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Amazon.com book reviews routinely faked

Friday, September 07, 2012 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: Amazon.com, book reviews, sock puppets

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(NaturalNews) A group of leading British authors has published a letter in The Daily Telegraph, warning that fake Amazon.com reviews by self-promoting authors may be widespread. The letter came after RJ Ellory, a best-selling crime writer, admitted to faking online book reviews.

In posts under the names "Nicodemus Jones" and "Jelly Bean," Ellory wrote five-star reviews of his own books, calling his award-winner A Quiet Belief in Angels a "modern masterpiece."

"Ignore all the dissenters and naysayers, this book is not trying to be anything other than a great story, brilliantly told," he wrote. "Whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul."

He also wrote one-star reviews of other authors' works. Of Stuart MacBride's Dark Blood he wrote, "Unfortunately this is another in the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old Police procedurals."

Ellory used the same pseudonyms to promote his books in online forums, where he exposed himself by signing the posts "Roger." A fan complained to spy writer Jeremy Duns, who launched an investigation and eventually publicly accused Ellory via Twitter. Ellory confessed.

"I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment that allowed personal opinions to be disseminated in this way and I would like to apologize to my readers and the writing community," he said.

"This is not a personal attack," Dun said, "but I feel very strongly that fellow authors shouldn't write reviews about their own 'magnificent genius' and slate the work of other hard-working writers without clearly declaring who they are.

Ellory is not the first author to admit faking online reviews, a practice known as "sock puppeting." Thriller writer Stephen Leather admitted to publicizing his work using online identities, and award-winning historian Orlando Figes confessed to secretly praising his own work on Amazon while attacking that of rival academics.

Authors react

The authors of the Telegraph letter include 49 British writers, including many who Ellory had targeted with negative reviews. The authors condemn sock puppeting and call for readers to expose authors who engage in the practice.

"These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended online, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers," they wrote. "But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large."

The Crime Writers' Association, of which Ellory is a member, condemned sock puppeting and has launched an investigation into Ellory. Fans of all the authors involved have expressed anger at Ellory and support for the writers he targeted.

MacBride, known for his Logan McRae detective series, downplayed the significance of the attacks.

"It is hard to know what to pity more," he said, "the need to create 'sock-puppets' to big up your own work or to use those same 'sock-puppets' to attack other writers."

Telegraph columnist Christopher Howse noted that sock puppeting is not new -- even Walt Whitman anonymously reviewed his own works -- and expressed doubts that it truly affects reader decisions.

"Now, Mr. Ellory has sold a million books," Howse wrote, "and I do not think he has sold so many because people stumble across one listed on Amazon and read a review by Jelly Bean. 'I was going to buy a Jane Austen, but, now that Mr. Bean says how good A Dark and Broken Heart is, I'll send off for that instead.'"

Even the authors of the Telegraph letter acknowledged that the impact of sock puppeting can easily be minimized.

"Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving, can drown out the phony voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance," they wrote.

Sources for this article include:


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