Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Price of Integrity

By Andrew E. Kaufman

As if Amazon reviews weren’t already the subject of intense scrutiny, here’s something else guaranteed to make your skin crawl. There’s a new breed of fibbers in town: they’re called review factories, promoters who will speak well of your novel for a fee. And it doesn't end there. More and more, individuals are offering the same service.That’s right. Apparently, rave reviews are no longer something you have to earn—they’re something you can buy. Cheaply.

Here’s an example. I randomly pulled these ads from, a website where you can offer any service for five bucks:

  • I will write two Amazon reviews from two different reviewers for your product or book for $5.
  • I will give your book a glowing five star review on Amazon for $5
  • I will vote Amazon reviews as helpful or unhelpful and report a review as inappropriate for $5


Okay. We all know this is wrong. No-brainer, right? And we also know that engaging in this sort of activity does nothing but adulterate the review process—that is to say, render it useless. And it no doubt hurts those of us who work hard to actually earn our good reviews.

But on a much deeper level one has to wonder: is it really worth it? Seems like a shallow victory to me. I know, I know, anyone who engages in this sort of behavior probably doesn’t much care about fulfilling a dream or chasing their passion. More than likely it’s all about the money.

Not that there’s anything wrong with making a buck, but if that’s the case, I’m thinking there are much easier ways to go about doing it. I speak from experience here. I’ve sold a lot of books, and when you consider how long it takes me to write one, I’m absolutely positive I could have earned the money in half the time doing any number of other things. Seems to me that writing books just for the purpose of making money is sort of like trying to dig your way to China with a plastic pail and shovel.

What about the props? Is that what it’s all about? Bragging rights? I doubt it, but on the slight chance that’s the case, here’s a question: how about just writing a damn good book? And if they can’t do that, if they don’t have the ability, why are they wasting their time writing bad ones? I mean, they have to be bad, right? If they were good, they wouldn't have to pay someone to say so.

If I sound a little angry it's because I am. But what about you? What do you think? Authors: how's it make you feel? And readers: does it make you want to take reviews less seriously? Not read them at all?

Talk to me.


  1. I hadn't heard about this before, but I'm thinking maybe I've read some of these bought reviews. I've had many authors contact me lately and ask me to read and review their books. Before I agree, I read other reviews. A lot of them have had wonderful reviews. Mostly five stars. But then a lot of those books turn out to be the kind I want to throw across the room. I figured all the good reviews had come from friends and family members. Maybe they were $5 reviews. I've already stopped reading a lot of reviews unless I've read the reviewers before and trust their opinions.

  2. It makes me angry. I come by all my reviews honestly, and it's one of the only ways an indie author can distinguish themselves from the pack. To have the process become so corrupted it's meaningless hurts all authors. On the upside, readers are pretty good at spotting phony reviews, especially if it's obvious the person didn't read the book. Good post.

  3. I've always been suspicious of books with all five star reviews. If I'm really annoyed, I'll trace the reviewer back to see that s/he has only done one review - that of the book.

    At the same time, I'm suspicious of some one star reviews. Sometimes, it's considered fun to pile on an author, for things that don't pertain to the book at all.

  4. All I can say is Wow. We all get kind reviews from our friends and family, but that's good for 3 or 4 at best. But if someone could amount massive numbers of 5-star reviews illegitimately? Wow.

  5. Amazon reviews are still Internet comments. With books, I stick to word of mouth and the synopsis. If the synopsis is boring, I know the writer can't be bothered to write 250 words at their very best, so why should I ante up for the 75,000 words they wrote?

  6. It makes me cringe. How many reviews are "bought and paid for"? I give review copies away, but would never go farther than that. I don't get a lot of reviews for my books. Would I like more? Sure, because there are people you think they're a way to judge a book. But paying for them makes all reviews suspect.

    Terry's Place

  7. Some people have no kind of conscience. what good is a bought review? Does others opins matter that much?



  8. This is not only a terrible business for indie writers to get involved in, but it also succeeds in making EVERYONE's five-star reviews look bad, whether they legitimately earned them or not. Once more word of this gets around, readers won't know who to trust. They'll think that the only people telling the truth are the ones who posted one or two-star reviews and disregard all the rest as "bought and paid for."

  9. As a writer, I would never pay for a review. Both glowing and critical reviews are priceless when they are done honestly and respectfully. An author can learn so much from an honest review as to what he or she is doing right and wrong. I would be ashamed if someone wrote a glowing review for a bad book. What goes around comes around! It's shameful to buy one.

  10. I believe reviews are important and would like to think and believe that all reviews were honest and not solicited, otherwise what is the point of having one posted about your book. I hope that integrity on the part of the author and the person posting the review will prevail.

  11. I can feel all of your frustration, and as I mentioned in the post, I share in it with you. Reading about this new trend makes me a little nervous, as I have nearly 70 five-star reviews, all of which I earned, none of which were paid for. It makes me wonder if people who read them will look at them critically or at the least, not use them in their decision to buy my book. One thing that could negate all this: readers are extremely intelligent, and I believe they have the ability to look at a review and discern whether or not it is genuine.

  12. It makes me hopping mad! I've earned all my reviews and it took a while to build up what I have. I see lots of books with a giant pile of reviews, and it's painfully clear to me when I read them that family and friends wrote them. (That isn't completely wrong but the truly valuable reviews come from strangers.) Now we'll be competing with fake, paid for reviews as well. But there is light in this tunnel of deception - book reviewers who run blogs and have a reputation to readers are usually pretty honest. Their detailed reviews also show that they read the book and thought about it. I also hope hope readers can tell the difference, and will vote Not Helpful on reviews that aren't deserved.

  13. I know we writers would like to believe readers think about reviews as critically as we do, but they often don't. I had a woman ask me what the New York Times said about my latest book. When I told her it was under their radar and suggested she read opening chapters at my website to decide if she would enjoy the book, she said, "I can't tell if I like a book buy reading it. I rely on what reviewers say for that."

    I only hope she reads enough bought-and-paid-for-five-stars to learn her own mind.

  14. This is why I rarely read other people's reviews. I want to form my own opinion about a book, not base it on someone else. And this also just goes to prove that there are bottom feeders everywhere you go.
    When I a book review, I'll tell you up front, I'm going to give your book a real review. If it's awesome, I'll tell you it's awesome. If it blows, I'm going to tell you that too. Might be why I rarely get asked to do book reviews, but too bad. I'm not going to praise a book I could barely get through myself.
    This is basically the equivalent of standing on the street corner in the seedier part of town.

  15. I don't really have anything to add to what's already been said. The only thing we really have control over is the book we write, and the readers and friends we make through that effort. Beyond that? It's pretty much a waste of energy.

  16. It was mentioned earlier, readers are smarter than Traditional Publishing has admitted. Consumers seem well able to spot a manufactured review. It is the only type that publishing has allowed, for so many years, that reviews are still perceived as a marketing device. Now we are learning that the average Joe has learned how to sell them. That is no surprise.

    The wonders of technology, which have brought so many authors out of the shadows, have also brought hucksters, and shills. Myself, I am proud of the three star reviews, with typos, that I've earned the hard way.

  17. I'm an author. Self-pub'd 3 times over, and likely am staying that way. I wouldn't pay for a review, nor do I charge for any of mine. If someone asks me to read and review, I will and do - and am damn honest about. But to pay for a five-star? No. Just no. And I definitely didn't pay five bucks for the positive reviews I earned: I paid for those reviews with the years of writing and revision that it took to write a story that people enjoyed.

    As if self-pubs and e-pubs don't have enough of a hard time being taken seriously.

  18. As someone who puts a lot of thought and effort into writing objective reviews (and receiving no monetary compensation), I feel belittled and offended.

  19. I am completely against such practices but I'm not surprised. Everyone and their brother are writing books and publishing them just to try and make a quick buck. Most of the free or cheap books are horrible to put mildly so I can see why they would pay $10 bucks for a few easy reviews.

    I personally read reviews prior to purchasing a book or ebook but I only look at the 2-4 star reviews. This is where you will find the honest folks. I loved it but... or I hated it but... These are the reviews that I look for to give me an honest idea of what I'm spending my hard earned money on.

    Everyone is looking for an edge in this business of publishing and things like this are just too sad and frustrating. I try not to let it get to me too much.

    Daniel L Carter
    Author of The G-6 Chronicles

  20. Surprised and not at the same time. Just like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, such practices have been around for a very long time and are likely to stay as long as people are willing to pay. It is appalling, but something I suppose we should expect. As a review reader, I take a look at all levels (1 star, 5 stars, and a sampling of everything in between) - but I look at them along with the synopsis, cover, word of mouth ... all things that might tell me what I can expect from the book or the author. Having read Drew's first book I will agree that he has earned every 5 star review he's received. Anxiously awaiting the next release and feeling quite certain there will be no need to set up a fund for purchased reviews on that one either!

  21. The comments are as thought-provoking as your terrific post, Andy. My own feeling is that there's long been stirrings about whether "reviews" are different than "reader opinions" and that this form of fraud will unfortunately do a disservice to the serious amateur reviewers. They will give readers no choice but to turn to the pros for their reviews, otherwise how will what's false and what's earned become clear? It's not that professional reviewers don't deserve to be read--and perhaps even in a different way than reader reviews should. But reader reviews are a valuable source as well--and this is going to bury them if it becomes widespread.

    I have hope however that the integrity of authors may put a stop to it before too long. Hey, if no one buys...

  22. I'm not surprised this is happening. I agree with JBK about the hucksters and shills. It's too bad. Fortunately, I don't pay a lot of attention to the reviews when I choose which books to buy - most of my purchases are recommendations or new books by authors I've already read and liked (quite a few of you on this post are among those authors). Dishonesty abounds everywhere.

  23. One thing I never do is underestimate my readers' intelligence. They're smart enough to know a good book when they see one, and I believe they can just as easily look through reviews and make well-informed decisions about them.

    There will always be people looking for the easy way out, but by the same token, I'll stay firm in my belief that the cream rises to the top. So to my good author-friends: keep on writing great books. It'll all work out in the long run. And to my awesome readers: keep on reading and enjoying!


  24. I don't pay much attention to reviews at Amazon. After all, reviews are only one person's opinion. Isn't it somewhat irrational to believe everyone will like our books? Of course, wishful thinking is nice but not reality. Paying for a "cookie-cutter" review is not good. Not good for authors or readers.

  25. Thanks for opening our/my eyes to this shocking practice, Drew. Pretty disgusting, and discouraging for authors and readers alike. All we can do is to continue to stand up for integrity and quality in our own writing (and in my case, editing).

  26. This raises my hackles too! Given how many con artists abound these days I should not be surprised.

    My husband's high reviews on Amazon were posted by people we did not know and those choosing to cheat and hire fakes will miss the joy that comes with knowing someone you didn't know found a book you love wonderful enough to go to the trouble to write a review.

    In my case, reviews only serve to pique my interest and I look at the book generally in person (or a sample of it online) before buying anyway.

    Author's wife/aspiring author


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.