The online book review industry

Meet the man who made up to $28,000 a month writing internet book reviews.

New York Times reporter David Streitfeld has written a fascinating piece about Todd Rutherford, a marketing employee who started his own online book review service in 2010. Instead of authors or publishers paying marketing companies to try to persuade news media and blogs and other book spaces to feature reviews of their books, Rutherford "cut out the middleman" and started writing client-friendly reviews himself, at first for $99 a book. Twenty online reviews would run $499. For $999, Rutherford would write 50 of them.

customer-reviews.jpg"There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm's-length relationship between reviewer and author," Streitfeld wrote. "But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month."

Rutherford had plans to expand his book reviewing business but his venture ended after a few incidents. His site received some bad publicity from an author who complained about the service, Google blocked his advertising account "saying it did not approve of ads for favorable reviews," and online retail giant Amazon, which has a policy against paid reviews, took down some of his work.

But with more and more books being self-published and competing for attention, paying for online reviewing has become a widespread practice. According to Streitfeld's article, Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, estimates that one-third of all consumer reviews on the internet are fake, and it's nearly impossible for someone to tell whether the review is written by retailers, authors themselves using pseudonyms, customers taking advantage of a special deal in return for a testimonial or by a third-party professional review service.