If you're a self-published author who is still struggling to get noticed, now might be the time to swallow the rest of your pride, jettison your code of ethics, and start buying reviews. (Hey, everyone is doing it.) The NYTimes interviewed the owner of a paid book review service yesterday, and business was good.
Todd Rutherford is the owner of a now defunct web site called GettingBookReviews.com. For a low price of $99 Todd promised to review your book. If you needed a chorus of reviews, Todd could arrange 20 reviews for $499 or 50 reviews for $999. The reviews would be posted on Amazon, B&N, or other ebookstores by the reviewers and would look for all intents and purposes like a real review.
And business really was good. The NYTimes article says that he earned $28,000 a month. Customers included authors who have since made it into the best seller lists, the most notable of which was John Locke. You probably know him as the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle ebooks. He got his start by buying reviews.
Locke commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledging service’s best customers. “I will start with 50 for $1,000, and if it works and if you feel you have enough readers available, I would be glad to order many more,” he wrote in an Oct. 13 e-mail to Mr. Rutherford. “I’m ready to roll.”
He also asked that the reviewers make their book purchases directly from Amazon, which would then show up as an “Amazon verified purchase” and increase the review’s credibility.
Locke ended up buying 300 reviews from that service, and god only knows how many he bought elsewhere. And from what I can tell, the reviews he bought probably weren't written by someone who even read the ebook. Heck, they not have even been all that well researched. Here's how one of Rutherford's reviewers described her work process:
For a 50-word review, she said she could find “enough information on the Internet so that I didn’t need to read anything, really.” For a 300-word review, she said, “I spent about 15 minutes reading the book.” She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.
“There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,” she said. “But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.”
But at least the service promised a 5 star review and the option of editing that review before acceptance, even though they were only paying "reviewers" $10 per review. That really moves it beyond the pale, doesn't it?
This service was dishonest and deceptive but still effective, so I have to say that I'm glad when I read the reason Rutherford shut it down. One author (or several authors) didn't like his service and responded by posting negative reviews on various consumer protection sites (here, here).
Once Rutherford's service was exposed to the light of day, it was dead. The writing blogs took up the torch of shaming him into shutting down (here), and then Amazon took down some of his reviews and Google cancelled his Adwords account (so he couldn't buy advertising).
If there's anything I've learned from this it's that I have always been right to trust negative reviews. Paid reviewers are far more likely to give a book 4 or 5 stars and only say nice things. I would not expect to see as many negative reviews from a paid service (otherwise they might piss off a customer).
Rich Adin posted a few weeks back that perhaps uneducated reviewers were a serious problem because we did not know whether they had read and understand the book. Perhaps Rutherford could add that to his next review service?
As for me, I'm sticking with Rebecca Allen. Negative reviews are currently more reliable than positive reviews due to the simple fact that the reviewer feels strongly about the book. When that emotion is cogently conveyed in the review it can give you valuable insight into whether you want to read a book.
via NYTimes & elsewhere
image by mikeymckay