“Many of the 300 reviews he bought through GettingBookReviews were highly favorable, although it’s impossible to say whether this was because the reviewers genuinely liked the books, or because of their well-developed tendency toward approval, or some combination of the two.”
Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”
There is a special place in Hell for John Locke. If you don’t know who John Locke is, last year Amazon.com announced that Locke was the first self-published author to hit the one million ebook sales mark. An impressive feat on the surface. Almost as soon as the press release was announced, Locke released his bestselling How I Sold a Million eBooks in Five Months. Apparently, he left out his biggest secret.
The New York Times ran an article regarding review mills, and in it we discovered that Mr. Locke spent thousands of dollars buying reviews. Not only did he buy reviews, but he actively sought to game the Amazon review system by asking the paid reviews to buy a copy of the book (for reimbursement) on Amazon so that the review would show up as a verified purchases to increase their perceived legitimacy.
I’ve talked extensively about the need for
When something like this goes public, it shatters any faith readers have in the review system. Authors who bust their asses trying to get reviews legitimately suddenly find customers don’t trust their positive reviews. Authors who sold tons of copies honestly suddenly find naysayers questioning whether or not they “bought” their rank. It won’t hurt Locke: he’s still got too many defenders and cheerleaders who NEED him to be their hero. It will instead hurt the honest writers struggling to build a fanbase or to get a handful of reviews on Amazon.
What I would like to see is for Amazon.com to bring down the hammer of Locke. If Amazon.com actually removed his books from his site for TOS violations, it would send a huge message not only to other authors that try to game the system, but to all of the honest writers as well. It would be saying “We have too much respect for our hard-working indie authors to allow people like this to discredit you all.” If Amazon actually took action, it would tell authors and readers that they care about the integrity of their review system and help restore trust in it.
Because, ultimately, none of us can be successful in an environment where the consumers don’t trust us. If every review is suspect, if our sales ranks appear rigged, if the court of public opinion turns on us and decides we are not worth their respect, we will fail. Ethical behavior is not just a pretty thought or an inconvenience. It is an essential component for the health and long-term success of the independent movement. If we allow people like Locke to get away with gaming the system, we will be the ones that lose.