Thursday, June 27, 2019

Amazon's Black Eye Deepens: A Public Sham/e

Speaking out about fake reviews has made me the target of the thousands who make their living writing reviews for pay. This continues despite Amazon's public dispute with over 5000 paid reviewers at Fiverr--no few of which were writers, who unable to make a living at writing, made their living writing reviews.

1 billion--and counting. The approximate number of fake product reviews at Amazon, according to an approximate 1 in 3 estimate. Multiple billions, if you go with the more likely estimate of 2 in 3. This includes incentivized reviews, paid reviews, friends & family reviews and all other reviews that otherwise would not exist without those involved cheating the system. Pick a random product at Amazon with oodles of reviews and odds are nearly 100% that you've stumbled upon a cheat. Take 2 recent purchases made on the same day as examples of just how broken Amazon is.

The first purchase I made were special gloves for those with carpal tunnel. I bought the gloves, not because of the 857 glowing Amazon reviews, but because of the oodles of websites that said W-O-W what a fantastic product it was. The company's website also looked legit. There were dozens of products from this company all glowingly reviewed at Amazon.

How good were the extra large men's gloves I ordered? Well, I couldn't really tell you because the product I received wouldn't fit the hands of an 10-year-old child, let alone a full-grown adult. If I hadn't ordered multiple pairs of the gloves in two different varieties, I might have believed there had been a labeling mistake or something--which is the first of many lies the seller tried to convince me of when I tried to get my money back. In the end, the seller agreed to reimburse me while also telling me to keep the gloves. I was supposed to donate them or such. Think about that for a moment these quasi-medical-grade gloves were supposed to be worth $25+ per pair and the seller didn't even want them back.

The second product was a support brace from a company positioning itself as a medical equipment supplier. Again, I bought the brace not because of the 1312 glowing Amazon reviews, but because of all the websites that told me this was the best product of its class on the market. As with the carpal tunnel gloves, I was so impressed with what the websites were telling me that I bought several braces and several pairs of special compression socks for my daughter who has down's syndrome and needs special footwear. These medical supplies weren't cheap. $58 for one brace, as an example, and $30+ for each pair of the special socks.

The company looked legit--it too had dozens of related products all glowingly reviewed, along with all these websites telling me how great the product was. Imagine my dismay when I received are what I believe to be $5 products that were made in China. It took some doing, but I did finally get this seller to refund my money, but it cost me $12 in postage sending the products back to get it and a lot of frustration.

*It's important to point out that I ordered both products on the company website. I did not order the products at Amazon. However, the products were fulfilled by Amazon and shipped from Amazon's warehouses.*

After I finally got my money back on these purchases, I went back and looked at the products, the seller websites, all those related websites. I'm a sophisticated buyer, who knows not to trust any reviews at Amazon, and yet I still had been suckered into buying fraudulent products.

These sellers had built or paid their way into sophisticated consumer-oriented websites where hundreds of other products had been reviewed and compared. These sellers had created or bought dozens of customer testimonial websites. These sellers had bought and paid for a mind-boggling number of glowing product reviews at Amazon. These were mega operations, selling cheap knock-off products that weren't fit for use and using tens of thousands of fake reviews at Amazon to help them do it.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Remembering My Long-Time Friend Brian Jacques on His 80th Birthday

As I write this, today June 15, 2019, my friend, Brian Jacques, creator of Redwall, would have been 80. Of all the writers I’ve corresponded with over the years, from Raymond Feist to CJ Cherryh to Mercedes Lackey in the hey days of CompuServe, Brian was the wittiest and most fun. It was the highest of honors to host Brian when his fall 2005 book tour of the Western USA brought him to my adopted home town of Olympia, Washington. At the time, I wrote about Brian’s visit on a tribute page to him and his books, which I posted to share with my readers @ The page is still there, hasn’t changed in 15 years.

One of the best things about Brian’s visit was that my son, Will, who was 13 at the time, got to meet Brian and get all of his Redwall books signed. Will was, and remains, a Redwall fan, having read all of Brian’s books multiple times. My two youngest were also at the signing and they enjoyed getting their pictures taken with my friend Brian. 

As I had promised Brian, I also gave him copies of the children's editions of my books, The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches, which are set in my fantasy world of Ruin Mist. Brian and I enjoyed swapping stories of our created worlds, having bonded over our similar experiences with Catholic school teachers beating us with rulers.  

Brian was a hoot to listen to at author events and book signings. He loved his characters and got into the role of his characters actively in the telling. Brian loved a good feast as well, as any attentive Redwall fan knows.

Brian also challenged me to give back to readers and the writing community, to share my personal skills and experiences with others. Brian always spoke fondly of his days working with blind children and how he got his start. Early conversations with Brian were key in inspiring me to dedicate many hours and years to give away one million books to schools, libraries, community centers and others, though especially to teachers in classrooms who needed books for their students who otherwise would have no books at all as well as to schools for the blind, like the one in rural Scotland where students had access for many years to my entire catalog of books, including many educational and learning titles in the Bugville Critters, at no cost.

To say Brian Jacques loved the written word is an understatement. Brian lived for the written word and I think the only thing he loved more was bringing his stories and ideas to life with spoken word. Brian and I had running conversations about digital audio and in particular Audible, where my books had been runaway bestsellers--#1 Fiction, #1 Fantasy, #1 YA/Childrens for many weeks in spring and summer 2005. Brian was more familiar with traditional audio on tape and hesitant about the digital world--ebooks, kindle, audible, and such. I don't know if my words on the subject swayed his thoughts on the subject, but I'd like to think so, as his books did start to become available for both kindle and audible.

In the fall of 2005, none of us could have known that Brian would be taken from the world just a few years later. I was, in fact, looking forward to his promised next West coast USA tour and another visit with my long-time friend. For me, Brian Jacques will forever remain one of the true few who could paint pictures with words.

We all miss you, Brian, though it is perhaps fitting that the final Redwall book is about rogues. As a rogue scoundrel who worked many odd jobs in his life, this was perhaps Brian’s last wink and nod to the world.

Goodnight, Brian. Goodnight, Redwall.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.