November 2, 2015

Astroturfing: why crowdsourced reviews are as fake as plastic grass

By BlueInk Review Staff

Amazon is currently on the move, suing 1,000 individuals for writing fake reviews in a practice called “astroturfing.” Astroturfers promise good reviews for hire. For as little as $5 per review, authors can buy five-star ratings en masse. While Amazon strictly prohibits fake reviews, the practice is widespread — and for good reason: The more reviews a book has garnered, the higher it climbs on the Amazon ratings and the greater the potential for sales.

It is becoming increasingly clear that no one can trust crowd-sourced reviews. And if you think readers don’t know this, then it’s time to think again. In this age of Internet scams, they are skeptical and savvy.

That’s why BlueInk Review exists. We review self-published books, and we do it in a way that’s honest and objective. While we charge for the service of getting a book reviewed, we aren’t a review mill that churns out glowing review after glowing review. We never promise that our reviews will be positive — only that they will be honest appraisals, written by unbiased sources who know their way around the particular genre. We don’t ask our neighbors to write the reviews. We don’t ask our friends. That’s why we’re taken seriously and why readers know they can trust our work.

What do you get from a professional review that you don’t get from an astroturfing or crowdsourced review?:

—You get a review penned by those highly skilled at analyzing a book: journalists, editors, experts in their fields of study. They are knowledgeable about the genre of the book – and also at articulating what they find. This is a difficult task. And if you don’t believe it, just read some of the crowdsourced reviews that reduce the book to broad comments such as this: “Disappointing. I couldn’t get through it.” So much for detail.

—You get a review that can be listed under the editorial section on the Amazon and B&N pages. This is a space devoted solely to reviews that come from professional sources. When readers want a trusted source to help them make purchasing decisions, they check here.

—You get a review professionals recognize as trustworthy. Our reviews appear in respected industry venues, such as Booklist magazine, Publishing Perspectives and Ingram. These are reviews with the stamp of approval from those who know the business.

Crowdsourced — or astroturfing – reviews are written by people who range from serious readers to the author’s handyman and hairdresser. Or, yes, they are even written by a small-time entrepreneur who cracks out hundreds of posts a week at $5 a piece.

That is, until Amazon’s team of lawyers gets busy. Let readers everywhere beware.


BlueInk Review was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. We offer serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Our reviews are penned by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine, a highly respected review publication that reaches 60,000 librarians.

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