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Brilliant A+++++ would read again
August 26, 2012 10:34 AM   Subscribe


 
$1k for 20 reviews? People on Amazon Mechanical Turk do this work for a lot less.

It's not just the authors being conned here.
posted by jaduncan at 10:43 AM on August 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


*not just the readers
posted by jaduncan at 10:44 AM on August 26, 2012


If he was only making $28,000 a month I can see why he'd hang up his hat.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:47 AM on August 26, 2012


Sorry about the double, it took me more than 7 minutes to compose and we used slightly different URL's for the NYT link so it didn't show up on preview.
posted by stbalbach at 10:47 AM on August 26, 2012


Related (with an article by the same NYT author).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2012


gettingbookreviews.com

One estimate is 33% of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake.
posted by stbalbach at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2012


For what it's worth, I'll issue positive comments on FPPs for a lot less.
posted by Golfhaus at 10:53 AM on August 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


STARTUP IDEA: a literature recommendation service that works like Criticker, i.e. it suggests books and articles based on your previous ratings and the ratings of members who share your taste. Criticker does this very well and is actually fun to use.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:57 AM on August 26, 2012


I think we can all agree on the winner of the Best Post contest now, right? I mean, once the checks clear.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


STARTUP IDEA: a literature recommendation service that works like Criticker, i.e. it suggests books and articles based on your previous ratings and the ratings of members who share your taste. Criticker does this very well and is actually fun to use.

...like Amazon, for example?

Amazon would have the relevant patents to crush you at will.
posted by jaduncan at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2012


I never fail to get just a tiny touch more bitter and depressed when I read about yet another person whose day-to-day life can be summed up as "I get paid to make the world a slightly worse place."
posted by tyllwin at 11:03 AM on August 26, 2012 [37 favorites]


GREAT POST!!! A+++ WOULD READ AGAIN

Seriously, it's news (at least to me) in the article that spam/SEO techniques are a route to the top of the Kindle Store bestseller list, and it's actually a pretty disturbing indication for the future of publishing. And tangentially, it's amazing that a business like Amazon, whose revenues at least indirectly depend on the trustworthiness of their customer reviews, don't even bother to have a rule on the books about disclosing conflicts of interest. They do have a nominal prohibition on paid reviews (though how would they know?) and reviews of products you have a direct material interest in, but most of the other forms of promotional sleaze are apparently perfectly okay with Amazon — for instance, it's apparently completely fine in their book if an author recruits fifty friends to post five-star reviews that don't disclose their relationship. Presumably mutual reviewing circles are the next logical step. (Not that traditional publishing's blurbing works by that different a set of rules, come to think of it.)
posted by RogerB at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I get paid to make the world a slightly worse place."

Some people will do it gratis.
posted by stbalbach at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Idea for a database project: a website that tracks book-jacket blurbs and the interlocking and incestuous relationships between the authors that provide them. Folks could use it as a book-recommendation service (e.g., 'I like Stephen King, so maybe I'd also like books that Stephen King likes'), or they could use it to draw conclusions about the publishing business.

On preview: yeah, what RogerB said. Blurbs were the old payola, and this is the new mixtape shit.
posted by box at 11:13 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will be sending a bill to everyone whose comments I have favorited. Retirement, here I come!
posted by Forktine at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just yesterday I sat down to write a 5-star Yelp review for a local moving company I used recently who went above and beyond the call of duty, and while I was on the site anyway I figured I'd give a similar review to a fantastic little hole in the wall Mexican joint I'd like to spread the word on. Both, in my view, were truly deserving of 5-stars, but I have to confess, I considered moving both down to 4, figuring people might better believe the legitimacy of my comments. I think the cat's sort of been out of the bag on this for awhile.
posted by The Gooch at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2012


Remember Spy Magazine's "Log Rolling in our Time"?
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:27 AM on August 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


You could name this phenomenon Ouroboros. After all, who is writing these reviews? Writers trying to make enough money to hire someone to review their own books. In the old days, they called it 'trading blurbs'.
posted by Ardiril at 11:33 AM on August 26, 2012


'I like Stephen King, so maybe I'd also like books that Stephen King likes'

'I like Stephen King, so maybe I'd also like books that Stephen King's agent is also promoting'
posted by jaduncan at 11:35 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Idea for a database project: a website that tracks book-jacket blurbs and the interlocking and incestuous relationships between the authors that provide them.

LibraryThing does this. Their databases are amazing the stuff they track.
posted by stbalbach at 11:51 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's obviously a need for honest, testimonial type reviews, so there's an opportunity here for some enterprising so-and-sos to work up a reliable review service.

Maybe as a standalone, Angie's List type service. Little hazy on the details, especially the getting paid part and the preventing reviewers from getting paid part.

Or... since you already trust your friends' judgement (or recognize your friends' blindspots'), maybe a service that pulls together all your friends (and your friends' friends?) recommendations from Yelp, Amazon, Manufacturers' review sites, etc, into a searchable, sortable recommendation machine.
posted by notyou at 11:56 AM on August 26, 2012


My ex used to write reviews for citysearch for $50 a pop. Be beauty part was that she was paid by citysearch itself for generating content so she didn't even need to write positive reviews.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2012


There should be an online book tournament. Each month, there would be a category, like "magical realism 2005-2010". Thousands of volunteer readers would be assigned two books each; the 50% of entrants with the highest average score would proceed to the next round, in which they would again be paired off and read by random volunteers. This would continue until an overall winner is determined, much like a sports tournament. Because books are randomly assigned to readers, it would be difficult to game the system. Also, instead of a star rating, you could show each book's ELO score so there's an objective measure of its performance against other similar books.
posted by miyabo at 12:13 PM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read the negative reviews of any book I'm thinking of buying. They are usually more honest and sometimes more nuanced than the positive ones. Also, I consider only average review scores for books with more than 50 reviews.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:19 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read the negative reviews of any book I'm thinking of buying. They are usually more honest and sometimes more nuanced than the positive ones.

This might yield useful results for some kinds of fiction or extremely innocuous nonfiction, but I wouldn't recommend it for anything related to politics, current events or worse, anything which in a sane universe would be apolitical but in ours is anything but, such as evolution or climate science.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:44 PM on August 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I gave up seriously reading Amazon reviews a long time ago... Mostly I'll judge by reading the first few sample pages. Even newspaper reviews have divebombed in quality... remember one recently where it was obvious that the writer had just read the book's press release / blurb and skimmed the first couple of chapters.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2012


STARTUP IDEA: a recommendation service that works through real-life relationships. Like the Kevin Bacon game for trust. Call it Vowch.com or something. Ebay feedback for reals, with the added security of only giving positive feedback and only to someone you know is staunch.

Joking aside, I've had a feeling that genuine authenticity on the internet is pretty much the holy grail, and because of this one day Matthowie will be richer than God.
posted by fullerine at 12:47 PM on August 26, 2012


When he retires and sells the site to Facebook?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:50 PM on August 26, 2012


When he retires and sells the site to Facebook?

Shortly after:

MeFi Deals: see what businesses and coupons other Mefites like you reccomend!

MeFi Jobs: "I never knew I could make $6000 a day from home, just with my laptop and spare time!"

MeFi Sponsored Frontpage: do you want to guarentee that your story won't be deleted? We take all major credit cards!
posted by jaduncan at 12:58 PM on August 26, 2012


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posted by mrbill at 1:02 PM on August 26, 2012


But are many (or for that matter, any) review sites (including Amazon and places like Library Thing or Good Reads) making much effort to police it? You'll notice that you never see notices like "This review was removed as user X seems to be a paid shill." Nor, for someplace like Amazon, is there any requirement that user X even bought a copy.

Long term, though, the only workable system I can see is one where a reputation for honesty is somehow worth more to the reviewer than the cash for for writing a phony review, and I have no clue what that might look like.
posted by tyllwin at 1:02 PM on August 26, 2012


Amazon has no incentive to remove fake reviews. Cheaper just to leave them up.

Graft advogato's trust metric onto librarything.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2012


RogerB has it right. I automatically run away from any eBay seller who has one A+++++ feedback after another.

False reviews have to be written in bunches to have much effect, and unless you're a really skilful voice-changer, the repeats are easy to spot. On Amazon, I go first to the 1-star and 2-star reviews got get a feel for what's not liked, and to the 3-stars for objectivity.
posted by KRS at 1:32 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've got a brilliant idea. Companies could set themselves up and receive unpublished books. Then they could appoint people to read them, and if they are any good, they could publish them with the company's name on the book.

Then you, as a consumer, would get an idea of the quality of the book. It has got one of these companies to back it.

You could even have different companies specialising in different types of book - like textbooks, or sci-fi, or fantasy. So you could gain more information about the book from the company that had chosen to publish it: where it fits in quality or genre or silliness.

The people who read the books could also go through them and proof-read them, so they contain fewer grammatical and stylistic and spelling errors. And prepare the ebook versions so the lines wrap properly, that sort of thing.

We could call it "publishing". It's kind of old-school, but I think it might catch on.

Or in all seriousness: oh, look, a mechanism that can be gamed will be gamed. That's where the value of publishers, and editors, and newspapers come from: they funnel and winnow all the content, and I'll pay them for the privilege so I get something good to read.
posted by alasdair at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Great idea, alasdair. I'm just foreseeing a spot of trouble with the financials, though.
posted by tyllwin at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm amazed that so many people seem to make their living as professional liars, and nobody seems to bat an eye.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:25 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed that so many people seem to make their living as professional liars, and nobody seems to bat an eye.

Well, presumably, the people who rent to them, take their checks, extend them credit or trust them around their children don't know about it. That's it. I'm walking away.
posted by tyllwin at 2:29 PM on August 26, 2012


tyllwin: "Nor, for someplace like Amazon, is there any requirement that user X even bought a copy."

Should there be? I read books obtained from places other than Amazon, but still might want to leave a review there.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:02 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, presumably, the people who rent to them, take their checks, extend them credit or trust them around their children don't know about it. That's it. I'm walking away.

Sure, but lots of people do know about it--here's an article about such a person in the NYT, for example. And it doesn't seem to generate the kind of anger/outrage that I'd expect--not in general, anyway.

Think about Scott McClellan's book, in which he discusses what it was like to be Bush's PR man...and worried that it would give PR men a bad reputation. Why, I ask, would anyone have anything but an extremely low opinion of PR men, anyway? To be such a person is to have a job in which the truth doesn't much influence what you say. How is it that this is considered a passably honorable occupation?
posted by Fists O'Fury at 3:11 PM on August 26, 2012


On Amazon, I go first to the 1-star and 2-star reviews got get a feel for what's not liked, and to the 3-stars for objectivity.

This is basically what I do. If I find myself nodding along with the bad reviews, I probably won't like the book; if I find myself thinking "wow these people sound like morons", then I probably will.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:13 PM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I, um, recommend the last chapter of A Visit from the Goon Squad as interesting and relevant to the discussion, am I going to come across as a shill?
posted by BrashTech at 4:07 PM on August 26, 2012


You guys do know that the books etc on your account that Amazon marks "Recommended for You" are usually there because Amazon gets paid to display them, right? Right?
posted by nicebookrack at 4:25 PM on August 26, 2012


Why, I ask, would anyone have anything but an extremely low opinion of PR men, anyway? To be such a person is to have a job in which the truth doesn't much influence what you say. How is it that this is considered a passably honorable occupation?

PR is a pretty broad term that describes all sorts of activities. I think the vast majority of PR people work with products and people they believe in.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:30 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Call it Vowch.com

Please don't.
posted by ryanrs at 4:40 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


So for my 3-dimensional chess plan, for every 10 or 20 good reviews, I put in a 1-star review that complains about the lack of vore scenes or that this book won't fit on my bookshelf.
posted by RobotHero at 4:54 PM on August 26, 2012


This is really depressing. I run a small press, and I'm not willing (or able, but I wouldn't be willing anyway) to pay for this sort of garbage, and getting reviews for the books I publish is always an uphill battle. It's a catch-22, too—if your book has no reviews, people think it mustn't be any good but any reviews you do have are going to be looked at askance since you might have just paid for them. Argh.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:05 PM on August 26, 2012


alasdair: That's where the value of publishers, and editors, and newspapers come from: they funnel and winnow all the content, and I'll pay them for the privilege so I get something good to read.

Assuming they're not in dire need of cash, quickly. Yes yes, the world is not perfect, one got to trust somebody sometimes, make leaps of faith, but let' see the publisher/ writer/ journalist side: once one tastes the sweet, sweet venom of cash-4-positive review... it's quite close to an addiction, isn't it?

Pardon my being slightly cynical, but I don't see how the carrot-incentive can work without a proper stick-incentive: how does a publisher get punished for pushing a substandard book? Low sales? Too bad, but I just want to break even with costs.

Or how does a newspaper get a bashing if they selectively quote or selectively mis-represent "the truth"? If there's no punishment in sight, or some significant obstacle, many will just get the money and live another day, but they'll get less and less money, exactly because is almost risk-free.


On preview:

Joannemerriam: This is really depressing. I run a small press, and I'm not willing (or able, but I wouldn't be willing anyway) to pay for this sort of garbage, and getting reviews for the books I publish is always an uphill battle. It's a catch-22.

Similar story for a small editor friend of mine: short of cash, he traded a tit-for-tat arrangement with a "pro" book reviewer, who got to put his name on the book as translator (and not one of the best I have seen so far) in exchange for a review. Needless to say, he forgot to "push" the book enough, but what did the friend of mine think? "Now if I refuse, he'll never write anything on my books again!". Yup.
posted by elpapacito at 5:36 PM on August 26, 2012


And how to break the cynical spell being the most important issue, I guess.
posted by elpapacito at 6:00 PM on August 26, 2012


But isn't some of this deja vu all over again? Self-reviewing and "puffing" were standard features of nineteenth-century publishing, with some periodicals, like Bentley's Miscellany, especially notorious for shilling. Royal Gettmann, who has an entire chapter on how Richard Bentley puffed up his books, notes that he basically had "staff" reviewers writing five-star reviews (67), and details how a number of popular novelists made a point of anonymously distributing their own celebratory review copy. Occasionally, this sort of thing actually produced some substantial works of criticism, like Sir Walter Scott's famous assessment of, er, Sir Walter Scott. (As self-reviews go, this one is remarkably honest.) When haven't publishers and authors attempted to game the reviewing system?
posted by thomas j wise at 7:08 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


My two biggest problems with Amazon reviews are 1) the reviews left by schoolchildren as part of a required assignment and 2) reviews which are short enough that they fail to convey anything useful about the book. Paid reviews? I don't care if they convey enough useful information that can take what I need from them.

In a review, I want basic details on plot/how long it held up/if it fit well/etc. (and what interested the reviewer), a few areas that didn't go well (and why) and what other books/similar items the reviewer liked (so I can see if we have similar taste)--and frankly the last two parts are entirely optional. If paid reviews will offer me enough explanation of the plot/etc. to help inform my decision of whether I'm in the intended audience or not, great.

My single biggest problem with Amazon is actually its increasingly terrible search mechanism. Not only do I want to filter out ALL the self-published books, all the e-books, and all the irrelevant spam reports and journal articles, I want to have more options to search with if I so desire. Amazon does not have the flexibility for any of that, and its search isn't powerful enough to pick up on the details I'm feeding it a lot of the time (even basic keywords like the title will fail distressingly often).

I buy large numbers of books a year (it's my job!) so I use Amazon constantly. It's depressingly bad at its core function, which should be uniting you with the item you're looking for. Paid reviews are obnoxious but so are schoolchildren's reviews for class and one-liner 'I loved this book!' reviews (where paid reviews and one-liners coincide, yes, that's a problem).
posted by librarylis at 7:58 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish my ratings would transfer to other sites. I have a ton of movies and books and such rated on Amazon and Netflix, and it would be nice if they transferred between each other and to other sites like LibraryThing.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:54 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]




Librarylist, I confess I love the forced student reviews because they are often brutally honest about how much they hated/resented the book and it feels like eavesdropping on teenagers in a library.

I did not realise that the Amazon recommended for you was paid placement. I feel simultaneously stupid and relieved - I was wondering what I had bought/reviewed that Amazon was recommending such odd things to me for.

Doesn't goodreads pretty much supply the balance for these reviews? Or is that also full of shilling?
posted by viggorlijah at 10:36 PM on August 26, 2012


If I find myself nodding along with the bad reviews, I probably won't like the book

I don't know how to say this without sounding defensive or petty, but I've written books that got bad reviews from online reviewers I suspect never read them at all.
posted by ecourbanist at 10:58 PM on August 26, 2012


I don't know how to say this without sounding defensive or petty, but I've written books that got bad reviews from online reviewers I suspect never read them at all.

I get the same impression. The vast majority of negative reviews I read are of two categories:

1) The reviewer is just an ignorant snark monster, writing shit for no reason other than that their accounts for the comments section of their newspapers had been suspended. These are the people who literally just look at the title or the jacket and start complaining.

2) People who bought the product with wildly unrealistic expectations. "I bought this $19 digital camera because my son's teacher said he needed a telescope, and it is a piece of garbage!"
posted by gjc at 5:37 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Favoring low-star reviews isn't smart (unless you need an excuse not to read the book). They are no more objective than 5-star reviews. You really just have to read the reviews, it's not difficult to skip low-content-high-noise reviews. The star rating tells you nothing about the content quality of the review.
posted by stbalbach at 9:10 AM on August 27, 2012


I'm an inveterate reader and a media critic, so I've reviewed books on my blogs before, but never for the promise of monetary gain for a positive review. Other than the book itself, which I'll get from NetGalley or receive in the mail, I don't take compensation for book reviews.

Of course I always disclose that I received the review copy on all my reviews, because that's just ethically what you do! I also always make it clear to anyone asking for a review that I'm going to give my honest impression.

I'm honestly pissed off that so many of these reviewers who are doing these reviews for payment are not disclosing that they received compensation. The reason the FTC has a policy of disclosure is so that readers can distinguish from paid shills and substantive reviews. What is the use of having that policy in place if no one bothers to police it? Amazon is certainly in a position to use their influence for good rather than evil here. Grar.

I'm reviewing books, movies and films now over at Thrown With Great Force*, so if you aren't afraid of an honest review and don't like paid shills, joannemerriam, you can always hit me up.

On the other side of the coin, I have actually been called out, on Twitter by a fictional character in a book, for one of my negative reviews. I criticized the author's frequent grammatical errors (like consistently using "worse" for "worst" and the shallowness of her characters. I also took issue with some factual errors, which are pretty topical right now, as they involved cyclist Lance Armstrong. Was the critique justified? I think the tweet stands for itself:

omg coolmomsrule this stupid blog just was like salivating all over lance armstrong who is super annoying!!! she is the worse!!!!3:47 AM Sep 23rd

__
*"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force--Dorothy Parker.
posted by misha at 9:16 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Schoolchildren reviews are ones where they've clearly been assigned to write the 21st century book report, an Amazon review. Similar, but not identical, to this Amazon review (which is a 'this was my required reading for summer' review on Huck Finn).

I don't mind the ones where students/teens/whatever are genuinely writing of their own accord. Look at the reviews for the latest Pretty Little Liars book and you'll see the difference. The reviews aren't formulaic (Intro sentence about how good the book was, short bio sentence detailing the reviewer, two sentences describing characters, one concluding sentence on how good the book was) and they're a lot more passionate.

The other problem with forced Amazon reviews for a class assignment is that students all seem to think that the reason their teacher assigned a book is because he/she loved it, not because it was curricularly required, so students rarely ever say anything usefully negative about a book in a forced review.
posted by librarylis at 3:27 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing that made a difference is not mentioned in “How I Sold One Million E-Books.” That October, Mr. Locke commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledging service’s best customers. “I will start with 50 for $1,000, and if it works and if you feel you have enough readers available, I would be glad to order many more,” he wrote in an Oct. 13 e-mail to Mr. Rutherford. “I’m ready to roll.”

Wow, so the guy who wrote "How I Sold One Million E-Books" says he has no problem buying reviews, but somehow completely failed to mention paying for reviews in his how-to book about selling a million e-books. What an asshole move.
posted by mediareport at 5:29 PM on August 27, 2012


My single biggest problem with Amazon is actually its increasingly terrible search mechanism. Not only do I want to filter out ALL the self-published books, all the e-books, and all the irrelevant spam reports and journal articles, I want to have more options to search with if I so desire.

Yes, I agree. Well, I do like e-books - but if only it would let me filter out all the self-published ones I would be very happy. Just that single function would save me a massive amount of time.
posted by andraste at 12:01 AM on August 29, 2012




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