Barnes & Noble reviews are Being “Gamed”

Someone on an email list posted a set of bizarre “reviews” for her book on B&N. I won’t link there because I don’t want to out her. Also I don’t need to in order to show you that B&N has an issue they need to investigate and clean up.

Check out this Google Search, This Google image search on the “Lienstar”. You see several book covers. I moused over a couple of rows of them, and they were ALL from Barnes & Noble.

Click on an image, and go to the website. You’ll end up at a book page like this one: This Random Book. Now scroll down through the reviews.

Here’s a screencap of a portion:

Obviously Not Reviews

OK, so “Doomkit” is kind of odd. Google that and you end up at this DeviantArt site for Doomkit.

Read the comments (screencap)
A cat themed role-playing game?

And here Getting the picture?

Check out the last comment. Now Google “Lightening Clan.” After finding “Sea Breeze of the Lighting Clan” (also a cat) on DeviantArt I googled that phrase and ended up here:

And, at last, Google “Warrior Cats roleplaying” and you end up at

Take all this together and you get a role playing game centered around warrior cats with players who are, rather not very nicely, abusing the B&N website by conducting their games via “reviews”

I’m sure it’s fun for them, but to be honest, authors and B&N are collateral damage. These don’t even rise to the level of “fake” reviews. They’re garbage reviews.

B&N, you’ve been gamed. Clean it up.


I want to add a couple of things to this post. The first is that I understand that the RPG is mostly played by kids and young adults. And I bet it’s fun. But the process of using a third party’s website as an extension of the game does impact authors as well as B&N. Some of those books have over a hundred reviews, but only the first few are legitimate. ALL of the rest are these RPG comments. Not all the comments are 5 stars. A fair number are 1 star. This means that book is unfairly up-ranked or down-ranked in the overall star rating. Suppose a potential buyer only sees the first few legitimate reviews and, further, sees 100+ reviews. I noted, by the way, that they appear to be choosing books that have at least one lengthy review — so that the garbage entries are hidden (as it were) below the fold. The reader will have a false sense of how popular the book is. And so would B&N.

Here’s another issue: What does this say about B&N network security that it is unable to see what has to be an unlikely set of circumstances: A book with a low sales ranking suddenly sees dozens and dozens of “reviews” in a short period of time WITHOUT an accompanying or preexisting rise in purchases. That, all by itself, ought to trigger a warning that the servers are seeing network activity that is highly suggestive of a hack.

Yet another issue: What does this say about B&N’s investment in their reputation?


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21 Responses to “Barnes & Noble reviews are Being “Gamed””

  1. That is just so bizarre and so unfair to authors. Has anyone reported this to BN?

  2. Liz Mc2 says:

    My 10-year-old is really into Warriors (it’s a book series, ironically), and she makes fan art and videos. So I knew they have a vibrant fan culture, but this is just bizarre. I’m glad to know about it, actually, because I don’t think she’s old enough to handle sites like that role playing one, but she’d definitely want to if she knew it existed.

  3. Punya says:

    This is SO lame! I mean… why?? :/ This definitely needs to be reported.

  4. Sandra says:

    I’ve come across this in a number of reviews and ignored it. I chalked it up to idiots being idiots. Interesting to know it’s more organized than that. Now I know to flag the reviews.

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    I’m going to add an amendment to the post to point out a couple of other issues.

  6. Vivian Arend says:

    Oh, I’ve got those on my reviews as well. Especially on my shifter books. And I’ve told B&N and so far–nothing!

  7. willaful says:

    *boggle*. I’ll flag, for whatever good it does.

  8. SonomaLass says:

    That’s really strange. I’ll do some flagging, too.

    Good detective work, CJ!

  9. […] don’t even rise to the level of “fake” reviews. They’re garbage reviews.Link to the rest at Carolyn Jewel and thanks to Anthea for the tip.Click to Tweet/Email/Share This Post wpa2a.script_load(); NookNo […]

  10. Randall Wood says:

    I agree, that is truely some great detective work and I just wanted to say I’m impressed. You shoould write nothing but mystery’s from now on!:)

    I also agreed with your last post, Mr. Konrath and I went a couple of rounds on his blog yesterday, but Joe is Joe, what else can you say.

  11. Magdalen says:

    Wow, Carolyn, I had no idea. This actually does explain some odd B&N “reviews” we got on one of our books. I’m oddly relieved that there was a reason to them even as I agree with you that the overlap of a game and the business of publishing books is wrong.

    Ross tells me that only one (of several odd reviews) remains, suggesting that B&N (or someone) has purged the phony reviewer, which in turn purges the reviews. I don’t know; it could be that the RPG players purge themselves. But knowing how often teenagers clean up after themselves, I kind of doubt that.

  12. So that’s what it was! I thought it was just a weird mistake when I noticed there was an unusual amount of reviews on my first indie novel, SPAM VS THE VAMPIRE, and there were 27 reviews by people with names I recognized as being associated with the Warriors series. I wasn’t sure what had happened but flagged them. They did mostly have five stars with them but were certainly not reviews–often just a word or two. I also wrote to Barnes and Noble or tried to but after finding what I thought was maybe a customer service address and writing, never got a single word back from them. At least the book they targeted is a cat book too so maybe some Warriors fans discovered it while screwing around with the reviews. I am such an optimist.

  13. ulharper says:

    Wow! I’ve never actually seen such a thing. Absolute craziness. How would B&N stop it. How has any company stopped it in the past, for that matter?

    • There are a lot of network tools and hardware that are designed to detect anomalous activity. My post gives some hints as to what rules they could put on their appliance to trap that. Anonymous commenting as they have enables it seems like a problem.

  14. Anna says:

    It seems ironic that B&N let reviews like those stand, especially when I had a thought out book review removed for ‘inappropriate language’. I had made a comment about how the erotic novel didn’t focus on the heroine’s ‘saturated panties’ and it was removed. I was told to update, but B&N removed the edit and delete option once reviews have been posted. My review was posted in July and eleven customer reps later they still have fixed the problem.

    B&N obviously needs better supervision with their review group. Here an opportunity to use my membership for the great good and flag all those non-reviews.

  15. Lori Devoti says:

    I’ve been reporting these weird reviews to B&N for months. In fact I just reported a bunch of them that showed on a free short story I have up there. I hadn’t figured out what the point of them were though. Interesting!
    If anyone wants to help by flagging mine it is under Lost by Lori Devoti! 🙂

  16. Alex Vierzba says:

    I just told “doomkit” off.