Authors receive guide to the darkart of shelf-promotion

June 18, 2004

One of the world's most prestigious academic publishers has been accused of promoting the use of "dirty tricks" in a document advising authors how to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals.

A document called Ten Sneaky Tips for Marketing your Book , sent out unofficially to some Routledge authors, includes advice on how to manipulate the customer review system of the popular internet bookseller, Amazon.co.uk.

As well as innocuous tips, such as ensuring books are displayed more prominently than those of rivals in shops, the guide advises: "Find your book on Amazon and get friends, colleagues, people that owe you money to put up a glowing review.

"Better still (and if you are of a slightly unethical persuasion), ask them to put a review up on a competing book's page that claims that while this book is very good, xxx (by yours truly) may well be a wiser purchase.

"Amazon will automatically set a link up to your own book from the review, and this will help persuade punters to buy your book instead. Of course, guerrilla tactics like this should be done with discretion and are not for those prone to feelings of guilt!"

One author who received the guide said: "I was quite shocked when I received this guidance among the usual package of marketing material. These kind of dirty tricks seem a further example of the erosion of ethics in the academic sphere."

Routledge is part of the stock-exchange listed Taylor and Francis group, which was founded in 1798. It publishes in the region of 1,800 academic books a year and has a specialist backlist of 20,000 books.

Roger Horton, Routledge managing director, said: "This communication came to my notice only last week. It was produced by one individual and had not been approved by me or any management. It is not a Routledge document and we do not endorse this.

"It was an isolated case and it has now been withdrawn."

A spokeswoman for Amazon told The Times Higher that it had spoken to Routledge and it accepted that the document was not endorsed by the publisher.

She said: "Amazon.co.uk has always believed that customer reviews provide a unique forum for discussion between our various audiences. In general, the honour system on which it operates is observed.

"Amazon.co.uk is a community of customers and, as such, we rely on those customers to let us know if they think that a review or a comment is not appropriate.

"Amazon.co.uk has specific guidelines for all customer reviews posted on our site. We operate the industry standard system of self-regulation known as 'notice and take down' - that is, we will immediately investigate any complaint we receive about comments on our site and, if appropriate, remove them."

It is unclear how widely the guide was distributed.

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