Biu Ling, a data-mining expert at the New York Times, estimates one in three book reviews is a fake.
More than a year ago, the New York Times reported on the best book reviews money can buy.
Further investigations into how authors buy their way onto bestselling book lists resulted in the Wall Street Journal publishing a news report earlier this year on how the author of Leapfrogging, Soren Kaplan, hired a marketing firm, Results Source, to generate pre-publicity buzz by distributing thousands of advance review copies. While Kaplan’s publisher, Berrett Koehler, had advised him against doing so, the marketing efforts landed him a coveted #3 spot on the Wall Street Journal hardcover business book list. When the news reports surfaced, Kaplan had more than his Amazon sales ranking at stake: his integrity was on the line. To Kaplan’s credit, he took responsibility for trying to game the system and explained how such astroturfing practices and a corrupt system based on payola fails the readers, the author, and the publisher.
No surprise that a year later and the problem gets worse. This scourge grows with book reviews on Amazon and GoodReads posted by sock monkeys and trolls. Book reviews are easy to buy online. Fiverr is one site where reviews can easily be purchased for $5 a piece. After two years of undercover investigations, Fiverr issued a report of 50 authors who have purchased reviews on Fiverr.
So what is a fake review? This is how Fiverr defines it:
- Any review written by an author’s friends, relatives or acquaintances, especially reviews requested by the authors themselves to push up their ratings.
- Any review written by the author using fake names or puppet accounts, especially when the author has many such accounts.
- Any review bought and paid for, especially those from less-than-reputable or questionable companies.
- Any review swapped or traded between authors.
- Any review bought by promising readers free kindles or paying readers any other kickbacks.
Paid reviews are epidemic. The problem is not only with publishing. Yelp. CitySearch. GoogleLocal.
Astroturfing – laying fake grassroots excitement to build buzz before launch or release of a new product – are bad for everyone. It is also illegal. These fake review practices resulted in charges of false advertising and deceptive business practices and in Monday’s news, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced 19 companies will pay $350,000 in penalties.
Legitimate book reviews are not customer satisfaction reports. Work with your publisher to identify newspapers and magazines with appropriate book review editors for your work. Your integrity as a professional requires it as much as your authority as an author.