Online Book Reviews: Buyer Beware!

Like many people I am not exactly what you would call rich, so buying a new book is always something of a treat for me. And as my time is limited there is more to my habits as a picky book buyer than simple dollars and cents thrift. Since I was a teen I have had a strange contract with myself; I will never let a book defeat me, however bad it is, I will read it to the end. But I really would prefer not to waste my time and money on a rotten read in the first place.

In that I know I am far from alone in these habits, which is why ever since I made the switch to eBooks I, like millions of others, fell into the habit of reading through the reviews on the sales page to help me make a decision about whether or not I should spend my hard earned cash on a less well known author's work.

The trouble is that those reviews are increasingly fake, bought and paid for by the authors, even, as the New York Times revealed last year, by authors you would never think would need to buy fake reviews because they surely have a high enough profile to never need such things.

Some of the fake reviews are easy to spot. They are badly worded and contain very little about the plot or the author. You may never even see these types of reviews anymore as Amazon and its peers have become fairly adept at weeding them out. Realizing this however, fake review brokers - it is quite a cottage industry this days you see - got smarter, especially when Amazon introduced the 'verified purchase' notation for their reviews. Surely, if someone has paid for a book then their review must be genuine, even if it is a little too gushy or badly worded.

Well, not so fast. There are, as a number of newspaper and media investigations have uncovered, still a number of companies offering to sell authors great reviews having found a way to get past that pesky verified purchase hurdle. They now simply require that their paid reviewers purchase the book in question themselves with the promise of reimbursement if and when their review is deemed acceptable by the company (translation: as long as it is a positive one.)

So, you cannot really trust onsite reviews anymore. If the book you are interested in is by a well-known author, let's say horror lord Stephen King for example, then this is not a problem, as the chances are good that every newspaper in the country that offers a book review section has already reviewed it and their thought can be found with a simple Google search. However, many of the best books I have read over the last few years have been by authors few people have heard of.

So you do have to take a chance. The easiest way to minimize your financial risk is to borrow the book rather than purchase it. Your local library(remember that place?) is a good place to start or, if you are an Amazon Prime member you have access to the Kindle owners lending library which operates in a similar manner. Or, if the premise of the book sounds intriguing you can risk a few bucks. Even if the book is a rotter in the end you will only have lost the price of a frothy coffee at Starbucks and who knows, you might discover a real gem and a new favorite author.

I created this blog to open a window to the world. A place where I will mainly talk about books, but also about everything I like.

Currently Reading