Have you ever wondered if those reviews you read on Amazon, TripAdvisor and Yelp are for real? Well, I have and, according to a story in the New York Times, many of them are bought and paid for.
The Times story says it found an ad on Craigslist that read: "If you have an active Yelp account and would like to make very easy money please respond."
Another woman quoted by name says she worked for a "review factory" (whatever that is) where she was paid $10 each to pump out five-star reviews. She says she wasn't required to churn out great reviews but, if not, she was asked to turn down the assignment. Huh?
Anyway, like most authors, I read my Amazon reviews regularly and, even when they're not five-star reviews, I appreciate those that are well-written and have something cogent to say. I've never paid anyone to write a good review but I have asked friends to write reviews if they've read and enjoyed the books. Why not?
Its all in the name of balancing out the really unfair reviews. One woman gave one of my books a one-star review because she was sent the book by accident! I wrote to Amazon requesting it be taken down and even wrote to the woman herself asking her to remove it because, hey, it's not my fault it was sent out by mistake. Eventually, the review was taken down but not until it was up for a matter of months. Its also pretty common, especially in the true crime genre, for people with an axe to grind -- on one side or the other of the actual crime -- to give books a bad review the moment it's published. It's like they're itching to let you have it.
I write reviews on Amazon and TripAdvisor and have been scrupulously honest when I either liked or did not like something. One place I went to on Hawaii really made me wonder if all the other reviews were fake. I hated the place but I was alone sinking in a sea of five-star outbursts. I think something was not kosher there and it wasn't me.
All of this, of course, raises the question of how important reviews are to begin with. And I think they are pretty important for books and vacations. I read them before I buy a book and once in a while back off because the reviews are universally poor. But other times, I ignore those reviews if I truly am interested in the book's subject matter. As for hotels, if everyone says the hotel has bedbugs, you'd be insane to ignore that.
With the publishing of this NY Times story, the whole review process has been thrown into doubt. What's real and what's not? It's amazing and sad what people will do for five bucks. Let the reader beware.