It began innocently enough, with the "purchase" of a Kindle freebie, Parris Afton Bonds' Dream Time. I write historical romances, and Ms. Bonds is a contemporary of mine. I'm not wealthy, and the book was offered free. Why wouldn't I take it?
But the reviews seemed odd, both on Amazon and on Goodreads. All 5-star, all posted at the same time. The reviewers seemed to be reviewing the same books, and those books were wildly dissimilar.
I notified Goodreads Support of my suspicions, and several of the reviewers' accounts disappeared. Apparently Goodreads confirmed my suspicions that these were not legitimate consumers' accounts.
Amazon did nothing.
Another Goodreads member spotted that the profile of one of the Amazon reviewers had a link to a fiverr account. And that's when the Great Hunt began.
More and more and more Goodreads reviewers are being outed (quietly, very quietly) as paid reviewers. They are nothing less than writers of commercial advertisements in the pay of the authors.
When we turn on the TV or boot up the computer, we know we're going to see advertisements. Some of us utilize software to block the ads, but we know they're there nonetheless. Whether it's a banner across the top of BookLikes or a spot ad on any other site, we know that they are paid advertisements.
Paid advertisements are different from consumer reviews. We know an advertisement is going to speak favorably about the product or service being advertised, because the purpose of the ad is to get us to buy the product or service.
That's why in the US it is illegal to disguise a commercial advertisement as consumer review. That's why in the US it is illegal not to disclose that the reviewer has been compensated. Consumers have the right, in the US, to know whether or not what they're reading is a commercial advertisement or a consumer review.
The task of identifying the commercial reviewers on Goodreads is almost never-ending. Although most are connected with the fiverr "gig" site, some have turned up as independents. One of those independents -- she runs her own media/PR firm -- was responsible for over 2,500 commercial ratings and reviews.
It's depressing and it's discouraging.
One fiverr account just returned a few days ago in its fifth Goodreads incarnation.
At least two fiverr users -- one a seller, one a buyer -- have come to my Booklikes blog to defend their actions. Both have subsequently removed their posts.
Other readers have joined me in the task. It's daunting.
Today it led me to two places I wish I hadn't gone.
The first was the Goodreads profile page of a self-publishing author who has established a publishing company that only publishes her books. There's nothing wrong with this, and it really isn't even particularly deceptive. If you go to the publisher's website, you see that they only publish her titles.
What was disturbing, however, was that I identified this author through the name of her publisher because that publisher is a customer of fiverr.com. And yes, I linked specific reviews to specific fiverr accounts. The author is buying 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
But it got worse, much worse.
The author's blog, posted on her Goodreads profile page, was a several-pages-long (of the TL;DR variety) harangue on bad reviews. Although ostensibly a guide to authors on how to recognize the different kinds of bad reviews, it comes across much more as a tirade against reviewers who dare to write any kind of bad review -- unless of course, it's the "good" kind of bad review that benefits the author.
This blogpost was published on Goodreads on 23 July 2014. The author's books have 5-star reviews from confirmed fiverr sellers on Amazon, including Michael Beas, dated July 2014.
And I can't go to her Goodreads page or even her personal blog and call her out for a lying sack of hypocrisy.
I was sick after that discovery. Just plain sick. And getting sicker.
I also learned that she's apparently using another outside -- that is, non-fiverr -- promotions company to write glowing reviews for her books on Goodreads. The person writing those reviews is also a Goodreads author, but she hasn't claimed her author account and blithely gives her own book 5-stars as if she is an independent reader.
The connections go on, and on, and on. That author/publicist enlisted her mother -- who is also her business partner -- to write a 5-star review for her book on Amazon.
Do you begin to see how incestuous this all is?
I reported the author who hadn't claimed her author account, but I haven't reported the first author, the one who is buying reviews from fiverr and from PR firms and the dear goddess only knows who all else; and then after she's done that she has the unmitigated gall to chew out honest reviewers???????????????
What I found next was the frosting on the cupcake for the day.
I tracked down another fiverr seller to her Goodreads account and discovered that, like Michael Beas, she is also a Goodreads author. I carefully documented all the evidence, put it in an email to Goodreads Support, and walked away from the computer. To take a shower.
When I came back, the lid had started to blow off the other kind of fake review: A gigantic circle jerk of mutually masturbating authors on Goodreads. One of their members (pun most definitely intended) has decided to attack a reviewer.
And we can't say anything.