In for a shilling?

After centuries of faithful service the good old British shilling, affectionately known as a “bob” finally went out of service in 1991. While shillings still exist in other parts of the world, in Great Britain there are only pounds and pence now.

1933 Scottish Shilling Image: Wikipedia

But the act of “shilling” is still very much alive. The first recorded use of the term as a fraudulent practice is in the early 20th century, although there does not appear to be any indication of its origin.

It’s been a well-known tactic in auction houses for years – using stooges in an attempt to raise the bids. In effect these people make phoney or “shill” bids to try to force up the price of items, either their own, or on behalf of other people who have employed them to do so.

More recently it has risen meteorically on websites such as Amazon and TripAdvisor to promote products.

So how do you tell whether reviews are genuine? Spotting a shill in an auction house might be difficult, but there are ways to check it out on websites.

One is to click on “See all my reviews” next to the reviewer’s name. This takes you to a page that shows every product that person has previously reviewed, from which you can see whether they are regular contributors, or have just written one review for that particular product.

If all the reviewers have only ever written a single review, they could be “shills,” friends, family or paid reviewers who have rated the product solely for the purpose of encouraging people to buy.

If you notice that the reviews tend to contain similar phrases this can indicate that the product supplier has written the reviews and “fed” them to other people to post.

Now, I am NOT saying that every product with 5-star glowing reviews from people who have never reviewed any other product is necessarily a case of shilling, or that it’s a bad product. After all, everyone has to write their first review some time.

What about dire reviews? If you see a damning review from somebody with no history as a reviewer, it can indicate a rival trying to undermine a product, or a personal grudge. So as a guideline, don’t take every “all 5-star review” as gospel, and don’t take those bad reviews at face value. Check out the reviewer’s history and use your own judgement.

As far as Kindle books are concerned, if they’re free there’s nothing to lose by downloading them. If they are paid for, it’s worth “Clicking to look inside” so you can see the writing style and get the feel of the book before buying.

I wrote this in response to a friend who had recently downloaded a freebie that had six stellar reviews.

“How on earth did this rubbish get so highly rated?” he asked.

The plot was non-existent, the characters unbelievable, the prose embarrassing, the formatting all over the place, and it was full of glaring spelling and grammatical errors. However, the cover was gorgeous. But as the saying goes: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” πŸ˜€

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4 thoughts on “In for a shilling?

  1. I don’t blame the authors; in such a competitive market they have to do something to get their books onto the radar. But if people are using shills, then they should ensure that they don’t look so obviously fake. Common indicators are use of same phrases, same length of comment, and “can’t wait for more from this author”. Writers need to be creative. πŸ˜‰

  2. Pingback: Blatant review/feedback manipulation! | No damn blog

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