On the buying of reviews

Some reviewers are less than reputable. Image by Nemo, CC0
Some reviewers are less than reputable.
Image by Nemo, CC0
I don’t.

Here’s why. (And no, it’s not because I’m poor.)

In any human society or culture, orders arise spontaneously. Things grow “organically” without any need of direction.

Immediately following the first rise of something new, smart people, often with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Asperger’s, in addition to (not infrequently) sociopaths, figure out the “rules” of the organic order, and the sociopaths (and anyone else with a conscience deficit) proceed to manipulate and game the system. They try to figure out the ways they can bend the rules to their own benefit, and if the system gets broken in the process, too bad.

You can see this in any part of society to some degree, but it tends to be especially acute in marketing, and doubly so in Hollywood marketing.

Take movie trailers. In the late 1990s, it seemed like every trailer began with Mr. Voice intoning “In a world where…”. (I was deeply thankful to Jerry Seinfeld for killing that cliche deader than Caesar with one single movie trailer of his own.)

Currently, we are still suffering a surfeit of trailers done by not especially creative people who thought the second Inception trailer was totally awesome. (As it was.) We’re still, five years later, getting the Hans Zimmer “BWAWM!!!!” in every second trailer that’s not for a comedy.

But that’s just imitation. That’s not really “gaming” the system.

An example of gaming it happened with the invention of movie critic David Manning for the purpose of putting good quotes on movie posters. (As if the existence of actual critic Rex Reed wasn’t enough!)

A Sony executive looked at the use of movie quotes on posters and newspaper ads, and said “You know, I’ll bet nobody checks these things.” He invented Manning, threw up some positive quotes, and possibly created a positive impression in the minds of a few potential movie-goers to convince them to see the latest piece of crap that wasn’t good enough to get actual good reviews.

That was simply an extension of the deceptive quotes from real reviews that posters had long used. Something like “As fun as having your head sledgehammered for two hours” would show up on a poster as “FUN!”

This isn’t much different than the way Amazon reviews are coming to be used.

It’s not about thoughtful engagement with the work in question. It’s about getting the largest number of five-star reviews possible. Period.

And, hey, if some of those reviews are purchased rather than honest appraisals of the work being reviewed, so what? Everybody needs sales, right?

I know it’s not fashionable to look beyond the immediate consequences of anything these days, but I can’t help it. I don’t want fake short-term numbers at the expense of having real long-term readers (and, hopefully one day, fans).

There is a musician I follow sometimes because I’ve liked some of his music, even if his politics are largely odious, and he has a very cynical term for life in American culture (he’s an expat in Eastern Europe): The Empire Of Fake.

And while I don’t agree with a lot of his assessments, he’s pretty bang on about this.

It’s easier to be fake.

It’s enticing to fake it and let people praise your fake qualities, and how well you fake things.

It’s much, much easier to buy a hundred five star reviews than to write a book or a story that earns one real five star reviews from someone who just happened to read it.

And I’m sorry, but I’m not fake enough to do that.

“But what if those fake reviews bring you real fans? Isn’t it worth it, then?” (You just know that some MBA jerkwad who sells his “services” to indie authors and has never written a readable story in his shallow plastic life will say this, don’t you?)

No. It is not worth it. Because that won’t happen. People, no matter how many MBAs you hold telling you otherwise, are not stupid. They might (might) be fooled by the first gung-ho, hyperbolic, shallower-than-a-puddle-in-the-desert five-star review. Then they’ll read the story, say “This is crap”, and avoid anything with a review that even remotely reminds them of that first stinker.

So unlike, apparently, a vast host of other indie authors, I will not purchase reviews as part of a “marketing strategy” (again, marketers do this, then wonder why people like me hate their trade with the white hot fury of a thousand suns). Nor for any other purpose.

Free copies to review? Certainly. Paying you to bullshit other people into buying my work? Nope.

Sorry, BookReviewNinja and all you others.


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