A few weeks ago, I stumbled onto Fiverr, a place where you can buy reviews at Amazon and twitter followers and a whole host of things. An author offered to test if out for me and sent me an account to post on Dear Author. Here it is:
“For $5, I’ll leave a five-star review of your Kindle ebook, purchase it (up to .99), ‘like’ it, and vote down negative reviews!” After signing up for the help-for-hire site Fiverr, I clicked the “Order Now” button and was redirected to Paypal. I entered my Paypal information, and was then re-directed back to Fiverr to enter the URL of my ebook on Amazon. For this test, I used a dummy ebook I self-published under a pseudonym.
Eight hours later, I checked my ebook’s page on Amazon and there it was: A glowing, five-star review! Four paragraphs in length, even. And it appeared the reviewer had actually read my ebook. “A one-of-a-kind vampire book!” read the subject line. The reviewer name-dropped several top vampire television shows and movies in the review (Twilight, the Vampire Diaries), a nice touch (and one that would, of course, help my ebook out when Google’s search engine spidered the Amazon page). Through several details in the review, it was apparent that the reviewer had actually read my book. Or at least skimmed it. It sounded like a lot of work to go through for just five bucks. Or four bucks, since the reviewer spent .99 to buy my ebook, thereby giving it a quick sales ranking boost.
I clicked on the reviewer’s name and saw a list of dozens of other five-star reviews that they had written. Every book was self-published, and every book was rated five stars. I recognized one of the authors on the list as a self-published writer whose ebooks regularly hit the Kindle charts’ Top 100. “You need a critical mass of readers to generate word of mouth,” the author wrote in a guest post on a popular “indie publishing” blog. Word of mouth, or a critical mass of fake reviews and purchases to push your ebooks into the Kindle Top 100? With ebooks, visibility is a big part of the marketing equation. Once an ebook hits the Kindle Top 100, sales tend to snowball as new customers discover it in greater numbers.
Meanwhile, my own bought-and-paid-for reviewer sent me a quick note. “It was actually a fun read,” the e-mail said. “Thanks.” Damn, I thought. This prostitute has great bedside manner. Once I logged back into my Fiverr account, I gave the reviewer a “thumbs up” evaluation. It was only afterwards that I reflected back on how I had originally picked my reviewer out of the hundreds available on Fiverr: on the basis of the half a dozen positive appraisals of their “services.” Had I fallen victim to the same scam that I had been attempting to pull off (in the name of journalism)? Somewhere, I realized with existential horror, there is a black market for fake Fiverr reviews.
Another author sent me this note after the romance bookscan numbers came out “Out of the 700-something thousand books sold last week in ‘romance’, 550k of them were EL James.”
Bookscan is run by Nielsen and romance is in scare quotes because authors like Danielle Steele, Nicholas Sparks, and Emily Giffen are considered romance authors.
See, this is not the message that indie booksellers should be sending. The only people who care about books are those who read print? That wagon has passed.
In 2013, the Edgar Awards will recognize digital first books from an Approved E-Book publisher list. I only found Amazon on the list of those who had digital first imprints other than the Big 6.