Hopefully by the end of this post, we'll be able to see eye to eye on the subject of paid reviews . . . 

Hello, again! My last two posts discussed the reviewer and author sides of paid reviews. This one will focus on the readers’ side. This is the last post in this series, but I hope by the end of it, if you are one who normally distrusts paid reviews based on the fact the reviewer received compensation, you will walk away with a new perspective on the matter.

The truth is that no reader can really trust any review, paid or free. Why? Money isn’t the only thing that motivates people. A lot of authors have friends and family that leave stellar reviews on their Amazon pages and elsewhere even if the book isn’t that great. Some people (including friends and family of the author, in some cases) leave horrible reviews for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the book itself. Also, if an author wants to, they can create new accounts for Amazon and some other review sites and post their own reviews under a different name. Not only that, but there’s really no way to tell if a review was paid for or not anyway because not everyone follows the Federal Trade Commission endorsement guidelines.

Reviewers are supposed to place a disclaimer on their site disclosing any compensation they received for their services, even if it was just a free book (which, I might add, is what many reviewers receive to complete their “free” reviews). This is in accordance with FTC endorsement guidelines, and it’s required because, according to many, receiving any compensation for something may encourage reviewers to offer a better rating. Readers should thus be made aware of this possibility. However, the truth is that many paid reviewers may not even know (or care) about this requirement, and so they won’t add this disclaimer to their reviews. This in turn means that readers who think they’re reading a free review may in fact be reading a paid review. So the argument of whether a review is trustworthy or not based on its status as free or paid is null because readers more than likely won’t even know that a review was paid for if the reviewer doesn’t follow FTC guidelines. If a reviewer does follow the guidelines, however, it’s likely a good indication that they are honest and you can better trust their reviews.

There are also other ways to gauge the honesty of reviews, such as by making note of whether the reviewer critiqued the book at all. There isn’t a story I’ve read yet that I didn’t feel something in it could have been better. To promote honest reviews without hurting an author’s publicity, Readers’ Favorite asks that reviewers don’t publicly post reviews that give books less than four stars. Instead, the negative reviews are sent privately to the authors and no review is published. The reviews are still honest, but I prefer to have the freedom to list negatives because I think not doing so can be harmful to authors and readers alike. I personally have a harder time buying a book when all the reviews are flowery. If there aren’t any thorns in at least one review, I wonder what the reviewers are leaving out. I don’t like surprises, especially if those surprises have to do with profuse errors or triggering situations. If I’m aware of such errors and situations when I start reading the book, they aren’t such a slap in the face because I was expecting them and knew what I was getting when I bought the book.

In my opinion, the best reviews lay everything out that a reader would want to know in the most respectful way possible. As in the case of Readers’ Favorite, reviews that don’t outright critique books aren’t all untrustworthy, but know that you might not be getting the whole picture. However, it could also just be that the book was exceptionally good. If so, the reviewer should state that. Most books allow you to read a sample first, so if the book clicks with you, be your own judge of whether you should get it or not. It’s hard to use a sample to decide if a review is accurate, but that review might not even matter anymore if you like the sample enough. While reviews are an invaluable tool to help influence sales, it’s ultimately the buyer’s responsibility to do further research and decide whether to purchase the product, not just based on the reviews but also on other information they can gather on the product (such as through samples, in the case of books).

The bottom line is that “free” does not always equal “honest,” and “paid” does not always equal “dishonest.” I’m sure there are reviewers who lie and authors who bribe people in the hopes of receiving good ratings. There are many dishonest people in the world and folks are right to question the trustworthiness of any service. However, discrediting reviews just because they were purchased (if you even know they were purchased) and refusing to read the books such reviews focus on is unfair and can lead you to miss out on a lot of great reads. On that note, I’ll leave you to consider the points I made in this post and the previous ones. Remember that my point isn’t that you should stop reading reviews. Reviews are still useful and important. My point is that it isn’t logical to condemn paid reviewers and distrust their reviews based solely on the fact those reviewers were compensated for their services.

That wraps up this series about paid reviews. I may revisit the subject sometime in the future, but I’ve covered this topic from the three angles I wanted to. I am interested to know what you think about paid reviews now that you’ve completed this series. Do you agree with my stance on them? Do you have your own concerns you’d like to bring up? Let me know in the comments, even if you disagree with me. I know this can be a touchy subject, but please just remember to be respectful of others.