Paid reviews, the latest hot topic in publishing

The hot topic in the last few days had been all about paid reviews. It hasn’t reached the level of witch hunt yet, let’s hope it doesn’t ever get there. The buzz right now is all over the idea that paid reviews are set up to scam the reader. I’ll take another tack. From a self publishing perspective it’s no better than any other vanity publishing scam.

a picture of a new york times reveiw page

A quick definition of the problem

The furor is about the idea that people buy books based on reviews and that publishing houses and authors are paying for good reviews. These reviews are being done by people who haven’t read the book and that’s the problem.

Traditional publishing has been doing this for a long time, and I think they see it as a marketing cost.

Self publishers have started doing it – I’m not sure it’s recent – and that seems to be the problem.

I’ve never paid for reviews with anything other than a free copy of the book. There are two reasons. I want reviews from people who have read the book – I read these reviews and consider them valuable feedback no matter how many stars I get. And because I see paid reviews as simply another scam perpetrated on naive authors.

 Why reviews matter

For self published authors the main problem is getting noticed. Reviews get you noticed. The more reviews the better and any number of stars is great. It’s a marketing issue. Get reviews Get more than just 4 and 5 star reviews.  Get noticed, get sales, get noticed, get more sales.

The cost of reviews

Let’s start with the unpaid reviews. I know from personal experience, it takes a long time to get that review up there. I spend hours finding review sites that accept indie or self published books. I have to fight the perception that indie authors will throw a tantrum if the review is bad, and that my work will be crap.

When I find a site that lets me submit, and reads my genres, I review their book reviews to see if they give balanced opinions. Then I create an email specifically for the site, making sure I follow all the guidelines. Then I wait. Sometimes I get a review, sometimes I get nothing. And I move on to the next reviewer on my list.

Paying for reviews is easy- I’m making some assumptions here because I’ve never done it. Based on a glance at some of the submission guidelines, I fill out a form, describe my book, maybe add a coupon or epub file, I pay the fee and I get the reviews. Fees range from $400 or $500 to ‘marketing packages’ of thousands.

See why it’s tempting?

Do people buy books because of reviews from people they don’t know?

I don’t know if this happens. Lots of reviews might bring a book up the list on the retailer’s shelf, virtual or otherwise, but I suspect it doesn’t make a sale. These days, you have the opportunity to preview a book online, just the way you would flip through a few pages in the bookstore. When you do that, you can tell if the writing is good and if the story engages you.

The blurb and the tags and the categorization should work to classify the books appropriately. Reviews and recommendations from friends and trusted sites are more likely to influence a sale according to the research online.

What do you think? Do you buy books based on reviews? Do you think it’s unethical to buy reviews?