This week the online publication The Memo has reported that phony authors have been employing Amazon reviewers to help them cheat their way into the bestseller charts. These fakers worked by contacting third party QUOTE reviewers UNQUOTE who give misleading five-star ratings and remarks after obtaining low-quality ebooks from Amazon in order to obtain “verified purchase” status, which can almost guarantee that the review will be acceptable to the online mega-publisher. Enough 5-star ratings and the book can be bumped to the top of the charts.
Freelancer and Fiverr are among websites where “professional reviewers” offer their services for as little as £3 UK or $5.00 U.S. The reviewers make up a sprawling network of fraudulent reviewers, many of whom are paid as little as £3 or $5.00 to leave five-star ratings, while ‘authors’ make hundreds of thousands of dollars, ghostwriting shoddy texts.
Whether blame is pointed at the fake authors who have to buy reviews, the misleading reviewers who will guarantee a 5 star review for money, or the essentially obvious deficiencies in Amazon as a platform, one thing is certain: the readers are the ones who suffer.
At a time in publishing where it is uncertain how print and electronic books can or will exist together, several questions occur:
— what impact will this scandal have on the publishing industry?
–Were industry insiders aware of the breadth of the problem?
–And what can Amazon do to turn the tide?
Kitty Knowles of The Memo spoke to Philip Jones, the editor of esteemed trade publication The Bookseller to get his take on the scandal:
Her first question was ‘what is the importance of authentic reviews in the Amazon platform. Jones indicates that reviews can be good, bad, or indifferent, but if they are not authentic, they simply lose their value.
The world is awash with new books, he says, and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform has only exacerbated this problem of too many books. Jones feels that it is important that readers find books they will most enjoy, that those books be judged on their merit, and that publishers be rewarded for the investments they make.
He points out that sampling e-books is a fantastic way of discovering new authors and checking the authenticity of reviews. More and more, online book buyers have the opportunity to return books they don’t like—and book buyers should use that.
So on the question of whether industry professionals knew about the problem with fake 5 star reviews, the answer is basically–Yes. There have been reports of purchasing reviews over the years, and of course, there are plenty of places out there, some more legitimate than others, who are offering paid-for reviews.
Jones also pointed out some authors on Amazon were using fake accounts to promote their own books and trash those of rivals.
Which brings up the question of whether Amazon, having created this unregulated marketplace, has a duty to do a better job of enforcing its rules. Jones points out that Amazon has gotten into this practice somewhat in the way it treats reviewers whom it believes have “an association” with an author or book they have reviewed. This is a very controversial practice at Amazon, which I want to address a bit later if there’s time.
But Amazon does risk killing its own golden goose. In allowing anyone to publish on its kdp platform, Amazon has democratized the publishing business and empowered writers to make or break their own careers.
The general take is that as the Kindle store becomes ever more polluted by fake-books and fake reviews, readers will turn away. This could be the reason for the current mild resurgence of print, especially in the fiction market.
Jones ends his article by stating that, obviously, Reading is a precious experience, that takes time and effort, and the more Amazon chooses not to invest in making readers’ lives easier, the more it risks undermining its own product. Right now the publishing industry is curiously poised between print and digital, e-book and mobile, complacency and panic.
Scandals such as this that devalue the review process and call into question the value of content published direct to Kindle will only serve to undermine the products that Amazon sells through its Kindle Direct Program, according to Jones.
Donna, I want to speak just for a few seconds on the controversy of allowing authors with a QUOTE relationship UNQUOTE with another author to review that other author’s book. And to be clear, this is MY opinion only!Currently, Amazon seems to have a No Tolerance policy on this, and this means , for instance, that if I review another author’s book, my review will be taken down because Amazon ASSUMES that my review is not authentic, simply because I am an author. The time and effort they are spending on this particular practice definitely takes away from the time and effort they have to spend going after the real fakes—both author and reviewer. I may not review hundreds of books, but I find it insulting in the extreme that Amazon presumes that I am at worst a fake, possibly even for-pay reviewer, and at best, a friend of the author I’ve reviewed, and that therefore I am suspect as a reviewer.
NEXT WEEK I am beginning a several week report, highlighting what I learned at the Novelists Inc. Conference, the first week of October. Next week, I will present an overview of Novelists Inc. and will present what I learned about Metadata. Join us. Whether you’re an author or a reader or both, you will find it interesting.
Be sure and join me next week on Hummingbird Place on BlogTalk Radio.