You’ve heard of ghostwriters. From Wikipedia:
“A ghostwriter is a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.”
But have you heard of ghost reviewers? From Mikipedia:
“A ghost reviewer is someone — often a member of the author’s own family or circle of friends –who is recruited to write positive reviews, often multiple positive reviews, of the author’s book; these reviews are often credited to a fictitious person.”
Call me naive, but I am just now realizing that such a category of person exists. Spawned by the world of democratized, user-generated content, ghost reviewers can artificially inflate the rankings of just about anything. Films. Books. Albums. Restaurants. Food chains. All you need is a couple computers, email addies, fictitious names, and enough people who are willing to LIKE you, and your book can become a Top Customer Rated Novel.
A writer friend recently told me about a published novelist who employs such tactics, recruiting friends, relatives, and co-workers to render brief five-star reviews to influence the arc of her sales. My friend said that if I went to Amazon and clicked on some of those book’s five star reviews, I’d find that some of the ratings are bloated by reviewers… who’ve only reviewed ONE book. THAT book.
These are ghost reviewers. Short, effusive, unbridled praise, and NO WAY TO TRACE IT BACK TO A REAL PERSON.
So I did my own experiment. I have followed a particular author on a social networking site who writes in a similar genre as mine, has published several books, and regularly touts their high customer ratings. This has puzzled me because their books are published by a small press and their sales and fanbase seem relatively modest. However, this has not prevented the author from getting nearly 50 five-star reviews.
So I did a little investigating and clicked through most of those five-star reviews. Nearly half of the reviewers have reviewed only ONE book. THAT book.
And THERE’S NO WAY TO TRACE THOSE REVIEWS BACK TO A REAL PERSON. No email. No picture. No website. No review history.
Heck, for all I know, the author was creating his own fictitious review corps to render himself a massive self high-five.
In The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen describes two new breeds of bloggers: Sploggers and Floggers.
Splogs — “…a combination of spam and blogs. Generated from software that allows users o create thousands of blogs per hour, splogs are fake blogs designed to mirror the real blogs in a sneaky ploy to trick advertisers and search engines and drive traffic and thus pay-per-click revenue.”
Flogs / Floggers — “Floggers are bloggers who claim to be independent but are actually in the pay of a sponsor.”
Needless to say, questionable, unethical practices are inevitable. Like those “paid to read” rings, often with thousands of members around the globe, who are “paid to sit at their computers and click over and over on a link” just to inflate the site’s traffic.
Question: How are ghost reviewers any different? They are little more than Floggers. Sure, they’re probably not getting paid to review a book, unless you count getting a free copy being paid. They may have very innocent motives in wanting to help a friend or loved one kick-start their career. But at what point are ghost reviews just flat-out deception?
I dunno. Seems like just one more reason to mistrust amateur reviews.