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When someone buys a book, they're committing their time and money to that buying decision. That is probably why reviews are one of the first things people take into consideration when buying a book today. Nobody wants to get half-way through a title before they realize it was a waste of their time. And when the money could have been spent on a more worthwhile book, it's no wonder book lovers pay attention to reviews. When a recommendation is made by a trusted reviewer, consumers can feel more confident in their buying decision.
There are basically two types of reviewers: people in the general public who post their personal reviews on websites such as Amazon and Good Reads . . . and literary reviewers who have created a following of people who trust their reviews.
In recent years both aforementioned review types have been under some sort of scrutiny for varying reasons. First we'll touch on the personal reviews. A few years back a book review site called GettingBookReviews.com (which is now inactive) began offering services to provide paid reviews for authors. Basically, for a price, people employed by GettingBookReviews.com would go to a book's Amazon page and post a review (or in many cases, multiple reviews). In 2010, author John Locke earned a great deal of negative publicity for having employed the services of GettingBookReviews.com in order to gain greater exposure for his new book. Apparently, at the time when Locke purchased these reviews he told the review company he did not expect all reviews posted by the service to be positive. So some might say there's no harm in what Locke did.
But that's where the question of credibility comes into play. Many would argue that when a review is bought and paid for, it stands to reason those reviewers may feel compelled to provide a more positive opinion (especially considering that negative reviews might hinder their chances of future paid opportunities). On the flip side, when individuals simply take it upon themselves to share their personal opinion, without the benefit of compensation, it might be safer to assume they are doing so simply to provide their honest opinion. In 2012, Amazon presumably decided to crack down on some less-than-credible reviews when they deleted thousands from their site without offering any explanation for having done so. Amazon now states they do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a when they have a directly competing product - that includes authors.
There was a time when paid reviews were considered to be entirely unethical and were simply not done. Yet, some long-standing and highly trusted reviewers, such as ForeWord, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, are now back-pedaling on that stance. This is most likely a result of the recent onslaught of self published titles being released. In the past, most established review sites would not review self published books. This is because, to put it bluntly, the majority of those titles are poorly done. Reviewers need to make the best use of their time, and wading through piles of self published garbage is simply not feasible. However, there are some self published books out there that are highly deserving of praise. Accordingly, some review sites are now offering a paid review option. From a business standpoint, this makes sense (Kirkus charges a whopping $425 fee for standard reviews, or $575 for express reviews).
Because reviews help sell books, authors, especially the oft ignored self published variety, may feel the fee is well worth a guarantee that their book will be given a fighting chance. Supposedly a guarantee of a review from these sites does not also guarantee a positive and glowing recommendation. So, authors need to know that even after paying through the nose, they still stand the risk of getting feedback that may not be positive. But for those willing to fork over some cash and possibly take some knocks, some may feel that a paid review is worthwhile. The fact remains however, that many people consider paid reviews to be dishonest. As the ethical lines of paid book reviews continue to blur, consumers are not as trusting as they once were. So even if a paid review site sings praises of your book in a well-deserved recommendation, potential readers may not be as likely to trust the review if they believe it was bought and paid for.