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No More Sock Puppets (Fake Book Reviews) – IBPA’s View

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By Florrie Binford Kichler

The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) respects the value of book reviews to the publisher, author and reader and urges independent publishers, self publishers and authors to ethically pursue both traditional and online reviews.

IBPA rejects and deems unethical the practice of “sock puppet” reviews—bogus reviews by reviewers writing under false names and/or pretenses.

IBPA calls for “citizen reviewers” to pledge to review truthfully and thoughtfully—or not at all.

Many of you are scratching your heads, thinking that the above position statements simply re-state the obvious and why bother. The “why” speaks to the recent furor over integrity in online book reviewing.

As you may have noticed recently in both the book trades and other media, the spotlight is shining on “sock puppets,” defined as fake online positive reviews posted under bogus names or pretenses. The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy (New York Times, 8-26-2012) tells the story of Todd Rutherford, founder of GettingBookReviews.com (now defunct), an online service that specialized in offering online reviews to self-published authors for a price. $99 bought an author 1 online review, $499 bought 20 online reviews and for $999, 50 glowing testimonials would be seeded across the web. He began by reviewing titles himself but as demand quickly outstripped supply, he outsourced his reviews to others, advertising on Craigslist for “reviewers.”

The New York Times article tells the story of one of them:

“For a 50-word review, she said she could find ‘enough information on the Internet so that I didn’t need to read anything, really.’ For a 300-word review, she said, ‘spent about 15 minutes reading the book.’ She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.

‘There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,’ she said. ‘But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.’”

In its heyday, GettingBookReviews.com was earning Mr. Rutherford $28,000 a month.

No one can deny that the nature of book reviewing has changed just as much as the industry to which it belongs. With just a few exceptions, newspaper review sections (and many newspapers themselves) have gone the way of the buggy whip and the outlets for “traditional” book reviews are shrinking as well. Couple that with the exponential growth of books published (Bowker reports 300,000+ in 2011) and it’s no wonder that, given the law of supply and demand, Mr. Rutherford found a niche worth filling.

But at what cost?

What’s the price of integrity these days? Apparently it’s at least $28,000. But to the many long-time and respected book review outlets (Shelf Awareness, ForeWord, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist to name just a few) and the inumerable online reviewers who post honest opinions of what they read, the value of integrity is incalculable—and unquestioned.

Certainly online sellers of books bear responsibility for policing what’s posted on their sites but realistically, the ultimate solution for weeding out the bogus reviews may lie with all of us—as readers, authors and publishers. How? One group of 56 authors including Michael Connolly wrote in a blog post,  But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all. Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,­ can drown out the phony voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, ­ however devious, ­ can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?

Are their additional ways to combat sock puppetry? IBPA welcomes your comments.

For more reading on sock puppets:

Shelf Awareness  http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=1814#m17272

Shelf Awareness editorial re book reviewing process http://www.shelf-awareness.com/readers-issue.html#m2431

LA Times  http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-jc-the-furor-over-sock-puppet-amazon-book-reviews-20120904,0,5360238.story

New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?_r=2&emc=eta1

Author blog post http://nosockpuppets.wordpress.com

PaidContent  http://paidcontent.org/2012/09/06/sock-puppets-scandals-and-how-to-fix-online-book-reviews 

Barry Eisner’s blog http://bit.ly/O8CNc3

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