ALL SHALL HAVE STARS

~ Posted by Jeremy Duns, October 19th 2012

Harriet Klausner claims to be a speed-reader. In the last decade, this former librarian has reviewed over 28,000 books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other sites. She's a notorious figure in the book-reviewing world. For many authors, getting "Klausnered" is a rite of passage, and as her "reviews" are nearly always very positive they are in a small way helpful, as she raises the average rank of your book.

Despite the impossibility of reading so many books and liking them all, few authors or publishers have condemned her as an obvious fake. But last week, a blogger who has spent years obsessively documenting Klausner's reviewing habits finally found a smoking gun. Using information given by Klausner herself in interviews, the blogger showed that many of the free books she receives from publishers and then reviews are promptly sold online from an account under her son's name. Suddenly, it all makes sense. Some have estimated that Klausner has made around $20,000 a year from her review mill.

But it has made no difference. On Tuesday, Klausner posted 30 new reviews to Amazon, all of them positive. The fact that Amazon and others have tolerated such an obvious fake for so long, and will apparently continue to do so despite overwhelming evidence she is profiting from it, shows how little they care about the integrity of their review systems.

A few months ago, the bestselling British thriller-writer Stephen Leather publicly boasted that he creates fake identities to promote his books online, and the New York Times revealed that the bestselling American writer John Locke kickstarted his success by bulk-buying Amazon reviews of his work. I was involved in exposing another author who used fake identities to give his own work glowing reviews and to slate that of others, and many high-profile writers signed a letter condemning these practices. But despite that, and all the subsequent articles about the topic, nothing has changed. 

As an author, I'm interested in having as fair a review process as possible. Nothing is ever perfect, but I don't see it as too demanding to want sites that sell books to have some way of ensuring that those reviewing them don't have a conflict of interest. I thought this was a simple issue, but the reaction has been mixed. Many authors seem to feel as I do, but some have also argued, in effect, that no systems are ever fair and it is therefore useless to try. Some have dismissed these problems as trivial; others still have accused me and others of conducting a witch-hunt. In the meantime, there's been no reaction at all from the big online retailers. I find the moral equivalence and name-calling bewildering, but have to agree that there seems little point in trying to change the ways of massive corporations when faced with such overwhelming apathy.

Jeremy Duns is author of the Paul Dark spy novels