Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Fake review report

Which is worse, a desperate self-published author named Melissa Foster buying reviews “as fast as you can provide them” or a professionally published author named JA Konrath trying to buy 10000-packs of ratings? Because while I worked undercover, I saw it all.

My job was to facilitate. Connect those wanting reviews with those writing reviews. As a former marketing executive, I was a natural for the role, as I facilitated I recorded every dirty detail for Zon Alert.

One of the worst offenders was Melissa Foster who purchased over 250 reviews, as determined by reviews received from for-pay review writers. But that alone doesn’t make Melissa Foster one of the worst. What made her the worst is that her 250 reviews purchased were only the beginning as many of the paid reviewers also worked for other paid review companies. 

By connecting the other Melissa Foster reviews these reviewers wrote to the review writers and the companies they wrote reviews for, Zon Alert and I identified other companies offering paid review services. In total, 129 paid reviewers wrote 762 reviews for Melissa Foster, using 568 accounts.

From Melissa Foster’s correspondence: 

“Chasing Amanda got to #10 on Amazon’s Bestselling Kindle list. Thank reviewers for buying yesterday.”

“Wow, what a few weeks this has been! Can I get 50 more?”

“not all the reviews for Amazon ... Goodreads reviewers should rate, add my other books” 

“how great it felt to have over 2000 ratings for Goodreads”

“I’m gearing up for a blog tour. ... I need more reviews.”

“Can reviewers vote in the Amazon breakthrough novel award?”

“Tremendous gratitude for the Chasing Amanda reviews ... now on Amazon’s Top (100) Rated Fiction list!”

With so many fake reviews, the bigger question becomes what should be done with the Melissa Fosters of the world? Amazon doesn't seem to care about fake reviews. 

In 2012, self-published author John Locke admitted to buying 300 fake reviews from and Amazon left every fake review in tact. What John Locke never admitted to, however, were reviews purchased elsewhere. 

In all, John Locke purchased close to 1,000 reviews. These reviews were for Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and other sites. A worse offender than Melissa Foster? If you don't include Melissa Foster's many fake awards, perhaps. 

Melissa Foster also had organized friends-family review writing schemes though. Schemes that account for the bulk of Foster's remaining reviews and ratings. Some 2100 reviews and 3500 ratings in all.

What about all the other writers who bought reviews from, and the many other paid-review companies? Tracking the paid-review accounts leads to some surprising names, like Ilona Andrews( fantasy author), R J Palacio (children's author), J A Konrath (mystery writer), Brandon Sanderson (fantasy author), Erin Hunter (fantasy author), and James Dean (children's author). Some predictable names too who purchased 500 or more reviews:

Debora Geary
Jasinda Wilder
Gail McHugh
Jessica Sorensen
Jillian Dodd
Rebecca Forster
Mary Campisi
Amanda Hocking
B V Larson
Blake Crouch
Aaron Pogue
Hugh Howey
Erica Stevens
Matthew Mather
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Ryk Brown
Daniel Arenson
M R Mathias
David A Wells
T R Harris
Jay Allan
Mallory Monroe
Edie Claire
Stephanie Lisa Tara
K Bromberg
Tarryn Fisher
Cassia Leo
Michael G Manning
Emma Chase
H M Ward
J S Scott
A Meredith Walters
Bella Forrest

Predictable because reviews of these author's books aren't just a little too perfect, they are in some cases perfect for Amazon or Goodreads. John Locke was clever enough to ensure 1 and 2 star reviews were added. Some of the aforementioned authors have books with only perfect ratings. A dead giveaway for fakery.  

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