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View Full Version : How Harriet Klausner's Amazon reviewing scam works.



leahzero
10-12-2012, 04:37 PM
This is fascinating. Someone finally dug up some hard evidence on how Amazon's most prolific "reviewer," Harriet Klausner--who has "reviewed" some 28,000 books in the past decade--is operating her scam.

Klausner is notorious for posting regurgitated back-cover blurbs with 4- or 5-star ratings--she clearly doesn't actually read this stuff. But what was she doing with all the free books publishers sent her?

Selling them, it turns out.

http://harriet-rules.blogspot.com/2012/10/she-works-hard-for-money.html



HK receives advance review copies of books from publishers
HK posts "reviews" on Amazon (and other websites)
HK puts books up for sale on Half.com under her son's name (or else gives them to her son to post there), sometimes well in advance of the release dates of the books
HK violates FTC disclosure rules by failing to mention that she received free copies of these books in exchange for an endorsement (and 99.7% 4- and 5-star reviews certainly implies endorsement)


This may be enough evidence to finally shut her down.

Torgo
10-12-2012, 05:02 PM
Brilliant stuff. Boy, she must have made a lot of money.

Perks
10-12-2012, 05:18 PM
Wow! That's quite something. What a racket.

Filigree
10-12-2012, 05:28 PM
I've always suspected there was a scam in there somewhere.

DeleyanLee
10-12-2012, 05:29 PM
The only surprising thing about this report is that it's taken so long to come to light. Her reviews have been worthless for ages now, at least for myself and my friends. It would be refreshing to see her gone and leave room for some (hopefully) more honest reviews.

Susan Littlefield
10-12-2012, 06:44 PM
What a horrible thing to do. I mean, why not stop posting bogus reviews and open a legit brick and mortar bookstore? It'd be 100% more honest and a whole lot less work.

jjdebenedictis
10-12-2012, 07:12 PM
28000 / 10years * ~$7 per book = $19,600 per 10years = $1960 per year.

Feh. I agree with Susan. That's not enough money to be worth all that work. Where's the incentive for her to commit this kind of widespread, labour-intensive fraud?

jaksen
10-12-2012, 07:37 PM
28000 / 10years * ~$7 per book = $19,600 per 10years = $1960 per year.

Feh. I agree with Susan. That's not enough money to be worth all that work. Where's the incentive for her to commit this kind of widespread, labour-intensive fraud?

My math comes out closer to 20K a year, or $19,600.

Disclaimer: I wasn't a math teacher, only science.

LindaJeanne
10-12-2012, 07:48 PM
Yup -- jaksen's right: you divided by 10 twice (once at the beginning of your calculation, and again at the end :)).

Perks
10-12-2012, 07:53 PM
I could spend an extra twenty grand a year.

Stacia Kane
10-12-2012, 07:56 PM
It's not the money so much as the fact that she makes money AND gets free books (if she reads them).

I don't care about her reviews, but I DO care about selling ARCs. That annoys the heck out of me.

aruna
10-12-2012, 08:14 PM
It's not the money so much as the fact that she makes money AND gets free books (if she reads them).

I don't care about her reviews, but I DO care about selling ARCs. That annoys the heck out of me.

It's all about the money. She doesn't even read the free books so obviously that's not why she does it. I mean, I could understand beig a full time free reviewer if I were a voracious speed-reader and just wanted to get free books. But they are sold unread. So it'snot about the reading at all.
Yuck all the way through. But I alwasys suspect something wrong.

Sheryl Nantus
10-12-2012, 08:24 PM
I don't care about her reviews, but I DO care about selling ARCs. That annoys the heck out of me.

Yep.

When I worked for Penguin a thousand years ago we were *very* nervous about ARCs going elsewhere other than to the reviewer in question.

ARC's aren't necessarily the final product. It's very possible that a book could change between the review copy and the finished product, although not by much.

Unethical, yes. I'm not sure about illegal.

And really, who takes her reviews seriously anymore?

Torgo
10-12-2012, 08:26 PM
Yep.

When I worked for Penguin a thousand years ago we were *very* nervous about ARCs going elsewhere other than to the reviewer in question.

ARC's aren't necessarily the final product. It's very possible that a book could change between the review copy and the finished product, although not by much.

Unethical, yes. I'm not sure about illegal.


Publishers I've worked for have kept an eye on Ebay and AbeBooks for years, looking out for sales of proofs. I don't think it's actually illegal, but if we spot it and can trace you, you don't get any more ARCs.

shakeysix
10-12-2012, 08:28 PM
19,600$ a year? Jeez, for that I'd actually read the damn books and do real reviews before I sold them. I can review them in Spanish too! --s6

jjdebenedictis
10-12-2012, 08:41 PM
My math comes out closer to 20K a year, or $19,600.

Disclaimer: I wasn't a math teacher, only science.D'oh! You're totally right. Redface.

Edit: And yeah, $19,600 is something you can live on. Now the effort makes sense.

bearilou
10-12-2012, 08:56 PM
I remember being supremely pissed when I ordered a used book from Amazon and I received an ARC. I didn't pay for an ARC, I paid for the final published deal.

I didn't say anything because at the time I ignorantly thought that this was ok to do. Glad to see my being pissed wasn't misplaced.

thothguard51
10-12-2012, 08:57 PM
The few ARC's I've received had a notice on the cover,

Advanced Readers Copy, not for resale...

Don't the publishers have a way of tracking ARC's so they can stop sending them to reviewers or advanced readers who violate their trust?

Phaeal
10-12-2012, 09:09 PM
I remember being supremely pissed when I ordered a used book from Amazon and I received an ARC. I didn't pay for an ARC, I paid for the final published deal.

I didn't say anything because at the time I ignorantly thought that this was ok to do. Glad to see my being pissed wasn't misplaced.

Yup, nothing worse than misplaced pissedness.

WildScribe
10-12-2012, 09:15 PM
Hmm, I didn't even know it was a Bad Thing. I see ARCs at the local used book store all the time.

rugcat
10-12-2012, 09:32 PM
Yes, for many years now, authors have been "Klausnerized." Getting a Klausner review was kind of a rite of passage that amused people and was never taken seriously.

But since almost all her reviews are invariably four of five star, (helping boost Amazon review stats, esp for those with few reviews) no one was in a big rush to investigate or out her.

benbradley
10-12-2012, 09:34 PM
Yep.

When I worked for Penguin a thousand years ago we were *very* nervous about ARCs going elsewhere other than to the reviewer in question.

ARC's aren't necessarily the final product. It's very possible that a book could change between the review copy and the finished product, although not by much.

Unethical, yes. I'm not sure about illegal.

And really, who takes her reviews seriously anymore?
It's illegal to sell BEFORE THE TRADE BOOK IS PUBLISHED, but afterward "First Sale Doctrine" goes in to effect and it's legal to sell. We've had threads on this topic before.

But selling the ARC before publication takes away from a trade sale, and that's why it's illegal.

Getting on publishers' lists for ARCs so you can sell them after publication is legal, but certainly unethical.

Publishers I've worked for have kept an eye on Ebay and AbeBooks for years, looking out for sales of proofs. I don't think it's actually illegal, but if we spot it and can trace you, you don't get any more ARCs.
This is a legendary reviewer who has been discussed on AW before, who as I recall "reads three books a day." Back then I didn't even think about where she got her books or what she did with them, nor did it connect (if it was even mentioned) that she put each review up at or near the day the book was published.

How did publishers not figure this out - she was apparently "reviewing" books they sent her, under her own name, but no one looked to see she was just posting blurbs as reviews? Does anyone at the publisher read reviews from the people they send ARCs?

I remember being supremely pissed when I ordered a used book from Amazon and I received an ARC. I didn't pay for an ARC, I paid for the final published deal.

I didn't say anything because at the time I ignorantly thought that this was ok to do. Glad to see my being pissed wasn't misplaced.
If they didn't describe it as an ARC, then it was misdescribed and you can say so in your feedback. But of course they didn't describe it correctly, as Amazon doesn't allow selling of ARCs (even after publication, even decades after).

The few ARC's I've received had a notice on the cover,

Advanced Readers Copy, not for resale...

Don't the publishers have a way of tracking ARC's so they can stop sending them to reviewers or advanced readers who violate their trust?
Having a statement on it doesn't in itself make it illegal, though it may scare some people away from doing it.

eBay and (I think) Amazon have (or did a few years ago) strict policies against selling ARCs. This mean booksellers couldn't sell 20+ year old ARCs that clearly had no more value to the publisher, author or anyone except someone who wants to collect ARCs.

Snuggles
10-12-2012, 09:46 PM
I have only received ARC's from Bantam Books and they always have "This copy is for review purposes only. Not to be sold," written all over the first page and sometimes on some pages in between too.

Plus, the cover is always different, usually just the name of the book and author on it.

I've also had the publisher call for some of the older books they sent me back again.

It's a surprise the publishers weren't suspicious of HK.

Snuggles

IceCreamEmpress
10-12-2012, 10:55 PM
Harriet Klausner writes her fake reviews because she digs the attention she gets. Having her son sell the books is just a byproduct--she didn't start doing it for the money, she started doing it because she wanted to be the Queen of Amazon Reviewers and get attention from the media (which she did).

Now she gets attention she doesn't want, as an embarrassment and a joke. (I say this as someone who got a good review from Harriet back in the day myself---unsolicited and frankly unwanted---so it's not sour grapes.)

Jamesaritchie
10-12-2012, 11:20 PM
How long do you suppose it takes to write one of those reviews? That's teh deciding factor in whether the money is enough to make it worthwhile, though I know families of four who live on less.

I have a friend who works forty hours per week at a local convenience story. He earns $8.50 per hour, or $17,680 per year, and supports his family on this. The median per capita income here is, at $17,587, almost exactly this. So for most, that's quite a bit of money.

She certain isn't reading all those books. I could probably read 7.6 romance novels, short westerns, etc., in a long day, but there's no way I could read this many and still have time to write reviews.

There's no way this violates FTC rules, except in spirit, but I do wonder if she's accurately reporting her income to the IRS?

As for ARCs, you can't put them in a bookstore as new books, but I've bought many at used bookstores, and they can be quite collectible. Technically, I'm not supposed to sell any of the novels I have published unless they come through teh publisher to a bookstore where I'm signing, or to a convention of the right type, or to some sort of speaking engagement. In all these cases, I essentially buy from the publisher just as anyone else would, which means the sales get recorded as official sales.

Jamesaritchie
10-12-2012, 11:24 PM
I have only received ARC's from Bantam Books and they always have "This copy is for review purposes only. Not to be sold," written all over the first page and sometimes on some pages in between too.

Plus, the cover is always different, usually just the name of the book and author on it.

I've also had the publisher call for some of the older books they sent me back again.

It's a surprise the publishers weren't suspicious of HK.

Snuggles

I've never had a publisher call for any books back, and it wouldn't do any good, anyway. I don't have room for books I'm not going to read again, so older books go straight to Goodwill.

And publishers often send out hundreds of ARCs. There's no way to keep track of them, and really no need to do so.

And it's the fact that ARCs aren't suppose dto be sold, and that relatively few of them are printed compared to the actual released book, that makes many of them so collectible. When something is collectible, money will change hands.

Jess Haines
10-12-2012, 11:53 PM
It's illegal to sell BEFORE THE TRADE BOOK IS PUBLISHED, but afterward "First Sale Doctrine" goes in to effect and it's legal to sell. We've had threads on this topic before.

But selling the ARC before publication takes away from a trade sale, and that's why it's illegal.

Any idea where it says this in the CP codes? Curious, because I hear people argue about it over Twitter and elsewhere, but I have yet to see an actual legal code which addresses the issue.


There's no way this violates FTC rules, except in spirit, but I do wonder if she's accurately reporting her income to the IRS?

Actually, it does. I'll do some digging to find it for you, but you're required by FTC rules to disclose where you got a product from. The FTC can fine both the reviewer and the company for not disclosing an arrangement where the company compensates the reviewer for a review, positive mention, or sponsored post.

veinglory
10-13-2012, 12:18 AM
Indeed. I review online for various companies and middlemen and these days they all insist on a disclosure.

IceCreamEmpress
10-13-2012, 02:35 AM
I don't take physical copies of books for review on the Twitter anymore for this reason (which means less reviewing of small press books that are print-only, but there it is). According to the FTC, an e-galley isn't "compensation" because it presumably can't be resold (and indeed, the NetGalley ones expire after 30 days or something).

The FTC isn't going to go after Harriet, though.

Filigree
10-13-2012, 03:28 AM
Klausner provides an illusion of objective distance.

Indeed, Amazon and its authors have a vested interest in keeping Klausner and other robo-reviewers around and active. They may not be that ethical, but their reviews at least have less stigma than authors self-rating their work. Or creating sock puppets to hype books with a 4 to 6 million rank and probable sales histories of one or two copies.

I hate to be that cynical, but several months of watching author clubs glad-handing each other to get reciprocal likes, tags, and reviews have left me feeling a bit bruised.

Those 4 and 5-star Klausner reviews, even if they are basically cloned from jacket copy, are strong currency in the struggle to get books noticed. The more notice books gain, the more they sell, and both Amazon and its authors benefit. Much like lobbyists in Washington, no one is going to push to change the system too much.

I think the new Author Rankings are a step in the right direction, because they can highlight an author's full backlist instead of providing an echo chamber for a few bestsellers.

CheshireCat
10-13-2012, 05:56 AM
I've been complaining about HK's so-called "reviews" for years, but not because I suspected she was selling the ARCs she received (I was fairly certain of that), or even that she "regurgitated" back cover copy rather than bothering to construct an actual review.

What maddens me to this day is the fact that she often posts "reviews" that mix up character names and plot points, sometimes giving away spoilers -- and other times very obviously mixing up actual books.

It's like somebody else is copying down the back cover copy onto index cards, and sometimes she gets them mixed up.

No writer I know takes her seriously, but at the same time she gets her faux reviews out there instantly, so it's usually the first one you get, and never mind how many stars she gives the book; if she screws up the plot you could turn off a reader who otherwise might read your book.

Not that I expect that number to be a large one. Still. These days, every sale counts, and it irks me to have her carelessness cost me a potential reader.

benbradley
10-13-2012, 06:31 AM
Any idea where it says this in the CP codes? Curious, because I hear people argue about it over Twitter and elsewhere, but I have yet to see an actual legal code which addresses the issue.
The what codes?

I recall hearing of some court ruling years or maybe decades ago - a publisher sued someone for selling ARCs. The ruling was that they were legal to sell AFTER the book was first published, based on First Sale Doctrine.

Here's something:
http://www.justice.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm01854.htm
The third paragraph says:

Further, the privileges created by the first sale principle do not "extend to any person who has acquired possession of the copy or phonorecord from the copyright owner, by rental, lease, loan, or otherwise, without acquiring ownership of it."
The publisher did not SELL the ARCs to the reviewers, but is claiming to have loaned them, thus (the argument goes) it did not transfer a licensed copy - it only "licensed" ARCs for reading, and the publisher retains (or at least claims to retain) ownership. Thus it's technically illegal to give away an ARC.

It has certainly been a legal question, though this second link seems to say (for CDs) it is NOT illegal, but doesn't seem to address selling the item BEFORE the publication:
http://www.linkedin.com/answers/law-legal/corporate-law/contracts/LAW_COR_CON/153893-3412433
https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2011/01/04-0

Rhymes with Clue
10-13-2012, 06:45 AM
I don't think you can actually call this a scam, although it's...something.

HK's review (posted on a listserv and on amazon) was the very first review I got after the book came out (I had a PW review a couple of months before), and my editor actually sent it to me. Of course it was a wonderful review and I very nearly framed it, until I realized she thought EVERY book was just the best book ever written. (And she got the character's name wrong, and wasn't exactly on-topic with the plot--but hey, five stars!)

The sad thing is that a lot of publishers actually quoted her reviews on the back covers of the next book, or they used to. This is kind of like saying, "No one else even gave this book a good review."

This was ten or so years ago. I assume the publishers are onto her now, but maybe not--she's still giving good reviews, so they must still be sending her review copies.

I never heard it was illegal to sell the review copy, though. I also think a disclaimer saying "I got this book for free" is a relatively new thing, because everybody knows that a written review in, say, your local newspaper is from a book provided free by the publisher.

BethS
10-13-2012, 04:26 PM
everybody knows that a written review in, say, your local newspaper is from a book provided free by the publisher.

Actually, I don't think everybody knows. I suspect a lot of people, if they even bother to think about it, assume the reviewer bought the book like everyone else.

Stacia Kane
10-13-2012, 04:30 PM
What maddens me to this day is the fact that she often posts "reviews" that mix up character names and plot points, sometimes giving away spoilers -- and other times very obviously mixing up actual books.

It's like somebody else is copying down the back cover copy onto index cards, and sometimes she gets them mixed up.

No writer I know takes her seriously, but at the same time she gets her faux reviews out there instantly, so it's usually the first one you get, and never mind how many stars she gives the book; if she screws up the plot you could turn off a reader who otherwise might read your book.

Not that I expect that number to be a large one. Still. These days, every sale counts, and it irks me to have her carelessness cost me a potential reader.


Yes, one of her reviews for one of my books was barely even in English, and had nothing to do with the actual plot (except for the spoiler she managed to include).

Kindness
10-13-2012, 04:45 PM
Meh. Can't say this bothers me very much. It's really just a minor annoyance for readers, publishers and authors, as far as this kind of thing goes (seeing as she's only ever sold 1 of each ARC. People seem to skip her reviews anyway, and that's not anything new, considering how common unhelpful reviews are either way) and it's easily solved.

I hope she doesn't get in too much trouble. I'd rather publishers were alerted so they can warn her to straighten up and/or stop sending her ARCs than this get dragged out into something huge. We don't know her situation...

I'm not condoning what she does (did?) but I don't exactly think it's horrifying either.

jaksen
10-13-2012, 05:48 PM
Just want to point out that for some people, 20K isn't much. It's pocket change. (So it is for my older sister, but not my younger.)

20K for some people is paying the mortgage - or not. Owning a second car - or not. Paying off part of a college tuition - or other large bill.

For me it's about five years of property taxes, so yeah, it would be an important chunk of change.

jjdebenedictis
10-13-2012, 08:09 PM
20K for some people is paying the mortgage - or not. Owning a second car - or not. Paying off part of a college tuition - or other large bill.

For me it's about five years of property taxes, so yeah, it would be an important chunk of change.Yeah, this occurred to me too. We don't know why she does this. If she is mobility impaired or has sketchy health, it might be very hard for her to hold down another job. $20,000 a year might be a reasonable living, and she can do it from home on her own time.

That said, I think it's fraud and I think every publisher should henceforth stop sending her any books. I don't necessarily think she should go to jail or be fined, however. Just shut it all down, now that it has come to light.

IceCreamEmpress
10-14-2012, 06:28 AM
Just want to point out that for some people, 20K isn't much.

Over ten years, though, not all at once. $2,000 a year can definitely make a difference in most people's lives, but it's not enough for Harriet to be living high off the hog on her (creepy and inappropriate) proceeds.

But I definitely think it's about the attention for her, not about the extra $2,000 a year. IIRC she lives a comfortable middle-class life in the suburbs because her spouse has a well-paying job.

(I'm kind of amused that I [and seemingly a lot of other folks here] think it's kind of embarrassing that she'd sell out for so little. I would want to make Kardashian-style bucks if I was going to throw ethics to the winds myself! But sadly, book reviewing isn't a hot reality show topic...)

meowzbark
10-14-2012, 08:41 AM
Yeah, this occurred to me too. We don't know why she does this. If she is mobility impaired or has sketchy health, it might be very hard for her to hold down another job. $20,000 a year might be a reasonable living, and she can do it from home on her own time.

That said, I think it's fraud and I think every publisher should henceforth stop sending her any books. I don't necessarily think she should go to jail or be fined, however. Just shut it all down, now that it has come to light.

If I could make 20k working at home, I would. She could be a stay at home mother like me.

aruna
10-14-2012, 09:40 AM
28000 / 10years * ~$7 per book = $19,600 per 10years = $1960 per year.

?


My math comes out closer to 20K a year, or $19,600.

Disclaimer: I wasn't a math teacher, only science.


Over ten years, though, not all at once. $2,000 a year can definitely make a difference in most people's lives, but it's not enough for Harriet to be living high off the hog on her (creepy and inappropriate) proceeds.

But I definitely think it's about the attention for her, not about the extra $2,000 a year.

No, it's approx. 20 k per year. See above!

Bogna
10-14-2012, 11:47 AM
The FTC isn't going to go after Harriet, though.

I wouldn't be surprised if they do. She's pretty well known and someone is bound to report her or the publishers.

leahzero
10-14-2012, 05:44 PM
She's not just profiting off selling the ARCs--people are alleging that she's paid by review sites, too.

https://twitter.com/inkognitoh/status/257475829691473920

It's possible she's making much more money off this than $20k/year.

BenPanced
10-14-2012, 08:09 PM
The FTC isn't going to go after Harriet, though.


I wouldn't be surprised if they do. She's pretty well known and someone is bound to report her or the publishers.
$20,000 a year is squat compared to what the FTC is normally used to going after. If she'd managed to come up with a $2,000,000 a year empire, yeah, they'd be knocking on her door by now. It's like when the RIAA were going after people for downloading music files from sharing sites like Limewire. Somebody who downloaded two or three files didn't have a thing to worry about compared to the ones who'd downloaded 200,000.

Alessandra Kelley
10-14-2012, 08:28 PM
$20,000 a year is squat compared to what the FTC is normally used to going after. If she'd managed to come up with a $2,000,000 a year empire, yeah, they'd be knocking on her door by now. It's like when the RIAA were going after people for downloading music files from sharing sites like Limewire. Somebody who downloaded two or three files didn't have a thing to worry about compared to the ones who'd downloaded 200,000.

So ... is this the sweet spot, where one is making enough money off a scam to seriously improve one's life, but not so much as to trigger legal action?

Because that seems really revolting, somehow.

Torgo
10-14-2012, 08:31 PM
So ... is this the sweet spot, where one is making enough money off a scam to seriously improve one's life, but not so much as to trigger legal action?

Because that seems really revolting, somehow.

Apropos of this, the guys who tampered with an ATM and got my card and PIN off it last month got themselves about 1,000, and the bank doesn't actually bother passing the case along to the police. So if that's your grift, it's very sweet, because nobody will come after you.

G. Applejack
10-14-2012, 09:47 PM
So ... is this the sweet spot, where one is making enough money off a scam to seriously improve one's life, but not so much as to trigger legal action?

Because that seems really revolting, somehow.

Yup. That's why I'm sure to only shoplift items totaling under $25 from Wal-Mart.

:sarcasm

BenPanced
10-14-2012, 11:43 PM
$20,000 a year is squat compared to what the FTC is normally used to going after. If she'd managed to come up with a $2,000,000 a year empire, yeah, they'd be knocking on her door by now. It's like when the RIAA were going after people for downloading music files from sharing sites like Limewire. Somebody who downloaded two or three files didn't have a thing to worry about compared to the ones who'd downloaded 200,000.


So ... is this the sweet spot, where one is making enough money off a scam to seriously improve one's life, but not so much as to trigger legal action?

Because that seems really revolting, somehow.
I don't know, really. I'm just speculating that depending on the depth/scope of this, the FTC must just figure it's really not worth the time and bother. A lot of times, agencies like this might just decide to shake The Stern Finger of Authority in the offender's face and make them promise it'll never happen again.

strictlytopsecret
10-15-2012, 05:48 PM
My suspicion is that the publishers would stop sending her ARCs if they were unhappy with the "product" she's offering (i.e., 4.5-5 star Amazon reviews consisting of regurgitated back cover blurbs). It seems unlikely that they are unaware that the ARCs are being sold. What she's offering seems to works for them. At least for now. Why would they file suit in a situation that is working to their (mutual) advantage?

Sadly, what this accomplishes is degrading the public's confidence in book reviews posted on Amazon.com . It probably won't be long before this sort of thing is no longer a benefit to publishers. When we reach that point, that's probably when Klausner's gravy train will come to a grinding halt.

~STS~

willietheshakes
10-15-2012, 05:54 PM
Sadly, what this accomplishes is degrading the public's confidence in book reviews posted on Amazon.com . It probably won't be long before this sort of thing is no longer a benefit to publishers. When we reach that point, that's probably when Klausner's gravy train will come to a grinding halt.


Wait - there was public confidence in the reviews posted on Amazon?

strictlytopsecret
10-15-2012, 06:00 PM
Wait - there was public confidence in the reviews posted on Amazon?

If there weren't, there wouldn't be an industry devoted to generating and selling reviews on everything from books to baby bottles :)

I recently saw a television commercial for a company called "reputation.com" that provides a service that seems (at least according to the commercial) only to move "bad" or "inaccurate" information/reviews off the google front page and replace them with whatever they company perceives to be "truth".

We live in interesting times.

~STS~

Filigree
10-15-2012, 10:06 PM
The entire juggernaut of SEO and 'reputation management' runs off these not-quite-scams. The companies contacting me don't seem to understand or care that I do *not* want 300,000 hits to my blog every day. I want my very small target audience, and I'm getting there on my own.

As far as 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon, so far they seem to be an approved marketing tool no matter their source. A coherent, well-argued review from a total stranger has as much critical weight as a gushing message from someone's Aunt June. Right now, there's no reason to change.

Klausner may get her conveyer belt of ARCs shut down, but her review system will probably remain. A pity, because she does muddy the waters with inaccurate reviews.

Jess Haines
10-15-2012, 11:44 PM
The what codes?

I recall hearing of some court ruling years or maybe decades ago - a publisher sued someone for selling ARCs. The ruling was that they were legal to sell AFTER the book was first published, based on First Sale Doctrine.

Here's something:
http://www.justice.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm01854.htm
The third paragraph says:

The publisher did not SELL the ARCs to the reviewers, but is claiming to have loaned them, thus (the argument goes) it did not transfer a licensed copy - it only "licensed" ARCs for reading, and the publisher retains (or at least claims to retain) ownership. Thus it's technically illegal to give away an ARC.

It has certainly been a legal question, though this second link seems to say (for CDs) it is NOT illegal, but doesn't seem to address selling the item BEFORE the publication:
http://www.linkedin.com/answers/law-legal/corporate-law/contracts/LAW_COR_CON/153893-3412433
https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2011/01/04-0

Pardon me, I was in a rush when I typed up that post -- CP = shorthand for Civil Procedure.

Thanks for the link, BTW.

BardSkye
10-16-2012, 01:23 AM
I actually can read three books a day and write an honest review of them. Where do I apply to get paid for doing so?

Bah. Anywhere there's the possibility of making money, there will be scammers. Thanks for the links; interesting topic.

James D. Macdonald
10-16-2012, 05:46 AM
I recently saw a television commercial for a company called "reputation.com" that provides a service that seems (at least according to the commercial) only to move "bad" or "inaccurate" information/reviews off the google front page and replace them with whatever they company perceives to be "truth".


Whether they can actually provide the service they advertise is another question entirely....

MichaelZWilliamson
12-09-2012, 10:32 AM
There was a post about her selling them several years ago. No one seems to actually be stopping her.

I was quite pleased myself, to see an ARC of one of my books go on eBay for $125, two weeks before release.

aruna
12-09-2012, 11:18 AM
Did anyone buy it at that price?

benbradley
12-10-2012, 06:44 AM
If there weren't, there wouldn't be an industry devoted to generating and selling reviews on everything from books to baby bottles :)

I recently saw a television commercial for a company called "reputation.com" that provides a service that seems (at least according to the commercial) only to move "bad" or "inaccurate" information/reviews off the google front page and replace them with whatever they company perceives to be "truth".

We live in interesting times.

~STS~
I've heard the ads on the radio. There's no real legitimate, PUBLICLY KNOWN way to manipulate Google results. The website/SEO company for JC Penny was doing something interesting a while back, but Google fixed that shortly after the story broke (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html?pagewanted=all).

Whether they can actually provide the service they advertise is another question entirely....
I presume they do SOMETHING - people such as doctors especially, who could lose business because of bad online reviews, would be interested in such "services." I'm wondering if they send "tone letters" to sites with reviews against their customers, threatening to sue if the reviews aren't taken down.

With that, I see a market for anonymous review sites about US businesses, with the servers located in Russia.

frankiebrown
12-10-2012, 04:41 PM
I could spend an extra twenty grand a year.

This.

And if the money's not enough, I'm sure she enjoys all of the attention she gets.

Tedium
12-11-2012, 08:53 AM
Personally, I wouldn't have an issue with her selling ARCs if her reviews didn't suck so hard. If she was at least taking the time to give an honest and insightful opinion, I'm sure people would care less about what she was doing with the books.

It's hard to say that what she's doing isn't a big deal when she is muddying the waters as much as she has.

Ketzel
12-12-2012, 08:59 AM
When a publisher provides an ARC to a reviewer in exchange for a review, the custom of the industry is, in effect, to transfer ownership of the ARC itself to the reviewer, not to lend, lease or license it. (I'd be curious to know if any publisher ever made a consistent practice of attempting to retrieve all the ARCs it sent out.) That means that if a publisher doesn't want a reviewer to sell an ARC before the date of publication (or at any other time) the publisher needs to have, and enforce, a written agreement to that effect with the reviewer. Stamping "Not For Resale" on an ARC has about as much legal/practical effect as writing "For Deposit Only" on a paper check.

The ethics of selling ARCs in the absence of an agreement not to is debatable, but there's nothing illegal about it, AFAIK.

[My opinion only; not intended as legal advice to anyone.]

veinglory
12-12-2012, 08:41 PM
The fact that many are stamped "not for resale" suggested that some publisher may not agree with that interpretation.

James D. Macdonald
12-12-2012, 09:21 PM
I presume they do SOMETHING - people such as doctors especially, who could lose business because of bad online reviews, would be interested in such "services." I'm wondering if they send "tone letters" to sites with reviews against their customers, threatening to sue if the reviews aren't taken down.


That's exactly what they do.

Perhaps the best-known case is of the family of a young lady who was killed in an automobile accident, who hired just such a firm to get the photos of her mangled body off the Internet.

The very first link you get, today, when you Google on her name is those photos.

Ketzel
12-12-2012, 11:37 PM
The fact that many are stamped "not for resale" suggested that some publisher may not agree with that interpretation.


It's more likely their attorney suggested they "belt and suspender" the agreement with the reviewer by making it clear to the public that the ARC is intended to be to be unsellable in the publisher's view. It doesn't give any more legal protection beyond the agreement itself, but it may make some buyers uncomfortable enough to refrain from buying. And in cases where the publisher didn't have a written agreement with the reviewer but tries to sue him or her for selling the ARC anyway, it's some evidence that there was an unwritten agreement between the reviewer and the publisher not to re-sell the ARC. But it's weak at best - a classic example of the Yogi Berraism that "an unwritten agreement isn't worth the paper it's printed on."

benbradley
12-12-2012, 11:39 PM
That's exactly what they do.

Perhaps the best-known case is of the family of a young lady who was killed in an automobile accident, who hired just such a firm to get the photos of her mangled body off the Internet.

The very first link you get, today, when you Google on her name is those photos.
Aha, it's the Streisand Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect) at work.

veinglory
12-12-2012, 11:42 PM
It's more likely their attorney suggested they "belt and suspender" the agreement with the reviewer by making it clear to the public that the ARC is intended to be to be unsellable in the publisher's view.

All I said is that some publisher have a different view. As a reviewer I focus on my what my explicit/implicit agreement with the parties is, and my personal ethics. Rather than just assuming anything not illegal is okay to do. And I can't think of a single case where a publisher tried to sue a reviewer for selling an ARC. Can you name one?

Ketzel
12-13-2012, 05:34 AM
All I said is that some publisher have a different view. As a reviewer I focus on my what my explicit/implicit agreement with the parties is, and my personal ethics. Rather than just assuming anything not illegal is okay to do. And I can't think of a single case where a publisher tried to sue a reviewer for selling an ARC. Can you name one?
Not off the top of my head, no. But that's part of the point I'm attempting to make - the custom and practice of the publishing industry seems to be laissez-faire about the sale of ARCs by reviewers. It would certainly be possible for them to be a lot more aggressive about creating and enforcing a "no re-sale" stance than they generally are.

I don't think I've ever implied that it's always OK to do anything as long as it's not illegal. In my own view, the law creates a floor of permitted behavior, not a ceiling. It's always possible, and often preferable, to go above and beyond what the law requires - and, of course, a specific agreement between two parties is usually made for just that reason.

veinglory
12-13-2012, 07:20 AM
Indeed. And in the absence of a contract (which some publishers have tried but it caused a huge backlash) one tends to go by accepted custom -- unless there is a reason not to.

Both selling ARCs, and requiring reviewers to sign a contract promising not to, are against the quaint yet still palpable dictates of etiquette.

James D. Macdonald
12-13-2012, 07:25 AM
It would certainly be possible for them to be a lot more aggressive about creating and enforcing a "no re-sale" stance than they generally are.


As understaffed as most publishers are, the question of resource allocation comes into this. What is the best use of their time and money? Hunting down reviewers who sold ARCs, or acquiring, editing, designing, distributing, and marketing books?

Ketzel
12-13-2012, 07:03 PM
As understaffed as most publishers are, the question of resource allocation comes into this. What is the best use of their time and money? Hunting down reviewers who sold ARCs, or acquiring, editing, designing, distributing, and marketing books?

Of course. And there's balancing to be done between the resource allocation and the harm, as well. And by harm, I mean both economic damage and harm to the relationships the publishers have with their reviewers - Veinglory notes the resistance the publishers got when some of them tried to impose an enforceable contract.

It does leave the publishers and their authors more vulnerable to a Klausner. However, given that the system seems to work well enough otherwise, I assume even someone like her doesn't have that big an impact and is sufficiently rare that it makes more sense to absorb whatever harm she might cause, rather than re-design the whole ARC distribution process to defend against her like.

MDSchafer
12-26-2012, 08:42 AM
Someone might want to notify the IRS. While the FEC probably won't care, $20,000 in unreported income over several years time is probably enough to trigger an audit.

djf881
12-27-2012, 03:00 AM
(Full disclosure: Klausner gave my book a favorable review)

This is a non-issue.

1) I do not know Harriet Klausner personally. I have no way to know whether she reads the books she reviews. Time magazine and the NYT have tracked her down. She's a retired librarian and she says she's a speed reader.

She posts her reviews under her real name. This is her whole thing; she's tied her identity up in Amazon reviews to a greater extent than perhaps anyone else alive. As a reviewer, she is a better-known quantity than just about any customer reviewer on Amazon.

Either you find her reviews helpful or you do not. As of right now, she has 108,000 "helpful" votes.

2.) The fact that she gives only 4 or 5 star reviews is not at all controversial. On Amazon, anything less than 4 stars is a negative review. I generally don't buy or read books I don't expect to like, so I've got no cause to give bad reviews on Amazon.

Perhaps we'd be better off if a five-star review was reserved for extraordinary works and three stars still connoted a worthwhile read, but it does not. An average rating of about 4.2 signifies an acceptable book on Amazon, and an average rating of 3.7 suggests that readers were disappointed.

Also, when readers don't like books, they tend not to finish them. That's especially true of readers who don't pay for books, and don't get paid to review them. I tend not to read books I expect to dislike, so I have not read a book in the last 3 years that I felt the need to go on Amazon and un-recommend. Therefore, if I were a reviewer, I would not have published a review below 4 stars either in the last 3 years.

3.) To the extent that Harriet Klausner's reviewing practices are problematic, Amazon has already done something about them. Klausner became the number 1 Amazon reviewer at a time when reviewer ranking was calculated according to a reviewer's total number of helpful votes. This gave an insurmountable advantage to people who posted a huge number of reviews.

Years ago, they changed the ranking algorithm considerably. Klausner's current reviewer ranking is 1616.

4.) Most professional media reviewers, whether of books, film or music, review publisher-provided review materials. Professional outlets do not post FTC disclaimers on their reviews. What constitutes a "relationship" or an "endorsement" under the FTC guidelines is vaguely defined, and I am not aware of them ever being enforced against a book blogger, or anyone at all.

It has not traditionally been an ethical requirement of a reviewer to disclose that review materials were provided by a publisher, though it is a widely-known common practice to review publisher-provided materials. This obscure FTC guideline does not create a new ethical obligation.

Many top Amazon reviewers receive review materials and do not post disclaimers, either because they don't know about the relatively obscure FTC guidelines, they've dismissed what they've read about FTC disclosure requirements as Internet misinformation, or because they have concluded that the guidelines do not apply to their reviews.

I assume all top reviewers get their books for free, and I still trust them more than I trust non-top reviewers. People get to be top reviewers by writing reviews that strangers find helpful.

5.) ARC-selling is annoying. Secondhand book sales are kind of annoying. Neither of these activities pays royalties to authors. But the fact is, obscurity is the biggest challenge any author has to overcome, and that's why all authors want their publishers to send out lots of ARCs, despite the fact that they may be resold. A lot of authors don't get ARCs, and wish they did.

Secondhand sales of physical books, ARCs or otherwise, are an absolutely trifling problem compared to digital piracy. And as a "racket," or a scam, selling secondhand review materials isn't very lucrative. Booksellers make most of their money selling lots of copies of popular books. Klausner's review habits get her one copy each of thousands of different books, many of which aren't in high demand. Even if you believe she can sell every single book she gets from publishers on Half.com, she has to do a lot of envelope-stuffing, listing management and trips to the post office for a profit of a couple of dollars per book.

6.) Klausner's review of my book is not derived from any of my publisher's marketing materials. She refers to characters and events that are not mentioned specifically in any of the promotional stuff, so it appears she read at least part of the book and wrote several paragraphs about it.

I know my publisher sent my book to Klausner unsolicited, and I know of several other reviewers who have higher current reviewer ranks that either bought the book based on professional reviews or had to request it from Vine or Netgalley. I am actually a little bit frustrated that publishers aren't doing a better job of cultivating some of these other top reviewers, since these people seem to maintain groups of readers who place a lot of trust in their recommendations, whereas Klausner's influence is more diffuse since she reviews so much.

fourlittlebees
10-22-2015, 05:44 PM
Harriet passed away last week.

No matter what you felt about her reviews (and I'll readily admit to being in the "never read a book" camp based on often erroneous things in the reviews of books I'd also reviewed), it was utterly depressing to read her obituary, where apparently so much of her self-worth was tied up in that reviewer status.

http://m.news-daily.com/news/2015/oct/17/harriet-klausner/

Kylabelle
10-22-2015, 05:50 PM
Thank you for that news.

brainstorm77
10-22-2015, 06:23 PM
I honestly didn't think she was a real person. RIP!

E.F.B.
10-22-2015, 07:16 PM
Seems I'm a bit late to this conversation, but I have found it very interesting to read all these posts. I had never heard of Harriet Klausner before, nor did I know that she had some Amazon scam going.


It's not the money so much as the fact that she makes money AND gets free books (if she reads them).

I don't care about her reviews, but I DO care about selling ARCs. That annoys the heck out of me.
It annoys me too. For me, the thing that annoys the heck out of me the most is the lack of integrity in her actions and the fact that she got paid anyway.


She's not just profiting off selling the ARCs--people are alleging that she's paid by review sites, too.

https://twitter.com/inkognitoh/status/257475829691473920

It's possible she's making much more money off this than $20k/year.
Now I'm more annoyed.


Sadly, what this accomplishes is degrading the public's confidence in book reviews posted on Amazon.com .

~STS~
Speaking personally here, something like this, while I don't like it, doesn't degrade my confidence in the quality of book reviews on Amazon. Honestly, I don't know that I've ever had THAT much confidence in book reviews posted ANYWHERE, Amazon.com or otherwise. Reviews are just so subjective, after all. IF I read the reviews before buying a book (and I have to be extremely unsure whether or not I'll like the book in order to do that), I read multiple reviews both good, bad, and in between. The more specific they are about why they feel the way they do about the book the better. Then I use the combined information from those multiple reviews to make my decision.

No one review all by itself (unless it's written by someone I know and trust who has similar tastes to me) will ever cause me to read or not read a book. Certainly not one that looks like the person just copied the blurb from the back of the book and didn't actually read it.


I actually can read three books a day and write an honest review of them. QUOTE]
I envy you. :) I'm lucky if I can read a book in less than a month. My current record is a little under a week to read one book, but I have to be really, really, into it to do that.
[QUOTE=fourlittlebees;9603514]Harriet passed away last week.

No matter what you felt about her reviews (and I'll readily admit to being in the "never read a book" camp based on often erroneous things in the reviews of books I'd also reviewed), it was utterly depressing to read her obituary, where apparently so much of her self-worth was tied up in that reviewer status.

http://m.news-daily.com/news/2015/oct/17/harriet-klausner/
Well, despite how I feel about how her actions in life, I'm sorry to hear that she felt that way about herself. May she rest in peace.

RightHoJeeves
10-23-2015, 09:59 AM
I pictured this happening in a Goodfellas-style montage.

VRanger
04-07-2016, 10:23 PM
Recently her account was closed down ... presumably by the family. All her reviews show as by "A Customer", and there is no access to reviews through a profile anymore. Despite her sordid reputation as a reviewer, I found that a bit sad, as she was a notable part of Amazon reviewing history. The only way to tell a Klausner review anymore is that she signed them at the bottom.

I had speculated years before that blog that she was selling the books, and I seriously doubt the publishers cared. They sent her books to get her 4 and 5 star reviews, and knew exactly what was going on. Publishing houses are not pure of heart. LOL

fourlittlebees
04-07-2016, 11:36 PM
For a long time, I thought the publishers just wanted the high stars, too, but it's worse than that.

They honestly do not bother keeping track of who gets dead tree ARCs.

While policing of e-ARCs is fairly vigilant, once you are on a list to get physical ARCs, it is nearly impossible to get back off them. I took a job with a pub nearly a year ago, and had to give up reviewing. Emailed every last publicist I worked with, some more than once. Eleven months later, UPS JUST dropped off another book.