Wikipedia:Notability cannot be purchased
This is an essay on notability.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
|This page in a nutshell: In a deletion discussion, a claim of notability requires that sources provided as evidence of notability be independent of their subject, including financial independence.|
Wikipedia has a well-established list of criteria for the creation and inclusion of articles. Among these are that the subject of the article must be notable as demonstrated through the presence of multiple, reliable, verifiable, independent, published secondary sources. However, the specifics of those criteria are sometimes vague— what counts as "reliable"? What counts as "verifiable"? This essay addresses in part the question, "What counts as 'independent'?" Briefly, notability is not something which can be purchased through a third party— paid advocacy is not independent, and Wikipedia article space is not for sale.
Obviously, very wealthy people and organizations are likely to be notable. As such, they will certainly warrant their own articles, even if the only notable thing about them is how much money they have. However, not all people or organizations with money are notable— the vast majority, in fact, are not. But the desire to achieve notoriety on Wikipedia may give some individuals the incentive to attempt to produce, if possible, what appears like real-world evidence of notability. Below are some examples.
Paying for non-existent sources
In 2010 a company called Wiki-PR came into existence with the specific goal of helping companies and individuals get into Wikipedia by charging them a fee and falsely generating electronic "sources" to support the notability claims of Wikipedia articles it then wrote on its clients (see Wiki-PR editing of Wikipedia for full details). It was subsequently banned, including all of its employees, contractors, and owners, by the Wikipedia community for unethical editing, and many of its articles were identified and marked for deletion. This is an example of one way in which it is not acceptable to establish a claim of notability, through the deliberate deceitful inclusion of what are in fact non-existent sources of information. If a source cannot be verified as real, it should be discounted for the purpose of assessing notability. If a source can be identified as false or contrived, it should be removed.
Paying for a review
Another unacceptable way of generating sources for an article on a given subject is by paying someone else to write on the subject and then having that person publish their material as a seemingly independent source. While it is perfectly fine for someone to pay someone else to review their work and to write about it and even for that review to be included within an article, for the purposes of establishing a Wikipedia notability claim such writing is not considered independent of the subject. "Independent" means not only "produced by someone other than the subject", but also "produced independent of the subject's resources or influence".
Here is an example: a person wants to have a Wikipedia article written about him, as he thinks it will help to promote his business. He has not done anything notable and nor is his small business notable, but he has an idea for a book about business strategies: Strategy through Synergy. He writes the book, but all of the reputable publishers he takes it to turn it down as "not publishable quality". Undeterred, he pays a vanity press to print it, but then he cannot find an independent reviewer to read his work and publish a review. He decides to invest in a paid reviewer, and gives a company several hundred dollars to write up a review. Months later his review comes out. It is a rave review of his "excellent" work. He pays a second company to do the same thing, and gets a similarly positive result "Strategy through Synergy is synergistically excellent and plots a strategic pathway to synergy". He then sits down and writes his Wikipedia article (yes, despite the conflict of interest) and offers these two reviews of his book as evidence of his notability.
Other than the fact that the reviews of a book should only be used to establish the notability of a book, the main problem is that the man has paid a third party to make him look notable when in fact he (so far) is not. If his work had been reviewed by a legitimate and truly independent organization without the man having paid for it (and whether that review was positive or negative), then a notability claim might be viable... For the book, anyway. But the financial transaction means that the review is not independent of the subject, even thought the subject did not write it himself and even though the publisher of the review is a seemingly legitimate book-reviewing organization.
Paying to be in a "who's who"
Another example of an attempt to purchase notability is through paying to have one's name published as part of a list in a who's who book. While there are certain exceptions, virtually all of these are considered vanity publications and should not be cited as evidence of notability.
Paying to get an award
Another way that people create dubious notability is by paying to be the recipient of a usually non-notable and non-competitive award. A number of organizations exist which will gladly accept a $100 payment in exchange for recognizing you as being the best entrant for that year in a given (often highly obscure) category of some kind. A certificate is offered in exchange, and often a trophy is available (for an additional fee). These arrangements exist for visual arts and creative writing, among other areas. An aspiring artist can have one of his early painting attempts honored with the "Foo Barkeley Memorial–Silver Award for Figurative Painting", which he can add to his CV–or use to support his claim to being notable enough for a Wikipedia article.
These fake "awards" do not provide information about the identity or qualification of the judges or of the criteria used to select the winners. Such "awards" should be carefully scrutinized before being considered valid evidence of notability for the same reasons as the aforementioned paid book review: a financial transaction between the subject and the award winner, with the subject paying the "award" company, means the two are not independent. If the award itself is not notable, the claim of having received such an award probably shouldn't be considered evidence of notability either.
When a person has an award, one can examine whether the organization giving the award is seen as reputable, and whether the organization is independent of the recipient, whether there were other candidates for the award, and so on. A person may have a huge trophy naming them "Most Brilliant Genius in the Universe"...but if the trophy was given out by the publicity firm she/he hired to promote her career, then this is not a notability-conferring award.
Paying for membership in an organization
While there are exceptions, paid memberships in many organizations are not evidence of notability. There are countless organizations that claim a highly exclusive and prestigious clientele whom a person may apply to join by completing an application and submitting an application fee. In many cases the "application" is only a formality, and the organization then lists the person on its membership roll as soon as the check clears the bank. Often there is a regular membership renewal fee as well. Many of these organizations are genuinely notable, but that does not make all of their members notable and no person can be considered to have achieved notability simply by having paid a membership fee to one. Organizations regularly need money, and selling memberships is a virtually free way for them to get it, but a notability claim such membership on its own does not make.
Though a source such as those described above may be used to augment an article on a subject whose notability has already been established on other terms, if Person- or Entity-A pays Person- or Entity-B to generate evidence of notability of Subject-X, and if Person- or Entity-A has an interest (personal, financial, political, or otherwise) in that Subject, then the evidence which is produced does not meet the "independent" clause of Wikipedia's source requirements for establishing a claim of notability and should be discounted when evaluating it. If you have to pay someone to make you or your work look notable, you and/ or your work probably are not.
Just because Foo Barkeley is a member of the Organization of Really, Really Brilliant Geniuses, if all one has to do to become a member of this organization is send a bank draft for $99, then being a member of this organization does not confer notability.
Paying to have a book published
No publication produced by a vanity press should be considered evidence of notability, either for the publication or its author. Legitimate publishers do not charge authors to publish their works— they review those works, evaluate them for their marketability and cultural significance, and then decide to invest (or not) in the process of publication themselves, with the authors usually receiving royalties on the sales. If a person pays a publisher to publish his or her book, this is another example of violating the independence clause and may not be used to support a notability claim for anyone involved.
If a book originally published through a vanity press eventually goes on to become so popular that it gets picked up by a regular publishing house and goes on to become genuinely notable, this would of course represent an exception. It would be highly irregular, but is certainly within the realm of possibility. Otherwise, a book which has only ever seen the light of day via vanity publishing has no value for claiming notability. Wikipedia maintains a list of vanity publishing organizations which editors should review when in doubt about the nature of a book. Among these are the following:
- American Biographical Institute
- Dorrance Publishing
- Famous Poets Society
- Ivy House Books 
- Poetry.com, aka The International Library of Poetry
- Tate Publishing & Enterprises (there are at least three companies called Tate Publishing; the others include a reputable art publisher and a defunct software book publisher)
- Vantage Press
Being able to do cool looking stuff because you are wealthy
Anyone who is wealthy enough to have a Manhattan loft and a Tokyo condo can also do cool stuff in their leisure hours. Get a helicopter ride up to a mountain peak to ski from the top. Go on a tall ships tour and get doused in sea water as the ship crashes through waves. Pay to take a Formula 1 racecar out for a spin at a motor speedway. Get $1,000-per-table bottle service in the velvet-roped-off VIP area of a fancy nightclub. Tabloid photographers may snap photos of this individual doing these high-priced hobbies and leisure activities and these pictures may appear in magazines and gossip websites. But just because this wealthy person looks super cool in these photos, it does not, alone, make her/him notable.
- Avoid: "She owns a 35 meter yacht. Strong keep for this article in this AfD discussion. Own yacht=notable"
- Avoid: "He owns a Formula 1 racing car and drives it around on his own private motor speedway. Strong keep for this article in AfD. Own Formula1"
But if a person is really wealthy and does exciting, expensive hobbies, and she or he otherwise meets the WP:GNG/General Notability guidelines for their other activities in leading organizations/companies, writing, art, philanthropy, or other activities, then she or he can have her own Wikipedia article. And yes, you can even post cool-looking photos of him/her wearing a Formula 1 racing suit or sailing in her yacht on his/her off-hours : )
This essay is not about paid editing
This essay describes the problems and conflicts of interest that occur when a person tries to pay another person or entity to give that person a false semblance of notability. This is entirely separate from issues surrounding paying someone to write a Wikipedia article about you! Paid editing is a contentious matter on Wikipedia, and there are a number of essays that discuss various editor opinions and thoughts on what paid editing means and how it affects Wikipedia.
But so long as a proper conflict-of-interest disclosure has been made by the relevant editor, there are no rules forbidding anyone from paying someone else to write an article about them and publish it on Wikipedia. The notability of that article's subject exists entirely independently of whether or not one person or another was paid to spend the time to create it, and has nothing to do with paying a third party to make you look notable when you are not. Only the latter is considered officially deviant or underhanded. Do not cite this essay in order to respond to a discussion that is happening on Wikipedia regarding paid editing, and do not use it as leverage against people who have been paid to edit, as it has no bearing on these issues.
- Paying for Prestige - the Cost of Recognition
- Span, Paula (23 January 2005). "Making Books". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-08-22.
- Bad Art - A verse-case scenario (Boston Phoenix)
- Ron Pramschufer (2 November 2004). "POD Superstar or Vanity Press Deception?". Publishers Newswire/Neotrope.
- Margo Stever, The Contester: Poetry.com Struggles for Legitimacy. Poets and Writers Magazine
- D. T. Max (16 July 2000). "No More Rejections". New York Times.