The Truth Shall Make You
DEAR AMAZON, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT DAVID …
The Sunday Times reports today that Amazon, the world’s largest on-line marketplace, is taking action against those who post bogus positive reviews of products on its site. It is to sue these fakes “for the manipulation and deception” of Amazon customers.
Amazon might like to begin this admirable process by pursuing someone who has recently and publicly admitted getting his friends and family to post fraudulent reviews of his work – and doing so in the hope of better sales.
On April 21st 2014, the high profile journalist and commentator David Aaronovitch told the readers of his regular column in The Times:
Sometimes though, even good people (ie: me) have to do questionable things, because the system makes us. Take my last book debunking conspiracy theories …
Something like half of all book sales are now made through Amazon, and when you find a book on Amazon it is accompanied by reviews from “readers” who give it a 1 (lowest) to 5 star rating.
So, almost before my book was published, the first 1-star reviews started to appear, from people who had never read it. After a week, even I wouldn’t have bought it.
There is only one thing you can do in this situation. You ask every friend and family member to go onsite PDQ and 5-star your baby. You get your frauds to balance off their frauds. Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais (grâce à Amazon) c’est la guerre.
This casual admission of “fraud” was – to me, at least – shocking. I have published 13 non-fiction books: I have never once felt tempted to encourage or commission fraudulent reviews intended to persuade potential readers to buy my work.
I am prepared to accept Mr. Aaronovitch’s assertion that other people practice a similar dishonesty. In 2010 the academic historian Orlando Figes admitted using a false name to post favourable reviews of his own work on Amazon (as well as uploading critical reviews of books by his rivals) But following a very public controversy Figes apologised for his actions, describing them as “foolish errors”. Mr Aaronovitch, by contrast, seems cheerfully unrepentant.
But aside from exposing his remarkable lack of integrity (or honesty), when examined in detail Mr. Aaronovitch’s admission of fraud also reveals much about his own lax journalistic standards. The “justification” he claimed for perpetrating his fraud was that “almost before my book was published, the first 1-star reviews started to appear, from people who had never read it”. A careful analysis of Amazon suggests this is untrue.
His book, Voodoo Histories, was published on May 7, 2009. The first 1 star review is dated June 8 – a full month after publication. It was followed by a handful of other 1 star reviews from July onwards.
By contrast, two 5 star reviews are dated May 7 – the very day of publication. A further six 5 star reviews appeared before the first critical 1 star review was posted.
If Mr. Aaronovitch can’t even be accurate when confessing to dishonesty it makes me (as a fellow journalist) wonder how much reliance should be placed on the rest of his writing.
And beyond this, that The Times continues to employ a man who, by his own account in its own pages, has attempted to manipulate and deceive – for personal financial gain – consumers on the world’s largest retail platform, suggests that honesty, accuracy and integrity are no longer deemed important requirements for ‘star’ journalists.