I’m delighted to welcome fellow author Kevin Domenic. Kevin has published a number of novels, including the Manga style Fourth Dimension series. Today he talks about the ethics of paid book reviews.
Got my first one-star rating last weekend. Wasn’t a good morning. I never really expected to get glowing reviews from everyone and anyone who picked up my work, but that didn’t take away the sting that came with being told the book I spent so many hours imagining, writing, changing, editing, deleting, rewriting, publishing, and promoting was so terrible in the eyes of a reader that they gave it the lowest possible score. Granted, it is only one rating. And the person didn’t leave an actual review to go with it. Not even a name, for that matter. It simply says, “Anonymous, 1 out of 5 Stars. No text was provided with this review.” But that was all it took to send me into a weekend-long review hunt, sending promotional copies of Key to the Stars to as many book review websites as I could find, hoping a few more good reviews might offset the damage done to the book’s overall score by that single star. After all, there are plenty of readers and websites out there who are more than happy to give honest reviews for free.
Then I found a website (which shall remain nameless) that offered book reviews for fifty dollars each.
I am not a supporter of paid reviews. Considering many corporations are employing people within their organizations to post fake 5-star reviews on their products (The Consumerist: Spot Fake Product Reviews) and some are even giving customers free products in exchange for positive reviews (The Consumerist: Retailers Resor to Offering Refunds to Customers For Positive Reviews Online), I refuse to take part in any of that kind of nonsense. I want my reviews to be honest, legitimate, and from real readers with nothing to gain or lose from reviewing my book. I want to know what they thought, how they felt, and whether or not the book was worth the money.
Shortly after discovering this website, I found myself in a conversation with a paid reviewer. This person referred to herself as a “Professional Reviewer” and felt that the both the cost and the title added extra credibility to the reviews she wrote. Additionally, a book review from this website came with an in-depth analysis of the author’s writing ability which points out where the book fails and where it can improve. Her argument was that newspapers like the New York Times pay their book reviewers, so why would this be any different?
But there’s a fundamental difference in ideology there. A book reviewer for the New York Times is paid directly by their employer, not the author. It doesn’t matter whether the review is good or bad, they will still be paid. And, provided they do the job to the satisfaction of their employer, they will be given more books to review. The authors themselves have zero input. It doesn’t matter whether or not he or she likes the review; such feelings have no bearing on whether or not the reviewer will get more work, and thus, continue to receive a paycheck. Therefore, there’s no reason for them to feel swayed one way or the other.
On the other hand, paid reviews inevitably come with a stigma because the reviewer is making money. Think of it this way. Reviewers are well aware that most authors are not going to write, edit, publish, and promote just one book. They’re going to make at least two, if not more. That means an opportunity for repeat business. If the author is happy with the first review, it’s reasonable to expect they’ll go back to the same reviewer for the next. So, a positive review serves the financial interest of the reviewer.
In other words, I don’t trust paid reviews.
I know that there are plenty of people out there who just want good reviews on their products regardless of how they get them. Whether it’s a book or an album or a wrench or a stove, many sellers are happy to forge reviews in exchange for profit. The problem, aside from the fact that it’s immoral and dishonest, is that people feel betrayed when the reality of the false review comes to light. Honestly, how would it make you feel as a customer of Amazon.com to see a report that employees of a product’s manufacturer have posted fake reviews to influence your purchases like this: The Consumerist: Yet Another Company Learns the Difference Between Amazon Reviews and Ads.
I know I’d feel betrayed. And you know what? I’d rather have a thousand one-star reviews than betray my readers.