At least one entrepreneur sells positive book reviews to Amazon authors. How an apparently unreliable customer-review system might finally eat itself.
If you were trying to discredit Amazon's new self-publishing model aimed at eliminating conventional publishers as obsolete "gatekeepers," relying instead on crowdsourced reviews, what would you do?
Here's a thought: Why not work from within? Praise is the coin of the realm on Amazon and other Web 2.0 sites. An unscrupulous opponent of the Amazon model might be tempted to write fake customer reactions. He or she could spike them with hype so absurd that it reminds consumers that all such reviews are questionable.
And indeed, the system has produced its own saboteurs, if unintentional ones. According to the New York Times, an entrepreneur named Todd Jason Rutherford is making a small fortune in the shilling-by-review of self-published Amazon titles. Rationalizing his business as "marketing" rather than evaluation, but evidently not disclosing the payments in reviews, Mr. Rutherford has found a new way to exploit the crowdsourced model:
Traditional journalism jobs may be dwindling, but the Internet offers many new possibilities for writers. As soon as the orders started pouring in, Mr. Rutherford realized that he could not produce all the reviews himself.
How little, he wondered, could he pay freelance reviewers and still satisfy the authors? He figured on $15. He advertised on Craigslist and received 75 responses within 24 hours.
Potential reviewers were told that if they felt they could not give a book a five-star review, they should say so and would still be paid half their fee, Mr. Rutherford said. As you might guess, this hardly ever happened.
Of course for contributors honest enough to read entire self-published books, $15 is hardly a minimum wage anywhere in the world. Some self-published authors are willing to pay fees exceeding their likely writing income in the short run in the hope of future recognition. One computer programmer and novelist, according to the Times, has already spent $20,000 so far. And he isn't inhibited about letting his name be published. There's no such thing as bad publicity.