Missing the Point on the Sock-Puppet Reviews Controversy

In case you missed it, the indie-verse is up in arms over the recent revelations about certain authors using paid reviews and sock-puppets to praise themselves and trash their competitors. You can read the revelations in various places (e.g., NYT). But the real news is the backlash against these authors and the subsequent calls for calm (Eisler), moral outrage over the moral outrage (Konrath), and, of course, a good old fashioned pooh-poohing of the whole affair based on a misunderstanding (Howse).

My concern here is the response to the outrage—the outrage over the outrage and the pooh-poohing of the outrage. Some of the usual stars in the indie-verse have missed the cause of the outrage because they’ve focused on the righteous tone of it.

So here’s the real problem in a nutshell: Writers aren’t angry at the sock-puppeteers because they’ve behaved unethically. This isn’t about being holier than thou. They’re mad because the unethical behaviour of these authors has undermined the product review system new writers—especially new indie writers—depend on to sell their books.

It’s just that simple. Word of mouth sells books—that’s a fact. And the product review systems are the e-version of word of mouth. Many ethical indies spend an enormous amount of time seeking out legitimate reviews. Now the currency they’ve built up is being devalued by other writers who buy reviews or fake them through sock-puppets.

If you were deeply dependent on and invested in a system that was being actively undermined by some of your peers, wouldn’t you be downright pissed off?


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