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):

  • SWIFT PROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS (w/ Bonus Content): Learn how to create a fully functional iOS and OS X apps - in just a FEW hours! (app design, ... java, javascript, jquery, php, perl, ajax) [Kindle Edition]
  • HTML CSS PROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS (w/ Bonus Content): Learn how to create VISUALLY STUNNING Web Pages - in just a FEW hours! (app design, app development, ... java, javascript, jquery, php, perl, ajax) [Kindle Edition]
  • PHP PROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS (w/ Bonus Content): Learn how to create and power a FULL Website Experience - in just a FEW hours! (app design, app ... java, javascript, jquery, php, perl, ajax) [Kindle Edition]

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

This review is from: SWIFT PROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS (w/ Bonus Content): Learn how to create a fully functional iOS and OS X apps - in just a FEW hours! (app design, ... java, javascript, jquery, php, perl, ajax) (Kindle Edition)

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

This review is from: SWIFT PROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS (w/ Bonus Content): Learn how to create a fully functional iOS and OS X apps - in just a FEW hours! (app design, ... java, javascript, jquery, php, perl, ajax) (Kindle Edition)

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?)

This review is from: SWIFT PROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS (w/ Bonus Content): Learn how to create a fully functional iOS and OS X apps - in just a FEW hours! (app design, ... java, javascript, jquery, php, perl, ajax) (Kindle Edition)

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.


That's just the tip of the iceberg ... in many non-fiction categories (love, relationship, lifestyle ...), about half of the books are really fiction titles. Fake reviews aren't working in the long - the 3 books will drop sharply when nobody is buying them. Most of the (fake) 5 star reviews are verified purchases, so the person "buying" the reviews is going to pay for buying the ebooks as well (or has offered them for free for a limited time). This is not sustainable and there will be few new buyers for these books. Of course, you can contact Amazon, but it likely won't help.

I wouldn't worry about this (too much). Your book seems to have about the right rating and isn't being targeted for negative reviews. No one really looking for a Perl book will be fooled by those pieces of garbage.

Ultimately this hurts Amazon more than you - as a buyer I hate having to weed through garbage to get to useful things. If Amazon's product list in a category becomes full of garbage, I stop searching Amazon.

You can leave a brief review on those books stating that you believe most of those reviews to be fake (with selected evidence, e.g., reviewer "Felicity"). Other shoppers can then mark your review as helpful, and if it's helpful enough, it gets listed as the "most helpful negative review". I find such featured reviews helpful in discriminating between junk copies and the real thing.

But, of course, you're right. It should be easy for Amazon to ID garbage like this.

I think it's silly to assume any company can "easily identify" garbage reviews. With tens of millions of products, all containing reviews, it's just not realistic, and continuing to assume it's realistic is silly. Amazon does have a wait period (presumably to catch non-human attempts at reviews) between a review being submitted and it being posted. But trying to identify fake reviews quickly and programmatically is a tad farfetched.

What I'm seeing here is no real evidence of any kind of fake reviews at all. I don't think you posting their reviews are helping your point. Those could be genuine. Spelling mistakes do not mean something is fake, nor do quantity of reviews. I write my review titles the same way sometimes. It helps them appear on search engines and gives a cheap, useful, small book some more advertisement which I'm happy to do. In any case, this is not Amazon's fault. This happens with any website where you can comment. But maybe your only flaw isn't in spelling and you just don't deserve #9. Self-righteous moron. Also fix your website. How are you supposed to read this garbage?

Nice try "Programing and Tech league"... we're on to you though :P

I'm not really a fan of Amazon reviews but with the help of this blog, I became interested. I learned a lot from this blog. because of this blog, I was intrigue and more interested in buying stuff from Amazon knowing different tips and tricks that can help me to find my perfect product. Good job to the author! Wll-written! Highly recommended!

I really liked this article even though I'm not interesting in the subject. It shows me many tips and tricks and gives me hope and love.

probably your book sucks and they are right

Right. The reviewer who said she learned how to win at minecraft from the book was totally legit.

I notice the various reviews all have the same minor grammar errors too. Clearly written by the same person.

Its just oreilly media sandbagging your book all is normal

I could help you get your book to the top with new cover design. Maybe people are just judging the book by its cover. I mean look at number 1! who doesn't love alpacas?

@Michael: funny.

Curtis: this seems like another way that Amazon is screwing over authors and publishers in their quest for world domination. They've pulled crap like this forever. Amazon reviews are kind o like Usenet: once a worthy resource, now taken over by overseas scamsters and spammers.

At least you can take comfort in the fact that you've improved the lives of beginning Perl programmers immeasurably by giving them an alternative to the insufferable Randal Schwartz and his terrible book Learning Perl, which I wouldn't wish my worst enemy to use as toilet paper.

I understand your frustration, but at the same time: Those books are only 2.99 and yours is 30. People who buy a 2.99 book know that they are buying low quality crap.

Caveat emptor ...

Fake reviews are indeed a problem. Fake reviews should not be allowed and should be removed.

However "fraudulent" books aren't really fradulent if they are just bad books providing low quality information. In this case they have as much right to exist as any other. Reviews will tell people which to avoid - which again comes back to the problem being fradulent reviews and not fradulent books.

I have no interest in programming, but I found this article and just want to say:

Talent eventually rises to the top. Give it some more time. Those who really want to learn will find a valuable resource. These days (ironically) a lot of effort is spent trying to avoid making an effort. This goes for consumers and "producers" alike. Please continue to believe in people's benevolence. You'll win out in the end.


I wouldn't worry, people buying 3$ ebooks were never going to spend the amount on yours because they're both too cheap for it and not invested enough in programming to bother looking into real resources (free stuff all over the net is already of much higher quality than these scammy ebooks on Amazon)

And anyone looking for good stuff surely won't be fooled by generic first reviews. It only really helps for people who filter out items with no/bad reviews before comparing what they have left.

Uh, strongly disagree. Automatically preventing these scams would be a piece of cake for a company with Amazon's resources

No but they can detect mass reviews by a user account. It isn't normal for a user to post hundreds of reviews in a short time. It would be very easy to flag that account for review.

Over half the customer reviews on Amazon are fake.

These are anonymous reviews on the internet, by anyone, for any reason. Amazon has no legal obligation to police them under section 203 of the communications decency act.

If you search for "buy amazon reviews" you'll find the tip of the iceberg, most of these services offer "verified purchase" reviews. All "verified purchase" means is that the person who reviewed the product bought one, the return on investment for doing this for fake reviews beats any other kind of marking by a long way.

Even fake reviewers can't control how most customers base their purchase decisions on what an anonymous strangers say on the internet (harldy facebook profiles are they, and at least that would be harder to game than completely anonymous reviews).

I have dealt with this sort of thing on a daily basis for at least the past 8 years, though it had nothing to do with books. I work in Internet Marketing and fake reviews are just something I must try and combat. Sadly it has become the norm and I know of many people especially overseas who make a good living writing fake reviews. Many American companies will also engage in this activity and hide behind what should be an honest job title called 'Reputation Management'. By the way, you can easily make upwards of $200/hour doing it. With the ease of use of proxy servers and many other tricks, the people making thousands of dollars per month doing this (also hoarding Craigslist) cannot be stopped. The amount of money they make guarantees they will find away around any system that is put in place. The Web enables us to sell in ways that were never possible in earlier years but it also has increased the level of fraud and made it easier to. There is no easy fix and for me I must go to the drawing board on a daily basis to determine a method of combating this problem. I would say I feel for you, I sort of do but at the same time I have become numb and look at online sale completely different than the average person because I must factor in these sorts of hurdles.

I ghostwrote some Minecraft books, and got all these glowing reviews all of a sudden. I think mine are fake as well. But when I emailed Amazon about it, they asked me for more information even though they could have easily checked into the reviewer themselves -- I sent them a screen shot of the reviews, and all names were clearly visible.

Amazon is not good at applied machine learning. The task of automatically detecting fraudulent reviews this poor in quality is basically solved, but they don't have the right talent in house to handle it.

Don't worry too much about those fake books, in the long run the quality of your book will prevail. People interested in these technologies can see through the fake reviews. I know it muddies the waters with the noise that buyers have to sift through, but these things have tendencies to fix themselves. After while no-one will buy the fake books and the copy/paste authors will jump ships to somewhere else. So good luck, and don't worry about the noise.

Thank you for putting out this op-ed. I personally enjoy the fact that Amazon allows folks to write their opinions of products; it helps me purchase items with greater quantities of data.

As a writer and self-publisher, however, I am painfully aware that there are flaws in this system. My husband and I launched our books on Amazon's KDP in February of 2014. Sales went through the roof and by the next month our Epic Fantasy series was selling in the top 1%. We were thrilled.

Said success attracted the attention of our competitors, some of which--we soon discovered--have no scruples whatsoever; we began getting a barrage of negative reviews, some of which were complete fabrications, and some legitimate. Most of the "bad" reviews praised our competitor's books with similar language, and likewise degraded our books--and many of our fellow writer's books--using almost identical phrases over and over again, under different names.

The timing of the bulk of the negative reviews could not be ignored. Every time our books would get close to that 1-5% popularity area, then we get another slough of negative reviews, which successfully changed the search & recommendation formulas. Two of such reviews we've successfully lobbied to have removed, but it was a long, arduous process.

Now, I respect the integrity of the review system--as I mentioned at the beginning of my rant--and utilize it myself, but it is far too easy to rate a few products in order to appear legitimate and then use the account to slather libel all over a competitor's book/product.

Our competitors are fortunate that our abundance of ethics do not allow us to respond in kind. Despite the present of the above-mentioned poseur posters, we'll continue to craft and put up more fiction on Amazon for sale, as no real competitor has emerged (as of yet) that can provide such a wide range of potential customers... but we do hope that the review system is overhauled soon.

I have had my products on Amazon for 16 years.The problem with fraudulent reviews has gotten worse.It's open and notorious! Amazon's credibility is at stake,they ought to get serious about it.People no longer trust their rankings.That is a very slippery slope.

just checked the top perl books page, curtis, and those you flagged are gone, but so is your book. meanwhile, a javascript book appears in the top 20. seems like they tweaked their algorithm - maybe o'reilly books are now favored?

Welcome to digital storefronts. Sorry you weren't ready for this. I'm an indie iOS game developer and experience the same problem to the extreme. A large portion of the top apps in the iOS app store get there by using services (against the terms of service) that publish fake reviews and issue downloads by automated services to bump the app's rankings. Once they're bumped into the top 10 they take off even if they suck. My 4-5 star games are constantly bumped out of the top charts by games that are clearly 1-3 star games getting pushed up. These services are hard to combat and unfortunately not worth the effort to stop because it's harder to detect than it is to create.

Fake reviews happen all the time. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that about 30% of the products on Amazon are bought! There's nothing much you can do besides fight fire with fire.

Fake books, on the other hand, is really shady. What's the point?

Looking eagerly for a book with title "Beginning Perl 6" similar to your Perl 5.x book and preferably from 'Wrox' publication.

ohh, that's nothing. check out this guy's books.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=cmcrprpdtbl_sr?ie=UTF8&field-keywords=Sam+Key. He's got one on Perl, of course.

This is the mode of operation:

  1. write a 25 page book from cribbing some stuff on the web. like 'Python getting started' or the like. About 20 of those in 6 months. "C++ in a day", indeed.

  2. put it up on Amazon.

  3. have anywhere from 30-200 guys swamp it with "I was a beginner, but gosh, this book was huge help" reviews.

sometimes 30-40 reviews in a day ;-)

  1. sit back and enjoy the suckers.

It's easy to see how rotten the system is. Just look at one of those books and check out the "Customers who bought this item also bought" info. Same stooges giving the 5 stars? Happily posting on other books by Sam Key. Or on dietary supplements or hair loss remedies.

Several reviewers have notified Amazon - nada results.


It's sad that the fake reviews are messing up the book ratings. But I don't think you should worry about it. What you have written is an absolutely amazing book, so people will buy it.

I take amazon reviews with a big pinch of salt, and I have pretty large hands :). I'm sure there are folks out there like me who'd do the same.

I really hope you write the next version of this book.

Most of the links are dead or largely deleted now, so I cannot test this thing against them, unfortunately; in any case, I just saw Fakespot, which, if it does what it promises even reasonably well (namely, grade reviews by authenticity to help inform buyers), should be very useful.

(This should not be read as an endorsement though: I’ve only seen the link but have not had a chance to test the thing. I thought the links from this post could be a useful proving ground – alas. (But good on Amazon, I guess?) OTOH, the weblog I got it from it does not usually link to fluff.)

About Ovid

user-pic Freelance Perl/Testing/Agile consultant and trainer. See http://www.allaroundtheworld.fr/ for our services. If you have a problem with Perl, we will solve it for you. And don't forget to buy my book! http://www.amazon.com/Beginning-Perl-Curtis-Poe/dp/1118013840/