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Would you buy a book review?

Did you read The New York Times article about paid book reviews this week?

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” explained how book marketing entrepreneur Todd Rutherford netted as much as $28,000 a month selling book reviews to authors. Rutherford — and his clients — knew that the average consumer is influenced by reviews, but isn’t sophisticated enough to realize that those reviews can be bought and sold.

Rutherford is one smart dude, isn’t he?

Is this ethical?

His business folded because of issues with Google and other troublesome factors, but its temporary success brings up important book marketing questions for authors: How do you feel about paid book reviews? Are they ethical? Acceptable? A reasonable marketing tactic?

Personally, while I understand the impact and importance of favorable reader reviews, I think it’s unethical and misleading to purchase them. It’s false advertising. You’re influencing a consumer’s purchase by pretending that someone just like them bought the book, read it, and liked it enough to post a glowing review on Amazon.com. But that’s not the truth.  So how is that an honest tactic?

I wonder if John Locke, one of the top-selling authors on Amazon, thinks this is ethical. On the one hand, he must, because he spent thousands to secure 300 reviews, according to the Times. On the other hand, he omitted this information from his popular e-book on how he became a best-selling author, How I Sold One Million E-Books.

Surely, those paid reviews contributed to his success. If he was comfortable with his decision to buy reviews (although he didn’t require them to be positive), wouldn’t he have detailed that tactic in his how-to book?

Locke told The New York Times, “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful.”

How do you feel about it?

While you can’t purchase the review you want from Rutherford’s GettingBookReviews.com anymore, you can still generate reader reviews with other sites and services (Kirkus Reviews, for example, will sell you a review). Get advice on how to do that in one of my more popular blog posts, “Where to find online book reviewers.”

So, tell me: How do you feel about purchased book reviews? Do you, like so many, think they are ethical? Or, like me, do you think it’s a misleading marketing tactic? I’d love to see your opinion here. Please comment.

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  1. I think paying for a book review is like believing the words of a “yes man” in a star’s entourage.
    It seems to me that their purpose in writing the review is other than to inform honestly.
    I think that it is a disservice to the public and the author (who, unless a reviewer is just plain nasty, can probably learn and grow from a good & thoughtful review).

    1. Thanks, Karin. I have always been a bit jaded about reader reviews, but now I’ll give them even less credibility. (Unfortunately.)


  2. I have to admit I LOVE the reviews that my book has gotten on Amazon. But they were not paid for or from “yes men”. Hard for someone else to decide how much credence to give them. But in this case I know… and appreciate every one I got!

  3. Define “buy.” I have no problem giving a free ebook to someone who wants to read and review it, but paying someone for a review just feels too smarmy. Whether it’s a good business practice (or NOT), I couldn’t do it. …makes me want to shower just thinking about it.

    1. Sherry, I’m using the definition from the NYT article — you pay a service to post positive reviews. Thanks for sharing your opinion!


  4. On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with folks making a living with ethical reviews either. A quality review is, after all, well-written. Shouldn’t quality review writers have the ability to make money from their writing, too?

    Paying a writer directly for a review is smarmy, but there are other ways for professional review writers to profit from their time and effort. They can ethically monetize a web site with their reviews by using ads and affiliate links.

    Oh, and I have to say, Amazon’s addition of the “verified purchase” confirmation is nice. It at least adds a little credibility to the review.

  5. Sandy,

    I do not believe it is ethical to pay for book reviews. One of the ways I support good books is to write a customer review on Amazon. I’ve written over 380 customer reviews. No one has paid me for those reviews and I give my honest opinion about them–mostly positive because I want to write about good books. Many times my reviews are one of the few that are out there for a book.

    1. You’re setting a wonderful example for the rest of us, Terry. Let’s start a campaign for all readers to do more of that!


  6. Awesome post, Sandy! It never occured to me that people are PAYING for reviews of their book! Paying for a review is not fair to the consumers. It is one thing if someone works for the NYTimes as a book reviewer and is paid by the NYTimes to write book reviews…it is quite another if I write a book and actively pay people to review my book.

    Thanks again, Sandy…you always provide thought-provoking posts.

    1. Just to add, Sandy…it’s almost like buying hundreds of copies of one’s own book to give it “best-seller” status.

      Vivian Kirkfield
      Author of “Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking”…which has NO paid-for reviews. 😉

      1. Exactly, Vivian! And as you know, I’m not a fan of those contrived best-seller campaigns!

        It’s exciting to see a quality book like yours do so well w/out these misleading tricks. Big congrats to you!


  7. Not ethical, not fair, and not something I would do. But too often success is borne of immoral tactics and money talks much too loudly these days. The practice of buying whatever one can for any self serving motive is why America is suffering, We have lost our values and buying a book review fits right in with our moral deficit.

  8. Utterly unethical, and it’s also sad that people have no faith in their own work. If you don’t, why are you doing it? Seems like an empty endeavor, just like plagiarism. Where’s the pride in doing something well that comes from you? If you do that, it’s likely that at least some people will like it and be willing to say so publicly. Sad state of affairs, but it’s rampant, I’m afraid, and not just with books. I’ve been asked to write reviews of all sorts of products for payment. I don’t even respond to those requests because it’s ridiculous and renders the entire review system unreliable.

    1. Melanie, I think that many times, authors buy buckets of reviews not because they don’t have faith in their work, but because it’s an easy way to get a large number of reader reviews that influence book buyers on sites like Amazon. It’s simply easier to buy a package of, say, 30 “reviews” (they are really more like “comments”) from a service than it is to generate that many reviews from people who have actually read and liked the book.


  9. I have mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, I would never consider paying for a review of my books and never have because it seems dishonest. And, I tend to agree with Joan that this is a reflection of some of the present issues in this country where the only problem with cheating seems to be getting caught.

    On the other hand, a company like Kirkus, who sells a review service that doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome and has been around forever, seems less troubling.

    While I just couldn’t pay for a review and comfortably face my readers, my gut feeling is that the honesty of a review is more important than how it was obtained. So, it seems different if someone paid for an unconditional review or for a guaranteed positive review.

    1. Thanks, Bill. I’m more comfortable with paying Kirkus, which doesn’t guarantee a good review, than I am with buying a package of positive Amazon reviews from people who haven’t read my book.


  10. What about ones that do NOT guarantee a good review, but do charge a minimal fee (I am thinking of one that was $25) and IF they review the book they put it on about 10 review sites? (I am the author of Chimera: 1911 C.E.)

      1. From the research I have done, I have found that some (but not all) reviewers do charge. Not necessarily a lot, but none of the one’s I have check out have said they will give a positive review. In fact, they have said they will give a review period. If they think the book is good, the review will be good; if they think the book is not so good, they will say so. I think it is very hard for new authors to know who they can trust and who they can’t. You just have to do your research and pick people that do NOT guarantee a good review.

        1. Thanks, Virgie. It’s hard for ANY authors to know who to trust.

          Also, true media reviewers don’t charge and are influential, so remember to send review copies to those that make the most sense, including trade publications when appropriate.


          1. Also, just getting reviews is not enough. You still need to keep doing what you can to get the word out to people that the book is available. Use everything you can think of including whatever social media sites you use (FB,Google,etc.), friends, family and anyone else that will help.

  11. I will be the “dissenting” voice here…have any of you gone out an actually tried to get your book reviewed in a newspaper lately, or a magazine?…next to impossible with shrinking pages and shrinking editorial staffs and also those reviewers who look “down” their noses on self-publihsed authors. To read about how “unethical” a paid review is bothersme to me…but in the real world getting a book review beyond friends leaving glowing ones on Amazon for you is next to trying to scale Mt. Everest


    1. Al, that’s one reason why I push authors to think past reviews when promoting their books. Most of us aren’t going to get reviews, good or bad, w/out paying for them. Whether you want to pay is a matter of personal choice. What works for you might not work for me and vice versa.


  12. Sandy,

    I am against paying for reviews, even to those “reviewers” who do not guaranty a positive review. They must realize that supplying favorable reviews is in their own economic interest, as their “business” would dry up if authors came to realize that they were paying for what might turn out to be neutral or unfavorable reviews. Such reviewers would be as unpopular with their clients as stock market analysts would be with the companies they cover if they issued a lot of “sell” recommendations.

    As an author, I would not like to offer my potential readers tainted information, anymore than, as a reader, I would want to be basing my book-buying decisions on tainted information.

    I apologize for being so long-winded.


    1. Thanks, Peter. I know exactly what you’re saying. I’m with you — I’m not comfortable doing it either for so many reasons — but I think it’s a very personal decision. In my case, it’s about “authenticity,” but I’ve noticed that others see it as a marketing tactic that’s perfectly acceptable.

      It’s good to hear from you!


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