The following is a guest post.
Independent and self published authors sometimes face tremendous struggles in getting their books noticed. Even when they do succeed in making the sales, they do not always manage to get the reviews that they need. In a capitalistic society, just about anything can be purchased. Reviews are one of those potential items.
However, the legitimacy of purchased reviews has met with a great deal of controversy, primarily because it has led to an increased rate of false and filler reviews. The New York Times reports that perhaps more than 60 percent of book reviews, including overly harsh and overly flattering ones, may be false. Unfortunately, it is difficult to completely prove whether a review is false, and in that case, you can only make a solid guess. However, the bigger issue for the new authors is whether they should go ahead and purchase book reviews to try to increase the buzz.
Legal or Illegal
Each book selling platform has its own rules. Most of the time, those rules and requirements will control. Even if the law of your state does not forbid it, the individual stores and platforms can make the laws stricter. This means that if the store policy forbids reviews from individuals who did not purchase the book independently or who are affiliated with the author, then you are in the wrong. As you can see from Legal Zoom reviews, people often assume that only the law controls. They forget that store policies can further increase requirements.
However, the sale of book reviews has been around for awhile. In some cases, it is as simple as the author or publishing house providing free books for the reviewer to read. Other services including Amazon offer paid review services. The one key that they have though is that they do not guarantee positive reviews. Currently, hearings and requests to the Federal Trade Commission request that the government treat these reviews in the same way that they treat affiliate earnings. In other words, reviewers may be required to disclose that they are being paid to give the review.
Everything has become more competitive in the self publishing world. Some self published authors claim that the only way that they can get noticed is if they actually request reviews and pay services to review them. So long as you do not require that they be positive reviews and the laws do not change, this is not necessarily a bad thing nor is it illegal. But the risk is that if people find out that you have purchased reviews, they may assume you are not a good author. You need to make sure that you handle it with the greatest ethics that you can. This means that you cannot write your own reviews nor can you pay for people to say good things about you. Also Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites are working toward creating a system that will verify the accuracy of reviews and whether they were posted by individuals who actually purchased or reviewed the book.