This story is a little old, but was just brought to our attention this weekend. Elsevier, which is sort of the Death Star of academic publishing, was caught offering $25 Amazon gift cards to professors who gave the book five-star reviews on Amazon.
The e-mail, which Elseiver now claims was the work of an employee gone rogue, went out to academics who contributed to a clinical psychology textbook:
Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to Clinical Psychology. Now that the book is published, we need your help to get some 5 star reviews posted to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble to help support and promote it. As you know, these online reviews are extremely persuasive when customers are considering a purchase. For your time, we would like to compensate you with a copy of the book under review as well as a $25 Amazon gift card. If you have colleagues or students who would be willing to post positive reviews, please feel free to forward this e-mail to them to participate. We share the common goal of wanting Clinical Psychology to sell and succeed. The tactics defined above have proven to dramatically increase exposure and boost sales. I hope we can work together to make a strong and profitable impact through our online bookselling channels.”
Even without the review payola, this raises the question: how much credibility would you give a review from a contributor to the book, anyway?
Elsevier is “not taking it lightly,” as opposed to “taking it seriously,” which is close enough.
Cindy Minor, marketing manager for science and technology at Elsevier, said that the e-mail did not reflect Elsevier policy. She called the request for five star reviews “a poorly written e-mail” by “an overzealous employee.” Minor said that the concerns over the marketing pitch have been discussed “at the highest levels” in the company and that nobody favors paying for good reviews. The situation “is not being taken lightly,” she said.
“We want unbiased, honest reviews,” she said.
So much for that. The only review for the textbook on Amazon at the moment is a one-star review warning shoppers to be wary of any reviews.