November 20, 2012

Amazon Reviews: An Amorality Tale

As you can see, Amazon Reviews is a service that will give you ten online reviews for your book for a mere $15. (And it's hardly the only such service out there!) This led me to imagine a scene in a bookstore...

Setting: A neighborhood bookstore, where author Roman Bildung has finished speaking about his autobiography, A Childhood in Short Pants, to a small but appreciative audience. As the folding chairs are cleared away, a woman approaches Bildung and introduces herself as “Prudence.”

Bildung: It’s good to meet you, Prudence! Thank you for coming out this evening; I really appreciate it. [He opens a copy of Short Pants and picks up a pen.]

Prudence: No, no, thank YOU. Your book talk was really quite enlightening! The world would be a better place if more people knew of your work.

Bildung (chuckling, flattered): Perhaps so, perhaps so. Was there a particular aspect of my talk that spoke to you? Perhaps the section where I talked about the challenges of being nicknamed “Little Lord Fauntleroy”?

Prudence: I must apologize. Strictly speaking, I didn’t HEAR your presentation. But as I came in the store just now, I overheard people speaking very enthusiastically about it!

Bildung (setting pen down): I see.

Prudence: And based on what I heard, I’m quite happy to write a flattering review of your book talk. Then I could post it online at places like the IDEA—

Bildung: What’s the IDEA?

Prudence: The Internet Database of Eminent Authors, of course.

Bildung (coldly): But you didn’t even see my presentation!

Prudence: I hardly think we should let that invalidate your stirring work with A Life in Short Pantaloons. It’s like the old saying: “If an author talks about his book but nobody hears him, does he make a sound?”

Bildung: Pants. It’s A Life in Short Pants.

Prudence. Exactly! You know, you and I have a lot in common. For instance, like you, I need to maximize my income stream. [Prudence hands Bildung an itemized sheet.] Here’s a breakdown of my various services.

Bildung (reading): You charge fifty dollars for a one-star review of any rival’s book? And $85 for a five-star book review of one of my titles?! [He clenches his jaw angrily.] The integrity of online reviews is entirely dependent on the goodwill and honesty of readers. What you’re proposing is fraudulent, scurrilous, and unprincipled.

Prudence: I agree! It’s just so sad that measures like this are needed. But with hordes of “self-published” hacks clamoring for attention, a REAL writer like you has to be resourceful to have his voice heard. So let me sing the praises of your lyrical and gripping memoir, A Short Life in Pants. As you can see on this info sheet, your sales figures will jump—

Bildung (pounding the table): No self-respecting person would engage in this—this sock-puppetry. Notable authors have even signed petitions denouncing this very practice!

Prudence: I know—most of those writers are my clients. [Bildung’s jaw drops.] Come on, when was the last time that you—or ANY “real” reader—wrote a five-star book review on Amazon?

Bildung (sarcastically): I see. And so the only solution is to play a game of charades.

Prudence: Naturally, I wish things were different. But for the moment, we’re forced to deal with this marketplace until a better, more honest system comes along.

Bildung: And don’t your clients worry about getting caught?

Prudence (proudly): That has never happened—UNLESS a client requests that the fake reviews he’s purchased be revealed as a sham.

Bildung (rubbing his face tiredly): I give up. Tell me, why would a writer do that?

Prudence: The media coverage is just tremendous! After being exposed, my client tearfully chalks the matter up to “a lapse in judgment”—and watches his name recognition skyrocket!

Bildung (muttering): I must admit, the success of “Fifty Ways to Wear Short Pants” has stolen some of my book’s thunder . . .

Bookstore Customer (gushing): Pardon me, Mr. Bildung! I just have to share with you that EVERYONE in my book club is getting your new—

Bildung: Just give us a moment, ma’am! [He reaches for his wallet.] I’m assuming credit cards are okay?

Prudence: Of course!

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