Reviewgate, or who ever said the world was fair?

I was supposed to write about something else today, but then what I call the “review-gate” broke out and no self-respecting blogger can walk past the shit-storm that’s resulted from that NYT article. Here are some of my thoughts in no particular order.

1. Reviewgate, what’s it all about?

So apparently, some writers stoop low enough to solicit good reviews for hard cash. Shocking! Except, it’s not. The only thing that’s shocking here is the time it took the NYT journalists to discover and investigate that problem, when fake reviews is the first thing anyone entering the world of digital publishing encounters.

A quick Google search shows even that’s not the case: NYT regularly publishes features on ‘fake reviews’ – they did so in January this year and in August last year, and probably before. It’s only natural – NYT reviews and bestseller lists section is one of their most read ones, so they will do anything to defend the relevance of the professional review business. Only this time, the article was picked up by other media outlets and, more importantly, social networks. There’s been a hubbub, to say the least.

I’ve been observing this with some amusement. Surely, I thought, surely everyone knows that? Ever since I’ve become at all interested in the world of digital distribution – first as a reader, then as a writer myself – I’ve been noticing the ever growing proliferation of fake reviews and star ratings. Most of them were easy to spot: the usual pattern is a brief summary of the plot and product (as if product description above wasn’t enough) followed by some enthusiastic exclamations: as NYT put it in its January article, “acclaim once reserved for the likes of Kim Jong-Il”. That was just the tip of the iceberg, however. I have since seen authors whose entire careers had been faked on the internet – from hundreds of ‘devoted fans’ following their every launch, to fake fan websites and forums where bots chat with each other inanely. I won’t be naming names, but do a search on TV Tropes and you’ll soon learn whom I mean.

Of course, this is something I’d never do myself. I’ve solicited a few reviews for my book, but the only “cost” to me was the review copy. I did check out a couple of professional reviewers – see below – but their prices were way too high.  Continue reading “Reviewgate, or who ever said the world was fair?”