Positive customer review are so important for small businesses that an entire industry has formed around providing fake ones. And it turns out, self-publishers are no exception. According to the New York Times, the advent of electronic publishing has given rise to the auxiliary industry of for-pay book reviews.
The outlet profiled a rather glaring example: In fall 2010, Jason Rutherford launched GettingBookReviews.com, a site that offered rosy book reviews for self-published authors at a price. Rutherford reportedly provided clients with 20 positive online book reviews for $499, or 50 positive reviews for $999. At its high point, Rutherford's company was making $28,000 per month, and his success illustrates the power of positive reviews and the ethically shaky lengths entrepreneurs will sometimes go to to obtain them.
"The wheels of online commerce run on positive reviews," Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinios, Chicago told the Times.
Liu estimates that approximately one-third of "consumer" reviews are fake. However, the legitimacy of reviews is difficult to quanitfy, he said, because its nearly impossible to tell if a review was written by a marketer, a contributor for hire, or a third-party service.
Of course, Rutherford's business violated the fundamental rule of editorial reviewing, that being that the reviewer is objective (i.e. not hired by the author) in critiquing a piece of work. Rutherford added, "These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews." GettingBookReviews also violated the Federal Trade Commission guideline that says paid online endorsements must be transparent, the Times noted.
GettingBooksReviewed shuttered in early 2011 after Amazon removed many of Rutherford's book reviews, according to the Times.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some review sites, including Yelp and Angie's List, have begun fighting back against third-party reputation management services, which claim to remove negative reviews all together.