Book reviews can be extremely useful. They can help us better choose our next book, to home in on the one that is most likely the best for us.
Of course, this holds true provided it is the kind of book we like. You know, no matter how many stars a book has if it is about, say, Second World War and we read only romance.
Even so, even when considering reviews of the types of books we like, in this digital era of ours we can run into a problem.
In fact, although many reviews are genuine, and some paid reviews are perfectly legitimate–in that they come from highly respectable names–a sizable part of such book reviews is fake.
They are nothing more than paid reviews aimed at inflating a book’s rating. They are the result of unscrupulous people paid to unashamedly praise books that should be used only as door stoppers.
Granted, this problem was already present in the past, even when the digital revolution was still to come and you could be thought of as a computer whiz just because you were able to write a line of BASIC.
But given that back then in order to write a review you had to most likely be a pro, recommendations and reviews were in general more reliable. After all reviewers had to maintain their respectability if they were to keep their job.
Bestseller lists on steroids
Given that bestseller lists are compiled taking into consideration sales numbers, and these are also influenced by reviews, these days I rarely if ever buy a book just because it appears on one of such bestseller lists.
In fact, even if Amazon is trying to crack down on these–with dubious results at best–at the moment it’s indisputable that reviews can be used, at least in part, to game the system and gain unjustified visibility.
A reader’s first line of defense
Luckily, however, while reviews can be exploited by less than principled people, there’s something else that’s much more difficult to engineer into a scamming device.
I’m referring to samples. The digital equivalent of your riffling through the pages of actual books you take in your hands when you saunter among the shelves of a brick-and-mortar bookstore.
In fact, in my experience, of all the times I bought a book after reading a sample only on one occasion I felt I had been cheated off my money.
This happened with a book whose sample was perfectly edited and also seemed to hint at an interesting and well crafted story. Unfortunately, as soon as I read past the end of the sample, I discovered that both near-perfect editing and good storytelling disappeared.
Just one time.
Now, considering the number of years I’ve been buying ebooks I would say this simple approach–reading the samples–would render useless most scammers’ attempts.
I believe this approach is helpful also for another reason. Bestseller lists, even when they actually serve up a list of perfectly legitimate titles, rarely give you the opportunity to find something different, even within the confines of your preferred genres.
Instead, if you invest some time reading samples you can often come across books and authors you would have never considered buying.
Of course, also samples can be engineered to trick readers. But they require more time to be properly hacked. Besides, I think here Amazon and all other sellers can come up with an automated solution that could actually present insurmountable problems to scammers.
In fact, Amazon could offer readers the opportunity to read the first few pages of a book as usual, and then offer some more pages from the rest of the book.
These additional pages should be offered following a pattern that is the result of complex inner calculations nobody can guess. Also, unlike Google Books, such pages should be recalculated every time the book contents are edited. To prevent scammers from editing adequately only those pages the algorithm has chosen to show as a sample.
In this way, if actually read, samples would represent a really formidable obstacle to the proliferation of
authors scammers, also in Kindle Unlimited.
Of course, this is just a suggestion, and I don’t know if it is easily implementable. In any case, let me know what you think about this. For example, have you ever been tricked by a review?