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Don’t Trust Amazon Reviews: They’re Fake

By / April 22, 2009 / no comments

So I thought I would address an issue that’s bothering me: Amazon (fake) reviews.

Most people who are thinking about buying a book head off to Amazon to read the reviews. Many of you do this and put little thought to the validity and source of the reviews. There is a dark side to the Amazon review system: it’s actively being gamed by both unscrupulous authors and publishers.

Never thought about that did you? The Amazon review system is vulnerable to anyone who wants to take advantage of it. Practically anyone can post a review on Amazon undery any pseudonym. The word on the street is that publishers pay marketing firms to “promote” their books on the web. One of these “promotional” tactics, probably the most effective book sale-wise, is to register a medley of fake personas and use them to pad the 5 Star review ratings of a book on Amazon. Yes, this takes some effort on the part of a person, but one or two people determined to give top ratings to a book can easily spend a couple days (or weeks) writing up fake reviews and posting the on Amazon. There are entire marketing teams out there that are dedicated to this. A publisher’s own marketing team might even do this.

Why would publishers and authors sell out their ethics to try and con people into buying books? Money, lads, it’s all about money. Success or failure can rest upon the Amazon rating. Now for big name authors, their books’ Amazon ratings may not matter so much – they have such a reputation and presence in bookstores that the average Joe will just buy the book off the shelve without doing research first. But new authors and authors who publish in smaller genres often earn their bread from the Amazon review system. A drop of a star can make a significant difference in the sales of the book. It should come as no surprise then that people will try and game the Amazon rating sytem to generate more money.

You can bet your mother and your first born child that many authors and even more publishers stoop to posting fake, glowing reviews. Can I directly proof this; no. Am I positive? Yes.

Why does Amazon allow this? Because they make a lot of money from this. Sales of books mean money in Amazon’s pocket. It’s kind of like eBay trying to stop seller of counterfeit items. With each sale of a fake purse, eBay get’s a commission. So why would they actually want to do something about stopping it? It’s taking money out of t heir pocket. Amazon, my readers, has even less reason than eBay, who is at least being sued by the companies affected by the fake products being sold. So Amazon is happy, the publishers making money from the fake reviews are happy, and the authors are probably happy as well, given that they benefit from the process. Do all authors write fake reviews? Probably not, but there are a lot that certainly do.

How To Protect Yourself From Fake Amazon Reviews
So if you are scoping the Amazon reviews and trying to make a buying decision, here are three things you can do to protect yourself.

1. Read the 3 STAR (and below) ratings.
More often than not, these are the real reviews, not publisher-paid fake review crap. These reviews often show the true substance of the book. ALWAYS take 5 star reviews with a grain of salt and then some. If you really want to be sure, take a look at what other reviews the review has written. If there are lots of different genres and books reviews, it’s probably a real review. One of the signatures of a fake review is that the “review” only has a couple other reviews (though they could have a lot of reviews if the persona is used on regular basis — say as a job), and the reviews are all about the same author’s books.

2. Look for the Cons
Usually these fake publisher reviews give a gushy 4-5 star rating. If there are no negative points listed, be very wary. Rarely is a book so perfect as that. If there are negative points listed, make sure the rating makes sense. Some fake reviews list a couple negative points as a matter of principle, just to make the review look genuine. You will also note that the language and style of some fake reviews look the same. That’s because they are often written by the same person. More on this below.

3. Search the Web for Blog Book Reviews
Type the name of the book + “review” in google. High profile genre book blogs will often show up with reviews of the book on em. Read a couple of these reviews. These reviews are often far more trust worthy than any review you’ll find on Amazon.

A Portrait of an Amazon Fake Review: Case Study

Now, it’s nice to talk about all this in theory, but let’s do a bit of a case study. Let me present to you the biggest online fake review scammer of them all: Robert Stanek (or Robert Stinkit as I like to call him). This guy has mastered to art of posting fake, glowing, smary reviews about his books. And he’s apparently made a great living off doing it. Robert Stanek is the worst writer in the fantasy genre. All his books are self-published, and they are utter and complete crap. But, if you look on Amazon, you will notice he has 300 + reviews with almost perfect 5 star ratings. Don’t believe me, check out Robert Stanek Fake Amazon Reviews

Let’s see some of these so called reviews from someone named Jodi F.:

My husband and I are both teachers and as a parent with boys in 5th and 6th grades, I found this an outstanding novel. You only have to read this to see why it is becoming one of the most beloved books of all time. The writing sings, the illustrations and the wealth of extras take your breath away and the story is as deep and rich as stories get. I doubt the author knew he had written something on par with Rowling’s Potter when he finished it but he certainly had to know he’d written something special. And this book is truly something special.

A look at other reviews she’s/he’s written show other 5 star reviews written about…you guessed it…Stanek’s other books.

Let’s look at one more review by someone named GrammaBonnie:

Since their first publication nearly a decade ago (2001 in ebook), Stanek’s Ruin Mist books have become some of the most beloved books of all time. There’s a reason for this: they are very well produced, very well written and gorgeously illustrated. I hold these books in as high regard as Lewis’s Narnia and Tolkien’s Hobbit.

When my oldest started to read fantasy, this was my first suggestion. I truly enjoyed reading the adult edition and my child was just as thrilled with this as I’d hoped. A magnificent world, populated with enduring characters awaits within the pages of this magnificent book and best of all this is just the start. Seven more books await and they’re all just as good.

The only way you could possibly be disappointed is if you don’t continue with the rest of the books. This does end in a cliffhanger after all, and it isn’t the first book ever written to do so either. Cliffhangers in life and fiction abound.

I’m thrilled to be able to share this book and hope my kids will share this book with theirs and theirs with theirs. Truly a joy to read, from an author who is among the most skilled I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Our favorite editions of these are the special illustrated. The next one is The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches II (Keeper Martin’s Tales, Book 2, Special Illustrated Edition). Don’t miss the sequel series In the Service of Dragons (In the Service of Dragons, Book 1). I also found Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ruin Mist: The Essential Reader’s Guide to be a fascinating read.

Now, notice the same overly effusive praise? In fact the language is very similar in tone and style. I’d be willing to be it’s written by the same person, probably the author himself, Robert Stanek. In fact, both reviews contain two phrases that are identical: “the most beloved books of all time.” A coinsidence? Nope.

Then we even get a list of, lo and behold, more books written by Stanek. A quick check on what other books our old granny has written reveal all her other reviews are written of…guess? Robert Stanek’s books.

Now take a look at an actual, real review — a review that gave the book its deserving 1 star:

I can’t understand why this book has such great reviews. I usually don’t write reviews, but I was so disappointed by this book, I felt I had too. Bad grammar, boring characters, jumps in the plot that make NO sense, and terrible formatting. The illustrations where not great either. The book is only 140 or so pages, and I have had to force myself through them. Save your money, don’t buy this book. There are MUCH better fantasy writers out there.

Don’t believe me still. Want a sample of a book, according the one of the fake reviewers here that is “truly something special”? Well here is an excerpt taken from the book:

“Always more reminders of the things she should or should not do—her proper place, always her proper place. She knew all about the proper things, the proper mannerisms, the proper greetings, her proper duties, her proper place. She had even been taught, though only recently, the proper things to do to invite a man’s attention. She was to begin courting. But why?”

My eyes are bleeding already and I’m about to have a proper fit…

“Seth returned to the room they shared then and did a thing he claimed not to understand. Galan was sitting on the edge of her bed, running a comb through her long hair. He sat beside her and the next thing he knew his lips were pressed against hers.
Immediately afterward, Seth fled the room and in his confused state of mind, said he knew of only one person he could turn to. Brother Liyan had been meditating in his private chambers and, without announcement, Seth burst into the room and in one great rush of thoughts explained all that had happened since he left the hall.”

There are even worse abominations of the English language present in the book. My three year old niece can write better then this. This book is truly something “special,” something especially bad!

So, be very very careful when using Amazon’s Review system to decide whether to buy a book or not. Look for other non-amazon reviews and always treat the Amazon reviews with more then a few grains of salt. For my next posting, I’ll going to post a review of Stanek’s book. It’s should be funny.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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