There was a piece in the New York Times on Saturday about the bulk-buying of favourable customer reviews for books sold on Amazon. The more four and five star reviews you have on your book, the more prominently it is displayed and the more likely you are to get sales. While it's true - as GalleyCat shows in this article - that most bestselling books have a spread of reviews from one to five stars, often polarising customers' opinions, when it comes to getting visibility at online bookstores, the more four and five star ratings, the better. I knew that there were fake reviews on Amazon - both five star and one star; it has been discussed before. However I didn't realise it was possible to bulk buy positive reviews.
I did know that some book blogging sites will try to charge for reviews, which most people (including me) consider unethical. If anything, I felt that these unethical reviewers were trying to exploit authors - with the current changes in digital publishing, where it is now very easy for just about anyone to self-publish, there is a gold rush feel. Many of the people who are getting rich are those (many of them unqualified amateurs) who feed off self-published authors by charging them for various services - anything from advertising with no proven return to formatting or even 'editing'. Despite the success stories, it's the people setting up the whorehouses who are getting rich in this gold rush, not the people who are out panning for gold.
I don't think anyone believes these days that the best-written books sell the most copies. However, until now I believed that people were able to rise to the top by coming up with a brilliant hook or even just by being brilliant at marketing. Now it turns out that it's possible to shoulder your way to success by buying reviews.
In the NYT article, one prolific reviewer who typically spent fifteen minutes looking at a book for each 300 word review is quoted as saying, “There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read. But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.”
Many writers have expressed their exasperation or dismay at what has happened. It's not OK to cheat. Stella Duffy writes about her reaction to several recent pieces of news about fake reviews here concluding that instead of cheating, faking and sock-puppeting, she would rather be writing.
Rob Kroese writes about his anger at million-seller John Locke who told the NYT he bought 300 fake reviews. Rob's piece is at the New Wave Authors' site and is entitled If Opinions Are Like Assholes John Locke's Got 300 of Them. He explains, very succinctly, why it's not OK to cheat, and why getting good reviews is not just about an author's ego.
If you have left a review for one of my books at Amazon, thank you! Genuine reviews help to counteract the fakes and they are much appreciated, by both authors and readers.