Where Rorting The System Is OK
Where Rorting The System Is OK
The Grand Illusion Part 4
This is a fairly short installment in The Grand Illusion series.
A common theme in The Grand Illusion theory is that there is collective psychology at play (I believe it is termed sociopsychological). In other words, there are behaviors and beliefs that generate from the collective, not the individual, but it affects individuals in the long run.
I have discussed several such beasts, including the belief by many self-publishers that they are good at what they do (are publishable) when in fact they are not. In this article, I want to talk about dishonesty.
The advent of flood-level self-publishing couldn’t have happened without the support of business models and technologies geared for this type of market. Amazon is a key player, of course. Because there are literally hundreds of thousands of authors, and even more titles at play, traditional techniques to differentiate quality, and to market, are meaningless.
Reader-based ratings and reviews are a free form of elevating title worth to other readers, and there are other processes in place that are based on payment (either directly, or indirectly by sacrificing unit revenue).
The problem with many of these systems, and the rating/review process, in particular, is that it is terribly easy to manipulate them. As an author, I can rate my own title in Goodreads, Amazon, etc, 5 stars. I can ask all my friends to do the same. I can even ask some of them to rate it 3 or 4 (but not too many), to make it look like I am getting a whole lot of even-handed reviews/ratings. I can even, if I want, create a few fictitious accounts and add more 5 star ratings and wonderful reviews.
I can pay unscrupulous professional reviewers to rate my work favorably (and in fact, some will rate ‘competitors’ unfavorably – a recent, awful twist). I will leave it to others to rate these different techniques in terms of where they lie on the moral spectrum, but I contend that NONE of them are, in fact, honest. They are dishonest. (Exception: if friend and family ratings are truly given with honesty).
This practice is wrong. It distorts what little value a reader-generated rating system provides to other readers with regard to the quality of titles, and it supports in the long term a parasitic class (the unscrupulous paid reviewers, and companies like Amazon who attract income from various forms of fees).
With regard to The Grand Illusion, what we have is a growing practice to use some or all of these techniques by many authors, and collectively they have convinced themselves it is alright. It is okay. Everyone else is doing it, heh?
We are including people who have self-proclaimed high moral standards in other aspects of life – Christians, traditionalists, conservatives, liberals, animal rights supporters, etc, etc, and yet they will not bat an eyelid to rate their own books 5 stars or ask their friends to rate their books (and while not specifically asking for 5-star ratings, we all know what will happen). This is truly a Grand Illusion. A delusion.
Where do we go from here? This is a hard one. I don’t think it will change while the system exists as-is when it is so easy to manipulate the system. I have discussed in other forums the belief that separating the wheat from the chaff is the key to breaking down the Grand Illusion, and perhaps such a change, such as creating something much like Rotten Tomatoes for film critiques, will reduce reader ratings and reviews to complete and recognized worthlessness, is the way to go.
The sooner the better, methinks.
I’m wondering as a creative writer how you get published so often so fast? I wish you would write something to help us and guide us not criticize the establishment. Nothing improves from arguments. Joyce
Joyce, I have some other articles published recently (under this name, and under IFWG Publishing) that addresses your requirements; well, at least in part.
I disagree with you regarding argument (I am using the term argument, as a set of statements that form a conclusion – not in terms of arguing with one or more people). I am trying to figure out how this whole mess ticks, and state plainly my views. I think it can be of use to some people – that is all I ask.
I in fact writer articles that are positive – just trawl through my articles.
I understand and agree with many of your points Gerry but what Joyce is saying is the other side of the coin (or Florin if you wish).
Of course, to learn and grow, we all need tips and direction on what to do and what not to do. Hmmm, what to do…? Now htere’s a subject that could do with some discussion, don’t you think?
Thanks for writing such an informative article Gerry. It made me think about some things I’ve never considered before.
R. H. Politz
Did you see my dyslexic typo in my comment? Duhhhhh! Sorry about that.
That some reader reviews are faked (and others solicited) does not mean that all are worthless or that the system has failed utterly and must be thrown out wholesale. As Nobel laureates Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapely have pointed out, effective market design requires attention to detail and deft tweaking. Even then, no system is flawless. The traditional gate-keeping of agents, publishing houses, and professional critics worked in some ways and not in others; the same can be said of the evolving world of e-books, indie authors and indie publishers.
For the record, an author cannot review their own books on Amazon without first creating sock-puppet identities. And the large-scale offenders who buy, trade, or fabricate reviews do tend to be outed eventually, one of the pluses of a free-flowing digital marketplace of ideas and opinions.
It is true that the current system has resulted in a flood of drek in which worthy works are all too easily submerged and drowned, but the problem is not with reader reviews, or at least not the whole problem. Where once the barriers to publishing were substantial, now they are all but non-existent. At the same time, the barriers to literary success are at least as formidable as ever.
Reader recommendations offer readers an alternative means of discovery and writers an alternate route to success. The usefulness of reader reviews could be improved if they were limited to verified purchasers (of the reviewed book) with a verified identity (cleared credit card, for example). No guarantee, but it would make it harder and more expensive to game the system.
–Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson:
Pretty much agree, Larry.
Your point about Amazon not allowing self-rating is valid, but unfortunately is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ‘rorting’, regardless of degree of cynicism applied. The thesis was in relation to the cumulative effect, including those who ‘white rort’, to echo ‘white lies’.
Agree the whole problem is not just relate to reader reviews, that is why this article is ‘Part 4’, and more is coming.
Thanks for your insight 🙂
I don’t really see what has changed Gerry. Paid book reviews (or good book marketing) have been around for a long time. Kirkus Reviews for one have been doing it since around 1930. When you publish with Lulu and Amazon, Kirkus Reviews are even recommended and offered as a service.
So whether an author pays $400 to Kirkus, or $5 on Fiverr, I don’t see any difference really. It’s all part of the same old game and it will never change. Best to just accept the fact and move on.
With due respect, I disagree, Derek. It is a matter of scale, and the accumulated effect on the Grand Illusion. These are, of course, mutually exclusive effects:
Yes, there is a history of ‘rorting’ in the literary world, but for the vast majority of this history, the reviews, particularly reader reviews, were limited and intensely scrutinized by a reading public that had books as a major platform of entertainment. I would argue that the degree of ‘rorting’ was not as prevalent as today. Now we have reviews by the millions, most by ‘readers’, and a large percentage are inherently biased.
Then there’s the Grand Illusion. There are literally tens of thousands of writers out there who encourage, cajole, mutual-back-scratch, purchase, reviews, etc etc etc, and Amazon, Goodreads etc are hinging their internal marketing system on these reader reviews. Many of these writers delude themselves to think that they are simply doing what’s necessary, and clean of taint. More importantly, they *believe* in these reviews and ratings.
I certainly think there is a change, big time.
Thanks for your comments 🙂
Wow, if we get a good review you think it was bought? If we get a bad review, someone was jealous? I thought this to when I got five 5 star reviews and 1 at Amazon that said my work was a disappointing, terrible, in fact. It is true you can’t argue your way to the top of Amazon. They are deleting reviews like crazy with no answer except that’s the way they do it. I know a lot of reviewerss who would bite their tongue off rather than be impartial. I myself worried over one review I was doing on a book that was mediocre at best with little background to identify her characters. I did what I had to do hoping to help her in the future.
Gerry, what is this rorting? I am unfamiliar with this word. Did you read Jack’s piece on all writers being mentally disturbed? You just can’t win an argument with the insane. Thank you for your time and articles I will read. Joyce
By your answer it seems to me you are a good, honest writer. Unfortunately there are plenty of people who are not necessarily good, and (whether they are conscious of it or not), aren’t quite honest – and ‘rort’ the system. Look up ‘rort’ in an online dictionary – not commonly used but common enough not to be considered archaic (also depends in which idiom you use).
Yes, Amazon is excluding reviews in a rather chaotic fashion. There are many theories as to why, as it isn’t clear from them. I do note, however, that the exclusions don’t appear to have any significant pattern. I don’t think it changes the situation much.
Yes, it is very, VERY tempting to help friends and close acquaintances out. This, unfortunately, does add to the collective devaluing of reader-based reviews.