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Pay-for-review schemes

Early Reviewers

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1timspalding
Edited: Mar 10, 2009, 12:30am Top

There is a rising tide of pay-for-review sites. I'm not going to *link* to any—links are good for search-engine rank—but if you take "reader" and add "view" and then a ".com" you'll get one.

I think it's worth thinking about what the ethics of the thing should be. LibraryThing's early-reviewer program does something like this, obviously. Publishers give us books. At one point we tried to get publishers to pay for it--as they pay Amazon--and then decided that, although we could make low thousand a month doing that, it was better to have more books.

So, we are doing this, or something like it. And we encourage people to post the review wherever else they want. But I must say, the idea of authors paying for reviews—from reviewers who are sometimes themselves paid—and then having them "posted" on dozens of sites, under what must be bogus names... well, it creeps me out.

My proposal is that a code of ethics--matching what LibraryThing has. The code would be enforced by sites like LibraryThing insofar as they should refuse reviews from anyone who:

1. Is paid by the author or publisher to review a book. (Obviously being paid by the NYT Book Review is different.)
2. Does not own their review, beyond the usual non-exclusive license for the site, publisher and author to use it.
3. Is not promised editorial freedom--that a bad review will have no consequences for getting paid, or getting future reviews.

I'd also consider:

4. The review should mention its origin, unless the mention is against the site's terms of use.

I'm not sure how to deal with the real-user problem. I'm fine with an LT member who gets books from HaperCollins or Amazon Vines also posting their review here. But I don't want people signing up for LibraryThing in order to dump a paid review on the site.

2KingRat
Edited: Mar 10, 2009, 1:07am Top

On a site that is supposed to have user reviews only, there should be no paid reviews at all, unless the following are disclosed:

a) the payment(s) amount(s)
b) who paid it
c) the relationship between the payer, the payee, and anyone associated with publishing the book.

Edited to add: this includes a freelancer who gets paid by the NY Times or whoever for their book report.

3reading_fox
Mar 10, 2009, 6:19am Top

the big problem is I think Tim's 3 or even people who suspect their review might effect what future reviews they are asked to provide.

I have in principle, no problems with people being paid to review a book. There is at least the expectation that they will have fully read the book (not an assumption one can make about all user reviews) and that they will take some effort over what they write (again not the case for user reviews). Hence I would be happy to find such reviews on LT - in effect all LT users are getting 'professional' reviews for free.

But I would expect the reviewee to identify their conflicts of interest.

I would be unhappy if people we being paid per site the review was posted on, that would make LT a bit of dumping ground.

I can certainyl see the ground fro refusing reviews in Tim's 2. As LT uses such reviews in LTfL the writer must own the review, and allow LT to also make use of it.

4mckait
Mar 10, 2009, 6:58am Top

Do you consider vine a paid review? You only get a book, like ER..and post an honest review...

5gwendolyndawson
Edited: Mar 10, 2009, 9:30am Top

To me, the real issue is not whether the reviewer is paid. Really, in an indirect way, all of us who receive free books in exchange for reviews are getting paid. The real issue is Tim's editorial freedom point (#3). Without editorial freedom, the review is nothing more than an advertisement, and a fraudulent one at that since it's purporting to be an honest user review. So, I would ban all reviews that do not have complete editorial freedom, but I wouldn't ban reviews that were paid for. Freelance book reviewers might make a few hundred dollars for a review, and that fact doesn't mean the review isn't honest.

6daisy32
Mar 10, 2009, 11:34am Top

I agree with gwendolyndawson. Payment is not the issue as far as I'm concerned. Newspapers employ book reviewers. So do magazines. Personally, I'd love to review books for a local paper or a national magazine. There's nothing wrong with writing for pay -- heck, a lot of us dream of being able to do it someday.
Editorial control is the big issue, absolutely. And for what it's worth, that situation can occur in even non-pay situations. I won't name names, but as a librarian, I've reviewed books for several professional journals for the purpose of collection development (in other words, very short reviews that are basically to let other librarians know whether they should add a book to their collections or not). I'm never paid for any of these reviews; it's more of a professional activity. (I'm sure there are other librarians onsite who do the same.) And yet I had to quit writing for one of these journals because they insisted on controlling my content to a degree I was not comfortable with. I submitted an unfavorable review of a book (it deserved it) and my editor rewrote it as favorable. I said, if you print that, you need to take my byline off it. There was much arguing back and forth, and the upshot was that I quit. Again, all of this was for an unpaid review.

7lilithcat
Edited: Mar 10, 2009, 11:51am Top

> 5 & 6

I think you are missing the issue Tim raises. It's not whether the reviewer is paid, it's who does the paying.

He says "1. Is paid by the author or publisher to review a book. (Obviously being paid by the NYT Book Review is different.)"

That allows for the freelancers gwendolyndawson mentions and book reviewers employed by a journal or newspapers.

The problem with reviews paid for by the author or publisher is that there is a built-in conflict of interest.

8DanaJean
Mar 10, 2009, 11:55am Top

Wait...wait...wait...Let's back this train up a few posts.

>gwendolyndawson says, "Freelance book reviewers might make a few hundred dollars for a review..."

One review gets "a few hundred dollars?" One? No massage on the side or anything like that? Just for writing a review? I mean, I knew reviewers earned a living, but for one review they can make that kind of money?

That's it! I need an agent. Oh, and I need to take some writing lessons. And then I've got to actually sucker someone into hiring me....

9KingRat
Mar 10, 2009, 8:06pm Top

>5 gwendolyndawson: all of us who receive free books in exchange for reviews are getting paid.

Yup. And I've seen all sorts of book bloggers and reviewers freak out over the possibility of getting cut off from their sources of free books over a bad review. Just follow the ARC Junkies LT group for a while to see how much book bloggers will prostrate themselves for free books or getting author interviews or guest blog posts from authors or whatever. Their reviews are hardly independent, though I'm sure they think they are. They don't really have independent editorial control.

One of the reasons why I think disclosure is important is that I want to be the person who evaluates whether or not I think a review has independence or not. If you leave it up to a reviewer, they are going to say "well of course I have independence, despite ..." If it's the NY Times paying them, I might credit their independence. If it's a promoter, I might not. But I want the disclosure to evaluate myself.

On my blog, I disclose the source of every free review copy with the review, whether it be the author, a promoter, or the publisher. I think I'm independent, but you can judge for yourself.

10stephmo
Mar 10, 2009, 8:38pm Top

But it's more than free promotional copies and swag - it's getting paid to pose as a regular person to review things.

The Consumerist posts articles regularly on this practice. The link goes to Belkin's rather embarrassing posts on job sites looking for individuals to post positive reviews. The pay is as low as it is because it's aimed at the overseas market.

This is how bad it really is - this is not necessarily someone getting a free book in hopes of a good review. It's flat-out it's your job to write good reviews of this stuff. You don't even have to be remotely familiar with the product to write the review. This is what some companies have figured out.

Of course, there are Rewards. Again, The Consumerist, but they published a story on Royal Caribbean's supposed "viral marketing" campaign which was really encouraging their Brand Advocates to post on sites (especially Cruise Critic) about how awesome Royal Caribbean was - from a "regular cruise goers" standpoint, of course. (The first rule of RC's RC Champions is that there are no Champions.) Rewards? Free cruises.

Not everything gets passed along to the consumers, though. Sometimes, your hard work is for the benefit of a site (allegedly). Right now, there are some rumors floating about that just maybe Yelp has found an alternative revenue stream where your business's best reviews can be highlighted in exchange for buying ad space on the site...

Basically, as companies figure out how to sneak in positive reviews that look like "real" people, it makes the whole idea of peer reviews worthless. This is what's dangerous about not disclosing these sorts of things. If peer reviews become worthless, these small rewards will no longer be worth passing along - if the recipient would be viewed as a fraud, what would the use be?

Of course, folks are fighting back because they don't want to lose the opinions of decent and real people. The bad news is that the rather hilarious call-outs are gone on that story if you follow the links. The good news? The reviewer's reviews are gone. :)

11ThePam
Mar 10, 2009, 8:57pm Top

Tim, perhaps "Independent Reviewers" could have a code of ethics AND an insignia that they could display.

There would have to be a board of some sort, unfortunately, which would scrutinize members AND defend the copyright of the insignia.

That's more or less how many organic coops began.

12timspalding
Mar 11, 2009, 9:52am Top

For me, it's not really the money so much as the side effects. If ARCs came with a $10 bill in them, I wouldn't care.

But I'm creeped out by a service that will post your review on LibraryThing, Goodreads and Amazon for $200, and on two other sites for $300. These "posts" must be from "zombie" users. I don't want people setting up accounts on LT just to post paid reviews. Isn't that creepy?

13ablachly
Mar 11, 2009, 10:00am Top

It seems dirty and spammy.

14bell7
Mar 11, 2009, 10:18am Top

Just curious - is there a way you can tell if it's just an individual copying & pasting a review on a couple of different sites or if they're a paid service? For example, I usually post essentially the same review on LibraryThing, Goodreads, and my blog because I don't want to think of a new way to say the same thing. Would it be a better practice not to do so, even though I own the review and am not getting paid?

15timspalding
Mar 11, 2009, 10:27am Top

In theory, you can't. In practice, I think you can. These services post their reviews on their site, for example.

I think we should work toward a code-of-review ethics that gets included in the LT TOS.

16daisy32
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 11:06am Top

14 - Good question. I do the same thing. I post my reviews here and my blog, at the very least, but some of them are on Amazon, too -- and they get picked up & used everywhere, then.

7 - You're right, there's a definitely difference regarding who is doing the paying. I suppose it's just that I think the root of the problem is editorial control. Those people being paid to write good reviews have no editorial control. People paid to write reviews, good or bad, do. A lot of people who don't get paid have full editorial control, but what I was bringing up is that there are situations where they don't. I'm just looking at it that way, but fundamentally I agree with you.

17bostonbibliophile
Mar 11, 2009, 11:32am Top

People being paid by authors, publishers or publicists to write good reviews are really just writing ads. It seems like the crux of the problem is how to distinguish honest reviews from ads and how to guard against ads in forums like LT where the presumption is that all reviews are honest. Disclosure is a good place to start, then, as KingRat says, readers can decide for themselves how much credibility to give a review or a reviewer.

18AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 11:41am Top

I really don't understand the objection to posting the same review on different sites, or why anyone would assume that multiple reviews of the same book by the same person on different sites must be posted by "zombies" or "sock puppets".

I myself have an account here, on Amazon, Smashwords, Twitter, Facebook, Barnes & Noble, GoogleBooks, Authorsbookshop, IndieBound, and plenty more sites. If I write an honest review, what's wrong with me posting that review on all those different sites?

As an indie author, I can tell you it's a struggle to get reviews, but it's a bigger struggle still to get those reviews wide exposure. While I appreciate every review, it can be frustrating to get a glowing review on a certain blog or site and still have your Amazon listing---arguably, the most important review site in terms of enticing buyers---devoid of any reviews whatsoever. What would be so "creepy" about paying to have a given review multi-posted all over the web by the person or organization that wrote it? After all, it does take that person or organization some time and trouble to make those postings---which may be the reason most of them don't automatically multi-post their reviews.

I also don't understand why a review from an organization of reviewers isn't just as valid and fair as a review from a named individual, whether the author pays for the review or not. If anything, I'd think paying for a review from an organization gives authors and readers further assurance that the review is honest because individual reviewers can be frank in their assessments without any risk of personal backlash. So long as the author agrees to terms up front that specify the review will be honest, that there's no guarantee the review will be positive, I can see no problem in people charging for reviews nor charging to multi-post those reviews for widest possible exposure.

19DevourerOfBooks
Mar 11, 2009, 11:52am Top

18> In theory I would agree with you.

Part of the problem with some of these services is that they don't post the reviews honestly. I used to review for the organization Tim mentioned in the first post, until I found some of my reviews on Amazon. The problem was not that they were on Amazon, I knew they'd put them there. Nor was the problem that they changed anything in my negative review. However, they posted as a 4-star review the books I gave 1 or 2 stars, which is extremely misleading to those who only look at star rating and don't read the reviews.

When I pointed it out to my contact there, she said something to the effect of, "oh, I've got no idea how that happened, I'll have so and so deal with it." I decided to wait to request anything else from them until they fixed it. Since it has been about 6 months, I will not be requesting anything from them again. Although, as far as I know, my reviews from that company only made it onto LT where I posted them, warts and all, to my own account with the note that they had been originally reviewed for the organization.

20reading_fox
Mar 11, 2009, 11:52am Top

"I'd think paying for a review from an organization gives authors and readers further assurance that the review is honest because individual reviewers can be frank in their assessments without any risk of personal backlash. So long as the author agrees to terms up front that specify the review will be honest, that there's no guarantee the review will be positive"
That's the crux though. If you are recieving money for a review, you may well think that a good review is likely to increase your chances of recieving more money in future, and vice versa for a bad review.

If we the readers saw the " no guarantee the review will be positive," claim attached to it, that would be better.

As LT at least requires you to go to the effort of adding the books, and caps the number of free books I would expect we're already limiting the number of sockpuppet reviewers.

21AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 11:59am Top

>20 reading_fox:
Why would positive reviews tend to get that reviewer any more "business" if he/she is part of a reviewer organization? If I ran such an organization, I wouldn't care if a given review is positive or negative, and would assign books to reviewers based on criteria that have nothing to do with the positive/negative ratio of reviews for a given reviewer. It would have more to do with matching books to reviewers who have expressed an interest in that type of book.

Anyway, since the individual reviewer's name would not appear on the review, it wouldn't be possible for authors to try and stack the deck by asking for a specific reviewer by name when they observe a certain reviewer seems to give mostly positive reviews.

>19 DevourerOfBooks:
Again, if I'm running such an organization of reviewers, I would have no motivation to artificially inflate ratings on Amazon or elsewhere. In my view, having a reasonable mix of positive AND negative reviews would be key to maintaining such an organization's legitimacy in the eyes of the reading public. And if the reading public doesn't trust your org's reviews, those reviews are worthless. By extension, your service becomes worthless.

22DevourerOfBooks
Mar 11, 2009, 12:07pm Top

>21 AprilHamilton:,

If you were running an organization, then, I'd request to be one of your reviewers. The problem Tim's addressing is that many of these companies don't run like that. Most of the reading publish doesn't know enough about Review Company X to know if their reviews are any good or not, because they just look on Amazon, see the star rating, and buy the book, they don't look into the background of everyone who rated that book. Those higher star ratings then give the company as a whole more business, because they know their book will receive a higher rating places where it matters.

23AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 12:23pm Top

>21 AprilHamilton:
I don't run such an organization yet, but I am seriously considering forming one. I am the founder of Publetariat dot com, an online news hub and community for indie authors, and as I said before, we all struggle to get reviews and get those reviews wide exposure. I'm thinking about this as a possible service to offer Publetariat's audience.

My email address is in my LT profile; anyone who would be interested in being involved in what I'm proposing here as a reviewer, please contact me.

24stephmo
Mar 11, 2009, 12:23pm Top

>14 bell7: I think one of the major clues is that a review raves without ever really saying anything. Think boilerplate.

These are the ones that folks seem to find regularly now and report as being bought and paid for by companies - and they get posted ad naseum over and over.

>15 timspalding: I'd like to see an LT Code of Ethics for Reviews, but...well, what would come of it?

When I do CK entry, I see a TON of flagged reviews. I come across the "not a reviews" that include summaries copied directly from catalog sites (they even say so), the plagarized reviews that are flagged for TOS violations but still visible because there aren't enough flags and while I can add an additional flag to a TOS violation or yet another blue flag to a copied public blurb, it does what?

If the code of ethics had teeth of some sort - and not just the "4 flags and you're no longer visible" sort - it would be worth while. But the truth is that some books are obscure and won't find 4 people willing to flag the plagarized review to hide it. We also never see the original person who's done this dozens - and in some cases, hundreds - of times notified that they're doing something that's not helpful or cool.

Of course, copying would have to be strictly defined (as in "not your original work"). I have this fear that the only people that would be "busted" regularly would be folks that do copy to their blogs or other sources. I regularly copy reviews from 43T/AllConsuming for one segment of books I read because it's part of a goal. I'd prefer not to write two sets of reviews just to avoid some appearance of doing something bad.

>18 AprilHamilton: I think the issue is not so much that you legitimately were reviewed for pay so much as it is that you paid to have someone review it sight unseen -or- that you paid to have it reviewed positively, regardless of the reviewer's reaction to the material.

25ablachly
Mar 11, 2009, 12:52pm Top

>14 bell7:
I don't think there's anything wrong with an individual cross-posting their reviews to Amazon, Goodreads, their blog, LT, etc. It's your review, post it wherever you want! It's when a company is paying someone to post content that they've paid to write that it seems dirty to me.

>18 AprilHamilton: "
I also don't understand why a review from an organization of reviewers isn't just as valid and fair as a review from a named individual, whether the author pays for the review or not. If anything, I'd think paying for a review from an organization gives authors and readers further assurance that the review is honest because individual reviewers can be frank in their assessments without any risk of personal backlash.


I think this is partially where it gets spammy. I would think that most reviewers want credit for what they've written, especially if it's going to be posted around the web. If the review is just credited to an organization/group, then the review is just written for the pay. Which makes it lose some of its honesty, I think.

26AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 1:32pm Top

>25 ablachly:
But ablachly, aren't Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus reviews posted under the names of those orgs (or under "staff reviewer")? And aren't those reviewers being paid to write and post their reviews? If you don't think that's "dirty", how is what I'm proposing any different?

Anyway, in what I'm proposing the individual reviewer would get a fee for his or her services, but the organization's administrator would be the one posting all the reviews on various sites.

And again, doesn't crediting reviews to the reviewing org instead of the individual reviewer offer the reviewer protection from personal backlash, and therefore give the reviewer more freedom to be perfectly honest?

27timspalding
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 1:44pm Top

> I really don't understand the objection to posting the same review on different sites, or why anyone would assume that multiple reviews of the same book by the same person on different sites must be posted by "zombies" or "sock puppets".

You don't understand it, or you don't agree with it? You think that the readers will be normal, honest participants in LibraryThing, Goodreads, Shelfari, Findabook and whatever else the author is willing to pay for? There may be a few people--mostly industry people, like you--who maintain all those accounts. I don't think it's a typical pattern.

> What would be so "creepy" about paying to have a given review multi-posted all over the web by the person or organization that wrote it?

If someonebody wants to make multiple pages on multiple web sites, more power to them. But sites like LibraryThing are *communities*. You don't pretend to belong to communities you aren't actually a part of. It undermines the bonds of trust and attention that make a community work. Think of a real-work example--signing up for neighborhood parents groups all over town so that you could show up and hock the toys you manufacture. LibraryThing isn't a "place to post." It is a community of readers.

>It's when a company is paying someone to post content that they've paid to write that it seems dirty to me.

DevourerOfBooks: Did you post it multiple places? I susect you didn't--you turned in your review and then they posted it hither and yon. Right? April, you don't have a problem with that either, right?

28DevourerOfBooks
Mar 11, 2009, 2:03pm Top

Tim,
I posted it on my blog and here, because that's what I do with all of my reviews, not because they wanted me to do so and exactly as I gave it to them, so they couldn't change anything. They then posted it Amazon and probably other places too, but that's the only one they told me about. I became disillusioned rather quickly.

29infiniteletters
Mar 11, 2009, 2:08pm Top

I think the problem is not purely the pay for review. The problem is "pay for positive reviews". I've seen plenty of books panned in professional journals (Publishers Weekly), after all.

30AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 2:16pm Top

Tim -
Anyone who was part of the proposed review group would know going in that their review will be posted in multiple locations, under the aegis of the organization. If the reviewers agree to that going in, why should they *or* I have a problem with it? There's nothing sneaky or underhanded going on there.

RE: the community aspect, I think many people see sites like LT, GoodReads and Shelfari primarily as sources of unbiased reviews. There are plenty who go above and beyond that limited view to become involved with the discussions, groups and so forth, but you must know that much of your site traffic comes from non-members who are just seeking honest book reviews when deciding whether or not to buy a given book. So long as the reviews being posted are honest, why is it a problem for them to be posted by a reviewer organization here or on any similar sites?

When I first joined LT I saw a recurring theme on the discussion boards, in which established members didn't fully welcome new members in discussion groups until those new members had contributed to the community by posting some book reviews. That leads me to think the reviews are actually valued much more highly than the social interaction here.

31ForeignCircus
Mar 11, 2009, 2:19pm Top

hmmm...I post my reviews on my blog, here at LT, on Amazon and on Goodreads, and I suspect there are a lot of folks here who post to multiple websites because we are slightly book-obsessed and like finding groups of like-minded people. I'm not getting paid for the reviews, and I do post negative reviews when I don't like a book. I am not sure I have a point, other than that there are folks here who are genuine contributing members of multiple book communities online, and post basically the same reviews on all of them.

32readafew
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 2:45pm Top

When I first joined LT I saw a recurring theme on the discussion boards, in which established members didn't fully welcome new members in discussion groups until those new members had contributed to the community by posting some book reviews. That leads me to think the reviews are actually valued much more highly than the social interaction here.

I think you completely missed the point. By requesting reviews of new members ESPECIALLY authors, it is more a rite of initiation to prove you're not just spamming us trying to sell your book. Most of us are extremely against being treated as another revenue stream.

'Be my friend' so when we talk about your book, it's not a sales pitch but interest in a friends life. See the difference?

33timspalding
Mar 11, 2009, 2:50pm Top

LibraryThing is much more hostile to spamming, mostly author spamming, than similar sites. I think this goes with the audience. A free site with most 20-somethings and ads all over the place is used to a lot of "noise." A paid site with a wider diversity of ages and no adds is a different sort of environment.

34AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 2:50pm Top

But readafew, I saw this sort of thing long before I was accepted as an LT author, and I've seen it directed at new members in general, not just authors.

And please consider the flipside...I think it's very unfair that all LT members who happen to also be authors are frequently assumed to be here only to promote their books from the off, even if they've never 'spammed'. Authors are readers too, you know. =')

35gwernin
Mar 11, 2009, 2:55pm Top

34: But we see so many who are (spammers, that is). And a lot who seem to have no clue that what they're doing is socially unacceptable.

btw, it was my impression that LT was a book cataloging site with social aspects, not a review billboard.

36readafew
Mar 11, 2009, 2:58pm Top

1. I rarely see a call for reviews unless the initiate has posted in such a way as to question their reasons for being here.

2. I never said it was fair Authors often have to jump through extra hoops, it's just the way it is.

3. I remember you joining in before your button and talking about your books and your self started publishing house. You weren't hiding you were an author. Actually getting the button is a first step in being excepted as an 'Author' on the site, it's taking a step in 'joining' in.

37AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 3:27pm Top

Readafew -

1. I accept that this is your experience, but I have seen this sort of thing in my own experience---new members not being warmly welcomed into groups until they've proven their mettle with reviews. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, BTW. I'm just saying it led me to believe the reviews were the most important thing here.

2. I never said you said it was fair. I was just making the point for anyone reading this thread.

3. I do not now, nor have I ever, had a self-started publishing house, but are you saying I should've hidden the fact that I'm an author?

With respect to my books, I make it a point never to talk about them unless it's germane to the discussion---and sometimes, it is. I even go so far as to avoid giving the titles of my books at all in posts here, for fear of the spammer backlash. I just say that anyone who's interested can look them up on Amazon. But judging by your response here, even *that* wasn't deemed a non-spammy level of discourse in your opinion.

As an author, a great deal of my time and effort is taken up with writing, getting my work into print, and then promoting that work. It's the second biggest thing in my life, behind my family. Why should I have to hide the fact that I'm an author, when it is such a big part of who I am? Even if I make it a point not to post promotional messages here or elsewhere, if I'm not allowed to ever talk about my writing and publishing activities at all without being labeled a spammer, how genuine a social relationship can I have with anyone here?

There have been times when I posted a question to try and get a consensus of opinion about something I was working on, and I didn't think that was an abuse of LT; perhaps you feel differently. But if authors are discouraged from reaching out to readers for input on what things those readers do and do not like in books, how are we supposed to make our work more appealing to those readers? Not that I'd write something specifically to please a given reader or demographic, but sometimes I'd like to be able to get early feedback on a particular idea, or title, for a story.

38AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 3:33pm Top

>34 AprilHamilton:
If it's primarily a book cataloging site, why is there so much social pressure being put on everyone here to write reviews of the books in their personal catalog?

Don't tell me you've never seen swipes taken at members on the discussion boards on the basis that they don't have many reviews posted?

The site may not be intended as a "review billboard", but it's clear that the reviews are viewed by LT's own membership as a central function of membership here.

39readafew
Mar 11, 2009, 3:36pm Top

reviews show interest and investment in the community by individuals.

I never said you should hide being an author, I am saying you didn't, so you got the author treatment. Period.

You self publish, my terminology was poor.

40DaynaRT
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 3:48pm Top

In the almost three years I have been using LT, I have seen people looked at suspiciously because they have no books in their catalog, but not because they have no reviews posted.

eta: I only bothered to write reviews because of the ER program. Were it not for that, I'd probably only have the one negative Little Women review posted.

41MarthaJeanne
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 3:43pm Top

I agree with Fleela. I've often seen people told they ought to enter more books, but never that they ought to post reviews. Now that may have something to do with the particular groups Fleela and I follow, but we are both active in talk.

I myself have only posted 85 reviews although I have over 3000 books entered. This has never been complained about to my face.

42christiguc
Mar 11, 2009, 3:46pm Top

I've interacted a lot in talk as well and I have never seen someone criticized solely on the basis that they have no reviews. Yes, I have seen remarks made to posters where they are hawking one book (usually a self-published one, written by "a friend") and they have only reviewed one book--that same one they are touting. However, it is only in those types of contexts where I see people comment on (or, at least for my part, even notice) how many reviews a person has written, if any.

43gwernin
Mar 11, 2009, 3:47pm Top

38: I think it may depend which groups you participate in. I haven't noticed any of the pressures or swipes you refer to. I think reviews are probably more important for some parts of LT's membership than others.

And people who want to know about your books don't have to go to amazon, they can check your profile - just as people who are curious about my writing can check mine. Have you tried doing an author chat? That's a good place to talk about your books and your publishing, with people who are interested.

I think this is getting a little off topic - apologies. Personally I am opposed to paying for reviews, and even more opposed to having such reviews pop up on LT. I agree with Tim in #27 - LT isn't a place to advertise, it's a community. Long may it remain so!

44atimco
Mar 11, 2009, 3:48pm Top

Ditto 40 and 41. Not to gang up on you or make you feel outnumbered, April, but I have never once seen anyone given flak for not having reviews posted. When you saw this happen, was it just once or twice, by a single individual? The whole community can hardly be called to task for that.

There are, however, plenty of authors who sign up, do not add any books to their libraries, and proceed to enter the messageboards, where they sneakily attempt to promote their own books without disclosing the fact that they are the authors. Or there are those authors who *do* disclose the fact that it's their books they're promoting, but feel completely justified in starting new topics just to let the community in general know that THEY published a book and WE should drop everything right away to run out and buy it.

^ Both of which are extremely frustrating scenarios for those of us who are simply here because we love books.

45AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 3:48pm Top

>39 readafew:
I think it's a shame, and unfair, that there's such a thing as "the author treatment" here at all, guilty until proven innocent and so forth. I'm sorry if unscrupulous authors have tried to use LT as an advertising platform, but that doesn't mean we *all* have the same intentions.

46atimco
Mar 11, 2009, 3:50pm Top

No, but many seem to. It's the same as blaming everyone for a few people who got nasty about others not having reviews, don't you think?

47AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 4:01pm Top

>46 atimco:
I wasn't blaming anyone for anything, I was making an observation, that's all.

48atimco
Mar 11, 2009, 4:02pm Top

I should have phrased that better. It's the same as assuming that everyone will come down on new members for not having reviews posted.

49atimco
Mar 11, 2009, 4:03pm Top

And unfortunately, it's been my experience that there are a LOT of unscrupulous authors who employ those tactics. Probably at least one a week in the groups I frequent.

50AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 4:07pm Top

Sorry things have gone so far afield of the main topic. Getting back to the question of paid reviews...

Self-published, or as I call them, "indie" authors, find it nearly impossible to get mainstream reviews, and we often can't afford to do a mass-mailing of review copies of our books to bloggers, reviewers and sites that may or may not review them, the way big publishers do. Many of us would be willing to pay for honest reviews if for no other reason than the fact that it would probably cost less than the blanket-of-books, mass-mailing approach.

As others here have already said, I don't think it's a question of whether the author paid for a review, but the integrity of the review.

51lorax
Mar 11, 2009, 4:25pm Top

April, I have trouble believing it when you say all LT members who happen to also be authors are frequently assumed to be here only to promote their books from the off, even if they've never 'spammed'. I'm not saying it never happens, just that I haven't seen it on the groups I frequent (which includes following the spam-reporting threads on Site Talk.) The only cases in which I see authors considered as being here for self-promotion is in cases where they do things like:

1. Enter their books, and ONLY their books -- or their books plus single-digit counts of other books.

2. Review and rate their own books. That's a huge red flag as far as I'm concerned.

3. Start self-promotion in other ways -- lots of "friend" requests, posting about their book or the fact that they're An Author!!! to Talk, recommending their own work on Member Recommendations.

Authors who come in like normal people -- you know, entering their library or a decent fraction thereof, reviewing other books, and talking about other subjects, are assumed to be legit. You just may not immediately recognize them as AUTHORS!!! -- that is, I think you have a bit of selection bias in your observations, in that you don't notice people as authors if they aren't spammy by some people' standards.

52AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 4:41pm Top

>51 lorax:
So as not to derail the thread again, I'll send you message.

53lilithcat
Mar 11, 2009, 4:44pm Top

> 38

Don't tell me you've never seen swipes taken at members on the discussion boards on the basis that they don't have many reviews posted?

I have, in fact, never seen that. Perhaps it is the case in some individual groups, but they must be groups I never visit.

54JulesJones
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 6:13pm Top

I've never seen swipes at people simply for not having reviews, other than the authors who are all too clearly only here to spam-promote their books, and in those cases a lack of reviews is only one red flag amongst many. I've certainly never been the target of such swipes. Of course, I hang out in a limited number of groups, and such behaviour may be common in ones I don't frequent -- but it's hardly happening to *all* LT author members.

And with my author hat on, I will say that there are already a number of schemes out there offering review placements and glowing reviews to authors in return for money. I don't like them. They are by and large yet another way for someone to part naive authors from their cash. (And as per the opening post in this thread, I am not linking to examples. I'm not giving them the GoogleJuice.)

55aethercowboy
Mar 11, 2009, 6:36pm Top

Tim,

You may want to consider adding a new flag to reviews (unless you have already) marking said review as potential sock puppetry. It's still a review, so wouldn't fall under the "This is not a review" flag, and while it probably does violate the terms of service, this flag is red and makes on think that they are reporting a review that has inappropriate (vulgar) content, and not just a review that sounds like it was written to kiss some hindquarters in exchange for cash.

Just a thought.

56SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 8:10pm Top

--> 18

What would be so "creepy" about paying to have a given review multi-posted all over the web by the person or organization that wrote it?

In my opinion, it's because that's more like an advertisement for a book than it is a heartfelt review.

One review that is simply plastered verbatim on every book site that posts reviews to me is a form of spam. I agree with Tim that it seems creepy.

I don't care how Amazon does its reviews, but I cherish the independent reviews of the LT members. I know they often post elsewhere, but I think most members limit their posts to their own blogs and perhaps one or two other major book sites.

I know that often Early Reviewer publishers will ask that a review be posted on a specific web site in addition to LibraryThing. I'd been asked once to post a review on GoodReads. I didn't want to. I can't remember if I actually did it or not. :D

ETA: Don't tell me you've never seen swipes taken at members on the discussion boards on the basis that they don't have many reviews posted?

In the entire time (since April, 2006) I've been here at LT, I've never seen this either.

57AprilHamilton
Mar 11, 2009, 8:08pm Top

>56 SqueakyChu:
"One review that is simply plastered verbatim on every book site that posts reviews to me is a form of spam. I agree with Tim that it seems creepy."

I guess I'll have to agree to disagree with this point of view, because it really doesn't make sense to me at all. How is the review any less heartfelt when it's posted in more than one location? And isn't the whole point of posting reviews in the first place to help other readers pick the literary wheat from the chaff? It's a kind of public service, and in that sense, the more places a review is posted, the wider the reach of that public service is.

It sounds like you're saying reviews posted here are only intended for LT member eyes. If that's true, I can accept it. It definitely takes away the 'public service' aspect of writing book reviews, but maybe LT members by and large don't see writing reviews as a public service, so much as an LT-specific interaction with other LT members.

58SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 8:17pm Top

It sounds like you're saying reviews posted here are only intended for LT member eyes. If that's true, I can accept it.

I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that I do feel as if this is a community and that the book reviews I write and post are to share with the other members of my community. In fact, in some of the groups to which I belong, I point other group members to my reviews. Frankly, I don't care whether or not anyone else on other websites see them. I post reviews here to make LT a special place and as a "Thank You" to publishers who participate in the Early Reviewers program.

It's a kind of public service, and in that sense, the more places a review is posted, the wider the reach of that public service is.

I'm not reviewing books to "perform a public service". I'm sharing my thoughts with LT members and friends. I used to just keep these to myself on my own PC as reference for books I'd read in the past so as to remind myself of details.

59bostonbibliophile
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 8:23pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

60lilithcat
Mar 11, 2009, 11:31pm Top

> 58

I'm sharing my thoughts with LT members and friends.

That's fine. But some of us have friends on other sites, and like to share our reviews in those places also. And some of us have book blogs where we review books.

I don't see any reason why we shouldn't post the same reviews on all those sites.

I know that often Early Reviewer publishers will ask that a review be posted on a specific web site in addition to LibraryThing.

I have no problem with this at all. It's perfectly reasonable for the author/publisher to want to have a review seen in as many places and by as many people as possible. They are, of course, taking a risk that I will be posting a bad review on the other site(s), but that's their choice.

61SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 13, 2009, 9:15am Top

--> 60

I'm not saying others shouldn't put their reviews in more than one site. What I'm saying is that wholesale plastering of the same review on ten different sites smacks of advertising and posting links to your blog on ten different sites sounds as if you're trying to drive readers to your blog. Are you really an active member of ten (the number is an example) different communities?

In message #58, I'm only answering message #57 and tell what *I* do, not what others do or how others feel about it. I, also, put the same review in several places (an LT group, under an LT work, on Bookcrossing or as a link from BookCrossing, and sometimes on Amazon). I am an active member of those communities. I'll post elsewhere as publishers request. I've *never* had an Early Reviewer request that I post in more than two places, although they have a copy of my review and may choose to do so on their own.

Your point is that you "have friends on other sites, and like to share our reviews in those places also". I *don't disagree* with that at all. The point is that you are participating on other sites of which you are part of their community.

I certainly do not have any antagonism to someone posting a review on his or her own blog. In fact, I favor that.

I'm not sure what you are arguing with me about. Spamming of book review sites with one same review? Why would anyone want to visit any other book review sites if each one has the same exact reviews written by the same people? Especially if the writer is getting paid by the author or publisher to write that review! How is that different from any other form of advertising? Why should it be allowed by a site that does not accept advertising? Especially a site like LT that has members who are so quick (which is sometimes distressing to me) to consider what new authors write on our Talk forum as spam!

62lilithcat
Mar 12, 2009, 9:03am Top

But you are tarring the paid reviewers, and those who do it for the love of it, with the same brush, simply because they both put their reviews on multiple sites.

I put reviews here, on my LiveJournal, sometimes on Bookcrossing, on Amazon, on IBlist, on my own blog, and occasionally elsewhere. Nobody pays me. But you have no way of knowing that.

You say ten different sites are too many. Where do you draw the line? 3? 5? 8?

63stephmo
Mar 12, 2009, 10:45am Top

There's a line.

There's the community participant that has reviews here, that has a library of books, some that are reviewed and some which are not. If the person is an active participant in the community here, there will be a ton of hints - book entries spread out over time (as in they get new books every now and then), reviews and ratings over time, connections with other members, perhaps you'll see them in talk, maybe some messages on their profile, some minor effort on their profile, and maybe even a few helper badges...

And then there will be the paid shill that's merely dropping in to post their review. They'll log their one book into the account (which may be them or the generic name developed for the group to use - it probably won't even be the same person) and copy and paste their review and LEAVE. No participation beyond dumping their advertisement.

That's the difference in my mind - and that's exactly what these services hope you never see. Services want you to believe that "Ted" or "Sue" is a real person and perhaps even a participant on the site - even though they don't exist except to advertise.

Writing a review through a pay service is a form of advertising - just like the fake weight loss blogs are advertisements. Just because you dress up a pig in perfume and pearls...

Not only that, but you're actually stealing from open sites like LibraryThing when you do this. You're faking identities and posting reviews as if you're a legitimate member when your only intention is to post reviews. You'll never do anything more than post reviews for your paid books. You'll never be an active, giving member of the community. You'll be stealing free advertising - heck, I doubt any of these fake shills will pay for lifetime memberships even though the $20 would be a bargain for lifetime advertising rates...

That's the difference.

64jlelliott
Mar 12, 2009, 11:34am Top

I think it makes absolute sense to adopt a LibraryThing review code of ethics that disallows reviews paid for by the author or publisher. There is a clear conflict of interest there. You could also take a less stringent approach and include a clickable box that adds a disclaimer to the review that indicates it is a paid review. I think these things are worth doing because it will create an official statement on the reviewing culture at LT.

Now I don't necessarily think those steps will stop these types of paid review distribution companies, but at least they will make it officially wrong for them to post their reviews here on LT. It sounds like these companies might ignore this type of rule, and in that case you will need some type of flagging system to identify potential rule-breakers, and a way of evaluating the legitimacy of the flagging to delete reviews or revoke service to problem reviewers.

65MarthaJeanne
Edited: Mar 12, 2009, 12:37pm Top

The thing for those who do this to remember is that we DO recognize the names of active members of the community.

If I look at reviews on LT, I also look to see who wrote them. If I don't recognize the name, but wonder how much I should consider the review worth, I check the reviewer's profile. Is it someone with a paid membership and a fair number of books entered? Is this someone with the sort of books I like to read? If I discover that the positive reviews for a book I'm wondering about are all written by people with free accounts and only a few dozen books entered, and there are no overlaps with my library, I know that I don't want the book.

Same thing with comments about books in 'talk'. If someone whose opinions I have learned to respect in other discussions mentions that s/he has written a book on a subject being discussed I am likely to look it up, and maybe even buy it. If I've never heard of the person before, I will ignore that post. If it is a new topic to push the book or doesn't fit in the existing discussion I might decide to flag it after a look at the profile.

BTW it's amazing how often the profiles of those shamelessly pushing books are very diffiuclt to read. You'd think they would at least give you a sample of writing that would make you think you could read the book in question.

66timspalding
Mar 12, 2009, 11:49am Top

>That's fine. But some of us have friends on other sites, and like to share our reviews in those places also. And some of us have book blogs where we review books. don't see any reason why we shouldn't post the same reviews on all those sites.

You're missing the point. Of *course* you should post it where you have friends, on your blog and so forth. What we're saying is that there's something creepy about posting it on sites that you have no legitimate part of.

LibraryThing has forty-odd competitors. You could go create an account at the Chinese one, or the Korean one or the one for Fundamentalist Christians. Go ahead and do it. But there's something icky about posting reviews to those sites if your only purpose in doing so is to spread your book review around.

And even *that* I don't really object to. I can understand exhibitionism. In this case we're talking about a company that charges authors based on how many sites the review gets posted on!

It's really not unlike email. Sending emails to your friends is great. If you want to make more friends, go ahead and send emails. Go make a thousand friends. But if you're being paid to send emails to people whom you have no connection with, you're a spammer, plain and simple.

67detailmuse
Edited: Mar 12, 2009, 2:38pm Top

I think it makes absolute sense to adopt a LibraryThing review code of ethics that disallows reviews paid for by the author or publisher. There is a clear conflict of interest there. You could also take a less stringent approach and include a clickable box that adds a disclaimer to the review that indicates it is a paid review.

imo, paid-for reviews are just further along the potential-conflict-of-interest spectrum than arcs-for-reviews. I'd like reviews of both types to be acknowledged (annotated), not necessarily disallowed. I like the suggestion of a clickable box that would append a comment to the review. I used to annotate my reviews ("based on an arc" etc), and though I tag my arcs/review copies, this conversation is a reminder to start annotating them again. It doesn't confess to a conflict of interest; it does acknowledge the potential for one.

68lilithcat
Mar 12, 2009, 3:45pm Top

Frankly, I think one should always say whether a review is based on an advance reading copy, not because of any ethical issues involved, but because of the potential differences between the content of an ARC and the final published book. There's a reason for the warning in ARCs not to quote from them without checking the published edition.

You can't criticize an ARC's indices or lack of illustrations or misnumbered pages, because those will likely be changed on final publication. But if I have a published volume that ought to have illustrations, but doesn't, that's a valid criticism. I'm thinking of Jonathan Harr's book, The Lost Painting: the Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece which I criticized for its shocking lack of any images. If I'd had the ARC, I wouldn't have mentioned it, as I would have assumed (wrongly, as it turned out) that they would be in the book as published.

69timspalding
Mar 12, 2009, 6:48pm Top

>68 lilithcat:

Gosh, I wonder how that happened—permission refused? In a book-length treatment, you'd think some images would be fair use.

70gwendolyndawson
Mar 12, 2009, 7:41pm Top

>69 timspalding: That's not how the fair use exception to copyright works, unfortunately. The fair use exception is actually much narrower than most people assume. In the case of The Lost Painting, reproducing images of paintings covered by copyright protection would be a violation without receiving the appropriate permissions ahead of time.

71timspalding
Mar 12, 2009, 8:10pm Top

How fair use "works" is governed by statute. The statute (see http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107) provides for fair use in the case of "criticism" and "comment." The other factors considered, such as how much the image would reduce the value of the copyrighted work, would, I think, weigh strongly in favor of it here.

72ThePam
Mar 12, 2009, 8:45pm Top

Tim, you could make it an LT policy that "paid-for reviews" can be placed here but only for a fee :)

73SqueakyChu
Mar 12, 2009, 9:14pm Top

Tim, from looking at the site you mentioned in post #1, I see that part of the $425 "package deal" offered by that website is that it includes a review posted on LT. How can LT opt out of being the target of such a package? Er, I guess that's probably what you're trying to figure out now.

74gwendolyndawson
Mar 12, 2009, 9:36pm Top

Tim,

Yes, you are right that the "fair use" exception is governed by statute. That statute extends the exception to "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research." That exception does not extend to a book published for commercial gain because such a book is not criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. The exception is really intended to cover the book review that quotes a few lines of text or the teacher who photocopies a page out of a book to share with his class.

In the case of The Lost Painting, even assuming it gets past the "criticism, comment, ..." test above (which it wouldn't), it wouldn't even satisfy the 4-factor balancing test. In the case of The Lost Painting, any reproductions of copyrighted paintings would be included in a work for commercial gain (so the use would be for "a commercial nature" under factor #1). Plus, the entire copyrighted image would be included, which means there would be a problem under factor #3 "the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole."

I'm not trying to be preachy here, but there is a general misunderstanding about the fair use exception, and that causes lots of people to get in trouble. I wouldn't want anyone to end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit because they thought their use was "fair use" of copyrighted material.

Gwen

Ps. I'm an intellectual property lawyer.

75tbbycatt
Mar 12, 2009, 11:58pm Top

I personally post my reviews on numerous sites and have the feed of my blog going to many sites. Believe me I'm real! lol It takes a lot of time and energy to do it, but I do it because I want to give the author the 'most bang for their buck". But I also have reviewed quite a few self pub'd authors, I've never had a problem with doing that.

How would you be able to regulate all of this? To my mind it's kind of like taking ARC's with the understanding that you won't pass them around or sell them. It's all an honor system.

This is really disjointed and I apologize, I'm just a little amazed that people seem to get upset over people who choose to post on multiple sites.

We can have a TOS, but people tend to fly through those, click "Yes I Agree" and never really read them. I'd think it's a slippery slope when you start to try to figure out who's real and who's not.

I'm envisioning lawsuits about discrimination if you do. Not sure if they could, but someone could make a heck of a stink if they wanted to.

76timspalding
Edited: Mar 13, 2009, 1:47am Top

I'm sorry, you're misrepresenting. A commercially published book—which is to say virtually all books—can comment and criticize just as well as a commercially-published newspaper, commercially-published book review insert, etc.

The courts balance the various interests, using all the tests the statute allows, and throwing in a few of their own. In the case of the Ford-memoirs case, the Supreme Court held that that as few as 300 words could comprise piracy, but particularly because the Nation printed them to scoop Newsweek's serialization of Ford's memoirs, which was due to come out--about the worst adverse-value effect you can imagine. In the Zapruder film case, they allowed what was in every respect a straight piracy to stand, citing strong public-policy reasons.

In the case of Caravaggio, it's to be added that Caravaggio works are ineligible for copyright by over three centuries. Copyright must rest in photographs of the works in question. There are problems with this. Quoting Edward Samuels The Illustrated Story of Copyright:
"In a 1999 case, Bridgeman Art, Inc., held an exclusive license from dozens of art museums to distribute transparencies and license the printing of copies of many of the museums’ Old Masters. Bridgeman sued Corel, Inc., claiming that Corel was selling prints that had been copied from Bridgeman’s prints. The court held in favor of Corel on several grounds, including the ground that Bridgeman’s transparencies were not entitled to copyright because they were photographic likenesses of public domain works. The copies they made, though perhaps requiring some skill, had no distinguishable variations from the works that were in the public domain. The case raised some alarm among museum directors who have come to count on revenues they make by selling exclusive rights to make prints of works in their collection. The case makes clear that the only exclusive rights they have are in the distinguishable variations of the copies." (read more here)
To minimize problems, a few steps could be taken:

1. Avoid reproducing the whole of the artwork, but concentrate on details, particularly ones that are relevant to the comment and criticism which surely obtains.
2. Image-shop. If you're particularly scared, find a reproduction that is explicitly out of copyright. Worldcat lists 115 Caravaggio-related books from the early 1950s. Most were probably not renewed. And there are hundreds from before 1923, of course. Heck, I've got some in my living room.

PS: Copyright lawyers aren't judges, and ipse dixit is a bad form ;)

77Trismegistus
Edited: Mar 13, 2009, 2:45am Top

61> Yes, exactly. Even reviews that link to blogs or are excerpts of longer reviews posted elsewhere strikes me as being more about driving up site statistics than participation in the communities where they’re posted, even if self-promotion isn’t the OP’s intention.

57> I actively participate in several book-related sites and lurk at about twice as many, but when I see the same review blanketed everywhere I turn, I assume that it’s been put there by a pay-for-review service, the publisher, or friends and family of the author and more importantly, that I can’t trust it. This holds doubly true for small or vanity press offerings. This may not be fair, but it is my gut reaction and I doubt I’m alone in it.

So what you would welcome as much-needed publicity for independently-published books would actually be a factor in my decision not to read them. It’s to do with the word of mouth nature of sites like LibraryThing. I trust the reviews here because I believe they represent the opinions of well-read booklovers unmediated by material concerns or editorial constraints who share my emotional investment in the site(s) on which they’re posted. Bring money, professionalism, or syndication into the equation, and my confidence in the usefulness of LT reviews will plummet.

78detailmuse
Mar 13, 2009, 8:38am Top

>68 lilithcat:, 69
maybe free permission refused?

In a Q&A elsewhere, Colson Whitehead acknowledged having to pay high fees for permission to reprint song lyrics in his upcoming Sag Harbor. The recording industry is notoriously tight with permissions but he and Doubleday apparently felt the lyrics were key to the text.

79yaakov
Mar 13, 2009, 9:18am Top

74: In my experience you can end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit regardless of what the law says. For an author or publisher it's often not worth testing one's fair use theory.

While Tim's opinion sounds right, I hope no one would act on LT posts. I don't think that's a valid defense.

PS. I'm not a copyright lawyer but I walked my wife to copyright class in law school, does that count? Seriously, this post is not legal advice and I don't think anything posted on LT or similar websites should be viewed or used as legal advice.

PPS: What' s wrong with ipse dixit arguments? That's usually my best position when I don't have the facts, law or equities....

80gwendolyndawson
Mar 13, 2009, 11:14am Top

Tim wrote: A commercially published book—which is to say virtually all books—can comment and criticize just as well as a commercially-published newspaper, commercially-published book review insert, etc.

You are right, but this is not what we're talking about. This is not a case where a book is including limited quotations from other sources or commenting on other sources. This is a case where the book would include full copies of art reproductions that are likely covered by copyright protection. That's entirely different from the criticism/comment exception.

You are also right that the copyright protection we're talking about here is that of art reproductions (i.e., the photographic images of the paintings) rather than the artworks themselves. That doesn't solve the problem. You cite the text from Edward Samuels The Illustrated Story of Copyright on the Bridgeman case, but I'd like to quote the paragraph following the one you cited:

"A tension is set up by this reasoning, however, that continues to plague copyright to this day. A historical print is protected under copyright because it is original; but it’s not the originality of the print that we value. … Although expanded to include pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works generally, the 1909 act still separately listed 'reproductions of a work of art'; and the 1976 Act still separately mentions 'art reproductions' as within the scope of 'pictorial' works."

Given the explicit language of the statute, if I were Harr's lawyer, I would advise him to steer clear of including full copies of art reproductions in his book without the proper permissions. While cases like Bridgeman might give him some comfort, to disregard the language of the statute itself would be very legally risky.

81stephmo
Mar 13, 2009, 11:23am Top

Tim - from SqueakyChu's post (#73)

I see that part of the $425 "package deal" offered by that website is that it includes a review posted on LT.

Don't you have some recourse as the owner of LT when someone is profiting by fradulently posting on your site? At the very least, wouldn't making it clear that reviews posted in exchange for monetary compensation either directly to a user or through a third party is a violation of the TOS...well, can't you get the money for yourself?

It just seems wrong to me when you can't convince some folks that a $20 lifetime membership is worth the price when, apparently, $425 bucks (part of it anyway) is well-worth getting reviewed here...

82yaakov
Mar 13, 2009, 11:23am Top

I think you're both now saying the same thing as to the practical effect--user beware:

"While cases like Bridgeman might give him some comfort, to disregard the language of the statute itself would be very legally risky."

Tim: "The courts balance the various interests, using all the tests the statute allows, and throwing in a few of their own."

In other words, do you really want some Judge or Jury to decide your monetary fate?

83SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 14, 2009, 9:40am Top

Taking this discussion a little further, look at this paid LT member. The entity is a pay-for-review site. Then explore this member's so-called unbiased ratings and reviews. *All* of the 112 books listed have 5 stars!!* In addition, *all* of the 91 reviews have five stars!!!

This seems highly unethical to me. :(

Can you not see my point of view now?! My personal reviews may not be as polished as I'm not that much of a writer, but at least they are honest and come from my heart.

Tim, thank you so much for looking out for what is *fair*, not only in the work that you do here at LT, but with library work in general. Your outlook is refreshing. You're my hero. :)

*ETA correction to above which should have read *All* of the 112 books (except for 2 unrated) listed have 5 stars!!

84lilithcat
Mar 13, 2009, 2:11pm Top

At least, as far as we know, Harriet Klausner hasn't joined LT.

85SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 13, 2009, 2:29pm Top

LOL! FWIW, Harriet Klausner never bothered me.

*Still thinking*
(Hmm...and Tim doesn't get any part of that $38,675. He does get to keep the LT lifetime membership fee of $25, though.)

86elbakerone
Mar 13, 2009, 4:31pm Top

#83 - That definitely seems weird to me. (Granted I share no books in common with "readerviews" so there is a chance that they are all 5 star books but then again.....)

I haven't jumped into this conversation yet because there are just a lot of gray areas to me. Yes, I think the example from 83 is unethical, but I don't think I would have a problem with it if each one of the reviewers had their own account. (And if there were at least a couple 4 or 4.5 ratings - I can understand only reviewing books that were great but, I mean really, were they ALL fabulous??? Really?)

I guess it goes back to the issue of membership in the LT community and not just on the LT site. An account created by an organization to compile reviews - of obviously only the most fabulous and wonderful books - of paid reviewers just for publicity's sake doesn't seem as valuable to me as someone who uses the site to catalog their own library (good and bad). Even the users who don't participate in the groups can still contribute personally to the community by adding tags, Common Knowledge facts, recommendations, etc.

87timspalding
Mar 14, 2009, 1:55am Top

Taking this discussion a little further, look at this paid LT member. The entity is a pay-for-review site. Then explore this member's so-called unbiased ratings and reviews. *All* of the 112 books listed have 5 stars!! In addition, *all* of the 91 reviews have five stars!!!

Thanks. That was the site I was speaking of in message one. I didn't even check to see if they were posting under their own name. Apparently they are.

I think, on first reflection, they should lose their account. They violated the TOS already insofar as they don't have an organizational account. And I think they violate "unfair promotion." That every one of their ratings--save two unrated, for some reason--are five stars, is a sign of bad faith. I'd be glad to return their money. I hope, if we remove them, they return the $425 authors shelled out to them.

Anyone want to weigh in?

In my experience you can end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit regardless of what the law says. For an author or publisher it's often not worth testing one's fair use theory.

That's very true. In most cases, law is a game you lose by playing. In practice it's often more important to think through the game theory of the situation than it is to think through the law. That is, put something dubious online that's owned by someone without lots of money, and you are almost certain to be okay--you just take it down when asked. But print something dubious owned by someone with lots of money or a good reason to make the case, and you're screwed even if you win. That's a shame, but it's how things work out. In that respect, the DMCA is a good thing for sites like LibraryThing--we aren't hauled into court every time a user posts a copyrighted image, but we have to take it down if asked.

This is a case where the book would include full copies of art reproductions that are likely covered by copyright protection.

Right. I understand. I think we're disagreeing on what we're talking about, though. I agree that full reproductions in such a book would be very tough to defend. Having no illustrations at all, even though the book must make specific arguments about specific things and could justify some critical images strikes me as wrong.

Given the explicit language of the statute, if I were Harr's lawyer, I would advise him to steer clear of including full copies of art reproductions in his book without the proper permissions. While cases like Bridgeman might give him some comfort, to disregard the language of the statute itself would be very legally risky.

It's interesting to me that this hasn't been tested more thoroughly. There's a lot of money in art reproductions. Why hasn't the tension been resolved?

88gwendolyndawson
Mar 14, 2009, 8:20am Top

Tim,

I agree that "readerviews" should be removed from LT. Users like that destroy the things I love about this site, and I think you've got some valid complaints tied to the terms of service, so it wouldn't be arbitrary action. Unfortunately, I suspect removing "readerviews" will only cause other users to be created for the same purposes but with names that are less suspicious.

"law is a game you lose by playing"
That's very true. Better to avoid the risks, where possible. I agree with you that Harr's book would've been very well served by including some images. I've read the book, and I enjoyed it, but I would've loved to see some images along with the commentary. Giving Harr and his publisher the benefit of the doubt, I suspect they also understand the book would've been helped by including images. My guess is they did their homework (or their lawyer did) and decided not to take the risk given the way the copyright statute is written. I suppose whoever owns the images they were wanting either wanted an exorbitant sum in exchange for permission to reproduce the images or wouldn't provide permission in exchange for any amount of money. It's too bad, really. As for why the tension hasn't been resolved, I think a large part of it is that people are afraid to test the law. As you said, law is a game lost by playing, and most people would rather not play than test the boundaries.

89_Zoe_
Mar 14, 2009, 9:08am Top

I think it would be better to force them into an organizational account, and then to do various things that make an organizational account less able to mislead--their star ratings shouldn't appear in the graph or count in the average, and their reviews should indicate clearly that they're from an organization rather than from an individual member.

They are contributing valuable tag data, and I wouldn't even have a problem with the reviews if they were clearly marked. It's really just the ratings that I find very icky.

90stephmo
Mar 14, 2009, 11:16am Top

I'd get rid of them for using LT as a profit center. Period. Anyone that's got a business model that includes using other people's investments for free without permission is stealing.

I'm guessing they also never bothered to contact you, right? So they're not even open and honest about using other people's resources for their business.

Of course, you do need to update the FAQ on what constitutes an organizational account - right now you do say that even organized crime is allowed to have an organizational account. I find it funny, but I can see them saying that there's no exclusion for what they do.

As far as anything ancillary that they offer - well, it's all well and good, but you have to draw a line. Otherwise, it's more difficult to shut the door to this type of abuse in the future.

91infiniteletters
Mar 14, 2009, 12:26pm Top

Maybe there also needs to be a system routine to flag accounts with a high rating threshold. (1 book only accounts, rated 5 stars; all books rated 5 stars, etc.)

92ThePam
Edited: Mar 14, 2009, 8:08pm Top

((Unfortunately, I suspect removing "readerviews" will only cause other users to be created for the same purposes but with names that are less suspicious.))

I'm sure GwendolynDawson is quite right about this. Better in my opinion to tag 'em and bag 'em and find some way of marking all of their reviews with a disdainful icon.

93ThePam
Edited: Mar 14, 2009, 8:52pm Top

Just ran across this on another site and nearly gagged. I hate the whole idea of how much spam this will generate.

I found a way to advertise my book on 350+ websites for $475 for the ENTIRE year.

My book, Organize Now!, came out in November of 2008. It has sold over 16,000 copies in 3 months. I have done a ton of social media/internet marketing while keeping my budget low. One site in particular has gotten me almost 4,000 hits since January 15th (and a lot of sales). I found out when they were launching and it has grown since. If you are interested email me and I will be happy to send you the contact info.

Jennifer Berry

Organize Now!

94timspalding
Mar 14, 2009, 10:04pm Top

> Unfortunately, I suspect removing "readerviews" will only cause other users to be created for the same purposes but with names that are less suspicious.

I doubt it. They post other places. It's easy to search for reviews and kill them. I don't think they want to get involved in systemic breaking of the rules. They are a company.

>93 ThePam:

I can't find that. Can you send me the link?

95fredbacon
Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 2:18pm Top

</i>First off, thanks for the site. I have books stacked up everywhere, and trying to keep track of what I had was frustrating. Some sense and order has finally emerged from the chaos in my house. (You're not planning a RefrigeratorThing by any chance are you?)

Now about reviews. When a site like this exists, people will try to make a buck off of it. It's human nature. You kind of invited it on yourself with the LibraryThing Authors feature. It seems like a good idea, but it's just free advertising to them. Most, if not all, just have 20-30 books in their catalog. You've created a site which has an audience. That means available eyeballs, and eyeballs are money.

I post my reviews here and on my blog. I write them at my blog and copy them here. Why? I don't know. My blog site is a vanity effort anyway. No one reads it. It simply gives me an outlet for my thoughts. My reading preferences are too unorthodox to gain much attention anyway. Who really wants a review of some obscure Russian General's autobiography? I copy what I write here, because it might be of interest to someone. Perhaps I should put them on Amazon as well, but I'm not sure that I want that much attention.

Paid reviews don't bother me a great deal. I like to think that I'm astute enough to recognize BS when I see it. The trouble isn't paid reviews as such, it's a lack of control over the content of the site. They will always find a way to slip back in. You can't police every posting, every account, every book. You will either have to enforce some pretty severe terms and develop a reputation for enforcing them, or you will have to channel this sort of thing off into a manageable area.

Enforcing the terms will undoubtedly mean lawyers. Your folksy terms of service will probably cause you problems in the courts. Welcome to success! Kind of sucks doesn't it?

96_Zoe_
Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 2:18pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

97timspalding
Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 4:24pm Top

In general, LibraryThing is a lot better at dealing with problem users than its competitors, for whom spam-authors, spam comments and spam "friending" is a common complaint. This is mostly the result of an active, even militant, member population. But we also have various system-level rules, like a cap on how many comments or friend-requests you can send per day.

Anyway, I've made up my mind. That user needs to go. LibraryThing needs to stand for review quality. Leaving aside the LT community, we also syndicate reviews to libraries. Paid reviews are exactly the kind of thing libraries do not want in their data. We could remove it from the library feed--which is only a fraction of our normal data, and has been hand-vetted--but I'd rather take a more forward approach.

98timspalding
Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 4:59pm Top

Here's my proposed language:

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, rewarded or encouraged to write positive reviews.
  • *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.

99stephmo
Mar 15, 2009, 5:06pm Top

Do you want a line in there saying something along the lines of "any service promising to review books on LibraryThing in exchange for a fee has done this without the permission of LibraryThing. Any accounts being used to disseminate such reviews can be deleted from LibraryThing."

100gwernin
Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 6:03pm Top

95: Regarding the number of librarything authors who "just have 20-30 books in their catalog", you might like to go to this page:

http://www.librarything.com/librarything_author.php

and sort by library size. Yes, there are a lot of tiny catalogs, but there are a lot of large ones too. Personally I joined LT to catalog my books, and only found out about the author setup later.

There used to be a rule requiring authors to have at least 50 books - I'm not sure why that went away. (Maybe to allow ER authors to post on author chat threads?). From a spam-fighting point of view, it might be a good idea to bring it back.

(edited to remove an extra word and insert a missing letter)

101MarthaJeanne
Mar 15, 2009, 5:24pm Top

What about authors who are posting URLs of published reviews by other people (as reviews) in their libraries?

102KathyWoodall
Mar 15, 2009, 5:52pm Top

Martha those reviews should be flagged (I think its the blue flag).

103_Zoe_
Mar 15, 2009, 6:51pm Top

Since when are links to reviews not allowed?

104CKmtl
Mar 15, 2009, 7:03pm Top

103> It's the "by other people" part that's troublesome.

105mountebank
Mar 15, 2009, 7:13pm Top

101-104>

I'm not sure, but it sounds like MarthaJeanne was looking for some clarification from TPTB on the related issues raised here with respect to authors using the Your Review space to link to third party reviews of their works.

106timspalding
Mar 15, 2009, 7:46pm Top

What about authors who are posting URLs of published reviews by other people (as reviews) in their libraries?

I don't have any particular problem with that. First, posting links to reviews is okay. And second I think authors shouldn't be hounded. An author who joins LibraryThing and adds their books, even rating them highly is acting like a twit, in my opinion, but not engaging in deep deception. For one thing, authors often add their own books simply to see what they'll look like. Curiosity is not a Terms of Service violation. They cross over into deception if they add fake reviews, add their books under many accounts or many times, etc.

And none of that is quite like services that charge people hundreds of dollars for five-star reviews posted to LibraryThing...

107timspalding
Mar 15, 2009, 7:47pm Top

>It's the "by other people" part that's troublesome.

Yes, I agree, unless they post something like "here are some links to reviews." At least that's honest. I'm not sure whether it's flaggable or not, but it's not a TOS violation.

108stephmo
Mar 15, 2009, 8:07pm Top

Once the work page starts allowing external links like the author link page does - to official sites, professional reviews, fan sites and all that jazz, then people won't need to put those links in review spots.

Just sayin'

;)

109ThePam
Mar 15, 2009, 8:30pm Top

#94, Tim it was on another site and I think requires a login. Do you still want the link?

110bostonbibliophile
Mar 15, 2009, 8:53pm Top

Tim, does the new rule mean that a user may not post a review that he/she has been paid (in money) to write? For example, an educational publisher paid me for a review that they wanted to include in a textbook. Do I need to take that review down? Also, let's say a freelance reviewer who gets paid by a publication like PW for a review wants to post the review or a link to it in his/her own library. Is that allowed?

111SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 10:19pm Top

I think a good solution to #110 is for paid reviews to be kept in a member's private notes in relation to a particular work. The actual review slot should be 100% used for unpaid reviews. If this is not done, then Tim or other LT members would never be able to differentiate between the two. Only the person who inserts the review knows what compensation he or she received for it.

112timspalding
Mar 15, 2009, 11:08pm Top

>108 stephmo: Very true

>110 bostonbibliophile: No. We need to make sure that's clear. It's the direct payment from the author or publisher. Or we can remove the bit about payment and stick to the content rules. In fact, the sites in question only pay for "expedited" reviews.

113bostonbibliophile
Mar 16, 2009, 8:01am Top

Tim, thank you for the clarification. :-)

114bfister
Mar 25, 2009, 8:59pm Top

Sigh. This seems such an obvious issue of integrity to me (and evidently to Tim, and probably 99% of LTers): a bit of writing about a book that is paid for by the author, the publisher, or some publicity outfit paid to promote clients is not a review. It's promotion. Sadly, there's a weird fever that grips people who are told they should spend as much time selling their book as writing it (or promoting whatever it is they do - music, cool ideas, products) - and it is really polluting the Web.

Sockpuppetry is dishonest by definition and authors who think it's a legitimate way to get the word out about their books because it's otherwise difficult to get reviews are either mistaken or have decided that deceit is better than obscurity. No, actually, honest obscurity is better than fake reviews.

We're on track for publishing a half a million books a year in the US. Something like half of those will be self-published, and the traditional review (via newspaper or other print publication) is already on the endangered species list. If the distinction between promotion and review is totally blurred, all "reviews" will be worthless. Promoted books will be obscure because everyone will have gone deaf to promotion.

Reviews are for readers, not for writers.

115PhaedraB
Mar 26, 2009, 1:47am Top

As an author married to an author (with over 2300 books from our personal library cataloged on LT, FWIW) I appreciate the importance of reviews. However, the hard truth is, great reviews don't always translate to great sales. In our experience, it's getting the book into mainstream distribution channels (i.e., chain bookstores) that makes the difference. Teeny publishing houses and self-published authors can't always manage that.

Thus, I think asking an author for $475 dollars for review placements is just plain exploitation. When my husband was publishing with a tiny independent house, we tried various plans like opt-in e-mail marketing lists or website promotion, and got terrible results. (And my husband, in our tiny niche market, is a "name.") When asked to renew, we declined, citing the poor results. Then we're told that's because we got the economy package; if we spend more money, then we'd see the result, yada yada yada. Forget it.

OTOH, if a friend says, "if you like my book, please review it on Amazon," I absolutely will do so. Amazon reviews with those pretty little stars really are critical to sales, and the Amazon reviews get reproduced all over. If you Google book titles, a huge percentage of the links are booksellers who will quote the Amazon reviews. A lot of bang for little buck.

It kind of reminds me of the old "send in your poem to our poetry contest." Oh, wow, you won placement in our poetry book. Now all you have to do is pay 49.95 for your personal copy, and while you're at it, get copies for all your friends and family, too.

Better to ask all your friends and family to post to Amazon. Better yet, find a mainstream publisher with decent distribution channels. (Of course, the former can be much easier than the latter.)

116BTRIPP
Mar 26, 2009, 7:56am Top

Re: #115: "However, the hard truth is, great reviews don't always translate to great sales. In our experience, it's getting the book into mainstream distribution channels (i.e., chain bookstores) that makes the difference. Teeny publishing houses and self-published authors can't always manage that."

PhaedraB is dead-on with this.

I ran one of those "teeny publishing houses" from 1994-2004 and no matter what sort of rave reviews we got in our "niche" area, it never translated into sales. Frankly, the deck is stacked against the small presses, unless you're signed up with a "full services distributor" your chances of getting into the big chains is slim. We were handled by ALL of the major wholesalers, but the chains would never "pull the trigger" on an order (despite responding to our releases with cards indicating that they would be stocking them ... over and over again). When we finally signed up with a "Distributor" (and was probably the easiest account they ever had, since our books were already in the pipeline, and all they had to do was enter the info), it was the coup de gras for us, as internal irregularities at said distributor ended up with them in "involuntary bankruptcy", and our never getting paid a cent for the sales made over the time we were with them.

Good reviews are swell, but they don't make much difference if the books aren't on the shelves.

 

117SqueakyChu
Mar 26, 2009, 8:26am Top

--> 115

If you Google book titles, a huge percentage of the links are booksellers who will quote the Amazon reviews. A lot of bang for little buck.

Thanks for sharing this bit of info, PhaedraB. I've always felt that, in addition to posting at LT, the only worthwhile place to post reviews of lesser known books, beside LT of course, is on Amazon. I'll continue to do so.

118soniaandree
Mar 26, 2009, 1:47pm Top

I've always used Amazon for my general reviews before LT. Now, I intend to post my ER reviews on both.

119LisaLynne
Mar 30, 2009, 10:03am Top

>Amazon reviews with those pretty little stars really are critical to sales

I always find this surprising. After reading so many horror stories about paid reviews, sockpuppet reviews and reviewers being stalked by crazy authors, I gave up posting reviews on Amazon and only do it if the author specifically requests it.

120SqueakyChu
Edited: Mar 30, 2009, 10:28am Top

I think the issue is that, even with sock puppet and paid reviews on it, Amazon is the most looked-at site when it comes to buying books, therefore it's helpful to Amazon and to the authors themselves to actually have honest and unpaid reviews *among* the total number posted.

Even more useful is not just the stars, but any helpful content within the reviews. I guess it was fior that reason that the "most helpful" postings were initiated. on Amazon

What I generally do is post Early Reviewer books to Amazon and reviews of books for which there are no or very few reviews. Other than that, I post only to LT or to my PC.

121infiniteletters
Mar 30, 2009, 7:18pm Top

Yeah, I look at Amazon reviews to get a vague idea of what a book's about. If it's a 4 or 5-star review with no content (beyond "best book evar!"), then it doesn't count.

122lorin77
May 1, 2009, 4:12pm Top

103/106: Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't posting a URL only in a review a no-no? It is okay, though, to include a URL in a review. That's my understanding.

123DevourerOfBooks
May 1, 2009, 4:13pm Top

>122 lorin77:,
I believe that is only for Early Reviewer book reviews. They don't count if they are URL only.

124bonniebooks
Oct 30, 2009, 11:28am Top

Better to ask all your friends and family to post to Amazon

Although the above behavior is understandable, it's one of the reasons I don't bother with Amazon (along with the possibility that some of the reviews might be "paid for" as described in earlier posts) when I'm considering a book. I actually don't look much at the reviews on LT either--but I do notice the star ratings so don't want these artificially tipped higher by paid reviewers.

I visit LT practically every day. I feel like I've made some great friends here and that our interactions are honest and real, albeit long distance. In some cases, that distance even adds to the relationship. Mostly I listen to my "friends" whose threads I follow and who follow mine. I want to trust that these people I'm listening to on LT have no ulterior motives and/or unknown/outside interests when talking to me about a book they've read, because I definitely have been reading and buying more books since joining LT!

I don't want to worry about being tricked, or get any more cynical than I already am. And I don't want to wade through advertisements to discuss books with other readers. So, Tim, I would love to have those people who get paid to write reviews at least identified on LT so that I can ignore them. But I would most prefer a way for them not to be on LT at all. Yes, I know that the commentary and reviews along with our libraries and wish lists that we each provide will, in aggregate, help sell books, but your efforts to make/keep this site for and about us readers is greatly appreciated!

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