When good reviews are paid, not earned

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"The writing is gorgeous." "The characters are truer than true." "This book totally changed my life." "I couldn't put it down." Should you trust those glowing online reader reviews? Not necessarily, says the BBC.

Science publisher Elsevier recently "caused a storm," reports the BBC, when an employee there offered a $25 Amazon voucher to academics who would post five-star reviews of one of their textbooks on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. When the matter came to light, Elsevier was quick to state that the whole thing had been an error – the actions of a "rogue employee" who "had gone a long way beyond normal publishing practice."

But the story raises questions, nonetheless.  Customer reviews have become an important feature for online booksellers – and have proved their worth as powerful sales tools. But are they trustworthy?

Recommended: 10 best books of December 2013, according to Amazon's editors

Travel writer and blogger Edward Hasbrouck offered the BBC a few tips as to how to spot a phony (or series of phony) review(s):

– Too many or too few comments (in the case of too many, he suggests dropping the "outliers" or more extreme reviews)

–  Seeing the same phrase used again and again by different reviewers

– A sudden wave of glowing reviews following some poor or indifferent ones

You can read the entire BBC piece here.

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