Online Book Reviews Are Even Less Reliable Than You Thought

Skeptical of a little e-book you've never heard of that has 28 five-star reviews on Amazon? You should be. Turns out in many cases, the authors are paying for reviews.

The New York Times takes a look at the business of for-hire review writing, through the eyes of Todd Rutherford, a guy who started the now-defunct GettingBookReviews.com, where he churned out reviews at $99 a pop:

Mr. Rutherford's insight was that reviews had lost their traditional function. They were no longer there to evaluate the book or even to describe it but simply to vouch for its credibility, the way doctors put their diplomas on examination room walls. A reader hears about a book because an author is promoting it, and then checks it out on Amazon. The reader sees favorable reviews and is reassured that he is not wasting his time.

So be leery of those paragraphs of praise on Amazon. Bing Liu, a University of Illinois, Chicago data expert, estimates that about a third of online reviews are fake. Rutherford's own short-lived company pumped out a whopping 4,531:

"I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things," Mr. Rutherford said. "These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews." In essence, they were blurbs, the little puffs on the backs of books in the old days, when all books were physical objects and sold in stores. No one took blurbs very seriously, but books looked naked without them.

So even though Amazon and other sites have explicit policies against paying for reviews, you should still be wary. Head over to the Times to read the whole piece. [New York Times]

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