Saturday, April 11, 2015

They Like Me. They Really Like Me. Because They Were Paid To Like Me

Real, or false advertising?
Publishers understand the power of positive reviews. Anyone with a blog (yes, that includes us here at Newcastlewest Books) can obtain free copies of books prior to publication, with the supposition that said blogger will post a review so that there is a substantial body of buzz-generating comments when the book is laid down.

Potential readers look at the reviews to see what others thought of the book they're considering buying. Books are too expensive to buy on a whim, knowing that you might not like it. That's a lot of money wasted for the sake of building a bigger library, and who wants to keep something that was found to be unreadable?

If you are not a publisher, but an author, you want good reviews to get your book noticed. It's a crowded field. New books arrive every Tuesday, all competing for reader eyeballs. The big publishing houses do the review thing, but how can you achieve the same results?

You get others to review your books, of course, but it's the reaching of those others that generated a new marketing business.

You want positive reviews if you can get them, and if you could get your novel in the hands of someone who would give you four or five stars on a review posted to the Amazon page where most people find their reading material, you would be quite happy indeed. So you pay your money to a company that promises to get you those reviews, placed where you need them placed.

Jeff Bezos is not happy about this cottage industry.

He wants his Amazon baby to be pure as the snow, but too many of the reviews getting posted are little more than shills for the listed product. The item could be anything, from a novel to a fruit knife. Someone looking to buy said product sees a collection of glowing reports, and makes the purchase. When they are unhappy with that purchase, they blame Amazon for misleading them. That is not the sort of buzz that any storekeeper wants to see surrounding his shop.

Amazon has taken some of the review sellers to court, citing consumer fraud and false advertising.

While Amazon could go through every product and cull the obviously fake reviews, it would be cost-prohibitive and largely impossible. Family and friends of authors often post a five-star review to be helpful, and the author would be very upset if Aunt Brid's "A Must Read" headline was erased from the page because it sounded like a paid review.

Amazon tried to control the problem by limiting reviewers to those who had actually purchased the item being reviewed. With so very many customers, how could Amazon really determine who among them is part of the paid reviewer cabal, buying a product with money paid to them to buy it. A paid review costs around $20, which would more than cover the price of an e-book with plenty left over for the reviewer to earn a small living. What would be next? Limiting the number of reviews per reviewer? The paid reviewers would only have to set up a new account with a different name, and be back at work.

In their defense, the paid review sites claim that they are providing nothing more than honest reviews, performing a service that big companies can do in-house because they have the marketing department that Amazon's third-party vendors could never afford. It seems hard to believe that the business model would prosper, however, if the reviews were not overwhelmingly positive. Why pay a lot of money to get panned?

It's 'Caveat Emptor' out there in the wilds of cyberspace. You just can't believe anything you read these days. It's all so much fiction. Some of it, however, is very good, just like the reviews say.

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