Thursday, September 20, 2012

Consumer Book Reviews and a Question of Ethics

It was reported recently in the New York Times (and "THE WEEK" Sept 7, 2012 edition) that

At least one third of "consumer" reviews of books and other products found on the internet are fake.  The fake reviews are written by marketers, retailers, authors, friends of the sellers, and even third-party companies paid to churn out positive reviews.

Some choice quotes:

"Twenty percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. They do not get to the top without adulation, lots and lots of it."

Todd Jason Rutherford, who ran a business that sold positive reviews of books - for the rates of $99 for one online review,  $499 for 20 and $999 for fifty - said,

“These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.” 

"One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention."

"Amazon and other e-commerce sites have policies against paying for reviews. But Mr. Rutherford did not spend much time worrying about that. “I was just a pure capitalist,” he said. Amazon declined to comment."

John Locke, who has sold more than a million ebooks through Amazon had purchased over 300 reviews through Mr. Rutherford.  Locke said,

“Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”
While Rutherford's initial venture into selling reviews has folded (in part because "Google suspended his advertising account, saying it did not approve of ads for favorable reviews. At about the same time, Amazon took down some, though not all, of his reviews.")  Now he's launching a service where 

"for $99, he blogs and tweets about a book — he has 33,000 Twitter followers"

You can read the full article by David Streitfeld, "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy" here.

This brings up a really important issue about where the ethical line is and should be drawn.

Should "consumer" reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads be from people the author and illustrator don't know?  

Should all reviews have disclaimers on the connection of the reviewer to the author/illustrator?  

How can the system be more honest?

If paying for favorable reviews is going too far, what about asking a friend to write a review of your book?  

Recently, a publicist at a publishing house contacted a blogger who had reviewed a book they'd put out... requesting that blogger re-post their review as a consumer review on Amazon.  Is that too far?

Where do you draw the line?  Tell us in comments!

We each need to consider the answer for ourselves... and our industry.

Illustrate and Write On,

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