There is no evidence that these furry creatures have over-run the online environment, and as far as is known most Amazon reviews are by unpaid genuine readers. But to the extent that it weakens confidence in the online reviewing process it damages all writers and hence in my opinion a good dose of myxomatosis is warranted. In fact, one group of writers has begun just such an eradication campaign, stating that they “unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.” Please consider me equally committed.
There does seem to me a hierarchy within sock puppetry: paying for reviews is cheating; writing them yourself is worse; slagging off a rival from behind a pseudonym is the most deplorable of all. The easy test with this, as with most forms of behavior, is “would you be comfortable telling your friends and family you had done it?” I think not, and if you feel the need to keep it secret then it can’t be acceptable. Everything else is sophistry.
One of the best-selling self-published authors, John Locke, now admits to having purchased reviews early on in his career, but this admission has come only once he had acquired the protection of a best-seller reputation. I bet he wasn’t bragging about it down the pub in the days when he was happy to sell in double figures for the week. (He’s also a writer who claims he no longer reads books – too busy writing it seems – so perhaps no great weight should be attached to his opinions.)
No one is saying writers have to be paragons of virtue. Thank goodness. But in the week when Lance Armstrong’s contempt for his own sport and its fans was finally exposed, it should be possible for writers to respect the trade they themselves have gotten into.