After seeing an author recommend "Reader's Favorite" to other authors as an inexpensive alternative to Kirkus for editorial reviews it set off warning bells for me when she also mentioned she'd gotten some reviews posted to Amazon from it.
So, of course I decided to check it out. Here's how it works for authors:
Authors can request a free review, or pay a fee for an "expedited" review. The author's book is submitted for member readers to chose to read - I'll get to how it works on the reader's side further on.
The free service doesn't guarantee the author will get a review, the paid service does guarantee a review.
The review will be provided to the author and they can post the review in the "editorial review" section of Amazon if they want. If the review is at least 4 stars Reader's Favorite will also post the review to their site, Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.
I haven't (yet) verified if they're posting to Barnes & Noble as a consumer, but if not so far this is no problem.
However if you keep reading in the author area you see at least one glaring red flag. They facilitate author review swapping:
Which we know, and authors should know, violates TOS for sites like Amazon and GoodReads, and I presume Barnes & Noble, and probably everywhere else that allows consumer reviews.
I also strongly feel that any author considering doing business with a company like this should not simply look at the author information, but also the reader information, and ensure the service is in complete compliance of various TOS as well as FTC regulations, prior to doing business with them. The authors I warned about this were distressingly unconcerned about anything other than the fact that they didn't feel they personally were violating any TOS by requesting reviews by this outfit. Nevermind the rest of how this site functions, and how those reviews are posted that do violate various TOS.
Which takes us to the Reader's side. What do readers get and what are they expected to do?
There are some stipulations I find bothersome, but don't violate TOS, so I won't detail those here.
Firstly, they are required to provide a review for a book they choose to accept within 3 weeks. But then it goes on to say if they need more time that's not a problem, and if they decide not to review a book they can just remove the book from their list. So, that's a bit confusing. I'll point out that requiring a review in exchange for a free book violates Amazon and GoodReads TOS.
However, if these reviews were simply being used as editorial reviews, this still wouldn't be a problem. So, hang in here with me. Moving on...
RF tells readers, "We will post your review on Google Books, Barnes & Noble, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest, as well as on our website. The author can post the review in the Editorial Reviews section of their Amazon page. You can post your review anywhere you like except Amazon, Google Books and Barnes & Noble because your review will already be posted there."
This is problematic. They cannot post the review anywhere they like, because their reviews will violate GoodReads TOS, and probably TOS of other retailers. They cannot post their reviews as consumer reviews. They can only post them as professional reviews where professional reviews are allowed, such as their own blog or their Facebook, etc.
Additionally I know for a fact that these reviewers do still post their reviews as consumer reviews on Amazon, at least sometimes. Here's why:
"Although this is primarily a volunteer position, we also pay a small amount for each review and a little more for priority reviews. But this money is not enough to be considered payment for your services and should instead be thought of as a gift that can add up to a tidy sum over a couple of months. In addition, every month one lucky reviewer will win $100 in a raffle-style giveaway."
Not only are authors paying Reader's Favorite, but the reviewers are being paid per review. They're also being entered into a cash drawing. THIS means their reviews cannot be posted as consumer reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, and if/when they are they are violating TOS.
And, a chance to win free books. Also means posting these reviews as a consumer review would violate TOS:
And, it gets worse. Reader's Favorite only publishing a review if it's a least 4 stars is one thing, since presumably they're doing it as editorial/professional reviews. On the reader side I saw no stipulation that they could not post a less than 4 star review wherever they choose to post the review. Although from information provided on the author's side, which you'll see below, it strongly suggests that member readers will be advised not to post a less-than-4-star review publicly, possibly in verbiage not visible until/unless one is a member.
However, Reader's Favorite does allow authors to "review the review", and "provide feedback" so the reviewer can "improve". Which is problematic, when these reviewers are not specifically and firmly advised they cannot post their reviews as consumer reviews.
The information about this provided to authors is even more problematic:
"If a book receives less than 4 stars no official review is given. Instead, the reviewer will write constructive criticism to let the author know what problems they had with the book and offer any suggestions they may have to improve it. This will be about the size of a regular review and will be sent to the author privately; it will not be posted publicly. We are here to help authors, not hurt them.
Although we as a company do not interfere with what rating a reviewer gives a book, as the rating must be what the reviewer feels is appropriate, we do monitor the average ratings of our reviewers to ensure they are being fair and honest about their ratings to maintain the integrity of our reviews."
"Because it is critical that reviewers provide quality reviews, we invite you to Review your Reviewer. When your review is complete, you will be able to login to your Author's Area and rate your reviewer on a 5-star scale and provide a short review, just as they did for you. Your feedback is presented to the reviewer to help them improve their skills, the same way book reviews help authors improve theirs. The information is also passed to the Readers' Favorite staff to help us ensure the quality of our reviewers and reviews."
A lot of red flags there, this careful language suggests that reviewers will be monitored and rewarded/penalized if the "quality" of their reviews is not considered "fair", by the company, which I don't think it's unreasonable to consider it likely to mean keeping their overall rating/review average high, to keep authors happy.
And even more problems - an author I was talking to about this quoted information from their site that I have been unable to locate, it's possible it's visible only to those that have accounts in a member's area. This is what she posted and said was from their site:
"Goodreads also has restrictions regarding reviews posted by professional review companies, so we ask our reviewers to use their personal Goodreads account to post your review. If you do not see our review on your Goodreads page then the reviewer does not have a Goodreads account. However, you can post the review yourself. You can either post an excerpt of your review in your book's description or you can post our complete review like any other reader's review. Be sure to keep the first line showing the review is from us, then it makes no difference who actually posts it."
Those of you familiar with GR will see how this is problematic. Sure, if an author quotes a professional review in their own review space with the designation "Review From Author", GoodReads might let that fly, although it definitely still is a violation of TOS and should only be posted in areas where promotional information is allowed, not a review.
The statement also doesn't specify this definitely would not be acceptable for non-authors. GoodReads doesn't allow people to post professional reviews as long as they do so from their personal accounts, or as long as they credit where the review is from. GoodReads doesn't allow commercial/professional reviews to be posted as reader reviews, at all.
Unfortunately this service is attractive to indie authors who think editorial reviews are important, and the cost of Kirkus is prohibitive, or the review they received from Kirkus was not suitable for promotional purposes. The authors I spoke to who used this service hadn't even bothered to look at the reader side of things, although did admit to being pleased they'd received reviews posted to Amazon as consumer reviews.
In my opinion this service is very close to the scam the coupon clubs had been running, convincing the unwary they were in compliance with Amazon TOS when they were very much not. And I wanted to warn other readers about this particular service, what it's doing, why it's a problem. I also think it's a safe bet there are many others like it out there.