The uproar that the true secret behind John Locke’s remarkable e-book sales was that Locke paid for reviews is still going on. I already blogged about the paid reviews scandal and what remains of John Locke’s advice one year later here and here.
The New York Times, which broke the story, has a follow-up which focus on fake reviews not just for books but for all sorts of consumer products. The New York Times seems to consider the fake reviews for consumer products even worse than the fake book reviews. I’m the opposite, since I expect book reviews – at least from actual review outlets, not Amazon reader reviews – to be at least halfway honest, if not unbiased. But with consumer reviews for electronics, household goods, etc…, I pretty much expect them to be fake in some way. What is more – and I’m probably unique in that – I hardly ever pay any attention to consumer reviews when buying electronics, household appliances, etc… I pay attention to reviews by Stiftung Warentest, but mostly I buy the same brands that I had a good experience with in the past and avoid those brands that I had bad experiences with.
Laura Miller weighs in at Salon with a guide to decoding the range of Amazon reviews of a given book. This article pretty much hits every cliché. Four and five star reviews are inevitably from friends or family of the author or at the very least gushing fans with zero taste, one star reviews are inevitably honest, unless the reviewer slams a book for being too long, too difficult to understand, having unlikable characters and using too many big words. Then the book is good and the reviewer a person with no taste. And as if all that wasn’t cliché enough, Laura Miller also gets in a bonus crack at “vampire romances”, many of which are worse than Fifty Shades of Grey in her exalted opinion. Now I have read a lot of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, including some really bad paranormal romance and urban fantasy. And none of it was worse than Fifty Shades of Grey.
The Atlantic weighs in as well with an article that somehow manages to shift the blame for some dishonest authors buying fake reviews to Amazon and all indie authors. Of course, it’s not just indie authors who pay for fake reviews or post them themselves, as we’ll see further down.
At the New Wave Authors Blog, horror writer Stant Litore and SF write Rob Kroese weigh in on the scandal. Rob Kroese points out that John Locke tricked the Amazon recommendation algorithms with his fake reviews and thus shoehorned his books into popularity lists and recommendation e-mails, while Stant Litore declares that John Locke violated the trust between readers and writers. Litore gets a bit of backlash* for his somewhat hyperbolic language, but I do agree with Litore on the point that there is such a thing as a reader-writer contract. And John Locke certainly violated that contract with his fake reviews.
As for Litore, I filed his comments about “hearts and souls” and “sacred act of reading” under “weird American religion speak”, i.e. the sort of overwrought, semi-religious language that some Americans (and it’s mostly Americans) like to use. That sort of quasi-religious language always strikes me as a bit weird, especially since I am probably the least spiritual person on the planet, but it doesn’t bother me beyond the occasional eyeroll.
However, it seems as if some indies don’t like any hint at all that writing could be art or indeed anything other than entertainment designed to make money. A pity, because the people who criticized Litore’s hyperbolic comments are both very good writers.
Sharon Galligar Chance responds from the POV of a serious book reviewer who actually reads and honestly reviews the books she is assigned. I imagine that this whole fake review practice must be as frustrating for those reviewers who actually take their task seriously.
Meanwhile, another author, British thriller writer R.J. Ellory has been found to have written glowing sockpuppet reviews of his own books. Even worse, Ellory was also found to have written negative sockpuppet reviews of his rivals’ books, many of whom responded to condemn the practice. And just to prove that it’s not just indie authors doing this, Ellory’s novels are published by Orion.
Ellory is not the only sockpuppeteer recently uncovered either. Renown historian British historian Orlando Figes turns out to have posted scathing reviews of the works of academic rivals at Amazon, using the name of his wife. His excuse is really novel, too, for Figes claims that he was so traumatized by his research into Russian gulags that he suffered a breakdown and started posting one star sockpuppet reviews at Amazon.
Also in response to the review blow-up, Robert Jackson Bennett shares the six types of online reviews that drive writers absolutely nuts.