Friday, 26 June 2015

Shock Tactics Marketing - Where Does It End?

Pictures like this keep popping up at the side of my Facebook page and the more I tell Facebook I don’t want to see it, the more they swap it for something worse. 

Did they look at my age and decide I was badly in need of Anti-wrinkle cream or did they look at one of my other wrinkly photos? Is there some poor admin in the annals of Facebook currently having counselling because they saw a picture of me smiling sideways and tailored the adverts to aid my slow decline into decrepitude? What’s next? Will it be adverts for face lifts or tummy tucks after the picture of me in the pool at home?

I’ll sometimes accompany my husband to the garage when he fills the car. I know it’s not very entertaining but we live rurally and it can be quite exciting. Once my daughter had to chase a driverless utility vehicle down a bank because the driver went in to order a coffee and didn’t put the handbrake on. We live in a riveting town I tell you!

Most times, my husband dutifully orders me a coffee and I indulge myself in the corner of the shop with the trashy mags. They’re kept near the toilets but I won’t make any judgements about that and to give credit to our small township, I’m usually the only person sifting through.

I used to be a lot more interested, but then I think the standard of journalism was higher. There were definitely less typos and the facts were more or less true. At least we could bury our faces in the celebrity clad pages and feel reasonably confident there was no smoke without fire.

In recent years I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. There can be a whole inferno raging on the cover, with a full colour photo of some poor celebrity with the caption in capitals ‘PREGNANT’. I flick eagerly inside, avoiding the editor’s bit and all the adverts, perturbed by the fact that the image on the front is a male, but hey, we live in a surreal world nowadays. I get to the inside and find that there is actually a fire without smoke. Not a single fact can be found amongst the speculation and rumour. It has alas become true, we cannot judge a magazine by its cover.

I think what shocks me is the shamelessness of it all. I once clicked on a picture of Ellen crying and the caption was something like, ‘What Ellen didn’t want you to find out.’ I have to admit I actually didn't click on purpose. Perhaps now is the time to admit my clutzy fingers have an odd relationship with my keyboard mouse sometimes, but click I did.

Well, obviously poor Ellen looked away at a funeral or something because the snap was of her crying. It bore no relation to the advert and I very much doubt she uses this particular face cream. Apart from the complete lack of any other endorsement, it was a set up.

What these companies don’t realise is that what they’re doing isn’t clever.

They’re distorting the truth to the point we don’t know what to believe anymore. Celebrities are continually going on camera to declare the fabrication of stories and in the old days, we would have thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, no smoke without fire.’ Now, we don’t have that luxury.

No, Kim Kardashian isn’t having twins.

Poor Jennifer Aniston isn't pregnant for the eleventh time.

Honestly, I wasn’t bothered, particularly about Kim. I’ve never watched the programme she’s in and probably never will. But the media are now beyond the pale of corrupt and advertisers are following suit. I know I was stupid in my youth to believe that ‘99% of cats prefer it,’ and it was pretty dumb to think realistically that, ‘it kills 99.9% of all germs,’ but forgive me, I did. I was probably a student attempting to clean the toilet with ‘ammonia free’ products and realising they didn’t work, before I woke up and smelled the coffee...only it wasn’t coffee but we won’t go there.

Poor old Prince William was minding his own business, sitting in some gathering thinking, ‘Far out this is boring,’ and a photographer snapped a sneaky shot. Imagine his surprise when his momentary lack of face-control is linked to his wife’s face cream and his alleged awe at something she did with it whilst pregnant.

Affairs, hook ups, liaisons, apparently it all sells magazines.

Well no actually. Not if it’s all lies.

All it tells me is that sales are down and the publishers are scrambling, the face cream isn’t selling so great and some brain box in a downstairs room comes up with this genius plan. Anyone who’s ever bought something from the shopping channel will be nodding right now. When the wonderful machine to tone your abdominal muscles doesn’t actually fold down under the bed unless you sleep in a hospital one and the amazing robot hoover spends its life hiding under the sofa and won’t come out, you realise very quickly you’ve been had over yet again by the truth stretching of advertisers. 

I’ve become jaded. I stand in the garage and purview the trashy mag covers with disdain. There’s no point even picking them up anymore because the covers don’t relate to the innards. ‘She’s pregnant’ on the cover becomes, ‘somebody said she might be,’ inside. ‘Caught in the act’ on the cover becomes a heavily Photoshopped picture on the inside of two people who probably met by accident. It’s actually become more interesting watching the barista make my coffee.

And because I don’t know what to believe anymore, I involuntarily shed doubt on the allegations against Bill Cosby and others like him. Those poor women who stood up and made heartrending claims get less purchase from me than they deserve. My grandfather believed the newspapers. Maybe he shouldn’t have; the media has always been rife with propaganda. But somehow there seemed to be more honour amongst those journalists peddling their trade. Hey, both Spiderman and Superman were journalists weren’t they?

I think JK Rowling’s ‘Rita Skeeter’ is more near the mark nowadays.

Even with all the News of the World scandal in the UK, they don’t know when to stop. They haven’t realised I’m not reading, not clicking and not caring.

The magazines and newspapers get more outlandish to satisfy the quota they need to justify the advertisers nestled in their folds and I’M NOT BUYING. I’m ignoring them for the very tactics they’re using to get my attention.

I’m sure they’ll sit back and claim I never would have bought their magazine or paper anyway, but that’s where they’re wrong. If the cover really grabbed me and their claims seemed validated on the inside, I actually did. I’ve walked out with a coffee and a wad of papers and no, I didn’t steal them.

Am I the only one who is fed up of it?

Or are there more of us who sigh, flick the channel and wish for the days of semi-truth instead of no truth at all?

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Authors in online book clubs BEWARE!

I’ve read for years and years. My mother recently produced a tape from her loft back in England of me, reading my own stories aged five...a very long time ago. I also did singing on the tape and I swear I haven’t done that for over thirty-five years so that gives you an idea. Even God doesn’t want to hear nails on the blackboard again. It’s probably still etched on his mind from the first sitting!

Reviewing was a whole other matter. Who would care about my opinion? I’d read a novel and enjoy it, then promptly forget the name of the author, the title and eventually the characters. I could read it again in ten years’ time with that peculiar sense of deja vu. Why would the author care what I think? They have publicists and agents and clever people to tell them if their stuff’s any good. Don’t they?

When I published my first novel, I realised how essential reviewing was. If you like or dislike a novel, it’s like the finishing touch, to submit a review. Amazon have made it so easy; you get asked to rate a novel as you finish it and on the more high tech kindles, you can do your review right then. My mother now reviews every book she reads, good and bad. Why? Because I told her to. As an author I see it from that viewpoint. We need reviews. They’re our life blood in the Amazon algorithm which pushes us up the greasy pole or buries us.

But it’s there in Amazon’s terms and conditions that competitors are not to review each other’s product. Now if I’m a blender manufacturer and so are you, it’s probably not appropriate for me to comment on yours as you’re clearly in direct competition. But if I’m an author writing in the same genre as you, why should your book not inspire me and vice versa? Well, apparently not in Amazon world. The blog below is written by a lovely reviewer who also publishes, but woke up to a dictatorial letter from Amazon and his 1700 reviews of other people’s work deleted. When he asked why, he just received automated copies of the rules, over and over without explanation. So sadly, he’s moved away from Amazon, having spent thousands of dollars on the books he reviewed with verification and is in the process of taking his own books with him.

A little research revealed blogs from 2012 when this culling actually began, making the national press in the UK. Amazon insisted they were primarily targeting reviewers with a ‘personal relationship’ with the author and malpractices leading to manipulation, such as other authors creating false 5* reviews for their own work whilst giving 1* to other authors in their genre. A case which blew it all out of the water involved writer, RJ Ellory, who after being exposed on Twitter, admitted to doing exactly that.

But in his messages on Facebook, posted over the past two days, Ellory wrote: “Thank you. Your kindness is immensely appreciated. I cannot, however, avoid responsibility for what I have done, and I do not intend to.

“Over the last ten years I have posted approximately 12 reviews of my own books, and I also criticised a book written by Stuart MacBride, and another by Mark Billingham, both of whom had done nothing to warrant such criticism.

“This I regret deeply, but time cannot be turned back. I have apologised for what I have done, and I hope in time that we can move beyond this.”

Here are Amazon’s rules on what not to post:

"To help illustrate, here are a few examples of reviews that we don't allow:
-A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
-A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
-A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
-A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
-A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
-A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
-A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor's product
-An artist posts a positive review on a peer's album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them
If you think we got it wrong and removed a customer review that we shouldn’t have, please e-mail and we will take another look."

Well, they have taken another look at poor Christoph’s reviews...and left him banned. I refuse to believe that of his 1700 reviews, a high proportion were for people he knew or other authors who reviewed his work in return. It’s just not realistic is it?

I’m a member of 2 online book clubs. Invariably there are both readers and other authors there. It’s inevitable as we chat about other people’s work, we will end up gravitating to each other’s.

In the above Telegraph article, a bestselling novelist is quoted, advocating peer reviews.

Joanne Harris, the best-selling British author of titles including Chocolat and the Lollipop Shoes, said authors were in many ways the perfect people to review books as they are experts on them.
"One thing authors are able to do is articulate about books. They tend to read about books and their opinions... are listened to," the 48 year-old told The Daily Telegraph.”

Amazon don’t want that. From the same article, the reporter writes:

Amazon has now admitted that it has introduced a ban on authors leaving reviews about other people's books in the same genre because they may pose a “conflict of interest” and cannot be impartial about their rivals.

This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books.

Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels.
In recent weeks, some authors said they had more than 50 reviews deleted without notice, provoking waves of critical comments and posts on blogs and internet forums.”

This blew up three years ago and it’s safe to assume it’s been happening fairly continuously ever since. We just rarely get to hear about it. Christoph reviewed one of my books, months and months after I reviewed one of his. We didn’t review swap, we’ve never had a conversation and I’ve never met him, but it puts me squarely in the firing line, I guess. I write across multiple genres and read across even more than that. Does that mean every review I ever wrote for an author I never met or spoke to is disregarded as manipulative and inappropriate? In their eyes, probably.

It really begs the question, is it better as an author not to review at all?

If I don’t do reviews for other people, I can’t have my integrity called into question and remain blameless. But then I don’t get to tell other authors how much I appreciated their work, or how much I learned from it. I become another faceless author with no voice, rather like Enid Blyton was to me as a child. I will have been censored and shut up, thanks to unscrupulous, unknown and known, others.

Many are taking their reviews to the other sites out there. My work is available on Smashwords and therefore Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and many other players. I’m coming to the conclusion it would be better for me not only to review there, but to buy there also. Yet even as an author, Amazon has me in a strangle hold. They demand my price is lowest at their site, driving readers to them. So if I choose to take my reading elsewhere, I will be financially penalised too. Amazon own Createspace and Goodreads so there's not much guarantee with duplicating reviews there. It seems the only thing to do is copy reviews instead to one of the Smashwords group if they are to have any longevity.

Authors beware!
This is coming to us all.

#Amazon #monopoly #votewithyourfeet #authors