Thursday, October 11, 2018

Money, Bias, Exploitation and Book Review

On one hand if a book reviewer is paid by the author, they will probably be at least somewhat biased towards giving a positive review rather than a purely accurate one.  This is why paid reviews cannot appear in the customer review section of Amazon books listings.  Although you can certainly pay hundreds for a review and post it as editorial. And payments are fine so long as Amazon is paying for them via the Early Reviewer Program where the idea is that approaching people after purchase somehow eliminates this bias.  (But I have to say, after taking part in many reviewer programs, most people people assume they have to give fake glowing reviews if they are being given a freebie and/or compensated, whether this is actually true or not.)

On the other hand when a book review soliciting service is being paid for, how does it make sense that the only person not seeing any of the money is the person doing the work?  Programs that organize the exchange of ARCs for reviews often charge a significant amount and make a little money--I assume--in the process.  And in my socialist little heart it seems odd to build a profitable business on a volunteer activity.

And if the solution is to offer books to people for whom access to the book is more than enough compensation, doesn't this introduce the bias of salting the book listing with gushing praise from super-fans who don't really represent the typical consumer experience?  Because if so, any kind of organized coordination between publishers and reviewers is ultimately going to result in "invalid" reviews.

And is it magically money that is the root of all evil?  On Netgalley the key to getting your pick of books is having reviews featured and being put on auto-approve lists.  Something that is unlikely to happen if your tone is overly critical or your star ratings under 4/5.  And while Amazon rules do also suggest you cannot "require" a review in return for a book many of the book review services--such as Hidden Gems--track whether you post to Amazon and are probably going to cut you off if you don't.

And in many cases, can anyone even really tell if the reviewer is being paid or not? For example while the Paranormal Romance Guild is a non-profit, they charge for membership and one of the benefits is reviews--cross posted to Amazon.  The site is not specific about whether any of the membership money goes into the reviewer's pocket either directly or by dint of wearing multiple hats at the organization.

I am sure most of us have decided where to draw the line on what's fair in love and reviews, but while the rules may change the biases remain the same.  And while one of these biases is to give glowing reviews even to crap books if compensation is offered, the other is to make money off the free labor of volunteers.  And given that those volunteers have to be incentivised somehow--don't we end up just concealing the problem rather than addressing it?

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