That a service like the one described in the New York Times article “Book Reviewers For Hire Meet a Demand for Online Raves” exists doesn’t surprise me. Traditional publishers released a little over 300,000 new titles last year, and the shrinking number of professional reviewers at newspapers and magazines has little hope of covering even a decent fraction of that list. (Add in the number of self-published works released, and the number of new titles swells into the millions.) That leaves the field wide open for an operator like Todd Rutherford, who’s willing to sell five-star reviews and blurb quotes to any author or publisher with the bucks to buy them.
Where the navy’s horizon ends, there be pirates.
The victims here are readers, who become understandably cynical of reviews of all sorts either because they’ve read about this practice in the press or because they’ve been suckered into buying a lousy book only to discover later that most of the favorable reviews were bought, and writers, particularly those who don’t pay, and whose earned reviews are unfairly lumped in with the frauds.
What’s needed is a way to employ sufficient numbers of smart, fair reviewers to cover at least a reasonable fraction of the titles that come out every year, give them the editorial support to ensure that their work is accurate, well-written, and useful to readers, and to distribute their to enough of the reading public that the publication’s costs can be covered. How is this to be done? It would take a business mind more talented than mine to organize such a concern. Still, given the sheer volume of literary material produced every year and the dearth of reliable sources of information about it, I’m sure the demand exists for high quality, fair, trustworthy reviews. So supply it.