A recent article in The New York Times has a lot of people talking about whether readers can trust book reviews on sites like Amazon. Titled The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy, the article exposes a practice I had never considered: authors paying for positive reviews.
Self-published writers trying to get their books noticed want good reviews, but with so many books out there they struggle to get attention. Enter people like Todd Rutherford, who worked for a marketing company catering to self-published authors. When Mr Rutherford struggled to get legitimate reviews for his clients he decided to just start writing them himself. His new company (since closed down) delivered over four and a half thousand reviews and was pulling in $28,000 a month.
One writer named in the article says he has spent approximately $20,000 on reviews. Clearly, the market exists for these services. But what does it mean for those of us who scroll through the reviews at the bottom of the page before we click ‘buy’? How can we tell a bought review from a genuine one?
We may not be able to, and it doesn’t stop with books. Bing Liu, a data-mining expert interviewed for the article, estimates that “about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake.” His findings indicate that “it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score), or by a hired third-party service.”
What does this mean for readers? I have always taken these reviews with a bit of salt, but I will still probably be a bit more careful in future. Instead of just scrolling through Amazon reviews I will check blogs I trust, like the Wellington City Library Teen Blog or our own Create Readers . I will also share the article with students the next time I speak about trust online.
Had you heard about this practice? Will it change the way you view online reviews?