So, we have to relate an interesting conversation we had with Amazon the other day.
We called to ask what the protocol was when one discovers that a competing book has plagiarized material, is erasing negative reviews, and is using fake positive reviews. The book is The Case Interview Workbook by “Robert Mellon,” and it claims to be a collection of 60 cases “compiled and edited by a team of ex-consultants from McKinsey & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company.”
Wow, that’s impressive! Moreover, it has all 5-star reviews! Well, hold on …
First of all, the cases in this book are being reviewed by Valentin Nugmanov at Case Master Club, and they are truly some of the worst he’s ever seen. Halfway through, and eight of the cases have received a total score of 0%. That’s hard to do.
Second, several of the cases are exact copies of ones available for free from other sources. Take the example below. The first case is from The Case Interview Workbook, and the one below is from the Wharton consulting club casebook released in 2006. They are identical.
Not knowing the lack of quality between the covers, one might be inclined to spend $14.99 to get 60 practice cases, especially considering the 5-star reviews. However, if you look closely, the reviewers, “John Gunther,” “Jason Keaton,” and “Scott Thompson” have also all left a review for a completely unrelated (and obscure) book about CrossFit. Given all the possible books, the probability that three different people (who only reviewed a handful of items in total) chose to review two unrelated books is essentially zero. Thus, issue #3: the glowing positive reviews are not independent (and thus almost surely not real).
Still―and this brings me to our fourth and final issue―one would be duly warned of this book’s low quality if any negative reviews hung around. There were several, and the one below is a particularly well-written and accurate example. Indeed, Leslie L.’s criticism that the book’s explanations are often wrong is one quickly identified by Case Master Club and a critical piece of information to know about a prep book. However, this and all negative reviews for The Case Interview Workbook simply disappeared one day.
When we brought all this up with Amazon, their response was that unless it was our work being plagiarized or our negative review being deleted, there was nothing we could do. We said, “So essentially it’s none of our business,” and the representative agreed. Except, of course, this market and its goings-on are precisely our business.
We can understand Amazon’s view on plagiarism, and they do respond when the plagiarized party brings a complaint. We’ve brought such a case to Amazon before, and they quickly took down the other book. It’s really those whose copyrights are being infringed upon who can attest to not being the author of both works. For all Amazon knows, the author of The Case Interview Workbook is the same person who wrote the “Case 7” for Wharton, as unlikely as that sounds.
As for negative reviews, sellers have a long list of reasons for asking that a negative review be removed (we’ve done it for a review left by a serial troll), and Amazon is probably trying to help businesses avoid the abuse many have suffered on other, less controlled ratings sites. (Tip: search for “business destroyed by yelp.”)
With highly coincidental positive reviews, the rule of thumb is that Amazon just doesn’t delve into suspicious matters very deeply. We contacted them several years ago about the fact that someone in India read every page of our invertebrate glossary Kindle edition, an act that looked a lot like the first step to having it copied and reprinted there, as has been done before. Amazon’s response was that, well, some people do read a whole book in a day. Sure, but a dictionary?
It probably doesn’t take much digging to find various shenanigans on Amazon, so as always, “buyer beware.” Actually, seller beware, too!
Update ― In The Wall Street Journal this morning: “Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products.” Interview-prep books filled with plagiarized and completely wrong “information” may not kill you, but they could kill your budget and career. It seems that problems in the book section extend throughout the site.