I've posted a few times on the topic of authors paying for book reviews, and not always in a negative way. And I think there's an important distinction to make here. In other words, it's been a fairly standard practice in publishing to pay for reviews at known places like Kirkus since as far back as I can recall and there's nothing unethical about it. But these types of paid book reviews are costly and you are never guaranteed the proverbial five star rave review. There are other places that have been doing this for years, too. And when an author pays for and makes one of these reviews public, with full disclosure, there's nothing about which to be ashamed. But I've also posted about a different kind of paid/fake book review that has been popping up in recent years some find highly questionable at best, punishable with jail at worst.
I've posted on this topic before, too. If you follow that link you'll see there's even a web site now that's dedicated to the topic of aggressive authors allegedly paying for reviews and quasi literary awards in mass quantities, at low cost, in order to boost their books and brand on Amazon. The problem with this web site is that they name names but remain anonymous themselves. Which in turn makes them as questionable as the authors they name. In other words, if as a blogger I have solid proof that someone is doing something unethical or illegal, I'll use my own name and back up my arguments with facts I know are solid. Otherwise I won't do it. There's enough subterfuge on the Internet already and I don't want to add more to it. So far, this hasn't happened with the web site that claims these authors are paying for reviews and awards.
However, some authors have been "outed" for paying for reviews or writing their own fake reviews in mass quantity to boost their sales, and some have even admitted it. And then there is Fiverr.com, which blatantly states they will review books...or anything...for five dollars. I posted about them here once. And there are many other web sites popping up each day that will offer to write glowing reviews for aggressive authors (and books) at a relatively low cost to boost sales, like this article discusses. In fact, in that article it talks about how someone made 28K a month just writing fake book reviews...which naturally leads us to believe a lot of authors are doing this. It's not just one or two.
A huge problem with paying for reviews could be as pragmatic as it gets. They may or may not be legal, depending upon how the law is interpreted.
Paying for reviews, even when the payment comes in the form of a discount or other incentive, may actually be illegal.
In 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission updated its endorsement and testimonial guidelines to better reflect the modern, digital world. A relatively broad reading of those guidelines would indicate that any relationship between reviewer and the reviewed company — even an incentive relationship — should be disclosed. Doing otherwise could be illegal.
In New York the practice of fake reviews was investigated and 19 companies paid fines.
Eric Schneiderman announced agreements with 19 firms Monday that commissioned fake reviews and several reputation-enhancement companies that helped place reviews on sites like Citysearch, Google, Yahoo and Yelp. They were fined a total of $350,000.
This article talks about sending people to jail for putting up fake reviews.
Because fake reviews make it impossible for consumers to make informed choices, most right-thinking people abhor the practice. But when it comes to punishing the practitioners we lapse into fatalism. What can we do, that’s way of the world, right? But if it’s against the law, sooner or later there will be a test case. Bring it on!
I try to make that subtle point all the time with *anything* Internet related. We're still living in the Wild West days of the Internet, but as more and more people become familiar with online purchasing and the out of control aspects of working online that people like me have been experiencing for years some of these lawless practices are now being questioned more than ever before. And I agree there will be test cases that will bring a good deal of the abuse out in the open in ways we never expected to see. It's already starting now. This article, with direct quote below, was written by an author who seems to be wondering about some of the reviews she sees nowadays. She doesn't name names, and it's a fair, honest post. And it's a topic a lot of people have been discussing behind the scenes for a while now because some things just don't make sense. And like Judge Judy (I love her) says, paraphrased, "If it doesn't make sense it's most likely not true."
For those authors who are buying reviews to boost sales, don’t kid yourself. Us aged ones see what is going on. Our readers cannot possibly wade through a hundred reviews, most resembling one another, in that they give no story detail nor do they give an opinion on the book or characters other than “Wow, what a great 5 star book! Buy this now and read it!” You guys are playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette and you will lose your credibility among your peers. Our peers are incredibly and increasingly supportive to each other, especially within the Indy community, where we do not have a traditional publisher to hawk our wares. We do all of it ourselves, putting our work out there for honest opinions and feedback, hoping that what comes back is a candid critique of our books and using said critiques to improve on our craft for the next book. A storm is brewing for you who take advantage of your own readers, by paying for false reviews and trying to fool your readers in this manner. Your readers are smarter than you think. They are for the most part, as loyal as they come. They come back time after time, wait for your new releases and pay good money to authors that they adore. You review purchasers… will be found out and I am glad that I can side step the missile that is aimed at your career. Beware…
I have a feeling we'll be hearing more on this topic in the months to come. Readers don't like it, and authors who don't do it want these fakes exposed. It bothers me personally with respect readers because I basically think most readers are good, right-minded, decent people who take for granted that authors are being honest and up front with them. And I hate to see readers disappointed when this is not the case. At least by talking about this openly in a general sense I hope readers will understand that not all authors, self-pubbed or trad pubbed, are in the habit of paying for fake book reviews in mass quantity.
Maulik Pancholy Comes Out
As being openly gay is becoming more acceptable in the mainstream, more gay people with high profiles are coming out of the closet. Though I've never seen the TV show 30 Rock, it's refreshing to see that Maulik Pancholy recently admitted he's gay, and that he's been in a long term relationship.
The 39-year-old actor made the magazine's annual "Out 100" list, and told the publication, "I just celebrated my nine-year anniversary with my partner."
He went on to note that his mood was particularly celebratory "on the heels of the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions."
You can read more here, where they list other high profile people who've come out.
This is just a side note. But for all you high profile types who haven't come out yet, you'd better get moving or you'll miss the celebrity coming out bandwagon and the shock value won't be the same.