but I do think there will be a more objective site that readers will trust in terms of reviews and the rest, well you just have to take most online reviews with a grain of salt!

  13. Kathryn, I hope your relative recovers quickly. I am amazed at the advances in treatment that have been made in the last two decades. And bless you for taking care of them.

  14. Is nothing real anymore? Sheesh. I’m sitting here wondering, because I received an email from someone who claims to be a big deal in the movie industry (a name we’d all recognize) who said he’s looking forward to reading MYTHOLOGICAL SAM – THE CALL. And the bitch of the whole thing? I don’t know if I can believe he is who he says he is!! Go figure!

    PS: Hope all is well on the home front. Look forward to your next post.

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