Fake Amazon Book Reviews: Is It Really A Big Deal?


image by Roger and Renate Rossing, 1954

Last year I came across an interesting book as I was browsing through Amazon looking for an e-book to load on my Kindle. An intriguing title in historical fiction, which is one of my favorite genres, sounded like might be worth a read, and the fact it was free at the time was an added attraction.

As is my habit, I will read through the reviews, although I wouldn’t necessarily say they have much to do with whether I will choose a book or not. I find other people’s opinions interesting, sometimes insightful and generally entertaining.

This particular book had five reviews, all 5 stars. As I read through them, I realized there was a striking similarity in the reviews. In fact three of them used the exact same phrasing in several of the sentences. I probed further and checked out the reviewers’ profiles: not too much creativity there, either. All five had only reviewed the self-published author’s two books, the reviewers listed a similar first name and all came from the same part of the U.S.  It was obvious: the author had written her own reviews. I chalked it up to a desperate author who wanted to sell her books and moved on.

Unfortunately, we found out that authors can go beyond writing their own book reviews under aliases. Novelist RJ Ellory was outed recently as not only writing reviews under pseudonyms but attacking competing authors under those same pseudonyms.

Novelist RJ Ellory Caught Praising His Own Books On Amazon

Why not take a bigger step into murky waters and hire out fake reviews? John Locke left this out of the strategy he shared with readers in How I Sold One Million E-Books, but admitted he bought fake book reviews to make his books more popular.

Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke? by Porter Anderson

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy – New York Times

And in a scandal that recalls James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, there’s Jonah Lehrer, a writer hired at The New Yorker, who fabricated material in his popular book published this year Imagine: How Creativity Works.

NPR’s ‘The Lies Are Over’: A Journalist Unravels 

Maybe it’s my recovering pessimist raising her suspicious eyebrow, but I’m not that surprised.

You can buy fake Twitter followers to make you and your brand look more popular than you really are. Fake strength (steroids), fake boobs, fake butt, fake tan.  Cheating politicians, cheating students and cheating spouses. Scripted ‘reality’ shows.

‘Everybody’s doing it’. Are they?

Some people suggest that it’s that evil corporate behemoth Amazon’s fault, and they should be doing more to stop fake reviews. Just want we need – book review police. How about people taking responsibility for their own integrity? Novel idea, I know.

I think what’s happening in publishing is just a symptom of what’s happening in our culture. When the borders of integrity have been penciled in, it’s easy to blur the line or erase it altogether when the possibility of fame or money comes into play. Integrity boundaries need to be written in ink when it doesn’t matter so they stay intact when it does matter.

Reminds me of an ancient saying:

What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?

What do you think? Is writing your own reviews, buying reviews or asking for reviews from people that haven’t read the book a big deal or business as usual in today’s competitive world?

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14 thoughts on “Fake Amazon Book Reviews: Is It Really A Big Deal?

  1. I wrote a blog post about this phenomenon and I feel strongly that faking reviews is the same as cheating in an exam or falsifying qualifications or information. People generally respect writers as a group that have achieved a level of creativity to be admired. It’s bad when those same people show so much pettiness that they trash other people’s work in one-star reviews, or feel so insecure they lie to people by fabricating five-star reviews of their own work. If they don’t feel confident of their talents by now, then they should give up. I do not think we should ‘let them off’ lightly or look at this step with an indulgent attitude. As a society we have let the standards slip. Mediocrity in everything is becoming the norm. What happened to ethics, doing the right thing, being or doing the best we can? We have slipped into a murky pool where shoddy work is acceptable, and so is shoddy behaviour. Bring back personal and work standards. It’s not as if these guilty parties ‘didn’t know any better.’ They knew very well what they were doing.

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    • “They knew very well what they were doing.”
      Yes, I agree, Fiona. It’s aggravating to hear those caught in these types of unethical behavior act shocked or even victimized that they chose to indulge in questionable activities and what they are really sorry about is that they got caught. My favorite excuse I hear a lot in the media now is “I regret misspeaking.” You lied. And you don’t even have the guts to admit it. No class.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your opinion, Fiona.

      Like

  2. Editor

    Reblogged this on Virtual Book Tour and commented:
    Kristin Nador is asking a great question this week. Is writing your own reviews, buying reviews or asking for reviews from people that haven’t read the book a big deal or business as usual in today’s competitive world?

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  3. This really is the topic of the week, isn’t it? I’ve noticed the same thing you did about the book reviews on Amazon, and have a list of reviewers I pay not attention to anymore. But when I read Jane Friedman’s recent post that outted John Locke, after his having almost guru-status for so long on the self-pubbing front, I posted the link on FB and all the writers loops I subscribe to. There’s nothing I hate more than a cheater–except maybe a hypocritical cheater who leaves out the key piece of the puzzle as to how he “made his name” in self-pubbing. I reviewed books for the Tulsa World for quite a while, and we always got the book we reviewed for free. I think that’s a good program. There was no “business” involved, so if I didn’t like the book I had the ability to say so, and tell readers where I thought the book fell short. I can’t imagine you truly have that if the review is contracted. According to Friedman, Locke did not tell reviewers to post only positive reviews, but when someone is sending you a check for your review, and you hope for more work later, how many reviewers would really have the integrity to report all the book’s warts?

    Joan

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  4. What I don’t get is what good does it do to lie? It doesn’t change reality. If you really believe that what you have written is not up to the mark and the only way to sell it is to lie about it, then perhaps it isn’t time to publish it yet.

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    • It seems the pressure for $ales is just too much of a temptation, I suppose. Everyone is afraid the gravy train is going to pass them by so they have to get it out there any way they can. That’s my guess, anyway. I’d want to take the time to craft the best writing possible and be able to look myself in the mirror in the way I present my writing to the reading public. That’s just me, though. ;)

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  5. JudyStoneGoldman

    I confess to being shocked at this, even though I’ve been aware that some reviews were not authentic sounding. I believe writing fake review, buying them, or posting false reviews is cheating–just wrong. The idea that the pressures of the market justify this practice sound sadly familiar–steroid use, doping, cheating on the SATs….Endless excuses in a world that seems increasingly disinterested in truth (it’s a long political season…)

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  6. I wasn’t shocked at all. It’s been going on forever–way before Amazon and epublishing came into the picture. No industry is pristine. I don’t agree with the practice of paid fake reviews, but neither am I outraged. I think that after months of being inundated with political spin, I just don’t have the energy to work up a good rant over this.

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  7. Kristin–I think “phony” is part of our New Culture, and that there is no longer a stigma attached to it, nor to much other behavior that would have been intolerable a few years ago. As a writer, I’ve been asked several times to “ghost write” books for famous people (One right now is asking my agent if I’ll do it). I won’t “ghost write;” I think it’s dishonest to write something that someone else pretends is his. Good article. Charles w. “chuck” sasser

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  8. Kristin, great post. I know there’s a lot of pressure on pubs and authors, but as my grandma used to say, “it all comes out in the wash.” I think what all of the recent “revelations” point to the transparent culture we live in today. I understand the pressure to get reviews and get discovered. That’s a timeless part of being a writer and being published. Think about the early days when women felt they had to write as men just to get their stuff published or even looked at. Even the classic novelists would write letters trying to appeal to their friends to give their book a chance and spread the word. Today we have the Internet. I ask my authors to ask anyone they know who has read the book to leave a review, but the number of reviews don’t correlate to sales and often people don’t seem to leave a review if they feel they don’t have anything additional to say that hasn’t already been said. One of my novellas sold 700 copies over the summer, yet NOT ONE more review was posted that wasn’t already there last year. After a short story I published as a promo got more than 1,000 downloads this summer, only ONE new review came of it. Long story short, reviews aren’t the end all be all to sales, either way (though having authentic ones is great and can build buzz maybe.)

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  9. Pingback: Authors and Reviewers: Our New Criminal Culture | Scholars and Rogues

  10. Pingback: Authors and reviewers: our new criminal culture | Scholars and Rogues

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