Is It Still Wrong To Buy Reviews Even If They Aren't Necessarily Positive?

If all you want is for it to look like someone is at least reading your book and is willing to talk about it on the Internet, does it matter if it’s a good review or a bad review? Not to some self-published authors, who have turned to companies willing to write book reviews for a fee. All they want is that air of credibility that comes with having a real live person talk about their work.

The New York Times chronicles the rise and fall of one such company, which began when its founder was working in the marketing department of a company that provided services to self-published writers. No one was going to pay attention to press releases, but he realized that if writers had reviews, other customers would notice those reviews and perhaps be more willing to buy the book.

All he had to do was write glowing words and collect his fees, which resulted in a booming book review business in a short time. When he was able to hire freelancers to work for him, he told them a positive review wasn’t even necessary if they felt they couldn’t do that, but most reviewers managed to churn out five-star reviews anyway.

It turns out that it might just be quantity, not quality, that matters when shoppers are looking at product reviews, as long as they’re enthusiastic, says one expert on data-mining. His research showed that 60% of Amazon reviews are five stars, and another 20% are four stars. That’s a lot of glowing words.

“The wheels of online commerce run on positive reviews,” he told the NYT. “But almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created.”

He added that likely one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Which begs the question: If we learn not to trust our fellow shoppers’ reviews, how valuable are any of those reviews going to be in the future? Not very, which is why the Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on any online endorsements that don’t disclose financial relationships.

And that book review buying business? It went bust, after a displeased customer didn’t feel she got a good enough review of her self-published book for her $99. Apparently while some authors cited in the story didn’t mind bad reviews if they were honest, she wasn’t going to pay for anything less than the best. After all, there are plenty of people willing to review you negatively for free.

I don’t know about you, but even if I’m buying an e-book for $0.99, I want to know that whoever has read it and reviewed it is offering an opinion, free of charge, that I can then choose to ignore or take into consideration.

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy [New York Times]