Imagine you’re an author of a book. In 2011, more than 300,000 new titles were published. Look for a publisher or an agent, and you’ll be dead before you find one. So you publish it yourself.
The challenge: persuading someone to read it and review it.
On Aug. 25, 2012 The New York Times ran 3,300-word story by David Streitfeld titled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” about bookish guy named Todd Rutherford who created the following business model:
In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a website, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
Rutherford’s business crashed and burned. The Times‘ reporter’s interview with the top book reviewer of this niche service was startling:
Mr. Rutherford’s busiest reviewer was Brittany Walters-Bearden, now 24, a freelancer who had just returned to the United States from a stint in South Africa. She had recently married a former professional wrestler, and the newlyweds had run out of money and were living in a hotel in Las Vegas when she saw the job posting.
Ms. Walters-Bearden had the energy of youth and an upbeat attitude. “A lot of the books were trying to prove creationism,” she said. “I was like, I don’t know where I stand, but they make a solid case.”
For a 50-word review, she said she could find “enough information on the Internet so that I didn’t need to read anything, really.” For a 300-word review, she said, “I spent about 15 minutes reading the book.” She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.