Fake Amazon Book Reviews Are Hurting My Book
Update: I really can't say as much as I would like (there's stuff I can't share), but my publisher had a face-to-face with an Amazon rep and internal action was taken. Amazon's investigation is apparently over. The internal position seems to be "we're making money, there are words on pages, so there's no problem here." Amazon's investigation was short and sweet. Some bogus reviewers were removed, but "Felicity" -- one of the worst offenders -- is still there, despite the obvious fact that these are fake reviews. Many other obviously fake reviews remain. In fact, a new fake book with fake reviewers showed up. I genuinely do not know if this response is because of a careless employee or if Amazon discourages employees from shutting down profit streams.
Update 2: At least two of the fraudulent books are now 404s. It appears that Amazon may be taking action after all :)
Update 3: The books are still there. They may not be showing up on the Perl page any more, but Amazon is leaving this near-fraudulent material available for sale. I've dug into some of the books as well as I can and it looks like someone is copying material from Wikipedia, a few online tutorials, and putting together cheap, poorly written eBooks with only a few pages of material.
Most of you know that I wrote Beginning Perl and it's gotten great reviews. In fact, the only significant negative point which comes up is the number of typos. I think that's fair. I wrote the book over a few months, just after my daughter was born, and it is, I think, the single longest Perl book by a single author. It was a Herculean task. Nonetheless, people say it's a great book and it's routinely recommended to new developers. In fact, I've had companies tell me that they buy copies for their devs learning Perl. That's quite an accomplishment.
My book has bounced around on the rankings, sometimes being #1 in Perl (not as often as I would like), but usually down a bit further past well-deserving books by great authors such as Randal Schwartz, Damian Conway, chromatic, and so on. Nonetheless, sales have been steady enough that I'm pleased -- and relieved. As of this writing, my book is the twelfth most popular Perl book, but I realized it's not in the top ten because of what appears to be ... well ... decide for yourself.
Here's a screenshot of today's top books in Perl:
My book is the one in the lower right, and the the three I've outlined in red are rather interesting. Without them, I'd be in the number 9 slot. I realize that when you're not number one, other books are in front of you (well, duh), but why are three books in front of me in the Perl category about Swift, HTML, and PHP?
That's the first part of this. These are all electronic books, they're all by the same author, and here are their titles (I'm minimizing links to avoid giving 'em juice, but they're trivial to find):
So yeah, keyword stuffing in titles. I suppose it's possible there is some coverage of those disparate technologies, but since I don't intend to buy these books, I won't know. In fact, only the HTML book has a table of contents ... and it's three measly chapters. The publication date was December 31st, 2014, and the book already has 35 reviews, all but six of which are five star reviews. Here's a typical glowing review of the HTML book from "Felicity":
This book is perfect for beginners in programming. Honestly, I enjoyed reading this even I'm not into this kind of interest. I'm glad that I read this book because I really learned the basics of programming. I know I can apply it somewhere in this modern world. Great book and well written. Good job! Highly recommended.
As it turns out, "Felicity" has been reviewing books on Amazon since January 14th of this year. She's reviewed 216 books in that time, including:
- Weight-loss Motivation: Learn How to Make A Slim and Healthy Body of Your Dream Fast, Weight Loss Strategies, Lose Weight Book (Health Books) [Kindle Edition] (published January 15, 2015)
- Riddle Me This - The Ultimate Collection Of Riddles & Brain Teasers (Riddles, Brain Teasers, Puzzles, Brain Training, Riddles & Brain Teasers, Riddles & Puzzles, Riddles Book) [Kindle Edition] (published January 11th, 2015)
- Wiccan Spells for Beginners: The ultimate guide to Wicca and Wiccan spells for health, wealth, relationships, and more! [Kindle Edition] (published January 22nd, 2015)
- Minecraft Guide: Unbelievable Minecraft Hidden Secrets Handbook (Minecraft, herobine, minecraft guide, secret, secret handbook) [Kindle Edition] (published January 14th, 2015)
I really liked her in-depth, 5-star review of the Minecraft guide:
I'm not really a fan of minecraft but with the help of this book, I became interested. I learned a lot from this minecraft guide. because of this book, I was intrigue and more interested in playing minecraft knowing different tips and tricks that can help me to win the game. Good job to the author! Wll-written! Highly recommended!
Yeah, that's the sort of crap you're getting. Though to be fair, I found this one-star review of that book interesting:
This book seemed great at th beginning then I got to the secrets part, my favorite!
But every single secret was the exact same (written EXACTLY) as the other book I had about minecraft. Both books had the same secret advise and the exact same text. I was supper surprised!
This isn't unique to "Felicity". A lot of these reviewers on many of these just-published e-books are also cramming in tons of vague reviews on books to apparently push them up the charts.
And here are some of the negative reviews on the Swift book:
1.0 out of 5 stars Positive feedbacks must be a scam, March 12, 2015
By Torsten Gabrielsen - See all my reviews
I think the 4 and 5 star feedbacks must be friends and/or paid feedbacks, it makes no sense that anyone should be so positive that they would give more than 2 stars.. This "book" is a little more than 20 pages and that is even with a lot of "air". It has almost no information and calling it a scam would be nice. Download the free book from Apple which has a lot more information .
To sum it up, on my PC a get 24 pages that covers:
- 5 pages cover and introduction
- 4 pages about variables and constant definition and setting
- 3 pages about control flow - if, while,switch
- 1 empty page
- 3 pages about starting a project in Xcode
- 2 pages mentioning the name and concept of keywords without showing anything (enums,optionals,etc)
- 6 pages with "tips" (write comments, be careful using auto complete,etc), copyright, disclaimer, thank you
Oh, I gave it all away.. Maybe the author will say that I broke his copyright?
Do not buy.
1.0 out of 5 stars Stick with apple's documentation, March 8, 2015
By James R Hazlett - See all my reviews
It feels like a fraction of the information covered in Apple's free and comprehensive introductory materials. Don't bother with this.
1.0 out of 5 stars Not very useful. I read the entire thing in 15 minutes, February 23, 2015
By Nnanna Obuba "nanijoe" (Piscataway, NJ USA) - See all my reviews Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Not very useful.I read the entire thing in 15 minutes. A google search on swift will do you a lot more good than this book.
Come on, Amazon, you can do a better job! If you were a small web site or start up, I might cut you some slack, but you practically invented this industry. Mass uploads of 20 page e-books attracting tons of obviously paid reviewers not only are a disservice to your customers, but they're a disservice to me.
I worked my ass off to write that book. With a newborn baby crying every night, holding down a full-time job, and trying to meet a very tight schedule on a 700 page book, it's frustrating to be beaten out by low-quality crap like this.