Well, I Suppose It’s Less Obnoxious Than Ginning Up Astroturf Journals from Thin Air …

by Henry Farrell on June 23, 2009

But it is more or less along the same lines. “Inside Higher Ed reports”:http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/23/elsevier

Elsevier officials said Monday that it was a mistake for the publishing giant’s marketing division to offer $25 Amazon gift cards to anyone who would give a new textbook five stars in a review posted on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. … Here’s what the e-mail — sent to contributors to the textbook — said:

“Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to Clinical Psychology. Now that the book is published, we need your help to get some 5 star reviews posted to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble to help support and promote it. As you know, these online reviews are extremely persuasive when customers are considering a purchase. For your time, we would like to compensate you with a copy of the book under review as well as a $25 Amazon gift card. If you have colleagues or students who would be willing to post positive reviews, please feel free to forward this e-mail to them to participate. We share the common goal of wanting Clinical Psychology to sell and succeed. The tactics defined above have proven to dramatically increase exposure and boost sales. I hope we can work together to make a strong and profitable impact through our online bookselling channels.”

.. Cindy Minor, marketing manager for science and technology at Elsevier … called the request for five star reviews “a poorly written e-mail” by “an overzealous employee.”



Stuart 06.23.09 at 7:26 pm

Is “an overzealous employee” the new get out of jail free card? Do you anything you like, and if you get called on it blame some anonymous member of staff working alone with presumably no supervision for it.


John Protevi 06.23.09 at 7:45 pm

Is “an overzealous employee” the new get out of jail free card? Do you anything you like, and if you get called on it blame some anonymous member of staff working alone with presumably no supervision for it.

Any criticism of the tactic described in the post is a form of collective punishment and much worse than anything else evil evar!!!!111!!


Anderson 06.23.09 at 7:56 pm

I believe that David Irving tried that “overzealous employee” label for Himmler.


Keith 06.23.09 at 9:05 pm

It’s bad enough that Elsevier is so underhanded, but that they are so caviler about their underhandedness just drives me bonkers. They do this shit solely because they know they have a monopoly on certain sectors of journal publications and no academic librarian is going to tell their faculty that they can’t have access to the premier journal of their field because the publisher is a dick head.

Fucking hell, this pisses me off!


Tim Wilkinson 06.23.09 at 10:27 pm

Come on, anyone can make a mistake, or write an email poorly.

There was a play on Radio 4 about Ken Lay this afternoon that (I think) I heard most of and it was mildly insightful and pithy (for R4) on the topic of the various kinds of unspoken signals given out by employers (actually mainly the depressingly unsubtle matter of bonuses for studiedly unscrutinised ‘performance’), as well as the self-deception, dissipation of responsibility etc involved in yer standard conspiracy-without-conspiration. Nearly turned it off too, thinking it was just another helping of the sub-Faulknerian melodrama about barrrns and corrrn that the Beeb seem so keen on, seemingly as revenge for Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins.


Colin Danby 06.24.09 at 12:02 am

Will they pay us not to post one-star reviews?


vivian 06.24.09 at 12:25 am

If they debase the value of amazon reviews, will that push prices down on amazon?


ckc (not kc) 06.24.09 at 12:29 am

“poorly written”!!!?? I thought it was extremely well written – clear, concise, straightforward. Obviously, someone at Elsevier knows about the best “tactics” to produce a “strong and profitable impact”. Go Elsevier! (I’m sure someone at Clinical Psychology would have a comment on your condition.)


The Raven 06.24.09 at 12:38 am

One may admire their cast-iron gall. Elsevier’s conduct is one of the best arguments against the extension of intellectual property I’ve encountered.


Bloix 06.24.09 at 1:06 am

The “overzealous employee” apparently was able to commit cash to this project. Who authorized that?


John Freeborn 06.24.09 at 2:05 am

At least Elsevier is doing this sort of thing out in the open where its easy to spot. Some of you may know of this already, but the following has been circulating for the past week or so regarding SAGE and the journal Political Theory:
“A number of us have just learned that SAGE has moved to undermine the integrity and autonomy of Political Theory.

Over the many decades of its existence, the editorship of Political Theory has been determined by a process of consultation and advice with editors, board members, and interested members of the political theory community.

Mary Dietz has been told that at the end of her current contract, she will be replaced by an editor chosen by SAGE (as of this writing, Mark Bevir). None of us, I think, doubt Bevir’s abilities; the issue here is SAGE’s decision to usurp the authority of the community the journal serves.

This is a very disturbing development. I hope that others will weigh-in here with reactions and — perhaps most importantly — ideas about how we ought to respond to this violation of the integrity of what is, by broad agreement, the field’s flagship journal.

–Steve Leonard
UNC-Chapel Hill
Treasurer, Foundations of Political Theory”

Regardless of what you think about the personalities involved, these sorts of shenanigans are a terribly troubling precedent that will inevitably occasion more and more of the challenges to the scholarly integrity of peer-reviewed journals a la Elsevier. Publishers should not be exerting editorial control over the content of peer-reviewed journals; that’s what editorial boards (nominal and actual) are for.

Companies like Sage and Elsevier are really just in denial and operating in parallel to major newspapers (rapidly rising subscription rates coupled with an audience that is starting to realize, though a bit more slowly, that there are other more effective and efficient ways to get the same product).

It’s unbelievable that these publishers fail to realize that if they continue to pull this sort of stuff without even a hint of shame, they’re undermining their already tenuous status. Eventually people will realize that there might be something to simply doing without them and moving towards publishers who aren’t merely attempting to make as much as they can via exorbitant subscription rates before everyone realizes that SAGE and Elsevier are unneeded relics. Stationers like Johns Hopkins UP who are starting to experiment with web-based journals with some success are already a better option than the problematic alliance between for-profit companies (as opposed to UPs) and the academy.

To be totally frank, if you take a long hard look at how things stand, its not entirely clear why large numbers of journals even continue to hold on to there relationship with these journals. I can see the reason in certain cases, but for most journals from the humanities and social sciences, the more co-op like model of university presses makes a lot more sense.


Zamfir 06.24.09 at 7:33 am

last time, it was the Australian department that did it. Let’s see who will be blamed next time.


Danny Yee 06.24.09 at 10:37 am

I’m tempted to give every Elsevier title on Amazon a one star review, along the lines of “the publisher is morally bankrupt and abuses the trust of scientists and the public, so without having read it I already have my doubts about this book”.


Tim Wilkinson 06.24.09 at 12:28 pm

Actually, for books with fairly numerous and varied reviews, marking positive reviews as helpful (and others as unhelpful) is at least as important a way of fiddling as just adding a 5-star review. (Also adding a rather favourable 2-star and getting that to be ranked the most useful negative review might help.) I some circumstances it would depend on the empirical facts about whether people tend to rely more on aggregated scores or on actually reading reviews.


Katherine 06.24.09 at 5:15 pm

Christ on a bike, Tim Wilkinson, they are paying people to put up 5-star reviews regardless of what that person actually thought of the book! This is what we call “dishonest”. It’s a concept you may have heard of?

Even Elsevier themselves aren’t trying to defend this (although they are trying to palm off the responsibility) but somehow you can?

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