Amazon Vine Program and Customer Reviews

I saw that Chelsea Cain’s upcoming book, Sweetheart, has like 15 customer reviews up already. The book isn’t due out for another month. I hadn’t seen that before (the customer reviews on pre-ordered books) but I am aware that this program does exist. It bothered me seeing that and I may be the only one. I know many people get ARCs to review them a month or so ahead to get some buzz going but with Amazon and the bad publicity surrounding their review system, to me, that has removed any value it had as a credible system and service to its customers. Too many schemers versus legitimate credible reviewers – yes, that’s just my opinion.

The program is by “invite only” and customers like you or me are allowed to participate. However, that’s only if you are a reviewer for Amazon who provides insightful and accurate reviews. Anyway, after googling “Amazon Vine Program” to see how long this program has been in place, I ran across this article that discusses how Amazon allegedly had to clean up some problems because, guess what? People were “gaming” the system, submitting reviews before the products were even shipped out. The way that the system worked (at the time) was that members were only allowed up to (3) items for review and after submitting reviews for them, then they are allowed to request more; and it’s free. Amazon picks up the tab for shipping.

I know that the article discusses only the bad apples in the bunch, but like I said, I’ve never run across these reviews until now. And yes, it’s annoying. When I go to buy something from them, if ever, I guess I’ll just have to ignore these reviews, too. I did check to see if there were reviews up for other authors I read like Dennis Lehane or Michael Connelly – nothing there so I take it to mean that those books were not made available to Amazon’s Influential Voices. I’m only guessing on that, too.

Anyway, I’m just voicing my utter dislike of this program’s intrusiveness and if there are legitimate reviewers out there giving their all to give honest opinons to customers – then this article isn’t specifically about you, it’s about the program.

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About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
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20 Responses to Amazon Vine Program and Customer Reviews

  1. Meljean says:

    I just finished up Heartsick and went to the Amazon site, and was also surprised by the reviews for Sweetheart. Why, I wonder, that book and no other upcoming novel (that I could see)? Is it a part of the marketing and early buzz (and if so, why is Amazon participating? — are they getting a fee to have early reviews?) Or is it from Amazon’s side … and will they allow early reviews from anyone on any book, or just the Vine Voice on select books? Some disclosure might be helpful. I would think that with all of the bad buzz surrounding Amazon reviews, they’d try to be as transparent as possible.

  2. Avid Reader says:

    Hi Meljean – my thoughts exactly. I might be like overreacting but I don’t like to be influenced by other people’s opinions when I buy my books–main reason why I avoid blogs and review sites. But surprisingly, her book is the only one.

  3. Pingback: Sweet on the Vine, Sick of the Hype or just ::heart:: books : The Good, The Bad and The Unread

  4. Wendy says:

    It’s possible all these reviews aren’t from the Vine program. I was at BEA this year, and this ARC was e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. Copies were all over the place. Chelsea Cain did two signings that I’m aware of, and there was a small mountain of ARCs at the St. Martin’s booth.

    I scored my ARC at BEA, and have since gotten two more in at work (my library system is large enough that I do receive some ARCs). St. Martin’s has really been promoting the heck out of these books, and since Heartsick hit the NY Times list, I’d say it’s working. It will be interesting to see if Sweetheart debuts on the list.

  5. Gary says:

    I am a member of the Vine program, and I don’t see the problem with it. If you don’t like to read other peoples’ reviews at all, then don’t do it. Personally, I find the reviews extremely valuable. Are some of them lame? Sure. Do some try to game the system? Again, sure. But my experience is that you can usually tell the bogus reviews from the real ones.

    And, maybe it’s just me, but before I plop down $10-40 on a book, I want to know something about it. I prefer to browse it in a bookstore to reading reviews, but in my opinion the reviews are the second-best thing.

    OTOH, if you use reviews in general but not from Vine, I don’t see the logic in that at all. I can write a bogus review about any book at all, ARC or not; Harriet Klausner is not even a Vine reviewer. (BTW, I don’t have a big problem with her reviews, but many others do.)

  6. Avid Reader says:

    Gary, first I appreciate your comments. Reviews are a valuable tool to use if you are unsure of an author or their work. I don’t often use them unless they are by people of whose tastes correlate well with my own. Having said that, I agree with you in that my arguement is on it’s face, illogical but it just hit me wrong seeing all the reviews there for Chelsea Cain’s new book and for no one else that I could see. I hadn’t seen that before and I was annoyed.
    Harriet Klausner’s reviews provide nothing helpful for me in terms of helping me as a reader decide if I want to read the book or not. If I see her review on anything, I click away. I know she gets her facts wrong as well. Wish I could cite the book but I can’t so take that with a grain of salt.

  7. Gary says:

    I can understand that. I, too, reacted a little too hastily – I’m sorry about that. One thing I should probably have noted: the value of reviews depends greatly on the kind of book we’re talking about. For fiction, I agree with you. Somebody’s interpretation of 1984, for example, as being prescient of one politician or another does not add a whole lot of valuable information. I was really thinking of non-fiction books when I made my comment. See, I am a programmer by profession, and the reviews are often extremely helpful. I can tell more by looking at the physical book in person, but often I don’t have the chance to do that.

    I should have taken a little more time with my comment. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful reply. And I tend to agree with you on Harriet too – just didn’t want to step on any toes. 🙂

  8. Ringling says:

    I’d guess people will learn soon enough that they have to take the Vine reviews with more than the usual grain of salt. Personally I’m exceptionally skeptical of any review from a Vine reviewer. So you have to do more sifting than usual to find reviews worth reading. Which wouldn’t be so bad except there are so many.

  9. Hi there! I’m also a member of Amazon Vine, and have been since they launched the program in August 2007.

    Supposedly, we were invited based on our review history with Amazon, but we aren’t really sure what criteria was used. Not all of the ‘Top’ reviewers were invited, and some were invited that ranked in the thousands.

    Amazon asks us to submit honest, fair reviews of the items we receive from the Vine program, and they have said they will not edit any of our reviews, although they still fall under the normal review guidelines, of course.

    As far as how it is decided what items get reviewed and what don’t, that really is up to the manufacturers and publishers participating in the program. Those companies offer Amazon a number of items each month for review and they are posted to the ‘Viners’ each month on the 3rd and 4th Thursday of the month. Amazon simply accepts those items and posts the list of available products to review for the Vine members, they don’t actually select what items will be offered for review. We select up to two items from each newsletter for review, and if we get the items we select, they are shipped to us. The items offered include books, CDs, movies, electronics, food items, household goods, health and beauty products, etc.

    I’ve personally found some great things there – my new favorite beef jerky was sent to me through this program. I’ve also found some duds and rated them accordingly.

    We’ve had some people that have ‘gamed’ the system, and when it was discovered, Amazon has revised the Vine progam to deter this kind of activity. It isn’t perfect, but the schemers will always find a way.

    I think you’ll find that there are as many conscientious reviewers within the Vine program as there are outside of it. Hopefully, the honest reviewers outnumber the other kind. Unfortunately, as in all areas of life, you’ll find all kinds in the group.

    I read Vine reviews the same way I do normal ones – I use my own common sense, and I tend to gravitate towards reviewers whose opinion I have found aligned with my own in the past. Or at least those who offer enough supporting information regarding their opinion for me to determine if I will share their view of that product.

  10. Avid Reader says:

    Hi Jennifer. Thanks for providing information about the Vine program with Amazon and sharing your insights. I found them helpful and informative. We do agree on one thing: reviews are useful only if the reader’s tastes correlates with our own and has shown to be trustworthy and dependable. Have a good weekend.

  11. While I agree that it is unethical to post a review of a product that was not tried/read/used, there is no way to police that unless Amazon ensures that the product has been delivered – before there is an option to post a review.

    I, too, am a Vine Reviewer and I actually read the books that I receive. I also give the review the attention it deserves. Many people, inappropriately, give a one or two liner review – which is a waste of time. Some complain about the product rather than give true insight about what the book is about.

    Another abuse I have heard of is Viners actually selling the products on Ebay without even opening up the product and using it. That is unethical but I am sure that is a small percentage of members that I feel is outright criminal and outlandish.

    However, these cases are a small sect of the Vine population. I am not one of them.

    Each review should be read and judgment made upon the review – BUT don’t think that the credibility of ALL reviewers is in question. Blanket statements only show your lack of seeing both views and lack of understanding of the program.

  12. Gary says:

    I’m wondering why people would be “exceptionally skeptical of any review from a Vine reviewer.” I seriously would like to know. Let’s say that it’s a given that a relatively small number of people either abuse the system, or don’t read the books/use the items before reviewing, or complain about inappropriate things. (One vine review complained about the editing and quality of an ARC; and I patiently but soundly informed him of what a book being an ARC means.)

    But what about the others? It’s true, there are a lot of them out there, so it makes it frustrating when you write a review yourself and it is immediately engulfed by a sea of others. But most of the ones I’ve seen show at least as much thought given to the item as the typical review. As I’ve said before, I can understand people not reading any reviews, but why only the vine ones?

  13. Warren says:

    I’m a Vine reviewer. I also review for other sites, including my own. If Vine reviews are going to be suspect, how can you trust other reviews? How do you know a reviewer isn’t reviewing something he wrote? How do we know that ANY review is done by someone who has read the book? I could have a vendetta against a particular author, and trash every book they write. How would anybody know?

    Take Vine reviews with a grain of salt, just as you would with any review. I think that the people who simply write garbage to get free stuff will be shuffled out, while people who are willing to write reviews as a service to Amazon’s customers will become more obvious.

  14. JANY says:

    Amazon Vine is like a chat room. People can say anything they choose and it’s posted for all to read. Many authors are upset by this. They will be reviewed by critics and this is traditional, but I do not think it is appropriate to treat a book site with such disrespect.

  15. Debby M says:

    What does ARC mean?

  16. Kevin Tipple says:

    I am an Amazon Vine reviewer who also reviewed and still does for a number of online sites and print publications.

    I know it is trendy again to attack Amazon and reviewers there, but like anything else, there is good work there as well. The bottom line is that one needs to look at the body of work done by the reviewer to see if the reviews have any validity.

    Kevin R. Tipple

    Book Reviews and more at http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/

    The Carpathian Shadows: Book Two
    E-Book http://www.booksforabuck.com/sfpages/sf_08/carpathian_shadows2.html
    PRINT http://www.amazon.com/

  17. RPI says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m in the 30000 rank of reviewers and just got an invitation to join Vine. I was sort of flattered to be asked, so I’m trying it out. I had slacked off in my Amazon reviewing; maybe it’s a way to get fallen-away reviewers with high quality scores reviewing again?

    Amazon is very hands-off about it, and so far it looks very much on the up and up. I don’t plan to write my first Vine review any differently than I write my other reviews. I am sort of irritated that my name has “vine voice” attached for all of my older, non-Vine reviews, though.

    RPI

  18. Avid Reader says:

    RPI: I am sort of irri­tated that my name has “vine voice” attached for all of my older, non-​Vine reviews, though.

    @RPI That is rather annoying and somewhat misleading. Why would they do that, I wonder? No way to filter out those other, older reviews and distinguish them from the Vine reviews?

  19. Rick says:

    I joined the vine program about 6 months ago. I’ve requested three books to review, as they take so much time. For example, I received $900 receiver from Vine – installing, testing and review took three hours. A large book takes three times that. A technical book even more.

    All told I’ve received around 20 items to date (4 items received per month.) I’ve given three one star reviews, a few two star, and several three and fourr star. Only two five star. If it’s a food product, I’ll have my wife try it as well, and include both our opinoins. There’s been stuff I hated – but she loved.

    I don’t post my reviews utill I’ve had the product for a few weeks and used it daily. Books – not until I’ve read the entire thing.

    I’m honest, take photos when helpful, and actually use / read / install everything I order.

  20. Avid Reader says:

    @Rick: Thanks Rick. I appreciate your time and your feedback about the program.

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