Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Review integrity, reviewer freedom and pay-for-review marketing

The rise of book-based social networking has spawned some bottom feeders. Top of my list are companies that charge hopeful authors for positive reviews, which are then owned by the company, edited by them and posted mechanically on multiple social networks and commercial sites over the web, on Twitter and so forth.

LibraryThing was hit by one such outfit, who charge $425 for reviews posted to us, as well as Google Books, Fetchbook and (A lower payment gets you on Amazon and some of our competitors.) This organization has posted 94 reviews—$39,950 in theory—and wouldn’t you know, all of them were five-star reviews!*

At the same time, we have nothing against publishers and authors getting their books out there. LibraryThing does that, and although we don’t change anyone anything, we don’t even have a problem with that. Nor we we have a problem with requiring people to review a book—it’s requiring or otherwise producing only favorable reviews that bothers us. We want members and visitors to feel confident that reviews on LibraryThing aren’t manipulation and spam. We want to be a community for readers, not a dumping ground for spam.

Fortunately, this is still a small problem. But it’s not one we’re going to allow. And I’d like to see if I can get other sites to agree.

So I’ve added the following to our Privacy Policy/Terms of Use:

Review integrity

LibraryThing allows members to participate in “book give-away” programs designed to give readers books and foster reviews. But we forbid reviews by or in the service of “pay-for-review” schemes.

The difference is a tricky one, so we have a number of requirements:

  • Reviewers must be free to write what they think. They may not be required or rewarded to write positive reviews—or punished for writing bad ones.
  • Reviewers must own and control their reviews, granting other parties only a non-exclusive license.
  • Reviewers must act on their own volition, cross-posting their review when and where they want. Companies that sell services based on how many sites get reviews are explicitly forbidden from using LibraryThing.
  • Reviewers must not be paid for their reviews, except in free books and similar non-monetary perks.

We are going to be writing to other sites in our space, seeing if we can get anyone else to sign on with these rules, or ones like them.

Come discuss it on Talk.

*I’m going to avoid giving them publicity—all of which is “good.” They have been removed; they were already in violation of our personal and organizational-use rules.

Labels: review integrity, terms of service


Leave a Reply