The Sunday Times investigation shows bought reviews on Amazon
If I say “sock puppet” to you and your first thought is Shari Lewis, I’m happy you are here.
If your response to what I just said is, “What does Shari and her friends, a talking lamb and dog, have to do with puppets?” I’m ecstatic! ;)
For many of us nowadays, we think of sock puppets as fake identities that publishers and authors use to publish positive reviews of their own books.
Another term you may hear is “astroturfing”, although that’s more associated with apparent social movements. You see, instead of something genuinely being a “grass roots” movement, it has been faked by people with an agenda…Astroturf is fake grass.
While we have often suspected that reviews like that are present on Amazon, and some people have had their legitimate reviews removed by Amazon suspecting they are fake (Amazon can remove any review they want….they have no obligation to publish your reviews, although they don’t seem to do it just because a review is bad), there hasn’t been a lot of proof.
Well, a British newspaper, The Sunday Times, decided to test it…as reported in this
What they did was pretty clever. They wrote a terrible book (on purpose), and then bought 5-star reviews for it…at a price equivalent of about five U.S. dollars.
Personally, I think they overpaid. ;) I doubt most 5-star reviews are going to generate $5 in revenues…but I’m sure it does make some difference, and it would be more effective if the book was more expensive.
I don’t see that the book (Everything Bonsai!) is still for sale on the British Amazon site, but they claim it went to number one in its category.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t take all that many sales to briefly get to number one: my book of quotations, was the #1 book of quotations in any format on Amazon when it first was released
but that didn’t last long. It was just an initial bolus of sales…oh, and with no fake reviews to my knowledge! It’s only gotten four reviews in the three years it has been out…and only one of them was 5-star. :)
I think a more disturbing part of this investigation is that the review faker used real people’s identities, which they “harvested from social media”…and that includes children.
I’m assuming that may be criminal (writing good reviews for money probably isn’t), since it’s identity theft, but I don’t know what the laws are in the UK on that…and I’m not even sure if it would be actionable here.
Now, someone paying someone to create fake reviews in order to boost the sales of a book may be committing a crime…fraud. I would guess that the person writing the review would not be guilty of a crime (if they used their own identity, at least), but I’m not a lawyer.
It’s nice to see that this was done, though. It’s the kind of thing many people are quite sure happens, but not where investigative journalists tend to turn their focus.
It reminds me of when I was managing a bookstore a long time ago, and a big booksellers’ convention was coming to town. The police decided to go after used bookstores buying stolen books prior to the convention (I’m not saying there was a connection between the two, but…).
For example, they would have undercover people in the bookstores (one bookstore in particular). Reportedly, the bookstore bought boxes of books which still had shipping labels for other stores on them (as if the seller had stolen them from in front of the store). I remember there being something like the store owner just yelling out in the store, “I need ten copies of the new Stephen King: anybody want to steal them for me?”
Used bookstores were supposed to ID people when they bought books, but I think that was rare in practice.
Shoplifting was a big problem in my store, as it was in all bookstores. My goal for “shrinkage” (shoplifting,, employee theft, and loss due to damage) was 8%. If almost one in ten of my books simply disappeared, unaccounted for, I was pretty close to the goal.
What do you think? Is this going to change anything at Amazon? Should it? How do you take fake reviews into account when looking at a book? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help! By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.