The issue here was not that he paid for reviews (because a lot of authors do this) but the fact that he paid ONE PERSON to create 5,000 Amazon accounts and write 5,000 reviews. 1 person wrote 5,000 individual reviews. THAT was the issue. Creating multiple accounts with the intent to sway the star ratings is against Amazon's ToS. He paid 1 person to write 5,000 reviews and THAT is what got him in trouble. Had he paid 5,000 people to write 5,000 reviews no one would have batted an eye, but that is not what he did - he paid 1 single solitary person to write all 5,000 5-star reviews.
The fact remains that MOST authors do pay for reviews. Many hire a publicists to do it for them while some do it themselves, but either way, it's common practice and it's been common practice since the 1950s, long before either the internet or Amazon were invented.
Think about it, how many times have you said to a friend "Hey I'll give you a copy of my book if you write a review!" Every author does this, it's just human nature. You said it to your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your grandmother, your neighbor, your co-worker, every body in your circle of friends. Whether or not they acted on it is not the point here, the point here is that you offered to buy your own book and pay them with a copy of it to write a review. That means by FTC Law that person is required to write in their review, as part of their review, a disclaimer saying they were paid to write said review. Receiving a free copy of the book is regarded by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) as receiving payment for services rendered.
It is the FTC that was the real issue here. One person wrote 5,000 reviews, not one of those 5,000 reviews had a disclaimer saying they were paid to write said review, Amazon discovered that all of these 5,000 accounts each had only 1 review (all on Locke) and that each had the exact same ISP address. In the initial accusation, he was accused of writing all 5,000 reviews himself, Amazon was threaten to delete his account for ToS violation (you can't write a review for your own book, let alone write 5,000 reviews for your own book) which was WHY he came forward with the fact that, no I didn't write the reviews I paid this guy over here to write the reviews.
An investigation was started, and what happened was, Locke hired a review writing service. The service claimed they would buy 5,000 copies of his book and use them as reader review copies, sending them out to 5,000 readers who would write 5,000 reviews. This is a perfectly legitimate and legal business, provided that there are actually 5,000 individual humans reading those books and writing 5,000 separate honest reviews. In a legal operation those reviews will be all over the map, some good, some bad, some terrible, a few if any will actually be 5 stars. There are literally hundreds of companies that offer this service and nearly every traditional published author uses them (whether they know it or not - often their publisher does not tell them). For self publisher's the most commonly used service is LibraryThing's Early Review Program.
The problem with this particular company that Locke had used was the whole thing was being run by one guy who had created a computer program to randomly generate fake Amazon accounts. In other words - there were no readers at all.
He used this service multiple times - each time the service bought 5,000 books. In other words, yes he did sell a million copies of his book, but close to 100,000 of the very first copies sold were all bought BY ONE PERSON. Locke however was not seen as being at fault here because he honestly believed he was paying for 5,000 reviewers to read his books. Basically he was paying people to buy his book and he thought he was paying lots of people to buy his book, he didn't know there were no real readers behind the reviews or that only 1 person bought all the books. He had no idea the guy was scamming him.
Now I know everybody like to jump on the "let's blame John Locke" bandwagon, but it's important to consider here that Locke was the victim of a scam artist. What Locke was doing was perfectly legal and lots of authors do it. He just hired the wrong person to get the job done. He thought they were honest reviews. He paid for actual reviews from actual readers. He was NOT paying the guy to write 5,000 reviews on fake accounts; he did not know that was what was going on.
Keep in mind here that he had just won a huge amount of money on a game show and did not buy a few reviews - his bank records came out in the court case and he had bought (that they know of) 100,000 reviews, and they suspect he may have bought many, more than this. Each review resulted in 1 sale of the book. It wasn't the reviews that helped him sell a million copies, it was the 100,000 fake sales that happened within a few days of publishing the book, which resulted in him getting top sales rank on Amazon. People started buying his books, because all of a sudden he was #1 on just about every search result page on Amazon, as a result of the review service buying 100,000 copies of his book all at once. So, no, reviews did not result in sales, it was the fake sales that resulted in boosted page rank, that resulted in sales. Buying a review here and there, doesn't do much, but buying 100,000 reviews, yeah, it does make a difference.
Locke was NOT the only author involved here. More than 100 other authors were named in the lawsuit, because they had likewise used the service. The authors were seen as innocent victims here, because they had in good faith paid the service to distribute reader review copies, not aware of the fact that there were no readers at all, and the reviews were nothing but a computer program that was randomly generating fake Amazon accounts, to write computer generated reviews. The only reason Locke got dragged through the mud so publicly was because at the time this happened he had 3 books in the New York Times BestSeller's list and NYTs sued him for fraud, claiming that he had won their bestseller title by scamming them. When NYTs realized Locke had no idea the review service was a scam, they went after the review service and shut it down.
The point is, the practice of buying reviews is not what was in question, because it is simply an understood fact that most (traditional published) best sellers have agents, publishers, editors, and publicists out there marketing for them and part of that marketing involves paying readers (via free copies of books) to write reviews. What was in question was that ONE PERSON had written 5,000 reviews using 5,000 fake Amazon accounts.
And I will point out that if you received his book free at a conference, it was because he paid that conference to hand out his books. In other words he was one of their sponcers. Again, not an uncommon or unethical practice. And it worked didn't it? You read the book than went to Amazon to write a review. You did not buy the book, you were paid with a free copy to read it and review it, even if you were not aware you were being set up to do so.
Were you asking my opinion of Locke as a writer? I have read the book you are questioning and I did not like it. It read like a get-rich-quick scheme, and seemed to full of self promotion and hype to be taken seriously. It's not a book I would recommend for someone just starting out. Sure it has it's good points and some very good info, but for someone like me, it wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know, and for newbies I think it would be giving them false hope, because it oversells and is not entirely honest with the fact that his success was a fluke that most writers will not be able to repeat. It would be best for people not still newbs but not yet experts either, folks who know how to read between the lines and get at the meat behind the hype.
As for his fiction. Eh. It's okay. I read a couple of his books way, way back maybe 3 or 4 years ago. I can't remember which ones they were now. The writing is okay, but the genre just wasn't my thing. It seemed to be written for men, I really don't think women were his target audience. It felt like something you'd expect to see in Playboy, fast read, naughty but not really "bad", again this guy is good at writing hype, and keeping readers hooked, but the whole spaghetti western modern cowboy solves a mystery theme he's got going on, just isn't my thing. I don't like contemporary settings, and cowboys of any type just don't do nothing for me. I mean, if you like that sort of topic/theme/genre than yeah, he's great at what he does and you'd probably love it, but me, I'm more into the Freddy Kruger/Saw/JigSaw splatter punk slasher fest horror type of story, so Locke's stories jut were not a right fit for me because they were not a genre I read.
Where asking for my thoughts on buying reviews? Eh, I don't have any problems with it. It's just part of the business. Have I done it? Not on any large scale like Locke did, no. I've given out free copies of books, yeah, but than again I don't have a single book listed for sale on Amazon either, so shot, I don't get reviews for those free copies I give out! LOL!
Most of my books are chapbooks, really short with no ISBNs on them and Amazon won't list a book unless it has an ISBN. I working on putting ISBNs on my books so I can list them on Amazon, but it's not a really big top priority for me, so I'm not in any hurry to get it done any time real soon. Basically you can only buy my books off LuLu at the moment and they aren't easy to find seeing how I do nothing to promote them either.
I can see you are quite upset by the fact of buying reviews. I don't see the issue with it, really. Of course I've been in the publishing industry since 1978, so eh, I'm just used to seeing that sort of thing going on. It happens, it doesn't really effect me, so I don't care. It's not my business to care about how other authors market their books. Sure I get curious and want to know what they did to see if I want to do it too, but for the most part I'm too lazy to attempt to do any marketing anyways. It's not my thing.
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