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Fake reviews on books on Thailand

12/09/2013

Principally, but not exclusively, fake reviews are common place on Amazon.com. It occurs with other publishers but they seem better able to police fake reviews and take them out. Which is good news for readers who rely on reviews being honest and accurate in order for them to decide on whether to purchase a title or not.

There are two types of fake review.

1. The review posted by an author (or more usually a friend of the author) or by the publisher, which invariably gives a 4 or 5 star rating.

How do you spot a fake review?

The tell-tale signs are when you notice that the reviewer has not reviewed any other books or only books by that author or publisher. Or, when the style of writing or even the words used in the review are similar (or exactly the same) as those of another reviewer. If you know the book or have downloaded a sample, you may notice inconsistencies between what is actually in the book and what is in the review. All signs that the reviewer/s have not actually read the book.

So, why do these reviewers do it and why does Amazon allow it?

If the reviewer is someone the author knows, a friend, or publisher, the answer is clear. Money. Amazon are not going to take out a 5 star review if it means they won’t make money out of the title. There are cases where a publisher gets Amazon to take out poor reviews if they look like bringing the average review for their books down. One publisher of Thai books is renowned for this.

2. The one star review posted by someone with a grudge. Usually a personal vendetta against the author for some argument between them or some perceived slight. But, all too commonly a practice is growing where the “reviewer” is merely playing a game and damaging a book, which he probably hasn’t even read, just for the sheer hell of it. The sort of lonely person that one can imagine sitting in front of a computer screen all day and who gets a kick out of disparaging a book knowing he is protected by the anonymity of the internet. The sort of person that would never make the comment in a face to face situation.

How do you spot this type of reviewer? Download a sample and compare what you have read, even if only a few pages, with what the reviewer is saying. Note the inconsistencies. Note the repetition of words he has used on other reviews. Ask yourself if you believe he has actually read the book.

Sometimes they are deviously clever. They change their usernames several times so that Amazon can not keep a track of them. One even used my pen name to denigrate books by other Thai authors.

So, who are the villains of the piece? The authors who arrange 5 star reviews of their works, their publishers, Amazon, or the grumpy reviewers who get a kick out of downgrading book they have not read?

It is seldom that authors write their own reviews. There may be a few that do but generally an author with a wide fan base would expect his fans to write glowing words anyway without any prompting. That I believe is the more common scenario. Authors and publishers need to market their titles. This is one way they do it. Nothing wrong with that so long as the reviews are genuine and honest and are not just marketing hype to increase a publisher’s profits. That is misleading and a disservice to all readers.

So it is not the author generally that is the ogre. Publishers do keep 5 star reviews in when they are clearly not worth it. Even when they have been advised by readers’ comments. To take them out would lower their bottom line.

That leaves the grumpy specimen alone at his computer. Authors actually welcome constructive negative reviews. They can change their works for the better if the advice is sound. It took me some time to realise why Amazon are often reluctant to remove negative fake reviews, particularly when these guys make it so obvious that they are playing dirty tricks only for their own weird satisfaction.

The reason behind Amazon’s logic came to me when I recalled an incident that occurred when I was an impoverished student working on street markets to fund my college degree. There were two stalls selling shirts. My stall was a small modest affair. The other was a much larger and busier business. We were friendly rivals.

The other stallholder told me one day, “I’ve worked the markets all my life. As did my father and grandfather and his father before him. I sell by giving the punters a lot of humourous banter. It comes naturally to me. You are successful because, although you are smaller and don’t have the volume of stock, you have more varied lines than I have. But, you know, customers can be a fickle bunch. The punters are getting spoilt for choice on your stall. You are making the decision to buy difficult for them. Do what I do, don’t offer such variety.”

It was good advice. Amazon follow the same business model. Benefit from the revenue that 4 and 5 star reviews bring in to their company but don’t offer too much choice. Yes, accept all uploads of books but don’t worry about negative reviews. Removing them will only give customers a wider selection and then they may go elsewhere. Initially, I found that hard to believe but it is the only explanation that fits in with their reluctance to remove negative reviews, even when it is obvious they are from people using different usernames, have not read the books concerned, or have some gripe against an author or subject.

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2 Comments
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