Sunday, September 23, 2012

Konrath Posts Fake Amazon Reviews!

I was recently asked in an email, "Joe, I don't get why you aren't angry about fake Amazon reviews. All they do is cause harm."

Fake reviews, like sock puppets and trolling and flame wars, will always be part of the Internet and are no big deal. They are better than the alternative; Amazon policing reviews and deciding which are legitimate and/or have value.

But the email question intrigued me. Is it true that all fake reviews are harmful?

I believe being able to post anonymously, or to post reviews, is an extension of free speech. I may not like what some people say, but I feel the need to protect their right to say it. Even if they use sock puppets. Even if they have agendas.

But in the case of fake reviews, am I trying to protect something with absolutely no redeeming value? Would Amazon be better if there weren't any fake reviews at all?

I don't think so. I think some fake reviews have merit.

In fact, I just spent two hours on Amazon, being wildly entertained by fake reviews.

I was so entertained, I wrote some fake reviews myself. 

Go read them now, before some pinhead complains to Amazon and they get removed.

After reading my reviews, take some time to read other reviews of those same products. Look at the pics customers have uploaded as well. You'll probably enjoy it as much as I did. Come back here when you've finished.

----------------------------------

All done? Here are my thoughts.

Some of those reviews made me laugh out loud, and I wanted to add mine to their growing number. It is a uniquely Internet phenomenon for complete strangers to try to amuse one another, and one I fully support. I think it's also a fascinating, and worthwhile, by-product of the Amazon customer review system that people are using it for more than its intended purpose. As I mention previously, Amazon didn't create a system of  customer reviews to level the playing field for all products in a fair and unbiased way. They did it to sell stuff, because they are smart and understand how user aggregated content works.

But I don't think Amazon could have guessed how much reviews could amuse browsers. I think it's a very cool thing that they can be used in such a way. A weird, funny, human, cool thing.

Now I'm not comparing the intent of a satiric review with that of a shill 5 star review, or a 1 star review intended to hurt. One is meant to make a reader laugh. The other is intended to influence buying decisions. But if we start trying to eliminate all fake reviews, and if we start letting others decide what is worthwhile and what isn't, we're going to wind up worse off. Fake doesn't equal bad, especially when not a single person bitching about fake reviews can prove harm was caused.

The opinions of some shouldn't be forced upon everyone. We can, and should, be able to make up our own minds without others dictating what should and shouldn't be allowed. People aren't as stupid as the witch hunters want us to think. We don't automatically believe everything we read online. We can decide for ourselves what has merit. Amazon isn't the Kansas City Schoolboard, trying to teach Intelligent Design to our children. Stuff like that needs to be stopped. Fake reviews, not so much.

In some cases, like The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee, the 2000+ funny reviews have obviously helped the sales. It's #154 in clothing. I just ordered one.

In other cases, like the Playmobil Security Checkpoint, the manufacturer obviously wasn't amused, because it seems like Amazon won't allow any more reviews for that item. I tried twice, and it kept denying me.

Here's the page, and my rejected review, for those interested.


So what's my point, here? Am I saying it's okay for authors to anonymously bash other authors, and buy reviews, because some fake reviews are funny?

Nope. Though I don't care if authors buy reviews or bash each other. I don't do it myself, but I don't see the harm.

Am I saying writers are taking Amazon reviews way too seriously, putting more importance on them that they deserve?

Maybe a little, but that's not my main point.

Am I saying we shouldn't judge others?

Not quite. We all judge others. That's impossible to stop. I think moral panic is a bad thing, and caution against it, but that isn't why I blogged today.

So why did I blog today?

Because I can. 

I don't want to live in a world where I wouldn't be allowed to say what I want, or where my words are censored or forbidden. And I don't like self-righteous pinheads who believe they are morally superior and want to make me abide by their ethics.

Before today, I've never written a fake review. Never even considered it.

Today, I've written ten of them. And it feels awesome.

Now let's see how long it takes for the pinheads to whine to Amazon to take them down because they're fake and unhelpful. If they do, here are the screenshots for posterity:



BTW, I expect some people won't get the joke. I expect some people to get angry at my attitude, and my fake reviews, and get on their moral high horses to soundly condemn me for my bad behavior.

Please do. That's the highest praise you can give me.

202 comments:

1 – 200 of 202   Newer›   Newest»
Rasputin said...

Just so you know, you're acting like a toolbag and it's not really pretty.

K. Victoria Chase said...

Now that's some hilarious stuff. :-) Love the airport toy!

The Skeptical Spouse said...

Heck the fake (and hilarious) reviews of the Bic "Pens for Her" made the Huffington Post!

http://www.amazon.com/BIC-Cristal-1-0mm-Black-MSLP16-Blk/dp/B004F9QBE6

Oh, and the wooden toilet seat book made me laugh before I got to your review. $500! Holy Crap.

Joe Konrath said...

The customer uploaded Wheelmate pics, of the car pile ups, made me spew beer all over my desk.

I actually bought the dog trench coat. I'm posting a pic.

D. Nathan Hilliard said...

lol! That there was some funny stuff. My favorite was the horsehead getting five stars for durability and being educational. :D

Randy Morris said...

All of those reviews were seriously hilarious. I bet all of those products will see increased sales now. That's nice of you to help them out like that. lol

C R Myers said...

You have so seriously nailed this issue, Joe. The humor was just a bonus. :D Thanks for the sanity.

Cat

Michael Kingswood said...

I concur completely.

Well said (and done), Joe.

Michael Kingswood

STH said...

Ah, the Internet. My favorite was the one who complained about the quality of the Wheelmate for changing a baby while driving.


Heidi C. Vlach said...

Good to know I'm not the only one laughing my butt off at fake Amazon reviews! My personal favourite is this one: http://www.amazon.com/Denon-AKDL1-Dedicated-Link-Cable/dp/B000I1X6PM There are some bona fide science fiction stories in that review section.

And as for fake reviews, well... It can be very hard to tell whether a review is fake or poorly worded. I've seen some reviews from genuine fans that read like fourth grade book reports. What, should Amazon have an English professor grading reviews like they're essays?

Carlos Cooper said...

Holy crap! My wife and I just spent twenty minutes reading reviews and crying. Thanks for keeping it light, Brother Konrath?

My favorite was the Unicorn Meat

James said...

"Fake reviews, like sock puppets and trolling and flame wars, will always be part of the Internet and are no big deal. They are better than the alternative; Amazon policing reviews and deciding which are legitimate and/or have value."

I keep flipping through John Locke's "How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months", looking for the part where he explains how to buy hundreds of reviews for your books--like he did. I can't seem to find it. Anybody got the page number?

Tom Maddox said...

Joe Said:
"I believe being able to post anonymously, or to post reviews, is an extension of free speech."


But does the right to free speech extend to reviews on Amazon's site? Putting aside whether one thinks fake reviews are good, bad or benign do you believe people have a right to post whatever they wan't on Amazon's site?

In the time that I have been reading your blog I have read you threaten to turn off Anonymous posting before. Wouldn't that stifle the free speech rights of your anonymous critics?

Now, Amazon may not police their reviews but if Amazon removes your reviews are they infringing on your rights of free speech or simply enforcing their own rules for their website, the same as you enforce the rules here.

Kriston Johnson said...

Thank you for making my night. I needed the laugh. You're pretty funny.

The horse head one was my favorite.

Lisa said...

One out of one people found this blog post helpful.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Some people always get angry at your comments. What fun would if be if they didn't?

Sarra Cannon said...

I haven't laughed this hard in such a long time! Well done, Joe. Love, love, love. So happy for freedom of speech right now.

That horse head. Genius. I kind of want one now..

Eric Christopherson said...

I believe being able to post anonymously, or to post reviews, is an extension of free speech. I may not like what some people say, but I feel the need to protect their right to say it. Even if they use sock puppets. Even if they have agendas.

The FTC claims that consumer reviews are commercial speech and subject to their regulation if found to be deceptive. There's nothing deceptive about your recent fake reviews, IMO, Joe, so you're probably safe. Especially given that the FTC hasn't (to my knowledge) established fines, or fined anyone for deceptive consumer reviews.

But if that Carnegie Mellon guy is right that one-third of all consumer reviews are fake, the FTC's current policy toward looking the other way might change. I think I'd rather have the FTC regulating Amazon's reviews than Amazon. And I don't prefer, as I think you do, non-regulation. A few kids pee in the pool, everyone's still happy and having fun. Everyone pees in the pool, fun-time's over.

David L. Shutter said...

Holy shit! The Three Wolves shirt on Amazon...I had to click away, my guts hurt I was laughing so hard. And I only got through about a dozen reviews. I can't believe I just saw that.

If you look, you have to check out the customer pics!

Thanks Joe, I needed that laugh very badly.

125records said...

Fake reviews -- they're not just on Amazon. I got plenty of laughs from the reviews of an ice cube recipe satirically posted to Food.com.

Joe Konrath said...

@Tom - I have the right to allow whatever comments or reviews I see fit. When I get some annoying jerk bothering my visitors, I turn off anonymous comments. I'm not silencing him. He can go play elsewhere.

Amazon has those rights as well.

That's not the issue.

The issue is: what if I wasn't allowed to decide for myself, because someone else dictated it for me?

When a moral majority tries to impose its ethics on others, we get wrongheaded efforts such as Prop 8.

So far, Amazon doesn't police reviews, and that results in reviews of varying subjective value. It also results in hilarity.

It would be tragic if a moral majority changed that. Just like it was silly when Paypal forbid its use for selling erotica.

You may recall, I thought Paypal was wrong, but it had the right to do whatever it wanted to do. Just like that bonehead who runs Chik-Fil-A can close on Sundays and hate gays. He's allowed to. Much as I dislike it, I defend his right to do what he wants to with his business.

But if he wanted to lobby for a law that said all restaurants must close on Sundays, he'd be infringing on the rights of others.

I believe we have a situation where bunch of authors who want to decide what other authors can and can't do. I tried to jump in to defend the accused, and stop the momentum before a petition became a movement.

Amazon has made some mistakes, in my opinion. It has banned certain erotica, which I think is silly to do, and has given a lot of money to its competitors. It made a blunder with the Orwell fiasco, but owned the blunder.

Being one of the most visited places on the Internet, I think it would be tragic if it began policing reviews. That isn't violating freedom of speech, and I don't believe I said it did.

To distill my point: Tolerance allows free speech. Righteous indignation seeks to limit free speech. I believe the former is preferable to the latter.

Joe Konrath said...

Everyone pees in the pool, fun-time's over.

I'm not accusing you, or anyone of this, Eric, but you reminded me of an old argument I used to have with a Christian friend.

He truly believed that without a belief in God, there would be no morality, and everyone would kill each other.

I'm a diehard athiest. But I still follow laws (mostly) and behave according to what society mandates is acceptable.

Just because something is allowed doesn't mean everyone is going to do it.

In other words, I have more faith in people than to think everyone would pee in the pool.

1/3 of all reviews may be fake. I don't see anyone getting hurt. And I don't see a trend toward more and more fakery.

I see what I've always seen: some reviews have merit, some don't, caveat emptor. And I think most people feel the same way.

Tom Maddox said...

"To distill my point: Tolerance allows free speech. Righteous indignation seeks to limit free speech. I believe the former is preferable to the latter."

I don't necessarily disagree with that statement but in the case of fake reviews on Amazon

1. I don't think the righteous indignation of the authors in the sock puppets campaign is gonna sway Amazon one way or another.

2. I believe they have a right to their free speech also. Now I have not followed this situation as closely as you have but I did read their page and I did not see any call to action. Just a bunch of authors vowing not to use tactics they think are wrong. I don't see a difference between them saying we won't create fake reviews or use sock puppets and you saying you won't create one star reviews and having those who read your blog agree with you.

3. Some of the actions they are protesting are already against Amazon's posted rules regarding reviews. Under the Promotional Content section here

http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines

I am not sure we can equate the humorous reviews with promotional reviews that are specifically against the rules.

4. Lastly, in some cases it is against the law. Here is an example

http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/03/legacy.shtm

The company was nailed because their affiliates were posting reviews without disclosing that they were indeed affiliates and that they would receive money if you purchased the product through their website.

In the end though, I am not actually sure how this became such a big deal. It certainly seems to have struck a nerve on both sides.

Jesse Aizenstat said...

I think posting a fake NEGATIVE review might actually be more effective in selling books.

See, most reviews seem to be either wholly great or terrible. It's the critical reviews that are artful and "pinch interest" that are actually the ones that, well, pinch my interest. That's what gets me to buy books. Ironically.

Also - One big thing Facebook learned from Myspace is that people act better when you make them sign their names.

Maybe that's better with product reviews too.

anya* said...

I am dying. This review for the whole rabbit had me crying. Literally:

"3.0 out of 5 stars Not a pet…, September 8, 2012
By Frankenstyle - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fresh Whole Rabbit (Misc.)
I ordered this product as a gift for my four year old daughter, as I have fond memories of my mother giving me a pet rabbit for Easter when I was that age. "Whole Rabbit" indeed! To my utter disappointment, this rabbit lacked fur, a head, and numerous vital organs that provide that sense of comforting warmth that one would expect a whole rabbit to provide.

Needless to say my child was quite unnerved upon unwrapping "Snuggles", and spent a large portion of her Birthday cowering in a corner. On top of everything else, after the first few days I noticed a terrible odor coming from the animal and my daughters comforter was splotched with impossible to remove stains. Perhaps it has educational value for older children, but I cannot recommend it as a gift for children under five."
Thanks for making my night. And for making a damn good point.

Jude Hardin said...

Everyone pees in the pool, fun-time's over.

And if someone throws a candy bar into the pool, fun time is DEFINITELY OVER!!!!!

That was funny; but, if we look at it from a couple of different perspectives, it obviously did cause harm to some of those involved. The people who wanted to swim that day couldn't swim anymore, and the people responsible for the pool had to go to great effort and expense to ensure it was once again safe to be enjoyed.

In a screwball comedy, stuff like that is hilarious. In real life, not so much.

Fake book reviews are the equivalent of purposefully throwing facsimile feces into the pool. If one sale is lost, or if one person even feels that his or her right to being treated fairly, according to prevailing cultural norms, is being infringed upon, then I think it's safe to say harm was done.

There is simply no redeeming value to posting phony reviews. They negate the presence of genuine opinions, the subjective evaluations of folks who took the time to honestly critique the products.

Amazon (and other online retailers) should either police their customer reviews or get rid of them altogether. If nothing else, fake reviews are a waste of time to consumers looking for insights into whether they might or might not be interested in a product.

Alan Spade said...

Again, difficult not to agree with Jude. Future will tell if funny fake reviews multiply themselves. If that's the case, Amazon's reviewing system would definitively be hijacked.

One or two fake reviews in 200 or 300 doesn't bother me, it can be fun as you demonstrated. One third of reviews being fake is pretty disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Beg to differ, Joe (and everyone else who support Joe's take on this matter).

Using fake reviews to con someone into buying or not buying something is just that, a confidence trick. Bob Mayer's "forgetting" some of the tricks he used to sell a million ebooks is also a partial confidence trick. Noone likes being conned - so, as per "do unto others", it's unethical.

Being unethical never stopped anyone if they could profit from it, and get away with it; but fake reviews are the spam of reviewing; a waste of time and space in and of itself, but also a waste of every buyer's time, since the practice of faking reviews also diminishes the credibility and hence the usefulness of bona fide reviews.

I, too, believe in everybody's ability to learn to navigate the increasingly noise-filled info on the web - but having to waste time sifting through intentional disinformation remains a pain in the *ass; I should think most of us have better things to do with our time?

Rik said...

I'm not a great fan of crime genre fiction (I'm a SF/F nut, myself), but I'm thinking a book of hilarious spoof Amazon reviews would make an excellent stocking-filler gift for Christmas ... I'd buy it!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sorely tempted to e-mail Hewson every 5 minutes and ask, "Are you the one that e-mailed Joe?" again and again, though perhaps Barry Eisler would rather himself.

Then again, I'm sure Barry has better things to do, as do I. And I think the point would be lost.

Thanks for the morning laugh. Loved the whole rabbit review.

Josephine Wade said...

If in the future we can rent out time in someone's head I'm dibbsing yours right now. Very funny - made my morning!

Dianna Narciso said...

A few kids pee in the pool and everyone is still happy and having fun?

Where I live, if ONE kid pees in the pool, the first person to feel the warm flow of urine shouts and we're all stampeding to get out.

The problem of course, is that if there are enough people in the pool, no one knows who did the deed, because, out of shame no doubt, the pee-er screamed and fled the pool with everyone else.

Then no one goes back in for the rest of the day.

I don't know who you're hanging out with...

Anonymous said...

*yawns*

are you trolling for blog visitors now?

sorta sad...

*yawns again*

William Malmborg said...

Reading fake reviews can a lot of fun. I remember there were some really good ones for SPAM, but I can't find them anymore so they might have been taken down. Here is another I like. It is for a Ninja Folding Grappling Hook w/ Black Finish & Rope.
http://www.amazon.com/review/RDDKTLEXL5C42/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B000HKSSLQ&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=

I must admit, I never really took into consideration how the economy can have a nasty effect on Ninjas.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Bob Mayer's "forgetting" some of the tricks he used to sell a million ebooks is also a partial confidence trick.

Don't you mean John Locke? I don't remember Bob Mayer being involved in any fake review scandals.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

By the way, I don't get the whole peeing in the pool analogy. There's so much chlorine in a pool that a little pee isn't going to hurt anyone.

So it seems to me this is more of a perceived problem than an actual one.

Perhaps the fake review problem is the same?

sympathyforthedevil said...

Hi Joe

You're quite right about the harm done by attempts to limit free speech being far more dangerous than the harm done by fake Amazon reviews. And your fake reviews are hilarious! I hope they don't get taken down. Partly, I hope this because they AREN'T fake. They might not be genuine reviews for those particular products, but they are a very genuine something else, and - what is more - an important something else. They are a genuine point being made in an important debate.

I imagine that some 5* reviews written by writers of their own books are deeply felt and genuine (just as Obama is genuine when he votes for Obama - that's the guy he really wants to win! He doesn't secretly want Romney to win!). If you love an idea so much that you're willing to devote years of your life to writing it, and if you believe in yourself as a writer, and if you then work on that book until it's as good as you can get it, maybe you honestly believe it deserves five stars. Yes, yours is a biased opinion, but the opinion of the woman who bought it and then hated it because of the typeface (let's say she was imprisoned in a Helvetica-filled room as a child!) might be equally biased. Amazon cannot and should not police the motivation of every reviewer to assess its purity.

This witch-hunt has done and is doing serious harm. Lives and reputations are at risk of being ruined permanently, and the lack of compassion demonstrated by the witch-hunters is chilling. The psyches of frail human beings are at stake, but they don't seem to care. A few writers have been made to feel like unwanted pariahs by their fellow (and I use that term loosely) writers - like reviled sinners.

Imagine how wonderful it would be if instead of saying, 'It's bad, it's wrong, I condemn', all those other writers had said, 'You know what? I might not have given myself 5* reviews, but I've not always been a paragon of virtue - I've actually done worse stuff than this!' Instead, those writers who signed that pledge have contributed towards creating an atmosphere in which anyone who is not perfect all the time can expect to be pounced on, exposed in national newspapers, ridiculed, hounded.

And for what? Has justice been done - the integrity of the Amazon review system restored? No, because there are still all those other fake reviews out there - the witch-hunters admit this must be rife. So the Amazon-browsing reader is STILL experiencing exactly the same deception/injustice, and is not helped at all - the 'offence' against her is ongoing.

Yes, the witch-hunters might have been trying to make things better, fairer, more honest...but they've succeeded only in creating an atmosphere of hate, fear, and unforgiving condemnation. This is why some of the named and shamed writers and their families have had death-threats, daren't go near Facebook and Twitter, daren't appear in public, are feeling extremely broken and hopeless right now, and are wondering if their lives/psyches will ever recover. The witch-hunters are writers - presumably they have imaginations. How could they not anticipate the cruelty they would unleash and encourage?

And the sock puppeteers might have been trying to stack the odds in favour of their books - yes, sneakily - but they've done no more harm than possibly annoying a few readers who've bought the book and then didn't like it at all.

Give me the 'bad' guys any day - they do FAR less damage! Nothing is more dangerous than the harm done by a man who knows for sure that he is the good one, the right one.

TK Kenyon said...

I laughed so hard at your "reviews" that I had an asthma attack.

Those reviews are dangerous! They must be stopped!

TK Kenyon



MySpace is still around, right? My Amazon profile. Tweet with me! I tweet links to free e-fiction on the web and happy thoughts! A great place to see what I’m up to, writing-wise. All my reviews on Amazon: No funny, fake ones, sadly.

Anonymous said...

Another hilarious fake review here for a Konrath book:

"This book is a total rip-off it's just a rehash of what's in Killers Uncut and other books, just printed in a different order. I skimmed though the whole book trying to find anything that I hadn't already read, I failed there nothing in this one that hasn't already been in there previous books. If they can rip-off paying customers like this they should be ashamed of themselves. (And Killers Uncut had a good percentage of of re-writing from the authors previous books) This is really a new way of coning readers, Unfortunately I bought server books at the same time I won't be buying anymore that are written by more than one author."

http://www.amazon.co.uk/BIRDS-OF-PREY-Thriller-ebook/dp/B004XJ6Y1S/ref=sr_1_10?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1348492975&sr=1-10

Oh, wait a minute. It might be genuine!

Tammie Grey said...

I laughed hard at your review about uranium ore. "Then her legs fell off." Hahahaha. That would scare people from buying that item.

Tom Maddox said...

Somebody still needs to explain to me how this is a "witch hunt"?

As I understand it they were not the source of the three names they mentioned. I did not read anything in their letter that said "let us go hunt down other authors". I did not even read a statement that made me think they were advocating contacting Amazon.

Please, if they have advocated (as a group and not just a few authors in the group) anything that could considered a witch hunt then please point me to it and I will revise my opinion.

Jude Hardin said...

Has justice been done - the integrity of the Amazon review system restored? No, because there are still all those other fake reviews out there - the witch-hunters admit this must be rife. So the Amazon-browsing reader is STILL experiencing exactly the same deception/injustice, and is not helped at all - the 'offence' against her is ongoing.

I think we can be generally opposed to deceptive practices (or even having fun at someone else's expense) without being part of a lynch mob. It's not fair to persecute a few when the violations are as rampant as they seem to be.

So maybe we all just need to agree that customer reviews are worthless. That seems to be the direction all this is heading. And if we come to agree that they're worthless, then there's no point in having them, and absolutely no point in wasting our time writing them.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Tom, I will try and answer your question about why it's a witch-hunt. Yes, the names of the 'offenders' were known and had been in the papers by the time the pledge appeared with all those signatures attached to it. However, two of those names wouldn't have been in the papers at all if it weren't for the efforts of some of the people who then later wrote the pledge. One signatory tweeted one of the ringleaders before RJ Ellory had been outed, saying, 'I think I've found another one' in a gleeful tone. The same signatory later tweeted to an author whose book was maligned by an Ellory sock-puppet, 'Just think, I wouldn't have found Ellory out if I hadn't loved your book so much!' - again, gleeful about having exposed a sinner. Ellory was then outed, and the pledge-creators did all they could to make sure newspapers picked up on the story. When the pledge was challenged by a writer called Matt Rees (in a partly sensible and partly silly blog post that has since been deleted from Rees' blog), two of the ringleaders, annoyed at having been criticised, immediately started tweeting one another to say, 'You should see his [Rees'] Amazon reviews' and 'I have' (the response). Shortly afterwards, they outed Rees as someone they believed had used sock-puppets too - clear evidence that, when their pledge was challenged, they went looking for sins on the Amazon pages of their critics. In Rees' case, they seem to think they found evidence - but if this isn't a witch-hunt, why was that their first instinct? Their ringleader regularly tweets lists of all the sockpuppeting authors he's found, tweets their publishers directly suggesting they drop them, reveals 'evidence' that they are not only guilty of sock-puppeting but also just horrid guys - seriously! A sick joke about Alzheimers that Stephen Leather once posted on an online forum has been tweeted and retweeted, in an attempt to prove that Leather is a nasty guy. There have also been tweeted links to interviews with Leather in which he talks about going to strip clubs/lap dancing clubs. Now, Leather might well make sick jokes and like strippers, but...if this isn't a witch-hunt, how on earth is this relevant, and why are things like this constantly being tweeted by the pledge writers? The ringleader also laments the fact that more people don't condemn the sock-puppeteers, and quite a few people signed the pledge who really didn't want to, because they were terrified of the condemnation that might come their way if they didn't agree.

When the pledge was being drafted, many people didn't want the names of the offenders to be included. The pledge has been attacked for its name-and-shame aspect by many critics. In their defence, the chief architects of the pledge have said, 'We didn't reveal anything people didn't already know - they'd all been named in the papers anyway.' This is incredibly disingenuous, as it suggests that the naming in the papers happened somehow organically or by accident. No, it happened because the pledge architects made sure it happened - they were the drive behind it happening.

Barbra Annino said...

This reminds of the whole BIC Cristal For HER Ball Pen episode.

There are some hilarious reviews there too.

"Someone has answered my gentle prayers and FINALLY designed a pen that I can use all month long! I use it when I'm swimming, riding a horse, walking on the beach and doing yoga. It's comfortable, leak-proof, non-slip and it makes me feel so feminine and pretty! Since I've begun using these pens, men have found me more attractive and approchable. It has given me soft skin and manageable hair and it has really given me the self-esteem I needed to start a book club and flirt with the bag-boy at my local market. My drawings of kittens and ponies have improved, and now that I'm writing my last name hyphenated with the Robert Pattinson's last name, I really believe he may some day marry me! I'm positively giddy. Those smart men in marketing have come up with a pen that my lady parts can really identify with."

http://www.amazon.com/BIC-Cristal-1-0mm-Black-MSLP16-Blk/dp/B004F9QBE6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348495280&sr=8-1&keywords=bic+pens+for+her

Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

Somebody still needs to explain to me how this is a "witch hunt"?

I've seen other authors accused of posting fake reviews on Amazon. Authors who had nothing to do with the three in question.

I've also seen one REVIEWER publicly accused on Facebook of being a sock puppet, even though it's not true.

This reviewer, whom I know through Facebook, actually contacted me privately asking if he goes overboard with his praise and should he stop reviewing? I told him that he shouldn't let false accusations stop him from expressing himself about the books he loves.

One commenter on this blog inferred that one of MY reviewers might be a sock puppet—also untrue.

THAT'S how is becomes a witch hunt. The original participants of the letter don't necessarily need to do the actual hunting for it to be harmful to others.

Julie Kramer said...

I think you should write advertising copy, Joe. TV, print, even political campaigns.

sympathyforthedevil said...

I have just been accused of hypocrisy on Twitter, for mentioning Matt Rees in my earlier comment. Mentioning Rees is NOT an astonishing display of hypocrisy on my part, because I made sure to include the detail about Mr Rees's Amazon page then turning out to have some dubious reviews on it. I also made sure to mention that some of Mr Rees' blog post on the subject of sock-puppetry was silly - in particular, I was thinking of the part where he claimed that all the pledge signatories were super-rich and no. 1 bestsellers. I think my original comment makes it very clear that I mentioned Mr Rees for one reason and one reason only: to demonstrate that when challenged, and before knowing anything about Rees, the No-Sock-Puppet ringleaders' first instinct was (and their Tweets prove it) to rush to Rees' Amazon reviews and see if they could find him guilty of anything. And...yes, it seems they did, but they didn't know they would, did they? So I think my point is a valid one.

Tom Maddox said...

@sympathyforthedevil

Thanks for the elaboration. As I said before, all I had to go on was the original No Sock Puppets page/blog.

I am also not willing to codemn a whole group for the actions of a few of it's members but if it is indeed the originators of the letter who are partaking in the behaviors you are describing then that is pretty damning evidence.

That being said, as a reader I still fall on the side of the argumnet that thinks the fake reviews are a detriment to the Amazon review system. I have never reported any of them and probably never will but I have been known to use the No button on the "Was this review helpful" question.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Joe: Glad to hear that the poop-eating issue in your household is now under control. Sorry about your wife's legs.

Alan Spade said...

I think the mob mentality is atavistic and it's hard for humanity to get rid of it - but it's definitively worth trying.

But I also do think authors SHOULDN'T do skulduggeries and hide them away, especially if that skulduggeries may spark very strong emotional responses among readers once discovered.

Our weaknesses are our dirty secrets. Nobody's perfect, but if we do not want to feel vulnerable, we have to cultivate good ethics.

Joe Konrath said...

First, thanks to those criticizing me, as I'd predicted. I mentioned in my blog I take it as praise.

I also take praise as praise, so thanks to those who find this funny, and understand that fake reviews can have merit.

It's a witch hunt, Tom, because it is fostering fear and paranoia, and its purpose is to punish the accused. Even if the accused aren't guilty.

Search Google, Google News, Twitter, Kindlboards, and Facebook for the people associated with this, both the accused and the accusers. Also search for me, and see what people are saying because I had the gall to defend fake reviews. I've already been repeatedly accused of defending fake reviews because I apparently leave fake reviews, which, until yesterday, I'd never done.

I've gotten half a dozen emails from people thanking me for speaking on this topic because they're afraid to, fearful of the mob turning on them.

There are a handful of Brits who started the petition, and are actively trying to "out" offenders. What's funny is when you look at their Twitter feeds, they spew some of the most hateful, ugly nonsense I've ever heard come out of the writing community, and these are the ones who think they're in the right.

They aren't right. They're whiny little bitch boys, major league assholes, and their sales suck so bad the only way they can get any media attention is by pissing on their peers.

It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic.

So envy, and delusions of adequacy, and little man syndrome, coupled with the muck-raking glee of the media, have combined to scare a bunch of authors into signing a bullshit petition, and humiliate some authors who--in my opinion--didn't do anything worthy of such attention.

They're bullies. Bullies who are unhealthily obsessed with authors who--not coincidentally--make more money in a week than the bullies do in a year.

It amazes me how some people can lack such fundamental self-awareness. The comment thread on Barry Eisler's recent post was hilarious. He CRUSHED them, and they didn't even understand how much they were being humiliated. They're that stupid.

Bottom line: Moral masturbation leads to moral panic. Which is why I spoke up.

And here's a litmus test for everyone: If you ever feel justified attacking someone, by name, in a public forum or in the media, you're a coward and a bully and an asshat.

If you feel good about yourself by pointing out the subjectively bad moral behavior of others, you are petty and insufferable and insecure.

Tom Maddox said...

Thans for the reply Joe. I appreciate the extra info on the situation.

Joe Konrath said...

@Tom - Keep being this sensible and you may reaffirm my faith in human nature.

Thanks for your level-headed comments. They added a great deal to this discussion, and I don't say that often, if ever.

Joe Konrath said...

Glad to hear that the poop-eating issue in your household is now under control. Sorry about your wife's legs.

It's a mixed blessing. Now she can't follow me around, so I can eat all the poop I want.

Etienne de LAmour said...

Thank you, Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

I have just been accused of hypocrisy on Twitter,

If people are accusing you of anything, you're doing something right.

In my original post, I challenged the pinheads to take on the New York Times, comparing their history of publisher advertising with their history of reviews.

That would be worthwhile.

Attacking individuals isn't worthwhile. It's petty.

Jude Hardin said...

I also take praise as praise, so thanks to those who find this funny, and understand that fake reviews can have merit.

I have to admit I laughed at some of those reviews you wrote, Joe, but I wonder if I would have if it were my products being ridiculed.

How would you feel if you started getting hundreds of book reviews poking fun at your writing from people who didn't even read the books?

Either customer reviews matter, or they don't. If they do, let's keep them real. If they don't, let's just do away with them altogether.

Lee Child said...

Let’s recap the consensus arrived at over the last few years: the old model is broken; we need a new model, with equality of access and distribution, a level playing field, and no gatekeepers; and we’re part of the way there.

But the new market needs to be mediated or directed in some way. If there are a million books available, and a hundred million people looking for something to read, then an unmediated market will result in sales ranging between zero and two hundred per title. That’s an inevitable arithmetic conclusion.

Because: cyberspace is dimensionless, and every reader will always be exactly equidistant from every book. Discovery will be entirely random, and then cover, copy and sample will prompt a binary decision: to buy or not. Some browsers will have more patience than others; some might be more picky than others; but over time, sales per title can’t be less than zero and won’t be more than two hundred.

But no one believes the new model should or will run that way. Everyone expects the cream to rise above the arithmetic maximum. But no one wants the old model’s hype or corruption, where money buys success for the few at the expense of the many.

The only fair mechanism can be mutual recommendation among genuine readers, via posted reviews and online opinion. In a five-star system, over time, those books a few ticks above three stars will be seen as attractive, and those a few ticks below won’t.

(And don’t tell me you don’t rely on reviews; I know you’re terribly, terribly sophisticated, but the rest of the hundred million aren’t.)

Thus the integrity of reviews must be jealously guarded. To decline to post honest one-star reviews is irresponsible: if in your honest opinion a book deserves one star, give it one star. The market can’t function any other way.

Faked or bought or sockpuppet reviews are equally destructive. If the buying public loses faith, we’re back to an unmediated market, with random results for all.

To claim that review corruption is analogous to what happened under the old system isn’t a great argument; we’re supposed to be getting away from all that. If we believe in the new model, we should be hyper-vigilant about repeating old mistakes.

There’s nothing wrong with naming cheats, either. They’re all big boys. They knew what they were doing. And I’ve noticed that whenever controversial claims are made, Joe is the first to challenge: “Name names!”

Free-speech justifications are sophomoric and pathetic, too. If you see a child in the road in the path of a speeding truck, free speech allows you to yell “You’re ugly!” at her. But is that the right thing to do?

Markets don’t remain unmediated for long; unless an honest system prevails, some other system will arise. Perhaps someone will offer to buy publicity and marketing for authors, in exchange for a share of their earnings, and then perhaps they’ll assess and select which ones to back heavily. We could call them ... publishers.

M.P. McDonald said...

43 bOMG! Dying here! I especially loved the horse mask review.Heh. Too bad Amazon owns them now.

I was too busy laughing to read the rest of the blog post, but that's okay. I don't write fake reviews on either my own or my competitors' books so it's not really relevant to me, but now I think it could be an amusing pastime to write a few on wacky products. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I like the last one esp. w/ its sly "Lady Chatterly's Lover" reference. or is it an hommage to that lady who spent ten years "training" her horse to fill her up? that was confusing

Anonymous said...

@LeeChild.. um, who cares? but then I'm terribly unsophisticated.

sympathyforthedevil said...

In response to Lee Child,

Even if there is sometimes (or indeed often) nothing wrong with exposing cheating/dishonesty, might there not be a scenario in which the harm caused by the exposing and shaming far outweighs the harm caused by the original transgression? I believe this sock puppetry issue is such a case. Here are the two things that need to be balanced:

1) Fake reviews trick readers by not declaring an interest. They add a little bit of contamination to a system that will always probably be partly contaminated and partly genuinely helpful and instructive. If readers are tricked into buying books that are rubbish because the authors said they were great under false names, those readers will be disappointed to find that they were tricked into buying bad books - as we all are when we trust a recommendation that turns out to be wrong. It's happened to me hundreds of times - I didn't shed a single tear. I'd call it a minor annoyance - less than a one-out-of-ten on the scale of possible harms a person might suffer in this world.

2) The public vilification of the 'guilty' writers by many of their fellow writers and by the world at large has led to: hate mail, death threats, more fake Amazon reviews as witch-hunt supporters flock to attack the guilty, public shaming, authors feeling utterly alone and persecuted, authors being advised to cancel events, lay low, avoid social media - such is the fear of attack. The Independent newspaper described two of the sockpuppeting writers as 'a loathsome couple'. There has been mockery, character assassination, very hurtful abuse on Twitter - not from all who signed the pledge, but from enough to contaminate the pledge's more honourable aims. This kind of public condemnation and ridicule is the sort of thing that can comprehensively psychologically destroy a person and lead them to do something stupid. It whips up hatred, anger and the desire to hurt. It potentially damages a writer's sales and reputation for the rest of his career, could wreck his income and life prospects, and therefore those of his kids, who might suffer at school too. On the same human suffering scale used above, I'd put this as an 8 out of 10.

That's why I think the action taken against sockpuppeting is so much worse than sockpuppeting itself. I also wonder how anyone who signed the pledge that has EVER been dishonest as a result of fear/neediness/desperation/vanity (and that's surely everybody, right?) can bring him or herself to condemn another's ego-driven dishonesty in such a blatantly casting-the-first-stone kind of way.

Almost all published authors allow their publishers to use lines like 'The best thriller you'll read this year' when selling their books - usually that's a lie. Some who have allowed that kind of lying to take place in order to sell more of their books have signed this pledge. So, not only cruel and negligent, but also hypocritical.

Many who signed had entirely honourable aims, I'm sure. But when your sense of what's right and proper leads you to join in with the destruction of someone's life, reputation, livelihood and, potentially, their sense of self, this is when it's really crucial to ask yourself: how can my action be right and proper when this is the effect it has, and when it in no way prevents a greater harm?

Sariah Wilson said...

Curse you, Konrath. Now instead of working on important writing stuff I'm probably going to spend the rest of my day reading ALL the fake reviews on these items, and calling my husband at work to read him the particularly funny ones.

Lee Child said...

@sympathy/devil - I hear ya, but I don't agree. As a whole, I don't think we can say, "We shouldn't expose a wrongdoer's misdeeds in case we hurt his feelings."

Anonymous said...

"Name and shame" has now become kicking a thoroughly beaten man when he's down.

Go to twitter, search for "roger ellory" (in quotes). That will take you to the self-appointed Witchfinder General. Then follow the rat droppings .... Very sad.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Again, in response to Lee Child -

I think I would probably agree with you if we a) lived in a world where people who apologised and re-thought their bad behaviour were whole-heartedly forgiven and allowed a proper fresh start, and if we b) lived in a world that ensured everyone had the same happy secure start in life and formative experiences. Sadly, we live in a harsh, unforgiving world in which some people have happy secure starts in life, so perhaps don't feel their very survival depends on becoming their own support systems on Amazon, but - again, sadly - others don't, and do. If that makes sense!

Toni Dwiggins said...

Your fake reviews are a hoot, Joe. Yeah, Solid Gold SEP is inherently funny—gotta laugh—but I get this deeply uncomfortable feeling that you’re conflating the right to satirize with the right to deceive.

BTW, I heart satire. Yup—Daily Show, Jonathan Swift—I’m a fan.

I’m also a fan of what you’ve done for Indies with your blog. A huge thanks for that. Puzzled, though, at your argument that fake reviews don’t cause harm. Hurts writers trying to find readers, and vice-versa, because reviews are one way—one way—to facilitate that. (and I get it, sock-puppetry is not murder)

I’m swimming in the Indie pool—very small fish—and I’m kinda pissed that the fake-review-leavers are crapping it up.

Eric Christopherson said...

Whomever this "Lee Child" fellow is, he makes a lot of sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Things can make sense and yet lack compassion ....

James Scott Bell said...

Yes, please make sure no one conflates "Bob Mayer" with "John Locke."

Bob said...

"Bob Mayer's "forgetting" some of the tricks he used to sell a million ebooks is also a partial confidence trick."


Hey anonymous-- if you're going to call me out in comments (and are WRONG), why don't you grow a pair and stop hiding? First, I haven't sold a million eBooks but I have made over a million dollars. What confidence trick have I used?

Anonymous said...

Oh sheesh! I'm the more recent incarnation. Please don't conflate one Anonymous with the other! Sorry.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

DON'T MISS THE REVIEWS ON THIS PRODUCT!

Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme 200 ml

I laughed so hard, for so long, I thought I would never stop. Plus, its from the UK site so it's even funnier if you aren't a brit.

Veronica

OnlyMe said...

Okay, I've found another posting option other than "Anonymous". I'm the one who spoke about kicking a thoroughly beaten man when he's down and about compassion; not about Bob Mayer.

J. R. Tomlin said...

@Lee Child said...

"As a whole, I don't think we can say, "We shouldn't expose a wrongdoer's misdeeds in case we hurt his feelings.""

Lee, whole thing went a bunch of steps beyond exposing a wrongdoers misdeeds. If you post on your blog on in Twitter that you are sure someone is using sockpuppets, you have every right to do that. Mind you, I might question how you can be so sure, but you're within your rights and "exposing a wrongdoer".

Getting together with a bunch other people, forming a group to publicly call them, names, making sure the namecalling gets in the newspapers, contacting their publishers, and attacking anyone who dares come to their defense ain't "exposing a wrongdoer". It is vigilantism, pure and simple.

I am somewhat less tolerant than Joe about what happened, but I cannot excuse the actions of a mob in trying to take this as far as it went.

Jaden Terrell said...

I love the reviews for the Mountain Three Wolf Moon shirt. I'm planning to get one to write in and to wear one under my regular shirt at all my book signings.

Lee Child said...

Someone said, "Things can make sense and yet lack compassion .... "

It's a tough call, I know. All writers - all performers, really - are insecure, and the sullen indifference of the world at large is hard to take.

But some issues are too important to suppress. I believe in collectivism and democracy and people's right to choose, and unless we re-order our tiny corner of the world along honest lines, we're no better off than we ever were.

We're at an important threshold. We should do this right. It might be twenty years before we get another chance.

Lee Child said...

J R Tomlin said, "Getting together with a bunch other people, forming a group to publicly call them, names, making sure the namecalling gets in the newspapers, contacting their publishers, and attacking anyone who dares come to their defense ain't "exposing a wrongdoer". It is vigilantism, pure and simple ... "

Not really. It's how we conduct debates these days. Sad, possibly, but word-for-word how Joe and others debate legacy publishing, for instance.

Alan Tucker said...

The problem with this is Amazon HAVE started to police reviews and that policing seems quite random and undocumented.

If they were consistent about the application of the ban hammer, I'd have no problem. But, verified purchase, family member, competitor, or commercial gain — all thrown out as reasons by Amazon — still don't hold water to many of the review removals I've seen from my books as well as others. I know several long-time book bloggers who've had reviews pulled for no clear reasons as well.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lee Child, there is much of what you say that makes sense. With that said, part of my issue with the pledge and how this has been conducted is the lack of cohesive position - some individuals are posting more personal pledges on their blogs against things that are not even on the same level as the sock puppet reviews, while there has been no forum created for open discourse and more cohesive action.

It appears as though the architects and primary instigators of the pledge are successful traditionally published authors. Why is there no incorporation of voice from "indie" authors? Why is there no cohesive action to prompt for a level playing field for reviews of all books - regardless of the publisher name on the copyright page - in the print medium?

Why is there no stance against so many other aspects of publishing that we've all known have been less than upright?

Today, Spinetingler got an email from an author, hoping for a review of their book. Nothing unusual about that. They then offered to write the review themselves.

Sorry to say, nothing terribly odd about that either. I do have some insight into how many authors conduct themselves with something less than integrity.

If this matter has risen to the point of death threats, then surely the repercussions of outing these authors is far too extreme to be justified by the crime, and this against the author who apologized.

I don't out every writer who missteps with us behind the scenes. One hopes they learn, and everyone deserves a second chance.

However, as someone who has no new book forthcoming at this time, I can sit back and say that most of the writers behind the pledge have dominated print reviewing, and best-seller lists. They also have a vested interest in protecting the interests of traditional publishing. Since I've just signed with Thomas & Mercer, perhaps I have different interests, but I feel the lack of participation from indie authors only underscores the growing gap between the different groups of authors, and without everyone being on the same playing field, there's no chance of fixing anything at all.

Joshua Simcox said...

Or...

We could all choose to stop giving a shit about any of this, stop feeding the flames, and just write a book.

That's the only way any of us can win.

--Joshua

Lee Child said...

Sandra Ruttan said, " ... most of the writers behind the pledge have dominated print reviewing, and best-seller lists. They also have a vested interest in protecting the interests of traditional publishing ... "

You're right, but that's what I found so encouraging about the whole thing. People who do very well out of the current skewed and biased system should - if self-interest was their only aim - be happy to let the new system self-destruct. But they weren't happy to. I think that says a lot about their fundamental decency.

Jill James said...

Thank you for my laugh for the day. I so needed that. Loved the airport toy one.

Anonymous said...

Joe, if false, negative reviews harm no one, why not test the thesis by asking everyone who reads your blog to post a 1-star review of the same J Konrath book, and see where your sales go?

Jacob Chastain said...

"Amazon isn't the Kansas City Schoolboard, trying to teach Intelligent Design to our children. Stuff like that needs to be stopped."

Joe, I have a proposition for you that you might find really interesting. Espeacially after this little quote from you. :)

Let me know what you think...

I sent you an email using the portal on your site about it.


sympathyforthedevil said...

In response to Sandra Ruttan, who said, 'I don't out every writer who missteps with us behind the scenes. One hopes they learn, and everyone deserves a second chance.' - Now that's what I call decency, wisdom and compassion.

In response to Lee Child's response to JR Tomlin: Lee, are you honestly saying that 'forming a group to publicly call them names and make sure that name calling ends up in the papers' is the way we have debates these days? I can't believe you really meant to say that, but your response to Tomlin reads as if you did. If it's true that public debate has descended into name-calling attacks, isn't that really terrible and damaging? I don't know anything about any 'legacy publishing' argument, so perhaps there's a reference I'm missing, but, unless I've misunderstood, you seem to be accusing Joe Konrath of name-calling vigilantism with regard to legacy publishing. I've no idea what Joe did or didn't say/do in relation to the publishing issue, but I don't believe there is any excuse, ever, for vicious name calling or vigilantism in public debate. Public debate can and should be civilised, respectful, compassionate and polite. And I'm not sure, 'He did it first/too' is a viable defence against a damaging form of discourse.

Lee Child said...

Sympathy/Devil said, " ... I don't believe there is any excuse, ever, for vicious name calling or vigilantism in public debate. Public debate can and should be civilised, respectful, compassionate and polite. And I'm not sure, 'He did it first/too' is a viable defence against a damaging form of discourse ... "

Agreed most sincerely. But let's stop moving the goalposts. The pledge I was party to named three people who were already out there - in one case, in fact, the guy put his name out there all by himself, by voluntarily and cheerfully boasting about his behavior.

I felt the three examples were necessary, because generally the response is always, "Yeah? Name names!"

The text of the pledge was moderate - certainly not vicious - and ended with an upbeat call for a collective solution.

If anyone's problem is with the imagined tone of the message rather than the substance of the issue ... well, get over it.

Lee Child said...

Sandra Ruttan said, "I don't out every writer who missteps with us behind the scenes. One hopes they learn, and everyone deserves a second chance."

Of course, which is why the text of the pledge restricted itself to well-established million-selling millionaires. They weren't helpless underdogs. I think we can assume that kind of money - fairly or unfairly earned - insulates a person to some degree.

I.J.Parker said...

I wasn't going to post on this issue. You don't really get anywhere with it. But Lee Child is absolutely right. The system will work only if there is some kind of credibility in it.

The people hurt by sock puppets are writers who don't play those games. And of course readers who hope for some information about books also get screwed.

Posting flattering reviews on a book you haven't read amounts to lying. Posting your own flattering reviews is pathetic. Attacking a fellow author because you hope he'll fail is disgusting and probably illegal.

And none of this has anything to do with free speech, though it may give it a bad name.

Tom Maddox said...

Lee Child said...

"The text of the pledge was moderate - certainly not vicious - and ended with an upbeat call for a collective solution."

I was stating the same thing earlier in the thread as I only had the web page and the pladge to go by but what I heard in response from Joe and Sympathy is that there has been plenty of extracuricular activity on this subject that has been less than moderate in it's tone.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Lee, thanks for your reply, again.

Yes, absolutely, the text/wording of the pledge was moderate and non-vicious.

And, agreed, the names of the Sockpuppet Three were already out there, so including them wasn't particularly adding anything new to the public discourse, in any substantive sense.

My concern about the pledge is simply that, however it had been worded, the Sockpuppet Three could hardly help but read it and think, 'Oh, my God - fifty of my fellow authors are unreservedly condemning me' - and that would be devastating to anyone sensitive. Not all of the three might be sensitive of course, but some might be very sensitive and might not recover from this. And even those sock puppeteers who boast about sockpuppeting will only harden their defence mechanisms further and become more outrageous in their behaviour. This is another key point: condemnation doesn't actually help anyone to behave better; compassion does - being forgiven and accepted even though you've done something wrong - that's what makes a person strive to be better, I think.

The one thing I'd strongly disagree with you about is the idea that being a millionaire/bestseller insulates you against hurt and psychological devastation. It doesn't, not in any way. To slightly misquote Mamma Cass (I think it was her anyway!): I've been rich and I've been poor, and, believe me, the psychological damage I've sustained in those two states has been, roughly, exactly equal'. :-)

Lee Child said...

Sympathy/Devil said, " ... condemnation doesn't actually help anyone to behave better ... "

But the point of the pledge wasn't to condemn, or to help anyone to behave better. It was to alert readers as a whole that they have a dog in this fight, and a solution literally at their fingertips: get online with your honest opinions and drown out the inevitable cheating.

New models require effort, the internet belongs to all, and policing won't come from inside the writing world, but from outside. Just as the new system is empowering for all writers, it's empowering for all readers, too. Their voices can finally be heard - but they have to speak up, loud and clear and in their millions.

Bob said...

So. Where is the line drawn? Authors fooling readers is bad. What about publishers fooling readers, a decades old tradition called co-op placement? Walk in the supermarket and there is the #1 Bestseller on the rack. Except it's not the #1 Bestseller based on sales, but based on discounts given by the publisher. Does the average reader know that? That the slot was purchased, not earned?

Just a random thought. We seem to go after authors so easily, but not publishers. And I'm amazed at the stunning silence regarding all these settlements on pricing and no comments, no outrage, no condemnation. Did I miss something? Didn't the DOJ rule against the agency model? Aren't publishers having to pay out many millions of dollars (which trust me, will come from author royalties, not publisher bottom lines)?

BTW-- whoever you are who called me out, please identify yourself. Because anonymous is the worst form of sock puppetry. Especially since you were wrong.

OnlyMe said...

@Lee, I'm not at all against such a pledge: that is one issue and I sincerely hope that it is a move in the right direction for us.

But there is another issue: the actions of certain other vigilantes who are determined to publicly prolong the grief, even though a public apology has been issued, sarcastic reviews left at Amazon, 2 (or perhaps 3) public engagements already cancelled, and a life left in tatters.

That provoked one twitter user to respond to the Witchfinder General: "What was your day job before Ellory skewering? And I hope you have a retirement plan because I don't see longevity in it."

Surely, there must be a better, more humane way of handling this?

Lee Child said...

Again, @Sympathy: "Not all of the three might be sensitive of course, but some might be very sensitive ... "

One is, at least, and he's a friend of mine, and he always will be. I'll be the first to shake his hand in public (actually, I'll probably be buried in the crush.) This is not personal. It's structural. He knows that.

And, re Mama Cass, I've been poor, and I've been rich, and Cass is full of sh*t.

OnlyMe said...

... They went on to say: "You've not only beaten a dead horse, but gutted and dismembered it too. We're talking Amazon reviews, dude. Not Watergate."

Lee Child said...

Bob Mayer asked, "What about publishers fooling readers, a decades old tradition called co-op placement?"

Couldn't agree more, but don't we want a better system now? Or are we happy to let the new world imitate the old?

It's an important issue. Co-op was driven by retailer greed. Publishers weren't looking to give money away. And retailer greed won't go away. Amazon and its peers and its eventual replacements will always try to monetize everything. We need a robust and honest system in place so we don't have to play that game for ever more.

Lee Child said...

OnlyMe said, "We're talking Amazon reviews, dude. Not Watergate."

Absolutely, which is why I said earlier, "our tiny corner of the world."

But that's a dumb argument anyway. Follow that logic, and only the single worst problem in the world could ever be talked about. In which case we wouldn't have heard about Watergate.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Lee,

What Mamma Cass actually said was, 'I've been rich and I've been poor, and believe me, rich is better.' I assume, from what you've said, that you agree with this?

I'd agree too - wealth insulates you against many things - hunger, repossession of your home, poor physical health, inadequate education, squalid holiday accommodation etc. But do you honestly believe it insulates a person against psychological devastation?

Brian Drake said...

The only reason I do not like fake reviews, of the kind purchased by John Locke, for example, is that I'm afraid they will further paint "indie authors" as less than professional. That isn't the case with 99% of us--we're working our tails off to produce quality and are under attack by "traditional forces" on all fronts. Do we need potential readers ignoring us entirely because they think we've salted our review pages?

Or is it all in my head and not a problem at all?

I leave the answers to others, but that's why I don't like fake reviews. My books may not have many reviews, but they have honest ones.

Alan Spade said...

sympathyforthedevil said : "But do you honestly believe it insulates a person against psychological devastation?"

I agree with that. Maybe it's too late, but perhaps to remove the names in the petition would have helped calm down things.

On a very different note, Veronica Eloheim said : "DON'T MISS THE REVIEWS ON THIS PRODUCT!

Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme 200 ml

I laughed so hard, for so long, I thought I would never stop. Plus, its from the UK site so it's even funnier if you aren't a brit."

I wondered if Tagnutt Mandeville wasn't a pseudonym for Joe Konrath, because his review is so fun, well written, and there's Bub in it ! :)

Alan Spade said...

The point of view on the subject of paying reviews of an author you cannot suspect of being envious, Amanda Hocking :

"So what I'm saying is that in the end, paid reviews might work for a few people, but it won't work for most. And if you're exposed as paying for reviews, you can turn off readers and lose fans forever. I don't think it's worth the cost or the risk, and I don't think it's honest, no matter how hard the paid-reviewers try to be honest."

On her blog : http://amandahocking.blogspot.fr/2012/09/scandalous.html

A good advice for newbies, I think.

Lee Child said...

@Sympathy: do I honestly believe money insulates a person against psychological devastation?

To an extent, yes. If you've made a million sales and earned a million bucks, the tides are running in favor of feeling accepted. But I agree, that isn't certain or categorical. And if insecurity creeps in, such that you are tempted to game the system, I imagine the whole thing crumbles pretty fast.

In my own case, I get plenty of bad, negative and spiteful comment, but I doubt if a "poor me" attitude would receive much sympathy.

Sariah Wilson said...

Regarding the Amanda Hocking quote - is she also against those paid reviewers at Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and Library Journal? Or just paying "non-professional" reviewers? (Or we might call them indie reviewers.)

sympathyforthedevil said...

Lee,

Sneery reviews, jealousy, lack of critical respect from literary snobs - all these are things that can be relatively easily ignored by hugely bestselling writers laughing all the way to the bank, safe in the knowledge that their fans love them - agreed.

To be on the receiving end of a large and influential group's moral condemnation, however, and in a very public and humiliating way, is a different story. That can cause intense feelings of shame and worthlessness, can make a person feel as if their entire self is being annihilated, and no amount of money/book sales would help with that.

Sorry if this seems like nitpicking, but I just wanted to be clear about what I meant.

Christine Leov Lealand said...

Lee Child said - 'Perhaps someone will offer to buy publicity and marketing for authors, in exchange for a share of their earnings, and then perhaps they’ll assess and select which ones to back heavily. We could call them ... publishers.'

This is one of the funniest statements on this blog in a cruel and sad way. Mr Child - or Ms Child - try being a mid-list author and see how much even one of the big 6 publishers are willing to promote your book, even when it's a best-seller.
NOT MUCH is the answer - and only to book stores, not the reader.
So yeah, I'm laughing. I'd rather have a dozen faux fun reviews under any of my novels on Amazon than wait about for my publisher to do something they aren't equipped to do, never have done and likely will never do:- promote my book with as much interest as I can. Oh, and why the 'assessment and selection' of what to promote?
All authors have a right to promote their work and be promoted.
Does paying PR firms to create one's image (faux image)as a politician invalidate those politicians?
Is all that rented time on TV promoting those same politicians seen as somehow devaluing their message?
I don't think so.
How many of the comments/support on politician's blogs, sites etc is genuine, or sock-puppets galore, or bought?
I don't hear anyone shaming any other industry for this kind of activity - why writers attacking writers?

Lee Child said...

@Sympathy - I'm not trying to nitpick either, but your concern seems circular. If an ignored nobody faked reviews to get attention, then sure, the opprobrium would be on top of the existing feeling of being an ignored nobody, which would be gratuitously damaging, and accusers might well be guilty of insensitive piling on.

But the Sockpuppet Three aren't ignored nobodies - they're right from your first paragraph: bestsellers laughing all the way to the bank.

And personal sensitivity considerations should - I think - rank below strategic considerations. We can't let it get set in stone that the only way to become a bestseller is to fake stuff. Not if we're seriously expecting the new system to be better than the old.

Eric Christopherson said...

Just because something is allowed doesn't mean everyone is going to do it. In other words, I have more faith in people than to think everyone would pee in the pool.

Joe, I've been thinking about your comment. I'm not sure what the percentage off pee-ers would be, but under the wrong circumstances, the percentage can be quite high. (Think Tour de France, think academic cheating scandals, think major publishers.) It can get to the point where a majority of people come to rationalize dishonesty as the price of doing business.

I'll bet we can agree there are basically three kinds of people: (1) those who will (nearly) always act honestly; (2) those who will act honestly given the right sanctions; and (3) those who will act dishonestly despite sanctions. This recent brouhaha over fake reviews and sockpuppetry is a kind of sanction for the #2 kind of people. So in that regard it has had positive results. Social media does have a kind of built-in regulatory system.

On the other hand, you have been right IMO to point out the overkill in this particular instance. I agree that the petition was incredibly rushed and not well thought-out as a result and that the sins of the people named were rather venial on an individual level. But it's the collective sinning I'm worried about, and I agree with Lee on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the review system.

Anonymous said...

"Does paying PR firms to create one's image (faux image)as a politician invalidate those politicians?"

YES! A million times YES. That's why we are now knee-deep in shit.
REAL politics, in opposition to SCREEN politics, has nothing to do with how good you look.

You've been suckered.

"Is all that rented time on TV promoting those same politicians seen as somehow devaluing their message?"
YES! Ditto.

Politics isn't showbiz—though to view the fun and games in the States for the past forty years you could believe it is.

Haven't you yet put the two things together?

You're hurting, as are other western so-called democracies, principally because of a failure of direct democracy.

Politics has become showbiz for ugly people.
What's the ugliest part of your body?
Your mind? You might want to try using it some day.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe, I agree with you to some degree on this, that fake reviews are part of the internet and in general should be ignored, but what I have a problem with is those authors who are just starting out in self-publishing and who get attacked by a group of reviewer trolls who post a bunch of one-stars to hurt the author even before the author's career has taken off. This is hurtful because it can ruin their chances. I do think this sort of activity should be policed by Amazon.

Christopher Bunn said...

Hehe...the horse head! I just watched the Godfather two days ago for the first time ever. Where have I been living all my life? Amazing film! But that horse head scene...aargh.

Anonymous said...

This was hilarious. I almost peed myself laughing. Thank you SO MUCH for your post. It made my day.

Perry Wilson said...

I laughed, I cried, I almost hit the 'buy now button'.

I enjoyed the reviews, but some of those products made me wonder where the fake started.

Alan Spade said...

Sariah Wilson said : "Regarding the Amanda Hocking quote - is she also against those paid reviewers at Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and Library Journal? Or just paying "non-professional" reviewers? (Or we might call them indie reviewers.)"

She didn't say anything about Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. But I think she has adressed that issue speaking about ARCs :

"There is a difference in paying a reviewer and sending out an ARC, though. When you write a review based on an ARC, you're payment for the review was the book itself, so if you think it's a crappy book, then it was kind of a crappy payment. So you're more likely to be honest, because you're not really losing anything. (And I have gotten negative reviews on ARCs, and that's as it should be).

But when you get paid to write a review, it makes it harder. I try to think of myself as an honest person, but if I pay you $50 to write something about my book, and you give me a scathing 1-star review, I'm probably not going come back to you and have you write another review. Not out of anger, but because I don't see the point. If you hated the first book, you'll probably hate the second one, and why would I pay $50 for that? So then you're out of a job."

So, I do not want to speak for her, but I think she would disapprove about Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and Library Journal if you had to pay them with money and not with your book. It would not prevent her publisher doing that, but as a self-published author, she would not doing it, IMO.

The main point is, you cannot denounce big publishing and reproduce exactly the same skulduggeries by yourself. For me, ARCs are a necessary evil, but going beyond that would be crossing the line.

sympathyforthedevil said...

Lee

I don't mean to be circular in my concerns. My personal position on this is that I would feel exactly the same whether the writers in question were ignored nobodies or no. 1 bestsellers. It would make not a scrap of difference to me, because in either case we're talking about people who can be seriously harmed, and so the question would simply be: does the potential gain/principle in this case make it worth harming a human being?

I agree that sometimes concern for the wider issue or principle must trump personal sensitivity considerations - of course, or we would never be able to lobby for any positive change. In this case, however, what I saw before all this happened, and what I think I will always see, is an online review system that has some integrity if not total integrity, and loads of real reviews as well as fake reviews - some of the real ones written by bright, fair-minded people and some by strange characters who award 1* if the packaging was torn. I see, and have always seen, a system where hardly anybody gets to be a much-loved bestselling writer as a result of online cheating, where some writers write all their own books and others do the 'Famous writer in big letters 'with' unknown writer in small letters' thing. Personally, I only read writers who conceive and write the whole book themselves, but many feel differently. I see a world/system in which passionate readers seek out or bump into the books they will grow to love, word-of-mouth from known and trusted sources still works brilliantly, and 99.9% of successful writers are talented, work extremely hard and deserve their success. And let's imagine a bestselling writer who really does trick as many people as possible into buying and reading her, and believes this is legitimate marketing - surely she wouldn't remain bestselling for very long if every reader she tricked into reading her books hated them? So if she does remain bestselling, perhaps that means readers in their hundreds of thousands love her books, whether she's used cheaty-marketing or not.

I suppose I'm just not convinced that there was a terrible and growing problem, or that the action taken - so devastating to a few - has made any inroads in terms of solving the problem, such as it was.

Stephen Leather said...

"To be on the receiving end of a large and influential group's moral condemnation, however, and in a very public and humiliating way, is a different story. That can cause intense feelings of shame and worthlessness, can make a person feel as if their entire self is being annihilated, and no amount of money/book sales would help with that. "

Personally speaking, I'm good. No feelings of shame or worthlessness. To be honest, the group behind the petition isn't that large and influential when one considers that there were 120,000 or so books published in the UK last year. And I've had lots of emails and phone calls from authors saying that they were asked to sign and letting me know why they refused. And the names that haven't signed are far more influential than those that have.

When this has blown over - and it will - I look forward to a sensible discussion about what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to self-promotion and I'll be happy to go with the majority view and to follow any relevant guidelines.

thip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thip said...

"If you ever feel justified attacking someone, by name, in a public forum or in the media, you're a coward and a bully and an asshat.

If you feel good about yourself by pointing out the subjectively bad moral behavior of others, you are petty and insufferable and insecure."

By your own logic, Joe...

I read your fact-based advice on self-pub and e-books with great interest and admiration. But Kool-Aid fests like this hate-in against people who point out shady practices make me sad. Fake is fake, sham is sham. No amount of "it doesn't matter" chorus will make it otherwise.

Well, I curl my toes and hope for a more mature subject (and behaviour) in future posts.

Anonymous said...

How did we get back to this topic?

Am amused at the suggestion of one poster here:

"Joe, if false, negative reviews harm no one, why not test the thesis by asking everyone who reads your blog to post a 1-star review of the same J Konrath book, and see where your sales go? "

Is it okay Joe if we post funny fake reviews on Amazon for your books? Maybe there could be a real prize for the best fake Konrath review.

Mitch H. said...

Man, that wolf urine review made me spew a mouthful of lemonade all over my monitors.

The screens better not score, damnit!

^_^

Josephine Wade said...

Let's see there seems to be three types of reviews we're talking about.
The Fake Review
The False Review and the
Paid Review

All reviews are biased. There is no such thing as an unbiased review. In fact it is this bias that people who read reviews look for. They want the review to have an actual opinion not 'a you may like this product-- it was ok' kind of review, but a real gut honest opinion.

The Fake review is just a parody of a real review made obvious by its content. And if the person reading the review doesn't understand that then they are not people who should be basing their opinions on written reviews.

A false review is someone who didn't read the book but had some ax to grind and just posted a false review. Or someone who just like the person and put up all five stars for the heck of it.

The Paid Review is neither necessarily fake or false it was simply paid for. A person is still free to write what they choose and it is based on a book they actually read. They may or may not sway their opinion on other factors the same way all reviews may sway their opinion, but the paying doesn't change things. If a person is inclined to write false things they're going to do it whether they get paid or not.

The question comes down to the people reading the reviews. It requires no minimum IQ to write one, but I think it does require a certain savvy to read and get anything from them. The written review isn't for everyone. You have to understand human nature and you have to be able to read between the lines. Certain things in life are earned -- the right to think critically is one of them.



Chris Redding said...

I about peed myself.
Those were great and illustrative if your point.
cmr

thip said...

@ Bob Mayer - I did indeed have Locke in mind. And I post anon simply because I am a lazy ass. My most sincere apologies to you!

@ Lee Childs - well spoken!


Christopher Wills said...

My favourite reviews are of Aluminium Cooking Foil that I read in the UK site http://www.amazon.co.uk/Aluminium-Foil-450mm-75m-establishment/dp/B003MAEDNA/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top But I'm not sure they are fake reviews because Alunimium Foil does make a great hat to ward off aliens. I made a hat out of aluminium foil and since I started wearing it I have never seen an alien...

Anonymous said...

Instead of posting fake reviews why not engage with the people who came here and bothered to ask questions.

In a recent post you said you don't value reviews enough to even pay for them. You were asked pretty good questions about that statement, which you ignored:

But aren't Amazon customer reviews the #1 way to get your book noticed on Amazon? When you KDP a title and it has no reviews, and nobody knows you, how can you ever sell anything? Once you get some good reviews, it has a snowball effect. And I've seen the opposite: a 3-star review can make a hot selling title instantly stop, and a 1-star review can make you sink. And you don't care about them? Then what is there to care about, if you are trying to sell your books on Amazon? I'm confused.


There are others but this is a good example.

Sariah Wilson said...

@Alan Spade - Here's the thing though. The reviewers at those publications are not reading ARCS out of the goodness of their hearts. Those magazines don't operate on a daily basis via fairy dust and goodwill. They get paid money. A lot of money. They would cease to function without the influx of cash from publishers.

So the ARC argument's not a valid one - yes they may give you a bad review because they were "the only game in town." They could afford to piss you or your publisher off because where else were you going to go for a mainstream review? You'd bend over, take it, thank them, and your publisher would send them a nice check via advertisements.

So for Hocking to condemn the practice that her publisher engages in in order to make her successful is a little disingenuous, IMO. She can say, "I'd never!!!" but her publisher has, and repeatedly.

Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

But aren't Amazon customer reviews the #1 way to get your book noticed on Amazon?

No, I don't believe so. I think the number one way to get your book noticed is word of mouth. Meaning not reviews (which are impersonal for the most part), but Jack passing the book to his mother in law saying, I think you might like this -- because Jack knows what his mother in law likes to read.

Exposure is also fueled by a great cover, great title, and a great summary of the story. And, of course, a great book.

Oh, and finding a way to get yourself on the Amazon charts—which is usually done through giveaways. Amazon's charts are what really drive exposure. If you can find a way into that loop -- with your book featured on a number of different genre charts and new release charts -- you will likely sell a lot of books.

I think this is why indie ebooks sell so much better on Amazon than they do on B&N and Kobo.

I don't think great reviews hurt, by any means, but I think most readers take them with a grain of salt because reading is so subjective. I've certainly never bought a book or avoided one because of a review.

OnlyMe said...

I would have thought that signatories to the authors' pledge would want to distance themselves from what we might euphemistically term "extra-curricular shenanigans", carried on after the initial naming and shaming, in order to show their integrity?

kathi said...

I fell off my moral high horse laughing at the fake reviews. He's probably halfway to Canada by now.

Anonymous said...

"Joe, if false, negative reviews harm no one, why not test the thesis by asking everyone who reads your blog to post a 1-star review of the same J Konrath book, and see where your sales go? "

I am I think the third person to reiterate this comment.

Joe. This would be exactly the kind of hard evidence that you favor. And it would not harm your sales at all.

How about it?

Veronica - Eloheim said...

I think the number one way to get your book noticed is word of mouth.

I haven't read fiction much since I started publishing my own books. I've flat out been too busy.

A Facebook friend said BUY THIS BOOK about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I respect her opinions and I needed a break so I downloaded the sample. Then I bought the first book. Then I bought the second book as soon as I finished the first and I started following the author on Facebook so that I will know when the third is released.

I didn't read the reviews. I didn't need anything other than my friend's recommendation and the sample to convince me.

As an author, I loved knowing that a book published in 2007 was still making money for the author. I did pay $8.99 and $9.99 for the Kindle versions. More that I typically pay, but the books ARE huge and really, really good.

Tracy Sharp said...

Oh man. I needed this laugh! I especially loved the review for the Dogit Trench Coat.

Kiana Davenport said...

I always said Joe Konrath had an incredible sense of humor. (It even shows up in his thrillers.) I read his fake reviews and fell off my chair laughing. Especially for the HORSE HEAD MASK!!!! Hysterical (and sexy).

Come on world, lighten up! We need more humor in our lives, especially while we're blowing up half of the Middle East. So why not humor in reviews??

PS...Amazon DOES police reviews. They killed one of my reviews for using the word 'blow job.' OK, women were talking about fellatio, but the scene I was describing took place in a hair salon. Not fair!

Joe, how do I order one of those horse head masks??

Kiana Davenport, THE SPY LOVER

Alan Spade said...

@Sariah Wilson : "So for Hocking to condemn the practice that her publisher engages in in order to make her successful is a little disingenuous, IMO. She can say, "I'd never!!!" but her publisher has, and repeatedly. "

You raise an interesting point. Personally, I think we now have the choice, and besides, I'm an idealist. So, the simple fact that a big publisher would use its economic power, using mafia's like methods to support my book, screwing some of my peers and advantaging best-sellers in every way possible is pretty disturbing to me.

I'm not completly stupid, though, and I can understand how an author with a six or seven figures advance could appease her own conscience. "Society accepts (for the moment) big publishers. Society endorse the way they do business. So why should I rebel against them ?"

That's for the theoretical aspect of things, the main aspect being of course : "I take the money and run !"

It had been done for decades. Yes, newbies like me feel that's wrong, and could even demonstrate it. But the best way, IMO to fight that system (and I say, that system, not published authors) is to be an indie and to keep at it, writing the best books possible.

Anonymous said...

I believe in faux reviews rather than fake reviews. Faux reviews sound so, so..well French and as everybody knows, us French are the cat's pajamas. (or is it we French?) Never mind. I did find it interesting that most of the reviewers are godless commies and most of the reviewees? are closet fudge packers. Who knew? Anyway, I'm off to Washington state to watch the wolf round up/slaughter. more after this brief message. ARE YOU TIRED OF POLITICAL RANTS,SMARMY A-HOLES, VARIOUS VICTIM GROUPS, JOE BIDEN, MONICA LEWINSKY, THE KARDOUCHIANS, NAZI NUNS OF NEBRASKA, JOE BIDEN, THE POPE, SMILEY FACES, BARNEY, BARNEY FRANK, FRANK SINATRA, nancy sinatra, KARL MARX, HARPO MARX, MOTHER THERESA LOOK-ALIKES, TEENAGE TRAMPY VAMPIRES, AND THE MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR? well tough shit get over it and pass the peanuts. Any way , as I was saying, there is no art to show the mind's construction in the face (one of my friend Billy's best lines. more later

Joe Konrath said...

Hi, Lee. Thanks for stopping by.

If there are a million books available, and a hundred million people looking for something to read, then an unmediated market will result in sales ranging between zero and two hundred per title. That’s an inevitable arithmetic conclusion.

That's a possibility. But the mediated legacy market results in thousands of books that are rejected and have zero sales. As I've mentioned, I have six rejected books that I've done quite well with.

The legacy market also results in, last I checked, average $5k advances for authors, which most authors don't earn out.

I'd say, overall, the numbers show that more authors have a chance to make money without gatekeepers.

Discovery will be entirely random, and then cover, copy and sample will prompt a binary decision: to buy or not.

As opposed to discovery being because the publisher bought a full page NYT ad and coop in 2500 bookstores, plus distribution in another 10,000 non-bookstore outlets?

Lee, you and I are both rare cases. But authors having a random chance is still much better odds then them landing a million dollar deal.

The only fair mechanism can be mutual recommendation among genuine readers, via posted reviews and online opinion. In a five-star system, over time, those books a few ticks above three stars will be seen as attractive, and those a few ticks below won’t.

I dunno. You and I both have some titles with a three star or lower average. Yet we both seem to sell pretty well.

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes browsing Amazon can quickly determine which reviews are worthwhile and which aren't. And if they're on the fence, they can download a free sample to read. Or if they're duped into buying something poorly written, they can get a full refund and write their own honest review.

This system has been suspect ten seconds after it began. Yet people still seem to be buying things.

To decline to post honest one-star reviews is irresponsible: if in your honest opinion a book deserves one star, give it one star. The market can’t function any other way.

I believe the market can go on existing without me voicing my opinion. But the real question is: has the system become so corrupted it is no longer worthwhile?

No. It is no more corrupt than it has been for years. Just because three authors were outed within a few days of each other doesn't mean the system is in danger of failing. The system works fine.

There is no evidence fake reviews are destructive. There is no evidence the buying public is losing faith. There is only a hysterical overreaction by a group of authors, fueled by righteous indignation and a media that loves muck raking.

To claim that review corruption is analogous to what happened under the old system isn’t a great argument; we’re supposed to be getting away from all that.

Are we talking about corruption? Or just plain, old fashioned fairness?

I don't think it's fair that I never got a seven figure deal and full page NYT ads. Is that analogous to thinking it is unfair that some authors bought Amazon reviews?

In terms of fairness, and morality, are they really that different?

As long as something is being sold, there will be those who try to game the system. Whether it is publishers buying ads in periodicals that review their books, or authors giving themselves 5 star reviews under fake names.

But I don't see harm in either case.

Joe Konrath said...

Free-speech justifications are sophomoric and pathetic, too.

Free speech has to protect things we don't like. That's the point of it. Surely you know its better to allow people to say things we don't like than to police opinions using subjective morality?

Your petition has resulted in honest reviews taken down, and honest authors accused of posting fake reviews. I know of several. There are no doubt more I don't know about.

Ever since I've met you, I've found you to be a gentlemen, extremely generous and helpful, and a wealth of good information. But some of the guys who you wrote that petition with are a bunch of whiny little bitch boys. Follow their Twitter feeds, Lee. They aren't gentlemen, generous, or helpful.

You may have thought the petition could be used to raise awareness and better the industry. Perhaps. But it is also being used for witch hunting, grandstanding, and as a call to arms. As a result, a lot of honest writers are justifiably paranoid they'll be ostracized or attacked for not joining the crowd.

That ain't good.

And I’ve noticed that whenever controversial claims are made, Joe is the first to challenge: “Name names!”

You'll have to point out where I do that. I often ask for links or references. I don't point fingers at peers. The only peers I've ever publicly insulted or reprimanded have been in the comments section on my blog. And only because they were offending other visitors.

You notice I'm not naming names here, and haven't in any of my blog posts.

There is a difference between education and re-education. I haven't seen anyone trying to understand the accused, or forgive them. I see a lot of people damning them, and damning me for defending them.

You could have emailed the three people that petition named and asked if they wanted to sign it.

But, as both Barry and I have pointed out in detail, there was a lot wrong with that petition.

Markets don’t remain unmediated for long; unless an honest system prevails, some other system will arise.

Which is why we're having this discussion on the Internet 2.0, because the old Internet is no longer useful? :)

Amazon reviews are mediated, by the customers. And I believe customers are savvy enough to use the system as is, and that policing the system would do more harm than good.

Joe Konrath said...

I get this deeply uncomfortable feeling that you’re conflating the right to satirize with the right to deceive.

How can a free system allow one and not the other?

Either all reviews are verified, on topic, and truthful (and it frightens me to think who would determine these criteria) or people are allowed to post whatever they want.

I'm in the "whatever they want" category.

In other words, even though I don't bash people anonymously, I believe others should be allowed to anonymously bash me.

Joe Konrath said...

I believe in collectivism and democracy and people's right to choose, and unless we re-order our tiny corner of the world along honest lines, we're no better off than we ever were.

I also believe in democracy and the right to choose.

That means I want to be able to choose without someone already making the decision for me based on their definitions of honesty and cheating. I don't want a group to decide that for me. Especially a group that didn't discuss it publicly or even try to, as far as I've seen.

You had a chance to call attention to this and open it up for lively discussion and debate, where everyone could benefit.

Instead it has devolved into paranoia, fear, name calling, and innocents being accused.

When a bunch of moral people get together, it often leads to less freedom, not more.

Lee Child said...

To Joe from Lee:

Joe, I think to some extent we're talking at cross purposes. This isn't about you or me or today. I'm trying to imagine a future situation long after all traces of current legacies (both big and small L, both yours and mine) have long ago dissipated. That future market will be organized somehow, either well or badly, either fairly or unfairly. It seems to me that we have an opportunity to sow some seeds, and I want them to be the right ones. That's all.

Joe Konrath said...

Sad, possibly, but word-for-word how Joe and others debate legacy publishing, for instance.

Come on, Lee. I attack organizations and companies that are causing near-universal harm to authors.

I don't attack peers.

When I see a peer behaving badly, I send him an email, not blog about him and call The Guardian.

Joe Konrath said...

But Lee Child is absolutely right. The system will work only if there is some kind of credibility in it.

So let's force credibility by silencing everyone whom we think isn't credible based on our criteria!

Fail.

Joe Konrath said...

That future market will be organized somehow, either well or badly, either fairly or unfairly. It seems to me that we have an opportunity to sow some seeds, and I want them to be the right ones. That's all.

I agree with you. Which is why I'd wished this had been done in a different way.

I trust the market to sort itself out more than I trust others to police the market.

I also believe writers are smart enough to figure things out for themselves, and shouldn't have to align themselves to a moral compass out of fear.

Lastly, I don't believe sock puppets, buying reviews, or trashing peers are big deals, and certainly not worthy of the attention given to them.

You and I both have haters. So what?

Anyway, thanks for dropping in. You know I respect you and your opinion, and thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

Joe Konrath said...

It can get to the point where a majority of people come to rationalize dishonesty as the price of doing business.

Eric, show me an Amazon customer who doesn't suspect some reviews are dishonest.

We all figure out what sounds right and what doesn't. And Amazon gives us tools to help--likes and dislikes, comments, the ability to write reviews ourselves.

Readers aren't mindless sheep who buy everything with a five star review. We all see dishonesty every time we watch a TV commercial. We know how to deal with it.

I agree with Lee on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the review system.

Will you allow me to force my views about morality onto you, so you have to abide by what I think is right and wrong?

Lee Child said...

"I trust the market to sort itself out more than I trust others to police the market."

Who are you really? Ayn Rand? Paul Ryan? or born yesterday? Now that's a fail.

Joe Konrath said...

But aren't Amazon customer reviews the #1 way to get your book noticed on Amazon?

I don't think so. I think, in most cases, the reviews come after the book has already been noticed.

I've launched books with a lot of reviews, and launched books with no reviews, and haven't seen a difference in sales.

When you KDP a title and it has no reviews, and nobody knows you, how can you ever sell anything?

You can market. Or even better, you can write another book. And another. And another. Until someone notices.

Once you get some good reviews, it has a snowball effect. And I've seen the opposite: a 3-star review can make a hot selling title instantly stop, and a 1-star review can make you sink. And you don't care about them? Then what is there to care about, if you are trying to sell your books on Amazon? I'm confused.

I think you're conflating correlation with causation.

My ebook SERIAL has more than 500 reviews. More than half are 3 stars or less. Sales are fine.

Write good books. Then write more. That's all we have control over. Everything else largely depends on luck. Worrying about getting reviews, or getting bad reviews, is silly.

Joe Konrath said...

Who are you really? Ayn Rand? Paul Ryan? or born yesterday? Now that's a fail.

You got my Internet 2.0 reference, right?

There is no Internet 2.0. Because the Internet works fine. Even with all the flame wars, trolling, sock puppets, stalking, name-calling, and bad behavior.

Amazon also works fine. The market has worked itself out. You and I and lots of others manage to sell even though we both get a lot of negative reviews, and I'm sure some of those are from are envious peers or sock puppets.

You haven't shown any harm done, Lee.

Joe Konrath said...

On a deadline, so gotta bow out tonight. I'll be back in a few days.

Thanks all for the discussion so far. It's been fascinating.

Tom Maddox said...

Joe Konrath said...

Eric, show me an Amazon customer who doesn't suspect some reviews are dishonest.


As a big Amazon consumer I know the reviews can be a morass of ignorance and hidden agendas.

I may have said this before and but I will risk saying it again. I don't want to give my money to authors who try to trick readers into buying their books.

Yes, I know that the practice is nothing new when we talk about publishers. They have been using these shady practices since the beginning. But, do you know what? I expect better from the authors, especially those who have broken free and now self-publish. Maybe that is naive of me but I do expect better from them. It seems strange to me that so many authors, especially on this site, rightly condemn the publishers for the shady, underhanded way they treat their authors but are more tolerant when authors themselves use some of the publishers shady tactics to try and dupe readers.

Whether it is good or bad that the names were released I am kind of happy to have those names. Both Locke and Leather were authors I intended to check out (when I get through my backlog of Konrath, Crouch, etc) but who I may pass on now. I may very well be missing out on some excellent books but not purchasing their books is my way of saying I don't appreciate that you tried to dupe the readers. I won't reward that behavior.

That doesn't mean I want to see a witch hunts to get other names. I am not condoning witch hunts.

This issue, for me, is not about fake reviews or funny reviews, it is about deceptive reviews that benefit the person responsible for those reviews.

Mark Asher said...

Isn't there a huge difference between a dishonest review and a satirical review? They are not the same thing and to use one to excuse the other is wrong.

Alan Spade said...

Tom Maddox said : "It seems strange to me that so many authors, especially on this site, rightly condemn the publishers for the shady, underhanded way they treat their authors but are more tolerant when authors themselves use some of the publishers shady tactics to try and dupe readers."

I couldn't agree more.

Joe said : "There is no Internet 2.0. Because the Internet works fine. Even with all the flame wars, trolling, sock puppets, stalking, name-calling, and bad behavior."

Internet works fine because there is something like a collective consciousness arising. This collective consciousness can leads to mob lynching or flame wars.

But this collective consciousness has also, generally speaking, the sense of what's wrong and what's right. You can try to argue against it, but without that sense of what's wrong and what's right, we will all be lost.

There has to be voices to say what they think is right and wrong. And there has to be voices who think the contrary, to speak aloud. This is how Internet is made. Not by blindly let the market sort itself.

kriley97 said...

There's a great article at http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/09/25/on-internet-no-one-still-knows-youre-dog/ that is very fitting. The last line is "All each of us can do is be ourselves online -- just don't expect that anyone else is."

Anonymous said...

Very interesting case here of how the Amazon review system has been used to debate the contents of a book.

Includes quote from Amazon re their position on the misuse of the review system:

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/09/how_anti_circumcision_activists_try_to_squelch_hiv_aids_science.html

Anonymous said...

Joe asks how a free review system can differentiate between the opportunity to deceive and the opportunity to satirize.

It's actually very easy. You just ban the perpetrator of the deception from the system.

It is Amazon's system and they are under no obligation to make it open to those who abuse it.

At the moment they do. But if a review system full of scams proved to be a commercial liability then they would most likely change their mind.

Same way that You Tube can, if it wants to, ban videos from its system.

Or Google can, if it wants to, delist websites allowing access to torrents.

Same way that newspapers will not knowingly take advertising from scammers.

Same way that advertising authorities are now taking a dim view of those fake or manipulated quotes splashed across posters.

It's not that difficult to implement it's just not something Amazon is choosing to do at the moment.

The bottom line, as always, is not morality it's money.

OnlyMe said...

For a newbie self-published author, no reviews (let alone any malicious 1 stars) at Amazon spells doom.

Alan Spade said...

Rob Gregory Browne told us reviews weren't important regarding sales. That article Anon 6:51 provided us seems to prove the contrary.
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/09/how_anti_circumcision_activists_try_to_squelch_hiv_aids_science.html


Especially that passage : "As a public-health professional interested in male circumcision and other aspects of HIV prevention, I asked co-author Daniel Halperin if the intactivists’ campaign seemed to have had any noticeable effect. He noted that immediately after the viral attack began in late March, the sales ranking of the book on Amazon plummeted."

The jornalist was talking about a viral attack of bad reviews. So perhaps good reviews are inefficient (personaly, I don't believe there are inefficient, why would Amazon would have built so costly a system ? They don't do so many mistakes regarding the way to sell things online, in fact, you could say their business is based on things they sell online), but bad ones weigh heavily.

OnlyMe said...

Can you seriously tell me that this will not have an adverse effect on sales:

The Secret He Left Out. "515 of 545 people found the following review helpful."

OnlyMe said...

... The writer of the review then posted numerous links to it on twitter, he was retweeted, and the hounds smelt blood.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Alan Spade wrote: Rob Gregory Browne told us reviews weren't important regarding sales. That article Anon 6:51 provided us seems to prove the contrary.

Alan, I could well be wrong. But to my mind this one extreme example neither disproves what I said nor proves the contrary.

Are ALL readers completely unswayed by reviews? Of course not. Everyone has their own criteria for choosing a book to read. Do I prefer to get good reviews? Of course I do.

But I still firmly believe that most people make their decisions based on their own taste and the recommendations of friends and family, and not on the word of strangers on a bookseller's website.

There are a number of factors involved in why book sales rise and fall. And none of us really knows the reasons. I believe, however, that reviews are only a small part of it.

But like I said, I could be wrong. I'm certainly no expert. Nobody is.

Alan Spade said...

I agree with you. In the normal course of thing, one review at a time does not influence very much sales.

The article is interesting because it shows us a denigration campaign can ruin the sales of a book.

Inversely, I do think a praise campaign, cleverly planned and carefully executed, with abundant reviews in a short amount of time, on strategic periods, can have a direct impact on sales, and an ascent in the charts largely superior than the natural progress due to paid ebooks by paid reviewers. I do think there's a cumulative effect.

A kind of own-fulfillment prophecy, but a very devious one.

Fred said...

I think fake reviwes have an inherent punishment that only the one leaving it sees.

I left a glowing review of a friend's book. Being an "author", I can be pretty persuasive, and write a good review that seems just floksy enough to seem legitimate. The book deserved 3 stars at best, and probably 2, but she's a friend and I gave her a 5. Someone left a pissed off comment on my review (none of the others) that he felt mislead by the review. I have felt like shit ever since. I wish I could apologize to the guy in person and give him his money back. He's probably forgotten all about it at this point, and I'm still carrying it around a year later.

Think of the people leaving glowing reviews of their own shit. They sit there with their 5 star reviews, and then along come the real reviews, and they mount, the 2 and 3 star ones, and the pissy 1 star reviews. That author who showed the site to his mother, girl friend, friends, etc..all proud that he got these rave reviews, now sits at home, humiliated, watching more talented authors pile up legitimate reviews, talentless, dreams crushed, every time he looks at those reviews, his world sucks just a little more.

Anonymous said...

Something that I find baffling, is that people keep saying that they aren't influenced by reviews.

We know from many studies (actual science, real scientists doing the work) that people are high influenced by reviews. Even when people think they aren't, they answer questions that indicate they do.

In other words, a person seeing star ratings is automatically influenced. And it has a real impact on how they think about a work.

Worse, negative reviews (real or fake) influence people a lot more than a five star review.

Why? Because people (falsely it turns out) believe that bad reviews are going to be more honest than good ones.

So one negative fake review is a lot more powerful than several good reviews, even if the one stars are false.

Joe and some other high selling authors might not see the influence as much, because they already have an audience that will recognize that a fake review doesn't match up with what they know about previous works.

I don't think it will be the same for everyone though. A person without a track record to bulk up sales might be horribly damaged in a way that an already successful person wouldn't.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Alan Spade wrote: The article is interesting because it shows us a denigration campaign can ruin the sales of a book.

Inversely, I do think a praise campaign, cleverly planned and carefully executed, with abundant reviews in a short amount of time, on strategic periods, can have a direct impact on sales, and an ascent in the charts largely superior than the natural progress due to paid ebooks by paid reviewers. I do think there's a cumulative effect.


I don't disagree with this. If you can throw money at something and get positive (or negative) exposure, it'll have an impact. But how often do we see such campaigns, pro or con, with your average Amazon book. Not often.

I can only go at this with my gut feeling and my own anecdotal experience. And I don't personally know many people who give a damn about reviews—of books, movies, TV shows, music.

Now reviews of appliances I can see. It either works or it doesn't. It's either well made or it's cheaply made.

But the creative arts, in my experience, are largely fueled by—as I've said—word of mouth. And I don't really consider reviews word of mouth.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

We know from many studies (actual science, real scientists doing the work) that people are high influenced by reviews. Even when people think they aren't, they answer questions that indicate they do.

If this is true, and these studies are valid, I'm happy to admit I'm wrong. Do you have a link to any of these studies?

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Browne said:

"And I don't personally know many people who give a damn about reviews—of books, movies, TV shows, music."

Rob you need to get out more.

Here's a great example from another area of life.

Ever heard of Trip Advisor?

Bad reviews hurt so much that hotels have complained, threats have been made, legal action considered, articles written and even television documentaries made.

Bad reviews hurt. Good reviews help. Fake reviews are dishonest scams perpetrated by authors whose books suck.

You can choose which one you would prefer to have.





Rob Gregory Browne said...

Ever heard of Trip Advisor?

Bad reviews hurt so much that hotels have complained, threats have been made, legal action considered, articles written and even television documentaries made.


You're comparing apples to oranges. Service at a hotel is largely objective. The room is either clean or it's dirty. The staff either treats you well or they don't. The air conditioning and the shower and the toilet either work or they don't, with varying degrees of quality.

You can't, however, measure a book or a movie or a TV show or a song in that way. Reaction to such things is merely a subjective opinion based on the reader's/watcher's/listener's taste. One man's garbage is another man's treasure.

In the first case, reviews can tell the potential traveler whether the hotel they're booking is a dump or not, based on tangible, largely objective evidence. That's what makes such reviews valuable.

In the second case, there is no such objectivity, so the reviews are far less useful to the potential reader.

Now, granted, there may be SOME subjectivity when it comes to the hotels, but not nearly to the degree you find in reviews of creative work.

The difference is clear, so using hotel reviews as evidence doesn't really make much sense.

Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

By the way, I'm not defending fake reviews or people who write bad reviews against other authors. I think the later is particularly heinous, if for no other reason than it's hateful and harmful to the author himself—on a personal level.

But that doesn't change my view that reviews are not as important to the sales of our books as most authors seem to think.

Like I said, do I want bad reviews? No. Of course not. But that's largely on a personal level. I want people to enjoy my work. I cringe every time I see a bad review and am happy whenever I see a good one.

Anyway, I think I've made my point and like I said, I could be wrong and will gladly change my position if someone can show me a study with evidence that reviews of creative work improve or hurt sales.

A.G. Claymore said...

Funny as hell, until I saw the 'also boughts' for uranium ore. Right there on the first list was aluminum powder and red Iron oxide - which you mix to make thermite. Thermite can melt it's way straight through steel. Also on the page was magnesium ribbon which is handy for initiating the thermite.

Love the review for SEP!

Handy stuff if you want to take out a tank...

Maybe someone from Homeland Security will read your blog and spot this.

Eric Christopherson said...

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Anyway, I think I've made my point and like I said, I could be wrong and will gladly change my position if someone can show me a study with evidence that reviews of creative work improve or hurt sales.

Here ya go...

http://www.nber.org/papers/w10148.pdf

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Eric, thanks for the link. There's a lot to digest there, but from what I was able to gather from a quick read, their conclusions are anything but definitive and they admit that they're dealing with limited data.

I also have a problem with calling customer reviews WORD OF MOUTH. To my mind they're not word of mouth at all, which is a much more personal thing.

Anyway, I hope to have time this weekend to take a more careful read, and maybe my opinion will change.

Thanks again.

Eric Christopherson said...

Joe Konrath said...

Eric, show me an Amazon customer who doesn't suspect some reviews are dishonest.

We all figure out what sounds right and what doesn't. And Amazon gives us tools to help--likes and dislikes, comments, the ability to write reviews ourselves.


But the tools aren't sufficient enough for consumers to avoid harm from fake reviews. Here's a study from 2011 about consumer review fraud at the Amazon and B&N book sites.

http://bit.ly/Qdqebg

From the abstract:

"By using data from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, our study investigates if vendors, publishers, and writers consistently manipulate online consumer reviews. We document the existence of online review manipulation . . . manipulation decreases the informativeness of online reviews. Furthermore though consumers understand the existence of manipulation, they can only partially correct it based on their expectation of the overall level of manipulation. Hence, vendors are able to change the final outcomes by manipulating online reviewers."

Kim Cano said...

This post is migraine-relieving! Here's why: Instead of dealing with "fake" reviews on Amazon, I'm dealing with real reviews getting taken down because accounts are "linked." Let me explain. My mom bought my book and wrote a review. It was put up. My dad, who has his own Amazon account bought my book and wrote a review. It was also put up. Four months later they were both taken down. Dad contacts Amazon and finds out their accounts are "linked" and only one of them can post a review. Dad says "My wife and I can voice our opinions and vote in the presidential election, but we cannot each have our own opinion of a product we've purchased?" Amazon's response is NO--he can pound sand. Then it gets crazier! My hubby bought my book and wrote a review. His mom did the same. Both reviews were put up, then taken down. How are their accounts "linked?" Hubby has bought perfume for his mom and had it shipped it to her. It's enough to drive a newbie author who's trying to get some good reviews to drink! What have I learned from this? If I shop at Amazon, don't ship to family/friends. Deliver the gift in person, or shop elsewhere. Also, I couldn't help but wonder how many reviews Stephenie Meyer may have lost for Twilight: Hey mom, I bought this book and loved it. I wrote a review. You gotta check it out. Mom buys it, reads it on her Kindle Fire and writes a review. Meanwhile, I sent her a pair of pajamas last year from Amazon. Then both book reviews are pulled because the accounts are "linked." I've learned you can't take this too seriously, to just keep writing. And as for John Locke and those paid reviews? I think he's smart. He's laughing all the way to the bank. Good for him. :)

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Browne said:

"But that doesn't change my view that reviews are not as important to the sales of our books as most authors seem to think."

Sounds like an author's attempt to explain away bad reviews. "Hey, I know the reviews were bad but really it doesn't matter."

Bad reviews means a reader didn't like your book.

If readers don't like your books, don't expect to be in business for very long.

Unless, of course, you're J K Rowling. Mixed reviews didn't stop her new book becoming the biggest selling book of the year. But those reviews were made after all the sales not before. And, well, she is J K Rowling. Much the same way that bad reviews of Apple's new Maps will have no effect on the sales of the iPhone 5.

But for you me and the rest of the low to middle ranking authors, we pray for books our readers like and that our readers express those likes through good review.

And some idiot posting fake reviews ruins a trusted service for everyone.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Sounds like an author's attempt to explain away bad reviews. "Hey, I know the reviews were bad but really it doesn't matter."

Under that scenario it would also explain away good reviews, so I'm not sure how much sense that makes.

I can only base my opinion on my own experience—not as an author, but as a reader. And when I'm choosing a book (or movie, or music), I could not care less what any reviewer thinks of it until AFTER I've read the book, formed my own opinion, and am curious to know if others agree.

I acknowledge that some people are swayed by reviews beforehand, but I tend to believe that most people—especially people who love to read—have minds of their own and are independent enough to choose a book in spite of its reviews.

As I've said several times now, I could be wrong.



LK Watts said...

Brilliant blog as always and one I thoroughly agree with.

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Browne said:

"I acknowledge that some people are swayed by reviews beforehand, but I tend to believe that most people—especially people who love to read—have minds of their own and are independent enough to choose a book in spite of its reviews."

I think it's already been established on this blog that reviews do make a difference.

Most people definitely don't have an independent mind. Ask anyone in the persuasion business from advertising to politics.

Given a choice between good reviews and bad reviews, most people will buy the book with the good reviews.

Most authors would probably like to have good reviews rather than bad reviews. Except Rob Gregory Browne who seems confident that readers ignore every review and make up their mind about book purchases based on, well, hmmm, the cover? The price? Whether it fits into their bag? Whatever it is, Rob seems to believe it's not the opinion of other people who have actually read the book. Go figure.

Jill James said...

OK, one time that resulted in a sale from a bad review.

I love zombie books. Found one by Rhiannon Frater. Lots of bad reviews. Most of the bad reviews complained because her protagonists were female and OMG the book had sex in it!!

I bought that book as fast as possible. And the rest of the series too and everything else she has written because once I read the first book I was hooked on her voice.

Icahbanjarmasin said...

Now that's some hilarious stuf..lol...from INDONESIA with smile.

Anonymous said...

Wow! They sell a lot of weird stuff in America, huh.

It's up to the customer to use their brain. Any idiot can write a review. You have to judge the intelligence of the reviewer and not just take their, often misinformed, opinions as fact. We shouldn't need babysitting for everything online, it's just common sense.

That was a good laugh - I salute you, sir.

Paula Millhouse said...

Seriously, Dude - that was hilarious!

You made my day.

Eric Christopherson said...

Eric, thanks for the link. There's a lot to digest there, but from what I was able to gather from a quick read, their conclusions are anything but definitive and they admit that they're dealing with limited data.

Well if you're interested in more evidence that reviews of books hurt or improve sales, Rob, you could dive into this article too, but you might have to pay for the privilege, and graduate training in statistics would really be helpful. :)

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167923611002065

It's a study of 5,000 or so books on Amazon in which the regression model developed suggests that two-thirds of the variation in book sales are explained by online reviews.

Carmen McCormack said...

Reviews DO NOT hurt sales - go look at the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey on Amazon - there are almost as many 1 star's as 5 star's - that book remains a best seller.

Harun Ar said...

"Posts Fake" ......., I just heard the "fake address"

Anonymous said...

Carmen McCormack said...

"Reviews DO NOT hurt sales - go look at the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey on Amazon - there are almost as many 1 star's as 5 star's - that book remains a best seller."

You can't judge the impact of online reviews from a book that already has other favorable media coverage. Too many other promotional factors at work here.

Vast numbers of people bought the book compared to the number of reviews on Amazon.

But the average author wants and needs good reviews.

New authors sell hardly any books at all in the early days. Every good review counts.

This is such an obvious proposition that I'm surprised anyone is debating the value of good reviews.

I can only surmise that authors prefer to hold nonsensical views than believe the bad reviews they get say something about the quality of their writing.

Eric Christopherson said...

Here are a few findings for this audience from the studies I've been linking to--because you have to pay $40 bucks to access them, or else are able to get around the fees, and because these studies are currently the only ones of their kind that focus on the manipulation of online book reviews. The findings are based on thousands of books sold on Amazon and/or B&N.

-- About 10% of the online book reviews on Amazon were deemed to be "manipulated," i.e., fake reviews. (But this is 2005 data and I expect the ratio to be higher today, and there are good reasons for believing so.)

-- There is a higher percentage of fake reviews on B&N than on Amazon.

-- Readers are fooled by fake reviews to a "statistically significant" extent. But they're not fooled by average star ratings. They are by the sentiments in the text, and as a result the fake review writers do reduce the informativeness of the consumer reviews system and increase sales of their own books.

So to my mind the debate about whether harm occurs via fake reviews is over. It's just a matter now of debating whether a statistically significant finding of harm is significant in a real world sense.

-- Fake 1 star reviews have a larger negative impact on sales than fake 5 stars have a positive impact

-- Incidents of fake reviews, positive and negative, begin early in a book's life, but by the time a book reaches about 50 reviews the incidence has decreased considerably. By that point it has become too hard to influence sales, negatively or positively, by fake reviews.

-- Lower rated books are more likely to have fake reviews than higher rated books

I.J.Parker said...

gagitarThanks for this, Eric. Interesting and informative. The whole business, whether the fake reviews are positive or negative, still leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Most authors would probably like to have good reviews rather than bad reviews. Except Rob Gregory Browne who seems confident that readers ignore every review and make up their mind about book purchases based on, well, hmmm, the cover?

These two snarky lines alone make it clear that you haven't really been reading my posts.

I've said at least twice now that I prefer to get good reviews over bad. Of course. It's an ego thing. Would WOULDN'T want good reviews?

I've also said more than once that I believe SOME people may base their decisions on reviews, but that the number one factor in sales is WORD OF MOUTH. Meaning recommendations from friends, family, etc., that readers know and trust.

Apparently you have no interest in actually reading what I have to say, so, really, what's the point?

At least Eric seems to have looked carefully into this thing and offers illuminating links. He also includes his name...

Stella Baker said...

@Eric: thanks for the data. I went to Google Scholar, googled the beginning of the article title and got a full text version on line for free. Printed it out and will read it, cover to cover. Glancing at it now, and factoring in what my own experience and instinct says, reviews CAN (not WILL) affect books sales. How much (if any) depends on the circumstances I think (i.e. a new author as yet unheard of versus established author or book with tremendous publicity for any reason, etc.)

I found it particularly interesting that, according to this research, rating manipulation alone didn't effectively influence sales, but that good review writers (my spin) who were able to reflect individuality (such as sentiment) DID "significantly influence a consumer's purchase decision." Eeek. I guess that means writers, assuming they're even a little bit good, could cause harm with nasty reviews of their competition.

Here's the url to the full text article: http://dblab.mgt.ncu.edu.tw/%E6%95%99%E6%9D%90/2012_SNM/34.pdf

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Browne said:

"I've also said more than once that I believe SOME people may base their decisions on reviews, but that the number one factor in sales is WORD OF MOUTH. Meaning recommendations from friends, family, etc., that readers know and trust."

Believing this or that means nothing. You either have the figures or you don't.

Eric supplied the figures. And the first line of the report says that consumers are increasingly making decisions based on what they read online.




Ricdetop said...

Complete and good article... thank's for share this ..

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Clever to post fake reviews because now when you get accused of leaving fake reviews you can point to this post.

Dora McAlpin said...

I laughed so hard, I cried.

I, too, bought the Three Wolf Moon shirt on the strength of the reviews. I also featured it in one of my books as its mystical powers enabled my psychic character to solve murders.

Sean said...

The problem with fake reviews isn't in what is written. I think we can all agree that spotting the joke is easy enough (even if we don't all find it funny).

The problem is that Amazon uses star ratings to push products on the basis that higher ratings = better products. By giving fake 5* reviews, you push products up above legitimately better competitiors (e.g. via 'sort high to low best reviewed').

Clyo said...

Seriously amusing; great post. Read all your reviews and loved them, especially the one about the "toy security checkout."

Cannot believe it actually sells, but it must. But why? To help kids accept such things as "normal?" To allow invasive security checks to become woven into our lives without question?

Reminds me of the "all clear" scene in "The Time Machine." Who's the toy maker? The former Blackwater? Am ever amazed at how well negative products sell. Guess I shouldn't be. Who doesn't love an adrenaline rush? Peace and tolerance-building games and toys really can't match the thrill of being strip searched. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Amazon is removing reviews that *it thinks* are fraudulent (without explanation or trial) and leaving bad reviews which are clearly fraudulent. That's a great business practice: do everything you can to destroy your vendors' credibility.

Anonymous said...

As an indie author who just published my first book, I don't get many reviews - certainly none with any humor; what I do get are reviews from my reading circle (mostly positive) and those from people who hate me, found out about my book and want to get my ratings down.
I wish someone would give me some fake, funny reviews! I would appreciate some honest ordinary ones too....

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