Gaming the System With Bogus Amazon Reviews

We all know it happens; companies and authors post bogus reviews of their products and books on Amazon. Generally, this is not a big deal, but there are times when it’s obvious that a concerted effort has been made to submit a number of 5-star reviews to make an item look better than it is, or at least to get more attention.

It started with last night’s Daily Show, where the guest was one Edward Conard, former partner at Bain Capital, and author of Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong. As is sometimes the case with wonky subjects, Jon Stewart had the interview continue after the show, and the entire interview is available on the web; some 40 minutes. I found Conard interesting; while I don’t agree with a lot of what he said, at least he was trying to explain some of his opinions on the economy from the point of view of a member of the 1%.

So I went to Amazon to look at the book, and saw there were many 5-star reviews. When I read them, however, they all had the same vapid, vague contents, that said the book was good, but without saying very much. If you run a blog, you certainly see this type of comment spam; comments that are designed just to create user accounts, while saying nothing of substance, but being vague enough so that you might think they are real. These reviews were similar. Here’s one example:

You can’t always believe what you hear on the news. Unintended Consequences confirms this by supplying the type of wisdom needed when it comes to the economy. It is a remarkable view of what has happened to get us to this point, and where we go from here.

And another:

I found Unintended Consequences to be a challenging look at the current opinion of America’s financial crisis. There are some very interesting views on how we arrived at this point, and they are bound cause a stir. Whether you agree with these view or not, they are going to get people talking!

These reviews could be blurbs on the book’s jacket. They say nothing substantial, and are clearly just fluff.

Looking further – clicking the “See all my reviews” links for some of the authors – I saw how all of these people had only ever written one or two reviews, all equally vague, and all around the same date.

So for this book, the publisher – Portfolio Books, an imprint of Penguin – didn’t want to let the market do its thing. No, they wanted to game the system, just like this author probably did in has work with Bain Capital. I certainly hope that Amazon will do something about these reviews.

As it turns out, Mr. Conard lives up to his name. (At least, what that name means in French, with a double n. I’ll let my readers look that up.)