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Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites

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There's an article over at Wired on the situation with iPhone apps and how some prominent and well regarded review sites are charging a fee to 'expedite' reviews.
Gadget Lab Hardware News and Reviews
Pay to Play: Some iPhone App Sites Demand Money for Reviews (Updated)

    * By Brian X. Chen Email Author
    * March 18, 2010  |
    * 3:02 pm  |
    * Categories: Phones

iphone payola

If you can’t pitch the press, pay them. That’s the proposition some review sites have for publicity-starved iPhone developers.

Several websites dedicated to iPhone app reviews are requesting payments from developers in exchange for writeups of their apps, has learned. Those payments are not always clearly disclosed to readers, and the practice hasn’t received much discussion outside of gaming blogs.

Soliciting money in exchange for a product review is not illegal, but the practice should raise questions about the credibility and independence of the review sites, critics say.

“They prey on people who need exposure,” said Oliver Cameron, developer of the popular iPhone app Postman, who has avoided pitching his apps to sites that request payment for reviews. “It strikes me as a paid ad, really. They never seem to actually ‘review’ it.”

The two sites that were most frequently mentioned by programmers who contacted were and Both sites appear in the top four Google search results for the search term “iPhone app review.”

With more than 150,000 apps in the iPhone App Store, rising above the crowd is a major challenge for developers. Getting a good review on the web can help drive sales and that, in turn, can raise an app’s profile within the App Store. While apps that earn their creators hundreds of thousands of dollars are rare, they do exist, and many developers seek publicity in hopes of achieving this dream.

Driven by that demand, app review websites are offering to “expedite” reviews — that is, bring apps to the front of the review queue — in exchange for a fee. But at least one site,, has gone even further, and threatened to shun products whose developers haven’t paid for reviews.
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A related article by MacDirectory discusses how deals like this work :


Developer Michael D'Ulisse told Wired that one site,, refused to review his app Pocket Labeler unless he ponied up a $25 fee. TheiPhoneAppReview does disclose on its About page that it offers an "expedited review service" for a "small fee," but the site's editor in chief, Shaun Campbell, told Wired that TheiPhoneAppReview does not require developers to pay a fee for a review.

"I have never once sent a request for a fee to a developer to review their app," Campbell. "That is not our policy, which is why that is not stated in the About."

That second sentence is a flat-out lie.

I don't know whether Campbell has or has not personally requested a developer to send him a fee in exchange for a review, but I do know that at one time it was most certainly the site's policy to ask for one. How do I know this? When I inquired about writing for the site back in September of last year, Campbell told me this in an email:

"Our business is centered around providing coverage of new and interesting iPhone applications to assist with the marketing and promotion of our clients (the developers). Currently, we charge a nominal fee of $20 to review an iPhone application, though this is likely to grow in the near future as website traffic continues to improve.

We are looking to take on independent contributing authors that, through the use of iTunes, contact iPhone app developers to offer their review services. Due to the sheer volume of iPhone applications out there, and the need to stand out in the marketplace, the response rate is generally quite favorable."

Now in full disclosure, I still pursued this writing gig. I'm not proud of this, but I was in need of money and I was also not aware that TheiPhoneAppReview did not clearly disclose their pay-to-play practice. Fortunately, I was spared an internal moral quandary because Campbell never responded to me after his initial email.
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Apparently, these revelations are starting to cause some pain. Because when the Today in iPhone podcast published verbatim two emails it received from  iPhone App Reviews ("explaining" the site's position on this matter) it received a legal threat for doing so:


Update: 3/20/2010 10:41 AM CT - Mr. Campbell sent me an email threatening legal action if I do not remove the emails above. He claimed they were in violation of Copyright law.  However I claim they fall under the fair use doctrine - as the emails present a counter claim to his public comments in the Wired article and as such provide the public with needed information.  I guess we will let the courts decide.  I don't like being threatened - Mr. Campbell I will NOT remove the emails above.  
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Somehow, I get the feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg...


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