Can You Trust Amazon’s Book Reviews?

Am I being overly pessimistic? It seems that our culture is decaying at an ever-increasing rate. Too many of us cheat our way through college (or purchase fake diplomas), lie on our resumes or to our spouses or to our colleagues, and generally do whatever we want to further our own interests, regardless of the dishonesty required.

This shameful behavior has, predictably, seeped its oily way into the Internet, adversely affecting purchasers who expect to be reading honest product reviews, but who may instead be reading cleverly disguised advertising.

For example, prize-winning mystery writer R.J. Ellory, using false names, has posted numerous flattering reviews of his own books on Amazon, while posting unflattering criticisms of competitors’ works:

“…Although the story broke over the Labor Day weekend, it spread quickly to the ranks of American crime writers and beyond. Dozens of authors signed a joint letter condemning the practice…The letter reads, in part, “More and more books are bought, sold, and recommended online, and the health of this exciting ecosystem depends on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large….few in publishing believe [these cases] are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.”

 “The furor over ‘sock puppet’ Amazon book reviews” by Carolyn Kellogg, 4 Sep 2012 Los Angeles Times

Some related commentary:

“…Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet…”

“Mr. Liu estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.”

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” by By David Streitfeld, 25 Aug 2012 New York Times

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