It Doesn’t Cost you a Penny… says Debbie Bennett

… to submit your book details so what have you got to lose? says the home page at some-book-review-site.dot-com. Maybe not to submit details, but to get any further you’ll have to pay a minimum of $99 for two reviews of your books. You can buy 50 reviews for $1,499 including ebook purchase. I’m not sure if that means all 1,499 reviews will come from the same purchase – in which case either one person is writing 1,499 reviews, or the ebook is being passed around 1,498 times, which means it might take a while before you get your reviews. Yet they'll be done in 14 days. Go figure. 

Why am I even posting this? We all know that buying reviews is against Amazon’s t&c and in any case is immoral and downright dodgy (unless you are a famous writer who allegedly doesn’t even write their own books, in which case it’s apparently perfectly fine, but that’s another story). And we likes stories, don’t we? 

I’m posting this as I’ve just spent an age removing hundreds of spammy comments on this very blog from a blogger whose profile is named Unknown. Every single comment was identical and was promoting said website whose url I’m not keying directly as I don’t want them to get the trackbacks and google links. 

The testimonials on this website are positively glowing. So I went to look at some sample reviews – top of the list is by an alleged NYT best–selling author. I say alleged – she may well be a NYT best-selling author, but I don’t believe everything I’m told, even if it’s in writing. The book sounds like a rom-com, the blurb is competently-written and the publisher is somebody called Berkley. Getting my investigative hat on, I google Berkley and to my immense surprise find it’s an imprint of Penguin. Penguin pays for book reviews? Or is my US book reviews site a bit like Kirkus, where the masses have to pay for what the big boys can allegedly get for free? 

I went to Amazon to look for the sample review and sure enough, it’s there and a verified purchase. The reviewer has a genuine name – and yet the review profile isn’t clickable. Apparently 11 people found the review helpful. Am I being ungracious to think that those 11 might also have been paid to review this book? The trouble is, I will now be suspicious of any review of this book – thank goodness it’s not something I’d ever consider buying or reading myself! I'm sure it's a perfectly good read, but rom-coms just aren't my thing ...

I confess to being bemused here. Is our rogue spammer just that – a rogue? Or is he on somebody’s payroll? So I checked another sample review to Amazon and this one is published by Vintage. Also a subsidiary of Penguin. I’m sensing a pattern here. Third sample review and I can’t find the title, but the most recent book by the author was published by, you’ve guessed it, Penguin again. 

Going back to the costs of the reviews. Giving them the benefit of the doubt – every one of those 1,499 reviewers bought their own copy of the ebook. They review within 14 days, so allowing read-time and write-time, can we assume the book is bought within – say – a 7-day window? That’s 1,499 sales in 7 days. A bit of an uptick in sales rankings there, wouldn’t you think? Isn’t that also against Amazon’s t&c? What exactly is this review book site and who is it owned by? The internet doesn't tell me much more when I went hunting for the owner of the domain name, and I thought only individuals were allowed to hide personal details.

Last time I looked, Amazon was still pulling any and all reviews it suspects of being fake, paid-for, or where the reviewer might once have commented somewhere on Facebook that they once shared a lift with somebody who looked the author in a hotel in some unknown city – because that’s a relationship, isn’t it and God forbid that there’s any relationship between author and reviewer. I doubt whether the big 6/5/4/whatever publishers have any direct 'relationships' with Amazon, but I'd be interested to know where these review sites sit in the chain, or if they really are completely independent.

For any newer writers out there, don't pay anybody for a review, ever. If readers don't want to read your book by choice and maybe leave a genuine and honest review, then really what is the point of any of it?

Comments

Jan Needle said…
Fascinating and chilling. Another example of the creeping (galloping?) corruption in our dear old honest old country, I guess. The sad truth is (probably) that the big publishers, like Amazon, exist only to make a profit, and have no other goal. Perhaps send a copy of this to one of the 'literary editors' on the newspapers? Oh dear, another can of worms....
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jan Needle said…
The comment by a pay to be reviewed outfit kind of makes Debbie's point, yes?
Debbie Bennett said…
The very one, Jan! And there was I deliberately *not* mentioning the site by name!
Griselda Heppel said…
Very disturbing - can Penguin really have imprints who pay for reviews? Or is the author paying for the reviews off their own bat, without telling their publisher? Possible, I suppose. Agree you should never, ever pay for a review. Ask shamelessly - we all need them! - but once it's a commercial transaction all value is gone.

The problem is that the whole reviews system puts everyone under pressure, and authors are expected to get reviews for their books in order for those books to sell... and this just increases the burden on the authors. Maybe the temptation of paying a business to do this is just too much.
Debbie Bennett said…
And just keep reading current blogs if you want to go visit the site for yourself. Our spammer(s) are posting the link to the same review site every chance they get ... really not good advertisement for the site or for the publishers whose books appear to be reviewed from it. I'm deleting them when I get chance.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Thanks for all you do, Debbie. It’s wearying.

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