Tuesday, October 6, 2009

FTC Targets Blogger Freebies


The link above announces the FTC's long awaited rules concerning its crackdown on misleading endorsements by bloggers. "The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement...." "Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service." Will this have any effect on Our Lady of the Perpetual Reviews, speed poster Harriet Klausner, and other of the notorious shills who infest - with the company's astonishing connivance - Amazon.com? Or is Amazon, as one insightful wit described it, now and forever "above the law?"
Ed. note: a couple more related articles: (1) in the Financial Times and (2) from Yahoo Finance.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Question About Amazon Text Stats

I just found out about "text stats" at Amazon. The New York Times even wrote an article about them a couple years ago. But I can't find them when I look. Are text stats something Amazon once had, but discontinued? Anyone know?

I noticed Amazon started tagging reviews written by those who bought the book from them. Worth doing, I suppose. Not that it will help at all, but it's something.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remember Lev Grossman? Turns out that...

Remember that article in Time by Lev Grossman? The one about "one of the world's most prolific and influential book reviewers" Harriet Klausner?

Turns out that the selfsame Lev Grossman is not just some journalist. Turns out that "Lev Grossman is a senior writer and book critic for TIME magazine". And we wondered why he would write such an article! Hmmm... :-)

Btw, turns out he's also an author. He's written three books (as far as I could see).
1. Codex
2. The Magicians: A Novel
3. Warp: A Novel

Check 'em out (don't forget the reviews).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All The Unnoticed "Helpfuls, Where Do they All Come From?

Am I alone in my bewilderment as to how Harriet's number of "helpful votes" is growing by leaps and bounds? Her "reviews" themselves within the last few years have never garnered a suspicious number of "helpfuls" as did, say, those of Grady Harp. In fact, she is winning such little favor among Amazon readers as to be on a definite downward spiral in the New Ratings System. On the other hand, her position as Number One Reviewer in the Classical (i.e. fraudulent) System is cemented, I suspect, not only by the continuing surreal proliferation of her "reviews" but by an unbelievable number of "helpful votes," presumably in the main on her older reviews. She's garnered more than 40 such within less than the last 24 hours. Now this is an easily overlooked phenomenon which, for my money, calls to mind Grady Harp's practices of old.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Because they can: Amazon deletes books from Kindles, remotely

Jeff Bezos apologizes (after being caught out):
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has issued an apology to Kindle customers after [books] were remotely deleted from their electronic readers.

"This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of '1984' and other novels on Kindle," the Amazon chief executive said in a post on Thursday on the Kindle Community discussion forum.

"Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles [yeah! just look at the shills proliferating on the site! Harriet Klausner anyone? Six books a day for a decade, all five stars -- them are fancy principles, we know.]," Bezos wrote.

"It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received," he said. "We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."

Bezos' apology came a week after unauthorized copies of "1984" and "Animal Farm" were wiped from Kindle readers in a move that triggered privacy concerns and drew unfavorable comparisons to Big Brother-like behavior.
Lessons learnt: they can do it. Kindle-loving dumbos paid over two hundred dollars for someone to be able to keep tabs on them, congratulations. That's why I will never buy a Kindle or Kindle-like device (in addition to the cost of it). That is also why the new Google OS will be a flop. No one needs someone else's hands in one's pockets.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Justice At Last?

Newspapers recently have reported that the FTC plans late this summer to begin requiring bloggers and websites to identify all entries which have been written for compensation - i.e. by covert shills.

A typical newspaper article pointing this out is the following: http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bal-blogging-0622,0,1923444.story.

The proposed FTC guidelines may be viewed at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2008/11/P034520endorsementguides.pdf

My worry is that, if such regs are enforced, Amazon.com stars such as Harriet Klausner and Grady Harp may lose their inspiration to keep on publishing endless streams of ill-written, meaningless reviews, thus depriving us all of unparalled sources of merriment.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Publishing giant Elsevier in hot water over hiring shills

From the BBC News Magazine:
... the recent actions of science publisher Elsevier caused a storm. The firm offered a $25 (£15) Amazon voucher to academics who contributed to the textbook Clinical Psychology if they would go on Amazon [...] and give it five stars.
The perils of five-star reviews by Finlo Rohrer. I hope Jeff "Customer Reviews" Bozos doesn't neglect to read this piece.

And of course:
"Amazon works hard to maintain the integrity of its customer reviews," a spokesman says. "We have very clear guidelines, and when a customer reports a review that they feel is inappropriate, we investigate, and may (or may not) take it down."
Yes we believe that, just look at Amazon No.1 Top Reviewer, Harriet Klausner, who has on average been posting, what, six-to-ten reviews every day since 1999? Does anyone believe that she actually reads six-to-ten books a day, and that these hastily thrown together by way of cribbing from the jacket "reviews" -- error-ridden, opinion-free, incoherent and ungrammatical but always positive -- can be anything other than a brazen shill's trying to hornswoggle the reading public into buying the stuff? Many people emailed Amazon about this without getting back as little as acknowledgment of receipt! Anything else Amazon responds to quickly and specifically, but shilling on their site appears to be an issue Amazon doesn't want to know about. But wait, there's more:
"One of the things Amazon have is a question did you find this review helpful - reviews are ranked," says Neill [Graeme Neill of industry magazine The Bookseller]. "I wouldn't underestimate the humble customer's ability to distinguish between what is a gushing press release and a genuine 'I felt this book was fantastic'."
Yeah, and I would also not underestimate the shills' ability to get in cahoots and use this helpful/not-helpful voting capability to vote for on another and against their detractors -- especially since one of those inexplicable operational nuances of Amazon site's software which, while never openly described, just seem always to empower the shill and disable the customer, is that ON AMAZON ANYONE [literally] CAN VOTE -- AND ANY NUMBER OF TIMES AT THAT. While a purchase is required in order to post reviews or comments, nothing is required in order to vote: type in any garbage into the account-creation-page fields and you're in business. This, most likely, is how shills self-vote and conduct their negging campaigns retaliating against their detractors. Notice that realistically, Mr Casual Visitor won't use this capability: he doesn't know it exists, he won't bother organising with others, he won't spend the time needed to manipulate the site, and so on. Somehow Amazon's software always works in a way that gives power to the shill. Amazon's never stipulating the actual rules of anything on their site works this way too (imo). So... let's be honest: Amazon sells stuff, shills push the selfsame stuff, so how many PhD's do you need to connect two and two together here? "Amazon works hard to maintain the integrity" my ass.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Worse and worse, or actually better and better, Harriet under the new system is now Reviewer # 589. To some degree, justice may be of this earth after all. :-)))

An Amazon Mystery

Does anyone have an explanation why the outrageous Grady Harp keeps on rising in Amazon rankings -currently he's risen to # 3 Old Style and to # 22 New Style - whereas the website's star Ungeheurer, Harriet Klausner, continues her decline - though still # 1 Old Style, she's descended to # 579 New. The question of the reason for these frankly baffling rankings has been raised on the Amazon comment threads, but to my knowledge nobody has yet attempted an answer.

Since phoney voting on his reviews by Harp and/or his minions has been largely blocked under the new system, and since Harriet continues to post many more "reviews" of contemporary stuff that might sell than does the Maestro, "reviews" which are generally not accorded an avalanche of neggies, why does he go up and she go down so markedly? The principal difference between the two these days seems to be that Harp emends his reviews after commentators point out his barbarisms, and only then does he vote not helpful on the comment. Harriet, on the other hand, makes no changes, no matter how ludicrously inaccurate or non-grammatical her reviews so often are. She just votes a quick not helpful on any comment pointing out her errors. Could it be that Amazon is rewarding Harp's "scrupulousness" but punishing Klausner's sangfroid? As always, inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Politics and Amazon Reviews

I don't know if you guys are following this or not, but a quick summary.

1. Hugo Chavez gave a book to President Obama about Latin America.
2. Matt Drudge provided a link to the book on Amazon.
3. Those will political views similar to Matt Drudge are bombarding the reviews with "Not Helpful" votes and frantically writing comments to 10-year old reviews.
4. Oh, and of course writing reviews for a book they have not read.

It's always something...

You know, sometimes I am ashamed to be a member of the human race.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Once again

So I'm looking at some music on Amazon and I see a book on a page that catches my attention:

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Hardcover). Thought I'd read a review or two, just to get a feel for what it covers. Released on November 13, this review hits in less than a week.

Money makes the world go round, November 20, 2008 -- Amada Barry.

Seemed legit enough until I came to this....

"The other book I read this week that I also recommend very strongly is The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. Let's just say it makes it a little easier for me to watch the market, and in a little better mood around my husband when I come home from work :) "

D---! Isn't Amazon going to do anything about this guy?

I left a comment, replying to someone else who had commented on the ads for the Quick Book. I used to be reluctant to do that, fearing that the person would use his 100 accounts to bash my reviews, but I don't care any more. Not after I spent about 3 or 4 hours on a review that never had a chance to one of the Quick Book ad/"reviews."

I don't understand why Amazon doesn't police for this guy, but as I think about it, perhaps the problem is far, far worse than I know -- and this guy is the least of their problems.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Enter FTC: end of Amazon "reviews" system as we know it?

Turns out what we call shilling has a politically correct, scientific-sounding name: viral marketing. So, Harriet Klausner, Morris, Gunny, W.Boudville, et al. are not shills, they're viral marketeers. OK. There's a curious article in the Financial Times, Advertisers brace for online viral marketing curbs, check it out:
Advertisers in the US are bracing themselves for regulatory changes that they fear will curtail their efforts to tap into the fast-growing online social media phenomenon.

Revised guidelines on endorsements and testimonials by the Federal Trade Commission, now under review and expected to be adopted, would hold companies liable for untruthful statements made by bloggers and users of social networking sites who receive samples of their products.

The guidelines would also hold bloggers liable for the statements they make about products.

If a blogger received a free sample of skin lotion and then incorrectly claimed the product cured eczema, the FTC could sue the company for making false or unsubstantiated statements. The blogger could be sued for making false representations. [...]

Advertisers have significantly increased spending on social media and word-of-mouth campaigns, even during the recession. Through blogs and services such as Facebook and Twitter, companies are able to communicate more directly with consumers. Spending on social media marketing [read: shilling] reached $1.35bn in 2007 and is expected to reach $3.7bn by 2011, according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

The advertising industry has argued that the revised regulations are too stringent and would stifle innovation in the emerging field of social media. It remains in favour of self-regulation. [yeah right] [...]

“The guides needed to be updated to address not only the changes in technology, but also the consequences of new marketing practices,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director for the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “Word-of-mouth marketing is not exempt from the laws of truthful advertising.” [tell this to Jeff Bezos]

The main target of the new guidelines appears to be the widespread practice of viral marketing in which companies recruit non- employees to talk up products in exchange for samples or promotions. [See our list of Our Friends Top Reviewers below]

Companies regularly offer free samples and concert tickets to bloggers and journalists, in the hope of generating press. However, determining which bloggers are acting as an agent of a company may prove difficult.[no kidding! They "forget" to mention themselves, and how would you know otherwise? LE Cantrell likes to push this point.]
Check it out, a curious article. I hope something comes out of this move by the FTC — it's about a decade overdue.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What happened to Amazon's new ranking system ?

Only the "classic" numbers show up on Amazon anymore. What happened to the new ranking system? "Disappeared" w/o trace?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lisa Marie Wilkinson is Proud of Herself

One a site called Romantic Times one Lisa Marie Wilkinson writes in her blog:
My debut historical romance novel "Fire at Midnight" was released by Medallion Press on March 1. [...] "Fire at Midnight" was a finalist or winner of more than 40 writing contests in its unpublished form, including the Maryland Writers Association Novel Contest and a Bronze Award from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest.

The novel was recently awarded a 5 star review by Amazon reviewer Harriet Klausner, a 4 star rating by Romantic Times Book Reviews Magazine, and a 5 Blue Ribbon Rating from Romance Junkies.

Shall we laugh or shall we cry ? :-) Well. Congratulations of course, but this review from Harriet Klausner... these Klausner reviews aren't what they used to be anymore!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Punish the Victim, Once More (S.Tepper's Untimely Demise)

Have you noticed that the prolific Amazon poster S.Tepper has apparently been banished and all his comments wiped out ('deleted-by-Amazon')? On Amazon.com, whenever it comes to a shill vs a guy with enough civic spirit to complain about it, it's the guy who will lose.

Another telling nuance is that when such a total-wipeout event happens, all posts marked as 'deleted by Amazon' show different dates, usually the date of original posting of the deleted comment — despite the fact that they have all been deleted in one shot on a date that has nothing to do with the original posting date; in fact it can be years later. Obviously this is incorrect, but let's speculate why Amazon would be doing it this way?

Perhaps to create an impression that every post was deleted individually, upon a human inspection, for something being legitimately wrong with it? Maybe the idea was to hide the fact that a lot of such deletions are a gigantic one-blow event, maybe even faceless, triggered automatically, say, by gangs of shills in cahoots clicking with gleeful abandon on the 'report this' button or something similar? Or by one of them operating a bunch of sock-puppet accounts (once more: setting up a voting account is exceptionally easy (amazing that it is so, no?) — all you need is to type a bit of text (any text: gibberish, anything) into a couple of fields on the login page — you won't be able to comment or review (gotta buy something for that), but you will for some reason be given the right to vote).
Unrelately — or rather only somewhat on topic: check out this new post about Amazon reviews system: Amazon: Customers Fight Back Over Fake Amazon Reviews.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Harriet in Turbo Mode

The Bernie Madoff of Amazon reviewing -- I'm talking of Harriet Klausner of course -- has posted no less than 108 reviews today (the day's not over yet). No, you haven't misread: it is one hundred and eight. Somewhat redundantly, I'm sure, let me add that it was not after a couple of years' silence that she did this: her previous batch is but a couple of days old.

One of the blurbs is titled suburb romantic fantasy (meaning "superb" I think), which gives extra weight to the theory Mr Fleisig proposed a while ago: that Harriet reviews are really dictated on tape and then sent to be transcribed to the Third World somewhere, where the transcribers make these phonetically plausible intepretation errors. The resulting "reviews" are then posted directly, without human oversight (a spell checker would let the "suburb" through since it's a valid word... well, I mean to say, spell-checker would, if Harriet used it, which it is obvious from her usual style that she doesn't.

Anyway, I think a 108-review batch is something of a rarity: I do remember a 98 one, but going over a hundred is an achievement even for such a great reviewer as Harriet Klausner (who, let me remind the reader, herself claims to read only (ahem) two books a day...

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Belkin Saga (hiring shills on Amazon)

I'm somewhat late with this, but it's worth checking out. Apparently a product manager working for Belkin was at some point hiring shills to praise their inferior products (on Amazon, of course). A few links to check out: Exclusive: Belkin’s Development Rep is Hiring People to Write Fake Positive Amazon Reviews (courtesy of The Daily Background), Belkin Employee Sheds Light On Belkin's Supposedly Dirty Practices, and finally a relevant thread from the Amazon discussion board.

Just to whet your appetite, here's a snapshot of the original job request (click on the image to see the better-quality full-size version):

Unrelatedly: Visit this interesting page and search on what? on "klausner" of course.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

243 Phoney Reviews in January 2009

In the event anyone might have thought 2009 would bring about a change in Harriet Klausner's conduct, sorry no kewpie doll.

The Queen of Frauds posted -- no, make that excreted -- 243 abominably written phoney reviews on Amazon. Since she regularly dumps her reviews on at least 17 other sites, who knows how many of her reviews were actually inflicted on the human race during the first month of the year.

Harriet is not slowing down. Speeding up is more like it. She averaged 7.7 reviews a day in 2008 and for 2009 she's up to about 8 a day. For someone who claims to read "only" 2 books a day, that's quite an accomplishment. It also means she is admittedly a fake.

One of Harriet's reviews on Amazon was removed in mid-January after complaints that it included the f-bomb word. But another one of her reviews is still floating at the top of the pool like a turd with the f-bomb word gratuitously used. Amazon has it standards, and they seem to be to allow the shill that is Klausner to help Amazon flog books to an unsuspecting public.

The only good thing is that as of this writing Harriet has slipped to no. 523 on the "new" reviewing system. However, her badge still proclaims her to be "No. 1 Reviewer." As if quantity means anything.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Conflict of Interest: Applies or not?

Here's a NYT editorial that deals with an issue that is, in my view, relevant to Amazon's running a reviews system reviewing what Amazon sells.
... New York State’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, and UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, have agreed to set up a new system for calculating out-of-network payments. [...] Typically, when patients use non-network doctors, their insurance company agrees to pay 70 percent to 80 percent of the “reasonable and customary” charges [...] That calculation for most of the industry is made by a company called Ingenix, which conveniently is owned by UnitedHealth. [...] UnitedHealth neither admits nor denies any wrongdoing, but the company does acknowledge the inherent conflict of interest [...] UnitedHealth is planning to close its Ingenix databases and shift responsibility to an independent nonprofit organization ...
Check it out.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Harriet is Star Struck (Sorta)

Harriet seems to be gob smacked with Hollywood and celebrities like most people toiling away in Georgia. Thus, when she knows the author is a screen writer she invariably says that what has been written should be produced. She has an affaire de plume with Lee Goldberg that you can understand more fully only by reading her 10 reviews of his books. At the end of the one book that has not been filmed (the rest are adaptations of TV shows), our Queen writes

"The Walk is an exciting action packed thriller that would make a fantastic movie because it focuses on the protagonist who undergoes a metamorphosis from an uncaring selfish man to a heroic figure. The trials and tribulations he undergoes allows the real Marty Slack to shine as he proves he is no slacker. Lee Goldberg always entertains his audience with a gripping drama and The Walk is certainly that."

Another book, Debatable Space, perhaps the worst piece of trash I have ever had the misfortune to read, and which gave me my introduction to Her Highness, was also penned by a screenwriter. So Harriet stroked him by observing

"Philip Palmer writes a terrific space opera and DEBATABLE SPACE would make a great marquee movie in the tradition of Star Wars. Alien races co-exist with humanity and the aliens are major characters so readers feel as if they actually exist. Readers ride an orbital roller coaster that takes us to various planets in the galaxy, making the audience realize how enslaved the human race is if they don't live on Earth."

If the writer is a screenwriter Harriet will probably nominate his book for celluloid (or videotape).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Please welcome S. McDonald, our new Friend Top Reviewer

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Check this out: this reviewer, S. McDonald "Library World", posts exact copies of "Product Description" as his reviews. Verbatim or near so. I think he deserves a place in our select group of Top Reviewers like Harriet Klausner, W.Bouville, Gunny, and the rest.

For example, here's his review of Living God's Politics: A Guide to Putting Your Faith into Action by Jim Wallis; let's quite a bit:
After fifteen weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, this book not only changed the conversation about faith and politics in this country, it began a movement. All across the country, wherever the author spoke, people were frustrated by tax cuts and budgets that widened the gap between rich and poor, aggravated by the government's lack of response to natural disasters, wearied of misinformation and the ongoing war in the Middle East, and exasperated by the impractical political rhetoric about sexual abstinence in lieu of policies that would strengthen more broadly family values and community health.
And here is the book page itself, scroll down a bit to "Editorial Reviews", "Product Description":
After fifteen weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, God's Politics not only changed the conversation about faith and politics in this country, it began a movement. All across the country, wherever Jim Wallis spoke, people were frustrated by tax cuts and budgets that widened the gap between rich and poor, aggravated by the government's lack of response to natural disasters, wearied of misinformation and the ongoing war in the Middle East, and exasperated by the impractical political rhetoric about sexual abstinence in lieu of policies that would strengthen more broadly family values and community health.
Find three differences between these two excerpts. Or, let's make it easier: find just one.

PS. Believe it or not, apparently there's been people voting his stuff "helpful" :-(

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Gunny" is back. How nice.

After a long hiatus, our old friend topreviewer John Matlock "Gunny" has posted a five-star review that reads, every bit as before, like a hunk of jacket copy. Well, welcome back; we're looking forward to his reviewing some dozen two-thousand-page scientific tractatuses per day, every review five-star and clueless.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Knol vs Wikipedia: Corporatism vs Nature

Here's a curious article (from Slate) that, I think, is directly applicable to the pullulating woes of the Amazon "reviews" system. Another failure of an attempt to sell shit-faced corporate skull-duggery as, um... like Amazon would say, "helpful" (despite the obligatory fake friendliness and even an openly stated promise of some cash). Check it out.