It’s tough to make a living writing books. For some of us, it means we do our best to get noticed. For others, well, they cheat.
The problem with cheating is that it’s not done in a vacuum. It hurts consumers, authors, and generally, the entire industry loses trust because of a few bad apples. Fortunately for me, my first published book, Mini Habits, has been very successful. Unfortunately, it made me a target.
I thought that if I were a target, I would receive some malicious 1-star review from competitors. And well, that actually did happen once. Or I thought that people would directly copy my book. That’s happened a few times, too. But there’s a new kind of fraud that’s even worse, because it’s infiltrates the book page itself!
The New Wave Of Review Fraud
Review fraud is nothing new, but there is a new way people are committing review fraud and getting away with it in plain sight.
What’s the problem with leaving other authors one star reviews? It draws a lot of attention, and might get you punished.
What’s the problem with buying fake reviews? That could be sniffed out eventually, by Amazon or by consumers.
But what if there was a way to make it seem like everyone won? What if there was a way to sneak in the trojan horse and bypass the guards? Well, there is, and Amazon is fine with it.
The new wave of review fraud is the five star review—not for your own book, but for competing authors’ books.
Everyone knows that authors love 5-star reviews. Seeing a new 5-star review on your book gives you a nice dopamine boost, as another person is voting “yes” to something you worked hard to create. This was my initial reaction to a particular 5-star review on my book, until I looked at it closely.
The review wasn’t a verified purchase, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But it read like it was fake. I don’t buy reviews, so it wouldn’t make sense to get a fake 5 star review. It read like the person hadn’t actually read my book. Odd.
And then I saw it. There was a transition paragraph that said, “Oh, by the way, there’s this other book that really helped me out,” and then that book was linked to (see screenshot below). It’s completely plausible that someone would find another book to be a great companion. For example, I think the books Habit Stacking and The Willpower Instinct are great companion reads for Mini Habits. So I didn’t worry about it.
The next day I woke up and did my author thing of obsessively checking sales and reviews, and this review had magically leapfrogged to the #1 most helpful spot! That’s when my internal fire alarms sounded. I alerted Amazon about this fishy review and I think they took it down.
But then it happened again, and it disappeared when I fussed about it.
It has just happened a third time, and it links to the same book by the same author. Now, I’m a pretty calm person, but I’m fiercely protective of my book. The content in Mini Habits changed my life and I’m passionate to share it, so when this person attempted to falsely divert attention to his book directly away from mine for the third time, I really took notice.
I looked into it a little more, and found that I was not a lone victim. This person has infiltrated SEVERAL of the top-selling self-help books with the same strategy. I did about 3 minutes of research and notified Amazon that this person was using popular books’ review sections to freely advertise his book.
After a few back and forth discussions in which I felt like a man on death row pleading for them to “just test the DNA,” they kept telling me the same thing:
“This review is within our posted guidelines.”
Victims & Screenshots
Note: While this article is about review fraud, these books and authors are not behind the fraud, they are victims of it because of their books’ success. And if you’re wondering, yes, these reviews are all still up. Amazon apparently sees nothing wrong with this. Do you?
Here’s the pattern you’ll notice:
- First paragraph: praise author’s book to trick people into thinking you’re a real person who has read it
- Second paragraph: slyly transition into talking about your book and link to it
- Artificially upvote it into a highly visible spot
The following seven screenshots are from the Amazon page on 4/11/15. All of them are unverified purchases. If not for putting them all together like this, these reviews are sophisticated enough to trick the average browser. I assume there are more out there:
The Motivation Manifesto → this review is currently #1 overall
It Is Done! → this review is currently #1 overall
Mini Habits → this review is currently #2 overall (UPDATE: Now has 200 upvotes)
Ignore The Guy, Get The Guy → this review is currently #1 overall
The Miracle Morning → this review is currently #2 overall
Choose Yourself → this review is currently #4 overall
How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds → this review is currently #1 overall
What To Do About It
Under every review there’s a button you can click to “report abuse.” Use it if you see it! If enough people complain about this and other cases, Amazon is more likely to change their policy, which, somehow, currently allows for authors to do this.
Share this message with anyone who buys books on Amazon. Be careful about trusting any review that links to another product or book, as that greatly increases the chance of a conflict of interest. Some products make sense to compare, so don’t automatically discount a review if it links to another product.
Amazon wouldn’t listen to me, but they might listen to us. If this blatant deceit bothers you as much as it bothers me, let Amazon know about it. Click on product page and then on customer reviews to send your comments to the right people.