Monday, August 27, 2012

Buying Book Reviews

A guy figured out an interesting market niche: book reviews.

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50. 
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

The model was rather simple. He took the money and then went to Craigslist and advertised for reviewers, $15 for an Amazon review. If they gave it less than the maximum 5 stars, they still got $7.50, but needless to say this rarely happened.

 One reviewer wrote enough 50-300 word reviews to make $12,500 in a few months, mainly by simply getting information off the internet to sound knowledgeable. This business model ultimately imploded, but he was plucky enough to try a new model that is pretty close to the incestuous business of book blurbing: have authors trade positive reviews. This failed as most authors wanted to receive more than give.

However, given all the 5 star reviews on Amazon there are clearly many others less obviously employing this tactic; the key seems not getting outed like Mr. Rutherford. 


Anonymous said...

It's very simple to spot the fake Amazon 5 star reviews. Just see how many other products the reviewer has reviewed. A high percentage have never reviewed anything before or since. In addition, there will be a whole bunch of 5 star reviews done within a few days of each other.

Aaron Brown said...

It's not always so simple. Look up Garth Hallberg's Slate piece "Who is Grady Hart?"

He is a "Hall of Fame" reviewer since 2006 and has 7,745 reviews (it's more by now). Plus the reviews are reasonably well-written (although if you read carefully, devoid of content not found on the cover flap). They don't sound like the silly blurbs publicists write. The only way to spot them is to know the type.

I was recently disappointed to see that the book "Scandal and Silence," which lectures journalists on ethics, commissioned a 5-star review from the Grady Hart machine.