Sock puppets and paid reviews.
In Buying Your Way Into Libraries, I wondered about authors buying their way into libraries: specifically, if bought reviews influence others to buy a book, and that book then goes up the sales rank charts, then libraries who may purchase solely on sales rank (as detailed and sourced in my post) are being bought.
Something new has been brought up: sock puppets, or authors pretending to be other people and either praising their own work or being negative about another person’s work. Again, impact on sales rank, etc. Some articles at The Guardian go into much more depth: Sock Puppetry and Fake Reviews: Publish and Be Damned; What Does the Sock Puppet Scandal Mean for Online Reviewing; and So much more than sock puppetry: in defence of reader reviews.
I thought it was pretty simple. Online reviews are about integrity, about knowing who is reviewing, and trust. Paid reviews and sock puppets that are undisclosed (and, really, who discloses that?) impact that. I’ve seen some say, “oh, it doesn’t matter to me as a reader….”
I’m going on record here as saying as a reader, and as a librarian, the integrity of online reviews matter.
“Oh, I don’t read reviews, I just go into a bookstore/library and see a cover, flip through a book, read the blurb, and buy it.” Not to channel my heroine Miranda Priestly, but you think this has nothing to do with you? The book is on that shelf (real or virtual) because a person selected it. How did they select it? A review; and increasingly, while booksellers and librarians still read and use professional journals, they also pay attention to online reviews. That book is on that shelf because of a review. As for online booksellers that go by computer programs deciding what to show in search results or other lists, that is impacted by sales and, as we’ve seen, sales can be manipulated by paid reviews and sock puppets, so, again, yes, even if you don’t read an online review it has an impact.
In regards to ebooks, I’ve read another argument: instead of reviews, read the sample chapter! Read the book! If you don’t like it, get your money back and add a one star review.
Who gives me back the ten hours I spent reading that book? And can I be the only one who has seen promising starts fizzle or slow builds not explode until beyond what would be a sample chapter? And now you’ve taken my precious time to read the book instead of a trusted review (which even a long one is not ten hours) and… you want me to write a review. When, if trustworthy reviews had been around to start with, I’d never have wasted my time. And trust me: my reading time is precious.
I review two to three books a week, or roughly 100 to 150 books a year. I read another 50, which either don’t fit with what I do in this blog, I don’t like, I don’t finish, etc. I read sometimes for “me” but I also read for this blog and I read for my patrons so that I can do a better job of readers’ advisory. A trustworthy online review matters very much. It’s important.
So, what do you think? Do online reviews matter? Do you care about sock puppets and undisclosed paid reviews?