EXTRA ETHER: Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Deirdre Gogarty, Darrelyn Saloom, My Call to the Ring, Glasnevin Publishing

Potential reviewers were told that if they felt they could not give a book a five-star review, they should say so and would still be paid half their fee…As you might guess, this hardly ever happened.

That’s the New York Times’ David Streitfeld quoting Todd Jason Rutherford, who, Streitfeld reports, commissioned 4,531 glowing and completely bogus book reviews at the now-inactive GettingBookReviews.com.

The story, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy, describes what Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader is calling The Next Great Promotional Tool for Self-Published Authors. Writes Hoffelder:

If you’re a self-published author who is still struggling to get noticed, now might be the time to swallow the rest of your pride, jettison your code of ethics, and start buying reviews. (Hey, everyone is doing it.)

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Deirdre Gogarty, Darrelyn Saloom, My Call to the Ring, Glasnevin Publishing

John Locke: “Ready to roll.”

The part of Streitfeld’s article that grabs Hoffelder’s attention is the revelation that the self-publishing icon John Locke used Rutherford’s service to generate false reviews for his books.

Writes Streitfeld:

One thing that made a difference is not mentioned in (John Locke’s book) “How I Sold One Million E-Books.” …Mr. Locke commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledging service’s best customers. “I will start with 50 (reviews) for $1,000, and if it works and if you feel you have enough readers available, I would be glad to order many more,” he wrote in an Oct. 13 (2010) e-mail to Mr. Rutherford. “I’m ready to roll.”

 

Streitfeld writes:

Mr. Locke was secure enough in his talents to say that he did not care what the reviews said. “If someone doesn’t like my book,” he instructed, “they should feel free to say so.”

But additionally:

He also asked that the reviewers make their book purchases directly from Amazon, which would then show up as an “Amazon verified purchase” and increase the review’s credibility.

That last detail strikes Chad W. Post as particularly rich. He writes, in John Locke Paid People to Buy His Books [Last Laughs Laugh Best]:

Oh, John Locke, you tricky little man! So not only did you pay for positive reviews, but you paid for people to buy your books! That’s both dishonest, and a bit desperate seeming. Granted, you’re still a millionaire, and I’m sitting in a library trying to convince freshman to take translation classes, but well, I have my dignity.

Locke confirms his participation in all this to Streitfeld — 300 bought reviews before Rutherford’s fake-review operation was exposed by another author-client who didn’t like what she got for her money.

 

Kerfuffle in the Industry! the Industry!

The coverage has set off what one wise observer terms a kerfuffle, potentially pivotal but also relatively contained: we cannot be all that surprised.

As a publishing contact in New York says to me, Amazon is, really, “the only game that counts big-time for self-publishers.” As far as distribution channels go, Seattle is the mountaintop.

 

Traditional-publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin in his new post, Things to think about as the digital book revolution gains global steam, positions Amazon as the key engine of the digital dynamic. He’s not writing about the review-buying scandal, but about the contours of a profoundly upended business:

With all due respect to everybody else, the primary driver of this change (print to screen) has been the efforts of Amazon.com. They made the online selling of print books work in the US and then provided the critical catalyst — the Kindle — to make ebooks happen. Other players — Barnes & Noble and Kobo with their devices and the publishers with their sales policies — have crafted their strategies primarily in response to Amazon. They are participants building out a market that Amazon first proved existed.

 

Incensed about this new “thing to think about as the ebook revolution gains global steam,” Edward Tenner is at The Atlantic, reacting to Streitfeld’s stark revelation of a review-buying and -selling.

In Will Paid Reviews Bite Amazon Back? Tenner writes:

Amazon has a dilemma. So far the system has been working, but what happens when players out themselves? Even last year, detractors were calling it Spamazon. Could there be a tipping point of credibility?

This drops us quickly into one of those bottomless rabbit holes we see open up from time to time as a feature of the “freedom” of technology.

The “democratizing” of content on the Internet, as it’s touted by some, suddenly looks less attractive when users realize they’re the victims of ruthless, orchestrated, profiteering liars.

Tenner:

Amazon’s model relies on reader judgment as a substitute for the traditionally vigorous competition among publishers, writers, retailers, and critics. Of course there is favoritism and bias in that system, but also lively rivalry, in which best-sellers from Gone with the Wind to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone have ultimately been recognized after multiple rejections. Paid choruses of praise like Mr. Rutherford’s make the established system, flawed though it often is, appear a more reliable alternative.

 

A ‘wide range of responses’

As he frequently does, Jason Boog at GalleyCat pulls off an entertaining twist on the issue, creating a list of Major Bestsellers with More Than 150 One-Star Reviews.

Boog starts with this assertion:

While paying for book reviews creates the illusion of a perfect book, true bestsellers will generate a wide range responses from readers.

He then lists his one-starred best-sellers. I’ll show you the Top Five here, the first being especially gratifying to some, I’m sure, emphasis mine:

1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (3,665 one-star reviews)

2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (717 one-star reviews)

3. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (456 one-star reviews)

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (432 one-star reviews)

5. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (248 one-star reviews)

Despite the fun of that switch-around, the issue of these paid reviews — Streitfeld says Amazon has taken down some if not all of Rutherford’s — presents a coin with tails on both sides.

 

The obvious commercial issue

How does any market handle this kind of perversion of a key advertising and marketing instrument?

Nate Hoffelder can almost be heard chortling behind the satiric headline on his own follow to Streitfeld’s Times piece, his “Next Great Promotional Tool for Self-Published Authors.”

Hoffelder readily writes of how glad he is that the Rutherford faux-review “service” was shut down by the revelations of some of its own clients:

Once Rutherford’s service was exposed to the light of day, it was dead. The writing blogs took up the torch of shaming him into shutting down, and then Amazon took down some of his reviews and Google cancelled his Adwords account (so he couldn’t buy advertising).

Along the way, however, it’s worth pointing out that self-publishing authors aren’t necessarily the only bad apples here. What’s to have stopped a traditionally published author who wanted to gin up her or his sales of a newly listed book with a splash of gushing, fabricated reviews?

 

The issue in publishing

Some people will, of course, rush to blame this on Amazon. Having developed the consumer review to be such a key element of retail, Seattle does, of course, need to work to discern and cut the legs off scams of this kind. The company is, I’m sure, the first entity to know this.

But this is not Amazon’s fault.

This is the fault of feckless writers whose relation to what most of us know as the world of literature is so warped that they’re willing to hack the system this way. It’s bad enough when some writers make nasty agreements with each other to “trade” good reviews of each others’ work.

These people have little to do with the world of legitimate traditional publishing or self-publishing. They damage the art and the business for their own gain.

Locke, as his role in this is given to us by Streitfeld, appears to have been a happy customer of Rutherford. Having e-mailed Rutherford in 2010 that he was “ready to roll” with the false reviews he bought, he seems unapologetic now for using such a mechanism to build his now-discredited “success.”

Locke has confessed in the Times to contravening Amazon policy. If you enjoy writing reviews of shoes, you may want to keep an ear out for the sound of another one falling.

For now, we’re left with this echo — shabby chatter in the hard-surfaced tunnel of a digital reality — from Streitfeld’s article:

“Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” (Locke said). “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”

| | |

Tell me what you think. Is there any case in which buying reviews can be appropriate? Do you know a writer who has bought reviews? If so, how does that writer justify it?


 

Join us Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com for Writing on the Ether, presented this week by Ether sponsors Deirdre Gogarty and Darrelyn Saloom, authors of My Call to the Ring:  A Memoir of a Girl Who Yearns to Box.

And check out Reading on the Ether, our updating look at books mentioned in Writing on the Ether. Not an endorsement program, just a handy way to keep up with recently noted books.

Main images: iStockphoto: gszostak


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Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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185 Comments on "EXTRA ETHER: Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke?"

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Jane Steen
4 years 1 month ago
You ask if there are any circumstances in which buying reviews is appropriate. What about Kirkus Reviews, which charges nearly $500 to review a self-published book? And why, for example, shouldn’t an established, popular book blogger charge money for a completely honest review? I think we may see the rise of paid book review sites, but they will have to adhere to strict ethics if they are to be successful (actually reading the book being one of the requirements.) I am right at the beginning of my self-publishing journey, and so far I have not bought a single review. I… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Jane, it sounds to me as if you are taking prudent, sensible steps to mount a “clean” approach to marketing your work, and this is, of course, the only kind to pursue. Good for you on working so carefully on it. Kirkus Reviews, by the way, do function differently in some significant ways. The key difference is that they are clear about being a paid review service. The kind of thing Locke and others have engaged in was posing reviews as voluntary consumer comment. The Rutherford service described by Streitfeld at the Times did guarantee positive, five-star reviews. Kirkus benefits… Read more »
Emily Leverett
4 years 1 month ago
I’ll start by saying I haven’t read Locke’s work, so I can’t comment on the work itself, but I will ask this: if the books had been poor, would the good reviews have mattered? I mean, he buys 50 reviews and they’re good. Then, if people read it, and hate it, won’t they post bad/refuting reviews (given that they are the folks who’ve read the reviews to find books to read)? So, to say his succes is somehow “fake” seems, less than correct to me. Or am I wrong? Do the reviews have more power than fans and readers? I… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hi, Emily, I think the quality of Locke’s work is suddenly — and tragically — immaterial. His success may not be “fake,” as you rightly point out, but it is discredited. Meaning we can’t TELL if his work could have succeeded as it as if he hadn’t bought (300, actually, not 50) reviews. His ethical torpor has undone him. That’s the point. And per the ugliness you speak of, yes, exactly. What we cannot allow to happen is for this kind of thing to become acceptable or even “well, everybody knows it happens.” Wrong. We need it to stop —… Read more »
Mern
Mern
3 years 6 months ago
The Problem is not the review content, it’s the number of reviews and the average rating of the reviews. These effectively push you on the top of the amazon book shorting system when searching or viewing book categories and genres. More reviews and higher rating average, contribute to this. You buy exposure with the number of fake reviews and you are stealing that exposure from other writers. Other writers are damaged by unfair practices like this. Customers getting tricked is only one part of the equation. Even 300 reviews push you to best selling writer status in terms of exposure.… Read more »
Heather
Heather
1 month 12 days ago
I know this is a really old article as I was rummaging through some old links and started reading about this issue of the fake review again, but your comment reminds of what I was thinking today, as I’ve begun to do a lot of reading of popular books versus just ebooks online. The idea of me writing a review almost seems a waste. All the writer needs is my LIKE per se. As you mention, it’s a matter of numbers that drives the writer up the rankings, not so much what I say. Again, as I’ve been looking at… Read more »
Jane Steen
4 years 1 month ago
I wasn’t trying to knock Kirkus in particular (although for $500 I would expect a more rigorous review than the ones I’ve seen them produce) and I agree that they are upfront with their pricing and procedures. In fact, I predict that more serious paid-review sites will emerge as book bloggers burn out from sheer book overload and self-publishers seek genuine input. I think the bottom line is that writers should be careful what they pay for. We have a responsibility to make sure nobody is engaging in shady online practices on our behalf, which means carefully checking out any… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Right, careful what they pay for AND completely resist the tendency to start accepting shady practices as OK. I think I’ll be doing more about this latter point Thursday in Writing on the Ether. Thanks again,
-p.

Shirley H. Showalter
4 years 1 month ago

Porter, you are amazing in your ability to pull sources together and share them in timely ways with a distinctive flair. Thank you.

No animals were harmed in this review. No remuneration received.

Darrelyn Saloom
4 years 1 month ago

Agree with Shirley. 🙂

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks so much, Darrelyn! And once again, thanks for the superb sponsorship of the Ether from you and Deirdre!
-p.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Thank you, Shirley, and I love your disclaimers! 🙂
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Helen
Helen
4 years 1 month ago

Why is this being framed as a “self-publishing” phenomenon? It’s endemic to the industry. Lone authors have to buy what bigger publishers already have set up, including those favorable reviews. But to point this out, or call those publishers out on it, would be rocking the boat.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Correct, Helen. And I am unafraid of pointing this out.

We do not know publishers to “call” on it. But is it possible for traditionally published authors to buy reviews? Of course.

And this is why I include in my writeup:

Along the way, however, it’s worth pointing out that self-publishing
authors aren’t necessarily the only bad apples here. What’s to have
stopped a traditionally published author who wanted to gin up her or his
sales of a newly listed book with a splash of gushing, fabricated
reviews?

Thanks,
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Helen
Helen
4 years 1 month ago
Porter, to be clear, I’m not coming down on you. I’m coming down on the Times for writing this and the slant they have on it. It’s being framed in the same way the New Yorker and the University Literary “LIttle” Magazine segments are framing the same thing. Don’t you see it? This is a frame job on Indie. Because when authors go Indie, they’re stiffing the whole legacy system. So then we hear the arguments: these books aren’t edited, they aren’t proofread, they don’t have nice covers, the designs are bad, nobody bothers to review them, oh and the… Read more »
Malena Lott
4 years 1 month ago
I read the NY Times piece and your post correctly states that Locke said he wasn’t asking for favorable reviews, but honest reviews. However, most of the tweets going around (like the ones you inserted) are stating that he paid for favorable reviews, though the NYT piece said the natural inclination would be toward favorable ones since that’s what most of the reviewers were used to writing AND many didn’t have time to even read the book. Yes, of course he should’ve included it in his book, and it does answer that HOW THE HELL DID HE DO IT? question… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Thanks for the note, Malena. One interesting aspect of this, remember, in Locke’s case, is that to put this element of what he did into his book, he would have had to expose it to Amazon — the policy of which forbids this practice. My guess is that the only reason we know it now is that Rutherford, the former honcho of the paid-review site, revealed to Streitfeld at the Times that Locke was one of his best customers and even provided the email Streitfeld is quoting. With this in hand, Streitfeld could then confront Locke — as he says,… Read more »
Malena Lott
4 years 1 month ago
Okay, you got me. He couldn’t be truthful, but it does point out a larger issue of whether or not Amazon should have something to click and report how the person got the book besides just the certified purchase because MOST of the big books by the big 6 send THOUSANDS of books to reviews to build buzz and get those precious early reviews on all the sites. No, they aren’t asking for anything favorable, but they do want coverage and that’s why the books with “bigger buzz” tend to have hundreds of EARLY reviews on Goodreads. GR reviewers do… Read more »
Adriana Ryan
4 years 1 month ago

Honestly, John Locke’s tactics reek of desperation. Sure, he’s a millionaire. But he’s also a hack–and now an *exposed* hack. I suppose that’s all well and dandy for someone who just wanted to game the system. But for those of us who approach writing as an art (yes, it has a business side, but ultimately it’s an art), this just comes across as pathetic. Frustrating, yes, but also just pathetic. I can’t imagine any of the writers I personally know and respect doing this.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

No, happily, Adriana, I don’t think I know anyone, myself, who would stoop to something like this. Many of us are watching, too, to see if Amazon takes action against Locke, since he couldn’t have confessed to a direct contravention of their policy than in the Times. Should be interesting.
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Richard Mabry
Richard Mabry
4 years 1 month ago

Wow. I mean…wow. Until this whole story came out, I was sailing along blithely thinking that all these reviews were perfectly legitimate, and wishing I had more for my own books. And all along, all it would take would be money. Who knew?
Unfortunately, reviews at booksellers and Kirkus aren’t the only ones for sale. When I queried a Christian fiction newsletter about getting my traditionally published novel reviewed, I was quoted a price for the service. Sort of disappointing.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

It is disappointing, Richard, and all tied to the gradual pull-down of journalistic standards across the board. Much of what passes for criticism today in news outlets is consumer reviewing, not true criticism. This and many such changes, however, have been driven by advertising, representative of what the public/readers want. At bottom, the whole question of product/service review has gone over to a commercialized model and the results are in our faces, as you’re describing. Thanks for reading and commenting!
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Lynda Haviland
Lynda Haviland
4 years 1 month ago

Thankfully (in regards to John Locke), I have not been “cultivated” as a fan in any manner. I read the original article too. As an new Indie author, I am going it the “slow boat to China” route – to quote another commentor. One organic review at a time. True, that’s not getting me higher up in the Almighty Amazon Algorithms in this decade, but as Porter Anderson said….”I have my dignity.”

AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 1 month ago
I would only consider it appropriate to buy a review if the intent was to have an honest review in hand when all is said and done. That means you’re paying someone you can trust to be honest, or who acts as a broker to obtain honest reviews. Rutherford was not that guy. It occurs to me to worry, now, that Amazon might be thinking to hire freelance writers as a type of reviewer corps. Authors using Createspace can buy reviews from these folks, which Amazon will promise to deliver and which will be honest reviews. Some may be favorable,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Right, Aaron, I can’t see it as ever appropriate to buy a review, myself. Mind you, my bias is as a 30-year journalistic critic (Village Voice, CNN, Dallas Times Herald and others) and Fellow with the National Critics Institute. But what my experience tells me is wrong here is the “who is boss?” question. If the author pays the reviewer (even through a middle man like Rutherford), the reviewer is working for that author. That’s not a true review. That’s fraud. The standard journalistic model is that the reviewer works for the news medium and is responsible to its readers,… Read more »
AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 1 month ago

I’ve been reading (and, to be honest) skimming through your replies here. The employer/employee relationship you point to really is the crux of it all. This has me worried about the state of things in publishing, far more than it did just two days ago. Fingers crossed we come out, if not like a rose, then at least smelling of something better than this.

Imola Unger
4 years 1 month ago

Not sure if “appropriate” is the right word to use here. The real problem is the credibility issue: I can’t imagine a single product, cause or situation where it would be justified and inspire trust. (Assuming, of course, disclosure of the fact that it was a paid review.)

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Agree, Imola. Thanks so much for reading and responding.
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

jenniecoughlin
4 years 1 month ago
Porter, nice job rounding this all up, as always. I’ve been curious to see the Etherial take on this issue since the NYT article appeared. To answer your question, I don’t think there’s ever a case when buying reviews is worth it. And that’s not just because I can’t countenance something that would be against my FT (newspaper) job’s ethics policy in my fiction writing. I want to be able to live with myself. It’s why I specifically told my mother to please not review my first book on Amazon after it came out. Would I like to be in… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hey, Jennie, I’ve just been disparaging a lot of people’s mothers’ reviews of their work all day, LOL. Exactly. And you understand this and are a big enough person and writer to want to honor your readers and your colleagues with reviews free of parental and other bias (let alone payment, which is simply anathema). I’m surprised to find how many folks I’ve encountered today want to fudge this business in one way or another. They keep trying to say, “Everybody knows you can’t trust these reviews” — as if that made fraud OK. And the phrase “conflict of interest”… Read more »
jenniecoughlin
4 years 1 month ago
Thanks, Porter. My biggest challenge has been that when I look at reviews for my book, I now know most of the people who posted them. But with one exception, I know them because they either became fans of my writing when I was only writing fanfic or they are local writers who bought the book, liked it and made a point to talk with me at the local writers group meetings. Part of me says “yeah, those are friends.” And another part says, “They’re only friends because they liked your writing in the first place.” I haven’t figured which… Read more »
Brandon Ellis
4 years 14 days ago
I agree with you on this, but not all of it. I was shocked that John Locke purchased reviews. I don’t agree with that approach. Not one bit at all! I love his books, but now my love for them has been tainted. However, I also don’t agree with the assertion that it’s “wrong” to have your mother or friends write a review for your book. Here’s why, so bare with me on this, even though I know you won’t agree. I’m a successful self employed sports therapist. When I started my business, I asked my friends and relatives to… Read more »
Phoenix
4 years 1 month ago

I could see paying for reviews or giving away book copies in exchange for a review (advancing position on the TBR list), but those reviews need to be honest ones. I wouldn’t object to critics receiving free event tickets or restaurant meals either, so long as their reviews remained unvarnished.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
The point to check, Phoenix, is who does that reviewer/critic work for? If a restaurant critic at the times takes a free meal, that critic is not writing for the restaurant. The critic is writing for a news medium and owes her/his allegiance to the readership/viewership/whatever of that medium. If you, yourself, pay a reviewer, that reviewer is then working for you. That its very different, and it’s wrong in terms of how reviews are meant to work. The test is who is a reviewer working for. And this is why the FTC (and Amazon) forbid a reviewed party paying… Read more »
Henry Baum
4 years 1 month ago

There has to be a differentiation between paid reviews and a guaranteed good review. But then I’m biased: http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/blog/2012/08/epitaph-paying-for-reviews/

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the link, Henry, all the best.
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Bernadette Phipps-Lincke
Bernadette Phipps-Lincke
4 years 1 month ago

Apparently, the writing, the point of WRITING a book, doesn’t even reach a low rung on this totem pole. Brings to mind a bunch of stuff for me-from the theme of the movie Amadeus-to the fact that I am sick and tired of proclamations that “real” writers MUST have blogs and twitter accounts to prove their writing validity.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
We are, yes, Bernadette, in a very, very tortured terrain right now regarding creative work vs. marketing and the positioning of the writer as an actor in her or his own sales-relation to readers. Much of this will be clarified and stabilized in coming years, but not right away. The digital dynamic is going to continue to feel more an incursion than a boost at many times for a while. Hold on to what you believe is your best course and try to keep as open a mind as possible to the suggestions and developments around you. It’s all any… Read more »
Friend Grief
4 years 1 month ago
Theaters give comps to reviewers so they’ll come to their productions, and hope the review is good. I’ve seen a lot of performers/directors make fools of themselves kissing up to the reviewers. That does not guarantee a “boffo!” review. The reviewers are paid by their media outlet, not by the theaters. But this is…well, beyond the pale. I’ve heard rumors of this for a while, but now that it’s out in the open, it’s worse than I imagined. I’ve started reviewing books, films and plays on my blog. I request ARC’s of the books and no one’s turned me down.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
You’re right, Viki, that there’s no parallel to the tradition of journalistic critics being comped into events they cover (I have had this service for most of my own critical career) and actually paying people to write guaranteed positive notices of work in a non-journalistic setting. Apples and oranges. (One reason for the comp tradition was simply expense. At the height of my critical career, for example, I’ve seen more than 200 professional events and performances in a year, and the cost to a medium for two tickets to so much becomes prohibitive. I did, however, work for years at… Read more »
Barbara Rogan
Barbara Rogan
4 years 1 month ago
Porter, I’ll see your comment on Kirkus and raise you. The only reason writers buy those reviews from Kirkus (at $425 a pop!) and the only reason readers respect them, is because of the reputation of the original Kirkus, respected for its (sometimes scathingly) honest reviews. They are degrading their own brand. Their claim that their reviewers for self-published books adhere to the same standards as reviewers of published books would, if true, make for a pretty strange business model, since honest reviews would pan all but a handful of self-published fiction. Instead, even in overall negative reviews, their reviewers… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
To take your Amazon comment first, Barbara, I agree. I was just saying to Ed above in a comment that I think Amazon has to respond to this in some way to show its good faith in terms of enforcing its policy and protecting the efficacy of its review system. I’m very interested in what may come of this — Seattle is really good, and they know very well how central this component (the customer review) is to their position on the market. I won’t be at all surprised if we hear something relative to Locke and the overall policy,… Read more »
Ed Cyzewski
4 years 1 month ago

Wow! All I can think is that if the reviews weren’t that important, why pay for them? They clearly mattered enough that a black market of sorts emerged. This adds to the murkiness of Amazon reviews, which I honestly didn’t trust all that much to begin with.

Perhaps Locke’s book has some great advice. All that I know is I’m glad I didn’t buy it now!

Rebecca Vance
4 years 1 month ago
So am I, Ed. I almost did being a newbie working on my debut novel. I would not trust any advice coming from someone that would be so dishonest. Of course I want my first book to sell, have exposure, but I want it to be based on merit, not bribery. I have a blog where I review debut authors. Sometimes I have bought the ebooks and sometimes they were comped to me. That does not bias my opinion either way. I base my opinion only as a reader. I do not proclaim to be a critic or anything other… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Indeed, Rebecca, just to jump in here, I’ve seen one suggestion today that people who DID buy Locke’s how-to book and trusted it should demand he pay them back for it. An interesting idea. 🙂

Thanks for reading and commenting.
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Yes, I’m rather glad I’ve avoided Locke’s work, too, Ed, though I never imagined he could be perpetrating a fraud on his own readers and Amazon, of course. I hope that Amazon’s folks are reassessing their customer-review program in light of this revelation. Jan O’Hara, for example, has suggested a set of questions a reviewer would have to answer (at least cancelling the excuse of “I didn’t know I should declare a relationship with the author, for example, and requiring reviewers to go on record as “clean” or face the consequences). I’m also watching carefully to see if Seattle makes… Read more »
Jenn Crowell
Jenn Crowell
4 years 1 month ago
Wow, what a debacle. It seems to me that the only remotely sensible and dignity-preserving “paid” service out there for self-published books is PW’s. In their case, you’re not paying for a review — merely for a quarterly supplemental listing (the efficacy and fair pricing of which is, of course, up for debate), which puts you in consideration for a review (I believe 25% of all books submitted receive one). This has actually worked quite well for some authors — witness memoirist Laurel Saville’s success at being picked up by Amazon Encore after her book was featured in a PW… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hi, Jenn, thanks for jumping in. I agree with you, the no-guarantees even of a review, let alone a positive one from PW does begin to look remarkably good by comparison to this scandal. I’m finding today, too, that many writers seem confused about Kirkus’ reviews and how they work (particularly now that Kirkus has started offering a version of its service to self-publishers). In the best scenario, of course, paid reviews simply wouldn’t be anywhere in the equation, under any circumstances. One unsavory effect of the digital dynamic seems to have been what many people interpret as a kind… Read more »
Jenn Crowell
Jenn Crowell
4 years 1 month ago

And on the issue of traditional publishing’s role in the pay-to-play arena: Are book blurbs compensated? I’ve seen this allegation floating about, but have no idea (even as a traditionally published author whose first book garnered some lovely ones). I do know that judges in some high-profile literary contests are (hence the steep entry fees).

Jane Friedman
4 years 1 month ago

For the decade I worked in traditional publishing, I never paid anyone for a blurb, nor did I ever hear about such a case. But for forewords/introductions? Yes.

Jenn Crowell
Jenn Crowell
4 years 1 month ago

Good to know. Thanks, Jane!

Jane Steen
4 years 1 month ago

From what I understand about blurbs, they are seen by authors as a way of paying back; they were helped by blurbs from more established authors, and now they should do the same for the newbies. Now that, to me, is a fairly healthy approach, even if the results sometimes come across as a tad insincere.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
I can agree with both Janes on the blurb/payment question. While there may have been some shady exceptions, I believe authors who provide blurbs do so free of charge as a kind of collegial assist to each other. (I’m not, by the way, condoning the practice — I’m not sure I like it very much, but it has, of course, a very long-standing presence in the publishing world. Some writers, in fact, have decided not to provide blurbs, feeling that the tradition was getting a bit out of hand and that requests for them were taking too much time to… Read more »
Greg
Greg
3 years 11 months ago

You mean a blurb for a book that wasn’t read by the blurb giver.

Legal Minimum
Legal Minimum
4 years 1 month ago
I have a lot of trouble seeing how this doesn’t violate the FTC’s Endorsement Guides which require that any financial compensation paid to someone providing a review of a product must be disclosed by the recipient or else each side is committing a deceptive trade practice. I don’t have any skin in the game here and am certainly not giving legal advice in a comment to a blog but if there’s anyone who bought any of the books that had the fake reviews they could maybe sue either the provider of the reviews or the author of the book that… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hi, Legal Minimum, there is a reference to FTC rulings in David Streitfeld’s piece in the Times that makes me feel you’re completely correct. Not only do the actions in this scandal — admitted to by both Rutherford and Locke — fully violate Amazon policy, they also, as I understand it, do indeed run counter to the FTC’s guidelines. I’d be surprised if the FTC isn’t looking at this, and I’d like to see it take up the issue of customer review and how its efficacy is tested (or not) as a specialized topic. It needs that. Thanks very much… Read more »
DeDanan
DeDanan
4 years 1 month ago

How curious, Mr. Anderson. My previously posted comment–on-subject and perfectly reasonable–has been deleted. Why would that be? Don’t you encourage commentators?

Jane Friedman
4 years 1 month ago

Hello — I’m moderator/owner of the site, and I can’t find any record of your previous comment. (I’m instantly notified of all comments on the site when posted.) Seems like the system “ate” your comment. My apologies. We welcome you to give it another try.

DeDanan
DeDanan
4 years 1 month ago

Curiouser and curiouser. My comment posted, at least on my screen, then wasn’t there when I checked back later. I’ll try again (luckily, I’m in the habit of saving). Thanks for your graciousness, Jane, and thanks for hosting the discussion.

DeDanan
DeDanan
4 years 1 month ago

And yet again. My re-post passed the catcha, showed on the screen briefly, then disappeared upon refresh. But this one does show. Huh. Maybe it’s an omen from the Writing Gods, a sign that I should quit wasting time and get back to work?

DeDanan
DeDanan
4 years 1 month ago

Oop. There it is. Guess it just took the proper propitiations and sacrifices. Why the weird line breaks, though, is a mystery.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Yes, I do believe I’ve not only read but responded to your comment now — and yes, I noticed those odd line breaks, too. (And sorry for not being faster, meetings all day, now trying to catch up with many folks’ good points. I do find times on other sites when my own comments appear to run afoul of simple glitches in the Discus system and are apparently “eaten,” as Jane suggests. Sorry for any inconvenience, thanks again for commenting — as you see our stack of comments growing, surely it’s clear that we do indeed encourage the participation of… Read more »
Anne R. Allen
Anne R. Allen
4 years 1 month ago

My comment disappeared too. Not the first time. I don’t know if it’s because my blog is with Blogger and there’s an incompatibility with WP, or what. Trying to see if this will make it through.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

I’m seeing this one, Anne. So sorry you’ve lost one. I’ve actually taken to copying my comments (just a right-click copy) before hitting “post” for those moments when Discus seems so perversely hungry.

Anne R. Allen
Anne R. Allen
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the tip. I’ll do that next time 🙂 I lost the long one, but I think I’ll reconstruct it on my own blog on Sunday.

Jane Steen
4 years 1 month ago

I had a similar problem with my comment, but when I refreshed the page it appeared. Just one of those things, I guess.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Yeah, Jane, DeDanan’s post appears to have turned up a bit later, too.

Jan O'Hara|Tartitude
4 years 1 month ago
I could write a 5-page essay on ways authors incur a sense of indebtedness in reviewers and bloggers, so that you’d despair about the degree of fairness and objectivity that’s even possible in the industry! the industry! (Based upon what we know from medicine and doctors who said they wouldn’t be influenced, but inarguably were.) That said, paid reviews–without transparency–are a whole different level of ethical trouble. Putting aside the issue of duped fiction-readers, I know authors who made career decisions based upon Mr. Locke’s non-fiction book and his advice, which handily omitted mention of “data” manipulation. I wonder how… Read more »
Jane Steen
4 years 1 month ago

I also review, and if I’m reviewing a friend’s book I always state the relationship. Even if it’s just an online “friendship”, I think the reader should know anything that might make my review just a little kinder than it would otherwise be.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Exactly right, Jane. And no need to describe what impact that relationship may have on the review, let the reader of the review decide that (as I was just saying to Jan above). Just state the relationship and off you go. Perfect.
-p.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hi, Jan and Jane (Steen), thank you both. Yes, Jane, I, too, have made my own relationships to authors I reviewed at times on Amazon clear in the reviews (the same for musical artists I’ve worked with in the past) — it’s simply rightful practice. But in a period of such profound upheaval as the industry! the industry! is undergoing, there are many folks participating who simply have no experience of proper ethical action. Granted, it may seem perfectly obvious to some of us that you make any connections clear, but the more I watch amateurs (Jan will have an… Read more »
Jan O'Hara|Tartitude
4 years 1 month ago
Are you going to die of shock? Because we’re in complete agreement about the mechanism to identify conflict (hierarchically, even) and afford some protection to the consumer, while educating reviewers about potentially shady practices. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to cover everything. i.e.”Have you accepted a free meal at the hands of this author or their publisher in the last three years?” But at least it will be closer than where things lie at present. Jane Steen, that’s smart of you. After I did a few reviews without disclosure of the relationship, and it didn’t sit right with me, I… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Frankly, no, I’d say in the case of interviewees for Writer Unboxed, that’s the same as an ARC for review. Perfectly accepted and reasonable in the world of coverage. If at any point for some reason — and I can’t even think why this might happen — you felt that the free book was a payment of some kind, then yes, you might want to disclaim. Otherwise, nah, whether you’re writing a review, a feature, or an interview, you’re doing a BETTER job for having read the book and the provision of that book to you free is perfectly correct.… Read more »
Jan O'Hara|Tartitude
4 years 1 month ago

Yes, that makes sense. And I think that fits with what I’ve been doing, since I don’t review so much as invite readers to make their own decisions about a writer and book based upon the interview itself.

Thanks, Porter. Good conversation.

MK Musgrave
MK Musgrave
4 years 1 month ago

Come on everyone- what level of moral soul searching does this require? None. Paying for reviews is wrong. Simple. Just like borrowing too much money to buy a house you can’t afford. Wrong. I don’t care that the publishing landscape is changing – some things remain the same. If readers like your book then let them say so. But paying someone to write a good review? For god’s sake….

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for reading and commenting on the Ether.

I know what you’re saying (and I agree). I do think that times of upheaval — as the digital dynamic is creating in the industry! the industry! — tend to make some folks feel that everything is suddenly up for grabs, all usual bets off … these transitional phases become new testing grounds for old principles.

If this is the case, we have to hope that the ethical underpinnings hold. It’s a difficult time.

Thanks again,
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

DeDanan
DeDanan
4 years 1 month ago
I read the Times article and its many comments with great interest Sunday. One of the commentators was English chick lit author Michele Gorman, who wrote about the paid review issue a month earlier in her blog. She says: “A book review blog offered me a ‘favorable/good or even excellent review’ in exchange for $95. I said no, thanks, and when I exposed their practices, they threatened to sue me and ruin my reputation amongst reviewers.” Several other bloggers took up Gorman’s exposé. Some of Gorman’s commentators said they’d received the exact same pitch. ChickLitGirls.com then got into the act,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hey, thanks for your comment and for reading the Ether! I agree with you, it seems that the Kirkus self-publiished review program is still trying to get its legs. In general, I’m seeing a lot of confusion today among respondents to Extra Ether in terms of the Kirkus program and how it stands next to such an outright scam as the Rutherford / Locke thing at the center of this scandal. In point of fact, I’d rather writers be wary than just jump right in, but I think Kirkus — and Publishers Weekly — may have some work to do… Read more »
DeDanan
DeDanan
4 years 30 days ago
I’ve asked around amongst my colleagues and learned today that a Kirkus Indie reviewer earns a whopping $50 per review, while Publishers Weekly pays their reviewers $25. Many other publications don’t pay at all. Jeez. This is not a sustainable model, so I take back what I opined above. Think how many hours it takes to read a book (800 pages, anyone?), then write and polish the assessment. The reviewer would earn more picking grapes or cleaning floors. Meanwhile, I’ve confirmed that a good Kirkus review does indeed remain rare, while stinkers abound and never see the light of print.
Sharon Vander Meer
4 years 1 month ago
I’m a self-published author who has had NO commercial success. I considered buying reviews and decided it was deceitful and would not reflect an honest evaluation of my work, as painful or joyous as that might be. The John Lockes of self-publishing have figured out how to make money; have they figured out how to write well and create a body of work with lasting impact? I’ve never read a John Locke book so I’m no judge. Ultimately it’s the story that counts and whether people want to read it. Certainly from an ethical perspective buying reviews seems a little… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
More than a little dicey in my opinion, Sharon, and I applaud you for steering clear of the temptation of buying reviews. As you’re demonstrating right here, in Locke’s case, it does nothing but make you suspicious of the quality of his work without even seeing it. Once you know he has resorted to this fraud — and it is fraud — then it’s immediately hard to care about his work, isn’t it? My best advice is stay the course, work the established, ethical channels, and continue to honor yourself and your work with that path. Because once your “success”… Read more »
Janet Oakley
Janet Oakley
4 years 1 month ago
Yikes. Thanks for the detailed expose. I self-published a novel last year. Submitted the book to legitimate reviews in the newspaper and got a fair review. The next step (and scariest) was my book club reading it. A veteran group of ex-reading teachers with high standards, I receive a very good review and honest feedback. Several book clubs have picked it up based on the original newspaper review and eventually the review I received from PW Select. One of the hardest things a writer has to do is to let go of their work when they send it out and… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Sounds to me as if you’re taking the honest, serious route, Janet, and you’re right, it’s one difficult road. Congratulations on handling forthrightly and all the best with your work. Thanks for reading the Ether and commenting!
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Thad McIlroy
4 years 1 month ago
I’m surprised at this tempest in our teapot. Surely everyone knows that if all the reviews are 5 star they’re either paid for or friends of the author. If there’s a smattering of 4 star reviews there’s a smattering of a chance those reviews are honest. If you find more than one review that’s 3 star or below then at least some of the reviews are honest. As I book buyer I’ve learned to read reviews for content, and also to see which reviews are voted up. Amazon has repeatedly banned the most egregious phony review mongers, but it’s simply… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Thanks for the link to the AOL Travel sidebar, Thad. I can’t say that because travel is worse than publishing, this is only a tempest in a teapot. I disagree with you. I think it goes to the heart of the diminished role of criticism. (I have a great deal of professional investment there since I’m a 30-year journalistic critic.) And it goes to the faltering soul of publishing. As I was just saying to another commenter, it’s not enough to say, “Well you have to take it all with a grain of salt and everybody knows these things can… Read more »
David Mark Brown
David Mark Brown
4 years 1 month ago
I’m shocked by the outrage and surprise at all this. I’m glad to see that some others are too, such as Thad below. The key distinction for me is that Locke requested that the reviews be honest. So why then are these reviews “fake” or “phony?” He bought reviews. Sure, I’m guessing most of those reviews were skewed toward the positive by the nature of the service giving them. while I’ve never used such a service, I’ve asked friends and family members to post reviews. (Most of my friends and family still like me.) And I’m positive those reviews where… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
David, here is the mechanism of critical review that I believe you’re missing. The critic does not work for the artist/writer/company he covers. The critic works for his readership. In journalistic settings (in which I’ve spent my 30-year career as a Fellow with the National Critics Institute), the critic works for a news medium and its readers/viewers/listeners. In whatever setting a reviewer is working, the implied covenant with a reader is that the reviewer is on the side of the reader of the review, not of the person reviewed. When you pay for a review — especially from a service… Read more »
David Mark Brown
David Mark Brown
4 years 1 month ago
Yes, I understand the point. And I understand the difference between a professional critique and reader review. I am not defending immoral behavior. I am defending the right for a reviewer to post his or her opinion of a book he or she has read. I will not defend Rutherford or Locke. They crossed a line. Everyone can see it, thus the outrage. What took me aback was how righteous everyone got about Amazon reviews. Unless an author has reported every suspect review they have gotton from someone who may have been tempted to skew their review for personal reseans,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Gotcha. Here’s what we need to think about. The folks you know from social media, perfectly fair game to write reviews, of course. BUT it would be super of them to mention at the very top of their reviews, “I have an acquaintance with this author via social media…” etc., describing things any way they needed to be accurate. Maybe they’d want to go on to say, “we chat quite a bit and I think of David as a friend as well as a colleague.” It’s up to the reviewer who’s the only one who knows how much that relationship… Read more »
Laura
4 years 30 days ago
Porter, Thanks so much for your post, and your careful comments to people. I have a question I haven’t seen addressed so far (or I simply missed it) … How do you feel about Kirkus Indie Reviews? The author pays for a review, and Kirkus does the review, with no guarantee of a good one. I’m just starting out in self-publishing, and of course can’t “jump” onto the radar of media so quickly. Kirkus is well recognized, but has paid Indie reviews for people “like me.” If I paid for a review from them and put it on Amazon saying… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 27 days ago
Hi, Laura – No, there’s nothing unethical about the use of a Kirkus review. They’ve been around for decades, and their nature (paid) and procedure (no guarantees of what you get) are well understood, precisely because they’ve always made these parameters starkly clear. The self-published-review offering is quite new for them, probably about a year old or so, but it follows closely the pattern with which their (also paid) reviews of publishers’ releases are handled. The distinctions, then, are the known factor of the payment on a Kirkus review AND the company’s strict insistence that the review you get may… Read more »
Dee DeTarsio
4 years 1 month ago
I haven’t paid for reviews, unless you consider entering a contest that included a review, which ended up with the reviewer slagging off for seven paragraphs how much she hated my main character, Marci . . . Burn. (Especially since the main character is named Micki.) I did not win. But for authors who say they specifically tell their family and friends NOT to post reviews, what the? You’re kidding right? Have you not heard any of the 32 kajillion times the mighty Porter Anderson has sounded off about ether clutter? I have badgered my family and friends, (surely it… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

You know, I think I don’t follow your comment here, but thanks for reading and dropping a line, and all the best.
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Julia Barrett
Julia Barrett
4 years 1 month ago

This comes as no surprise. It’s been going on for quite some time – in fact it’s a strategy encouraged by self-appointed self-publishing gurus. And a service offered, for a fee, by said gurus. Does it annoy the hell out of me? Me and my little self-pubbed self who does not pay anyone, ever, for a review? Hell yes.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Good for you, Julia. Keep that “hell yes” in your pocket, sounds like it’s a great guide for you in ethical matters.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

TeresaR
4 years 1 month ago

I don’t often comment on the ETHER posts because they’re so full of information that I have to crawl off for a few days to digest everything and then I feel stupid coming back to comment on old news. As the others have said, kudos to Porter for doing this…and on a regular basis!

This buying of reviews, or hacking into the system as you called it, reminds me of the issue of athletes doping. I think it’s completely inappropriate and is just another form of cheating, of circumventing the system instead of relying solely on one’s talents and hard work.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Looks to me as if you’re holding your own just fine, Teresa, with no crawling off needed, lol.

And yes, there are parallels to athletes doping — that’s another case in which something is supposed to be what it looks like (athletes competing on strength and smarts) and it’s actually something different (drug). Here, we have what should be reviews by consumers who have no connections to the authors involved — and instead, the reviewers have been paid to say good things about John Locke’s work.

As you say, completely inappropriate. Right.
Cheers, and thanks for commenting this time!
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Seeley James
4 years 1 month ago
Why do people feel conned by John Locke? It’s a $0.99 book for crying out loud. And that is exactly what it’s worth. His books are short, odd, funny and cheap. I never read any of his reviews. I bought a couple of his books when I had a finite amount of time but not enough for a real book. I had a laugh and chucked it aside. For $5, look at RE McDermott’s Dire Straits. He has real reviews by real people (including me) and a great book. The same goes for Giacomo Giammatteo’s Murder Takes Time. These guys… Read more »
Claire Dyard
4 years 1 month ago

I agree with you: I bought some John Locke’s books, loved them, reviewed them, gave them the 5 five stars I thought (and still think) they deserved. The value of a book has nothing to do with its author’s behavior.
And I buy and read other people’s books, love them (or not), review them (or not).
Before buying a book, I read the reviews, the bad ones as well as the good ones; then I download a sample and only then I buy the book. This way, I’m satisfied most of the time.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Claire, if you’re saying that the fact you like John Locke’s books in some way makes his fraud OK, then I very much regret your opinions in this matter and I believe you are flatly wrong. I don’t care whether you like the man’s work. His ethical assault on readers, on Amazon, on publishing in general, and on the reputations of other authors trying to sell their work online is inexcusable. Inexcusable.

I don’t care if he’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. His work no longer matters. He has seen to that, all by himself.

-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Claire Dyard
4 years 1 month ago
I didn’t say I thought John Locke’s fraud is okay because it’s a fraud and I don’t like fraud. I said I loved his books, NOT the way he acted to have them reviewed. Let me say it another way. Say, you like a writer and his books. You find them good reading, well written and so on. Then, one day, you find out that this writer you so like had, some years ago, committed a felony, a rape, for example. What would you say? Would you say his books aren’t worth anything? Or would you say the author should… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Seeley, I’ve waited until morning to respond you, to try to take as much emotion out of my response as possible. The price of the book has nothing to do with this. Nothing. The point here is fraud, Seeley. Against you, against me, against John Locke’s readers and customers, against Amazon’s consumers, against Amazon, itself, and against the publishing world. If you don’t understand that, then nothing I can say here is going to get through to you and I won’t waste any more of my time or yours here, other than to thank you for your comment, however lame… Read more »
eBook Dynasty
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for sharing all this. The thing I agree with the most is this sentence of yours: “This is not Amazon’s fault.”

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Thanks, I’m glad you’re clear on the fact that this is a fraud perpetrated against Amazon (and in direct contravention of its policies) as against the readership and the “college” of writers, our wider community of publishing. At the same time, part of our taking of responsibility for these things is requiring retailers to respond to the best if their ability against such fraud as that practiced by John Locke. So we keep both our own and retailers’ feet to the fire. Publishing cannot afford to become known as a shady, poorly policed, fraud-ridden industry. We have a lot of… Read more »
Lisa Myer
4 years 1 month ago
I have been a freelance writer since 2008, working for a number of clients, most of whom were/are ethical. I knew that outfits like Rutherford’s were around even back then, so I am surprised that the press has just got around to reporting about it. I made the (faulty) assumption that this was one of those hush-hush secrets that no one dared speak about — not even the press. When an “Indie Millionaire” took off and the author’s books were mediocre, a lot of us in the freelancing field knew the specific strategies involved in getting those products to the… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
I agree with you, Lisa, wishing only that some of you who knew of these scams didn’t go to the press much earlier and enable some revelations of the kind we’re getting now. As a community, we have to stand loudly against this and stop turning a blind eye or assuming the thing to do is to stay mum when we see bad practices. The less centralized and more creatively dependent (on authors) the digital dynamic makes the business, the more forcefully we’re all going to have to insist on correct, above-board practices — and, yes, that includes requiring our… Read more »
Lisa Myer
4 years 1 month ago

Porter, if I can hunt down the names of the other pay-per-review sites (a lot of these are listed on “black hat” forums), I will definitely let you know of them — and where to find them. You can contact me via Facebook, if you have more specific questions about how they work.

Turndog Millionaire
4 years 1 month ago

A sad state of affairs.

However you look at this, it is corrupt. It is a writer getting desperate and turning to old school ways to con the system

I wonder if John Locke will remain the poster child of self-publishing after this.

Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Hey, Matt, No, it’s doubtful Locke can survive this. One-star reviews are stacking up on his how-to book’s page with people rightly furious about the bought-reviews fraud he has perpetrated on his readers. And as a community, we have to be aggressively and adamantly clear that this sort of rip-off is not acceptable, not part of the publishing world, and not going to fly — neither from self-publishers nor from traditionally published authors. Nobody gets to defraud the readership and their colleagues this way, period. I’m thinking we’ll have more on this tomorrow in Writing on the Ether, it just… Read more »
Turndog Millionaire
4 years 1 month ago

And rightly he shouldn’t. Like self-publishing doesn’t have enough haters, this will only add fuel. Such a shame.

Oh well, onwards and upwards. Stuff like this just makes me want to work that bit harder. Give it your all and and see what happens 🙂

Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

Porter Anderson
4 years 29 days ago

Great attitude. For God’s sake we need to see some people do it the right way!

Claire Dyard
4 years 1 month ago

What worries me a bit is: how genuine readers will continue reviewing books? I mean, I always buy my own e-books, I’ve never been paid for reviewing and, some time ago, I started reviewing the books I loved.
Of course, I’m usually giving 4 or 5 stars because, when I don’t like a book, I stop reading it and I don’t bother reviewing it.
Now, with all this bad publicity, reviewers will be under suspicion, too: because, let’s face it: how can you tell a real reviewer from a fake one?

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Very good point, Claire, this does indeed do damage to reviewing customers, as it does to Amazon, itself, and to the publishing world at large.

John Locke has defrauded all of us. And you’re right to perceive a new impediment to being believed and well-read for earnestly reviewing readers.

Thanks for your comment.
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

kathryn magendie
kathryn magendie
4 years 1 month ago

Won’t buy them; won’t ask people to post them; won’t read them (unless my editor or a friend sends a review to me and tells me to read a review). Actually, hearing about this had me go gargle with some bleach to get the nasty taste out of my mouth.

There’s a lot of things I’ll “forgive” authors, because I understand how difficult this business can be, but this makes me vomit in my mouth.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Kathryn, thank you for your disgust.

I’m tired of having respondents ask me if this is “all that bad” or say “everybody knows this kind of thing goes on” as if we’re to accept it lying down.

The publishing community has to stand against this crap adamantly and forcefully, so I appreciate your anger. Don’t let go of that, we need it.

-p.
@Porter_Anderson

Jill Kemerer
Jill Kemerer
4 years 1 month ago
Hi Porter, it’s great to get sucked back into the Ether! And, wow–great subject! I just skimmed the comments. This obviously touches many writers. I think we all (as writers) need to draw a hard line on what constitutes success to us. If becoming a best-selling author, earning millions from our royalties, or gaining prestige are the only ways we’ll feel successful, we have to decide right now how far we’re willing to go to achieve that success. Will we still feel successful if we lie and cheat are way to the top? Because that’s what paid positive reviews are–lying… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Brava, Jill, Being “remembered as someone with integrity” is the only way to go. And as a community we have to be aggressively hostile to this sort of scam on our turf. I’ve had too many people say things in the last 24 hours such as “everybody knows this goes on” and “I don’t think this is so bad.” Yes it is, it is that bad, and we have to be completely clear about, as you put it, “what constitutes success to us.” Locke, for example, has utterly compromised himself and discredited his own career. Remarkable, sad, and irreversible, if… Read more »
Omar Luqmaan-Harris
4 years 1 month ago
Porter, I think we have to look at the root of this issue more critically. Who stands to gain if readers start to think that most Indie authors or authors with only one book or authors with low priced e-books have fake reviews? Why those publishers with higher priced e-books that are being undercut by these other authors of course. And why would they want to assert such claims? Because they are losing relevance in the minds of readers who have found some real gems in the below $3.99 e-book realm. Speaking of poor credibility, these are the same publishers… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Omar, Thanks for your input here, it’s much appreciated. I’d like to, in a sense, cut to the chase here and assure you that this is not a self-publishers’ problem — well, maybe in the perception that buying reviews is something that self-publishers do (another thing for which we can thank John Locke), but not in reality. As I point out in my write, a traditionally published writer can buy reviews just as readily (and as wrongly) as a self-published writer. I regret the fact that this seems to be assumed by so many to be a self-publishing issue, and… Read more »
Peter Turner
Peter Turner
4 years 1 month ago
Sorry to be late to the party. I’ve been surveying some of the reactions outside of our industry bubble. What strikes me, for what it’s worth, is that the comments threads here and there tell the tale. Mostly–whether we agree or not–this dust up is a yawn for book consumers. And, that yawn is the story. The traditional indicators or assurance of quality, for want of a better bit of jargon, are on the move and double-time. Traditional publishers used to do a passable job assuring this for readers. Now that everyone is a publisher, the barn door is off… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Agree that the yawn may be the story — just as the public’s yawn over the collapse of genuine journalism has been that story for a decade or so, too, Peter. I think we need to do better this time and pay no attention to public yawning. The public can fend for itself (yawning) while the people of publishing (not yawning) work on this.
Thanks much,
-p.

Peter Turner
Peter Turner
4 years 1 month ago

I agree. What I find so amazing is that there is any dispute about a question like paid reviews. But if self-“publishers” don’t see the issue as a concern and are happy to pay for false praise with the hopes of stealing some sales then what can one do. A few commentators on the NYT’s story posted elsewhere didn’t see any difference between paid reviews and reviews in publications where that took paid advertising from publishers.
Despair.

Porter Anderson
4 years 29 days ago
Couldn’t agree more, Peter, the confusion on what’s ethical in criticism has stunned me. I’m a trained critic, of course, in the jounalistic tradition via the National Critics Institute, with which I’m a Fellow, so I have to remember that I’ve got 30 years of formal experience in working with these subtleties. But nevertheless, you don’t expect to find ANYbody willing to say that this kind of fraud is OK, nor to compare such apples and oranges as you’re talking about. I’ll tell you where I think I see a line — one that’s not easy to mention, but it… Read more »
L B
L B
4 years 1 month ago

Even if paid reviews may violate FTC or Amazon or other rules, unless someone has broken a law and there are monetary consequences, no one will go after Locke or Amazon or anyone else. Is a book buyer going to sue Locke for the 99 cents they spent because of a fake review? Where and what are the damages? Ethical damages cannot be litigated except by the public.

Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago

Amazon, however, and the FTC have regulations against a fiduciary relationship between a reviewer and a reviewed party. We can hope to see Amazon uphold its policies in this, which will go a long way to prove they take the efficacy of their review system seriously.

Thanks for commenting,
-p.

Anthony Trendl
4 years 1 month ago
I bought Locke’s book on the recommendation of a ghostwriter/author. As a reviewer with 800+ reviews, I know well the reviewing side and scams indie authors have tried. You name it: I’ve been bribed, threatened, flattered and even sued (Google me and the word lawsuit — it was a big deal). But never have I sold my reviews on Amazon. In turn, now as an indie author selling short stories on Amazon, I know the struggle to make it more than a trickle. In buying Locke’s book I thought, “I have a decent Twitter/FB following, plus a website, blogs, etc.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 1 month ago
Anthony, thank you. As you say, ethics. You have ’em. And boy, am I glad. Keep them. And help us all think together — while remembering that this is not Amazon’s fault — how we can encourage the company to handle this correctly/ They must, as you say, hold Locke (and any others they can determine are working these scams) to their rules. This may be our next hurdle, trying to build enough consensus-momentum to ensure policies are enforced, our readers are protected, and our evolving marketplace is representative of the ethics we know are important. Many thanks for your… Read more »
Anthony Trendl
4 years 13 days ago
The temptation, understandably, is tremendous. At some point, we are all salesmen. I don’t want to be, not to the degree I feel I must be, as I’m ultimately a writer, not Herb Tarlek. I have spent this morning working on a mass email, a query to a literary agency, and reading up on how to do these things better. I feel I am farther from writing even as I get closer to it. Amazon’s trouble is clear: if they set rules, and they know one of their big sellers has flagrantly broken those rules, what should they do? Should… Read more »
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Claire Dyard
4 years 1 month ago

“Amazon must do something,” that’s the general opinion. There’s just one problem: nobody says what because, let’s face it, Amazon can’t do anything. False reviews are the bane of the publishing world but how can you avoid them?
In fact, the only thing Amazon could do would be to remove the possibility for readers to write a review. But don’t forget the other web sites: Apple, Kobo, Smashwords etc.
If some one has a good, practical, idea of what exactly Amazon (and the others) can do, we would all be grateful.

Porter Anderson
4 years 29 days ago

Actually, Claire, there are things they can do. The Amazon developers are among the best in the world and can detect many things. It’s to their advantage to clean up this customer-review system — which they championed and put on the map in modern retail — rather than let it become a discredited rock around their necks. So let’s give Amazon a chance. They’re a great, great company. I’d like to hold out for them to do the right thing.
Thanks for your many comments.
-p.

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[…] Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke? by Jane Friedman […]

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[…] John Locke, is at the forefront of this story, although he is by far from being alone in it. Porter Anderson gives a pretty good overview with an aggregation of posts about the issue, and Nathan Bransford offers a short post on what might be more of an alternative perspective – […]

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