How Harriet Klausner's Amazon reviewing scam works.

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leahzero

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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

  1. HK receives advance review copies of books from publishers
  2. HK posts "reviews" on Amazon (and other websites)
  3. 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
  4. 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.
 

DeleyanLee

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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.
 

jjdebenedictis

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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

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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

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

aruna

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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

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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

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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.
 

jjdebenedictis

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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.
 
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bearilou

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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

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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

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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

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Hmm, I didn't even know it was a Bad Thing. I see ARCs at the local used book store all the time.
 

rugcat

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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

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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.
 

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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
 
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IceCreamEmpress

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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

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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.
 
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