Digital Publishing is becoming big business and ebooks have gained more visibility this year than any other. Penguin, Hachette, S&S, and many others have publicly stated that ebooks account for 22% of their entire revenue stream. Indie authors are finding they can make a viable income having their digital books sold on Amazon. Book reviews are very important when you are self-published, and the ones with lots of ratings and reviews tend to stand out. Amazon, though, is mounting a silent crusade against book reviews and it’s hurting authors.
In the not so distant past, when an author wrote a book and had it printed out, their friends and family were the first ones to show their support and buy it. Their feedback both good and bad helps the author make changes and adjust their writing style. If you post an ebook on Amazon and the same people write virtual reviews, the company considers this spam or fake reviews, and often deletes it. Many companies and prominent people have petitioned Amazon for answers about this, but the representatives are strangely silent and will not comment publicly about it.
Amazon allows reviewers to leave their comments or a physical rating. Books that have lots of these often stand out in the crowd and help with sales. Many authors are finding that Amazon is arbitrarily removing reviews if they determine it’s biased by friends and family. This leaves the author to try and compete against people paying for reviews, marketing agencies, and established authors.
A new report by Gartner Research points out a very disturbing trend in the ebook industry: fake or paid reviews. Many companies are actively creating duplicate user accounts and posting reviews on a book in an effort to gain more sales. In other cases, self-published authors like John Locke and Stephen Leather pay people to leave positive reviews or leave fake reviews themselves. The new report states that this problem will not be curtailed, and by 2014, 15% of all ebook reviews will be fake.
“With over half of the internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors, and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner. “Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons, and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty, and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”
So what is an author to do if you don’t want to pay for reviews and don’t want to risk getting your friends and family to review the book? You can take a page of out Tim Ferries playbook by sending out advanced copies to prospective fans and on day 1 of the book release, you instantly have a bunch of reviews. You can also build buzz by sharing out a few chapters on Scribd or even sending a few chapters out on bitorrent sites.
It seems that Amazons current policy is deleting reviews that are obviously made by your friends and family, but if people pay for reviews and it’s done in a clandestine manner, it’s apparently acceptable.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.