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Amazon review scams (not again)

Well once again this board is precogniscent. Recall the recent discussion on untrustworthy amazon reviews. Now it's official:

>John Rechy, author of the best-selling 1963 novel "City of Night" and winner of the PEN-USA West lifetime achievement award, is one of several prominent authors who have apparently pseudonymously written themselves five-star reviews, Amazon's highest rating. Mr. Rechy, who laughed about it when approached, sees it as a means to survival when online stars mean sales.

>"That anybody is allowed to come in and anonymously trash a book to me is absurd," said Mr. Rechy, who, having been caught, freely admitted to praising his new book, "The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens," on Amazon under the signature "a reader from Chicago."

And he is unrepentant as well!

Tony Chang
Sunday, February 15, 2004

Surely this can't be a shock to anyone.  What I really want to know is...did Joel give his own book positive reviews?  ;)

Sunday, February 15, 2004

There's a comment on Slashdot from a guy who claims he ran Amzon's review system in 1997. He says that even then the scam review problem was so serious they had to develop a system to manually check all reviews. And he doubts this system is still in place given today's volume of reviews.

Egor Shipovalov
Sunday, February 15, 2004

For similar astroturfing, check out some of the reviews posted to IMDB. While there are strangely people who like horrible movies (like American Pie 3), there are certain reviews that just reek of being the industry trying to get the consumer to give the movie the benefit of the doubt.

Dennis Forbes
Sunday, February 15, 2004

The problem isn't limited to >anonymous< reviews.

Many professional movie reviewers working at second-tier media will give gushing reviews to the very worst movies. Why? They're hoping that the movie will get such bad reviews that when the newspaper ad for the movie goes out, it will be forced to use their review, the only good one, for a quote. Do this often enough and people will start to recognize your name, which is important for a movie critic's career.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Sunday, February 15, 2004

It's not limited to Amazon reviews either.  It extends to the reviews on the jacket covers.  People like Tom Peters, Ken Blanchard, et al. will endorse a book for a nominal fee.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

I just love the apparent competition to be the "#1 reviewer" -- the article makes it sound like a catfight.

The current top reviewer is Harriet Klausner, who manages to review two books every day.  (She claims she's a speed reader... yeah, right.)  Almost all of her reviews follow the same formula -- write two paragraphs giving a quick synopsis of the plot, followed by a paragraph of effusive praise.  She gives every book four or five stars.

If these are the "best" (at least, most popular) reviews on Amazon, I've lost just about all respect for its reviews system.  But I have to admire Amazon's business model, getting all of these people to contribute so much content for free.

Robert Jacobson
Sunday, February 15, 2004

Also found a creepy Wired article about her:,1284,53488,00.html

"She tries to establish trust with readers by following a strict set of rules for herself. She never deliberately criticizes an author and she doesn't accept gifts or money when writing about a book."

Good for her.  I hate it when reviews say anything critical.  :-/

Robert Jacobson
Sunday, February 15, 2004


It's actually worse than you say.  The term Roger Ebert uses for it (Though I don't know if he originated it) is "quote whore".  Apparently what happens is movie critics are invited on junkets.  The movie companies pay for all kinds of crap like hotels and then actually provide a lits of quotes for these critic to pick from.

By know we all know that if the only reviewer on the poster is one we've never heard of (or the guy from Rolling Stone), the movie sucks ass.  I actually think a good trick would be to use mainstream respected critics quotes on the poster either way out of context or just with the assumption that people see the name in large type but ignore the quote, assuming ti is good.

"This Movie Sucked" - ROger Ebert

name withheld out of cowardice
Sunday, February 15, 2004

Her name slips off my tongue, but the dustjacket for one book quoted the NY Times... That is, an ad she took out of the NY Times.
Sunday, February 15, 2004

And then they only caught those that weren't smart enough to create an alias to write the fake reviews.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that Hiaasen is not writing fiction.

Jan Derk
Sunday, February 15, 2004

Back when they had the "if you are the author of this book click here and write something" someone did just that for the bible, and signed it God.

Apparently the post was up for quite a while before someone at Amazon spotted it and took it down.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The old trick for theatre and movie reviews was for the studio or backer to quote out of context. For example "The adverts half way through provided a welcome relief from all that unmitigated garbage" becomes:
"A Welcome Relief!" -- The NY Times.

The top division of theatre reviewers of course only give a good review every two or three years, normally for something off Broadway in the original Lithuanian, so that even if you didn't like it you would blame it on your lack of understanding of the language rather than the critic having made a cock-up.

This serves two advantages:
a) Being nasty is much more entertaining than being nice.
b) If you say a play is great, tens of thousands will go and see it, and if the play is crap you will have tens of thousands of very annoyed readers. If you say a play is crap, then only a few dozen will go and see it, so that even if they found the play great there are only a few dozen people to mistrust your judgement.

Stephen Jones
Monday, February 16, 2004

"I actually think a good trick would be to use mainstream respected critics quotes on the poster either way out of context ...." That is done. Roger Ebert has commented on the practice on his TV show and (I think) in his newspaper column.

David Fischer
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

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