Paying for that five-star Amazon review
John Locke is a first. Before him, no one had ever sold one million self-published e-books through Amazon. Not even Amanda Hocking. When he reached the magical one-million copy mark last year, he became yet another strike against the New York publishing establishment–a plucky do-it-yourselfer whose talent and persistence won him the kind of fame we’d all like to achieve.
With all those positive reviews, who could question the guy’s success?
As it turns out, Mr. Locke purchased a lot of those reviews. According to a story in Saturday’s New York Times, Locke is one of many self-published authors who has purchased reviews from a guy named Todd Rutherford, whose company GettingBookReviews.com*, would write reviews for you if you paid for them. Most of the authors who purchased reviews from Rutherford requested positive reviews. (* — I am choosing not to link to Mr. Rutherford’s website.)
The Internet’s commerce function runs on reviews. Many customers read the reviews for everything from books to sneakers to cars before making purchases. Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, Goodreads, even non-book sites like Angie’s List are based on providing feedback from other customers to potential customers. If the potential customers can’t trust the authenticity of those reviews, the system falls apart.
In Rutherford’s case, when Google found out about his business, they shut down his ads. Amazon has removed most of his reviews. According to the Times, he now sells RVs for a living. It’s a minor setback, though. If Rutherford found another way to sell his services, he’s not going to tell a newspaper. He’d just get shut down again.
As for Locke, he didn’t care what the reviews said, and that’s wise, as long as most of them are positive. Let’s say most of the books you see have anywhere from five to a couple dozen reviews. Suddenly, there’s a book with fifty or eighty or a hundred reviews–and the majority of them are positive. Just the sheer volume of traffic will entice you to consider the purchase.
On its surface, the act of purchasing a positive review is ethically problematic. But there are thousands of self-published books out there. Let’s say yours are good. (Mr. Locke’s are good. You don’t sell a million copies if you write garbage.) If you can generate dozens of reviews by writing a check–especially if you know your work is good–the temptation would be very strong to do so. And in Mr. Locke’s case, he was buying volume, not content. He didn’t specify what the reviews would say.
It’s the same concept as banning Pete Rose for betting on his team’s games. Anything that erodes the integrity of the system will ultimately cause the system to fail.
Would you pay for a review? For a positive review? For a lot of reviews?