New York Times Story Reveals The Big Business Of Book Reviews

The Big Business Of Book Reviews

via New York Times:

There was a great story in the New York Times this weekend, about authors who buy positive reviews for their books, and the people who make a bunch of money to write those reviews. 

The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews.

The tale of, which commissioned 4,531 reviews in its brief existence, is a story of a vast but hidden corner of the Internet, where Potemkin villages bursting with ardor arise overnight. At the same time, it shows how the book world is being transformed by the surging popularity of electronic self-publishing.

You can read the whole story here. You should. It's very interesting. And after you do that, swing on back, and let's talk about this. 

If you're a writer: Would you pay for positive reviews to help publicize your work? 

As a reader: Does this make you wary of book reviews on sites like Amazon? 

To everyone: How do you feel about online reviews in general? Do you trust them? Not trust them? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? 

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alisia's picture
alisia from Byron, NY is reading The Goldfinch by: Donna Tartt August 27, 2012 - 1:12pm

This is a great post and that's a great article in the Times. 

If you're a writer: Would you pay for positive reviews to help publicize your work? Hell no! There are plenty of bloggers looking for content and free reads. They will review your work for free and that review will be honest. If you ask them nicely, it's more than likely they'll copy their review onto Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc. It's free. It's honest. It's well-worth the effort. Plus, it's a win/win for both you and the blogger. They get a free book and content for their site, you get an honest review.

As a reader: Does this make you wary of book reviews on sites like Amazon? I'm not wary of reviews, because I'd never pay money for something that didn't have at least 20 reviews. If I download a free book and it sucks, I just stop reading it. I don't feel the need to leave negative review unless I purchase something that's not well-written/edited. I don't leave negative reviews for books that are well-written/edited - even if they're something I didn't like or finish. I just don't see the point in it. I can't stand people who critisize everything. 

To everyone: How do you feel about online reviews in general? I think it's much better than the old Word of Mouth system. Do you trust them? Not trust them? I trust them when there are more than 5 reviews and they seem varied and honest. If you can catch things like typos and chatspeak in the reviews, chances are they're honest. Also, rating a book on your Kindle comes at the very end. There's only enough space to write three or four sentences, unless you log in and review said book. If you notice a lot of reviews are short, chances are they're also honest. That's how you separate the wheat from the chaff. Either that or Google the title and see what the author is all about.

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from living outside of Albuquerque/in Minneapolis is reading Consider Phlebas, by Iain Banks August 27, 2012 - 1:59pm

Wow, I had no idea. I rarely read the reviews on Amazon. I'm more likely to read a few pages of a sample, if one has been posted, or to order up a sample, if I'm thinking of buying a book on Amazon. As a teacher, I'm constantly fighting a rear- guard action against plagiarism, and articles like this fill me with a sense of despair. No wonder all my students cheat. They grow up in a world where everyone cheats. They're not even ashamed when I catch them. It's why the hell I want everyone to die and eat their brains. Oh, wait--I just strayed over into the next article, the one about the zombie apocalypse. . .

DmNerd's picture
DmNerd from Orlando Florida is reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress August 27, 2012 - 2:18pm

I consider paying for god reviews to be a waste of money. Just write a good book and get it in front of the people who want to read it. If that's not something you can figure out on your own then find an agent who can help.

.'s picture
. August 27, 2012 - 3:34pm

I write a lot of book reviews, but I don't mind not getting paid because they get published in magazines. So, I get to add more things to my resume. 

Would I write fluffy reviews for money? Well it depends, if I like the book, sure. If the book is crap, I'm not going to be a money whore and tell people it isn't crap. Mostly subjective though.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig August 27, 2012 - 8:10pm

I can't see myself paying for reviews. Wow. It would just feel dirty and gross. 

I will review for a free book, and even then, it's usually a book I meant to read anyway. And that's for a very specific thing. Not going around on Amazon trying to raise someone's popularity. I'll also review books I paid for on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade August 28, 2012 - 7:55am

Great article on an icky subject, Rob...

The book should BE the reward, the compensation. If it's so uninteresting or challenging that you have to pay someone to pretend to read's desperation. It's someone wanting to BE an author without BECOMING an author....

I'm always wary of online opinions. Too much emphasis on consensus. But, I'd have to say that one review out of 20 or 25 is actually thoughtful and useful. Lot of chaff in the reviews, obvious from the tone of the review despite my having not read the book in question.

However - I've read reviews of books that I have read, and it is hilarious how the majority of the readers that write reviews (I think only a certain kind of person responds to surveys, and that certain kind of person is not representative of the majority of readers) are only praising/damning the book in question in order to impress other reviewers with their judgment.

So - online reviews. Never much gave a damn for them. And, this article was really cool because it reviewed the reviewers!

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine August 28, 2012 - 9:07am

What self-respecting artist, in any medium, would pay for good reviews?

I never read Amazon reviews for books, music, or film. I only read review sources I trust.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 28, 2012 - 10:36am

wow. that's unsettling. i guess i assumed this kind of thing happened, and sure i encourage my friends to review my work on Amazon, but i never say give it five stars, and i never pressure or pay for it. i feel dirty just reading this. but what's interesting is that John Locke paid $1000 to become a millionaire. would i do the same thing? i don't know. i want to say no, but if it allowed me to do more in the future, to live the dream, and to support other authors, all of that, it would be hard to say no to that, right? i just wouldn't want my reputation to be destroyed. but it certainly doesn't look like this news has hurt Locke in any way. what lets him off the hook, i think, is that he didn't specify that they be good reviews. part of me is almost jealous, i'd love to get paid for all of the book reviews i do. i could use the cash, you know? even $15, $25 a pop. they pay very well at The New Yorker and other top notch publications. tricky subject.

Joan Defers's picture
Joan Defers from United States August 28, 2012 - 11:07am

Testing. Nevermind me.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 29, 2012 - 6:58pm