Glean: What afflicts you? ... 2 Stars ... (October 29th, 2009)
An article recently appeared in the School Library Journal that was critical of Amazon Vine, an organization that I've been affiliated with for quite some time.
In short, Amazon Vine is a program that was created to reward the top reviewers who supplied Amazon with consistently useful reviews with Advance Review Novels, Electronics, Software, Food items -- or basically anything that appears on Amazon's main website for sale. The only caveat is that for said item, one must craft a review. Some of this merchandise has been virtually worthless, like this item, all the way up to three thousand dollars, like this item.
It occurred to me that the fastest way to drive traffic to someone's site/blog is to openly attack, or speak of in disdain or over-generalize, an active and visible online community, such as Amazon Vine. And it seems that practice of this began earlier today.
While I am all for critical debate and analysis, it just helps when the information being purported is accurate and balanced and not biased in elitism. Unfortunately, the last point would be the hardest to control as most people these days hold their own opinions above others and see them as facts ... when in fact they're not, but only opinions.
It also helps when people do some research, which ironically is what most people associate librarians for. Not bothering to read Wikipedia or any of the previous articles and blog posts regarding operations within Amazon Vine doesn't really bring much credibility to one's work and casts an opaque patina on yourself unnecessarily. This is especially true if you've been interfacing with Amazon for over a decade. Not fact checking before launching the missiles on your intended target is, well ... as Douglas Adam's once said ... 'generally considered a bad move.' But maybe that was never the point of Elizabeth Bird's personal summary. Maybe research was never really a factor, even though she herself was claiming a lack of it from other Vine Participants themselves with their poorly written detritus-cum-reviews and Amazon as well, for not properly folding in more qualified candidates to 'properly' review the material. For example:
"You see, on the children's literature side of things, the people submitting reviews are often getting products for kids that require a subtle hand." -- from the original posted text of the article.
Subtle hand? That really has an elitist ring to it if I've ever heard the chimes at midnight, myself, Master Harry ...
I don't have an axe to grind against people who do write whoppers like this, and then go back and heavily edit them for content and error, ex post facto, but it just has the taste of cheapness to it when done out of spite, like this seems to be. There are actually plenty of complaints to to unfurl against Amazon Vine and the Viner's themselves, but the lack of spotlight position of one's reviews is really not one that has much merit. It just comes across as selfish and a bit childish.
What complaints you say? How about Vine Member's selling their un-opened goods on Ebay and writing erroneous reviews on products that they never even tested? How does "New in Box -- Never Opened" work out when product testing? I wonder how the vendors that pay the huge sums of cash to Amazon would feel, if they found out that 'Joe Smith for Arkansas (name change to protect the guilty), decided to sell that $3,200 exercise machine on Craigslist in the box, and unopened and never bothered to write an honest review? Would you continue to be a part of that? Probably not. And how would you feel if you discovered that Amazon knew about these people and did nothing in the way of rectifying the situation or policing the behaviour or kept quiet because of this person's 'rank' as a reviewer?
Perhaps, though, some of the problem was pre-existant with media disdain for Amazon Reviewers through time as most of the mainstream press has been negative and outright bombastic.
In 2002, Howard Stern, yes of radio fame, not Anna Nicole fame, became enraged at the amount of negative reviews his biography (note on this subject down the road) was picking up and called for a closed process for Amazon Reviews and said that there should be a vetting process for reviewers as well as the ability for authors to delete reviews they find unfavorable as "those reviews dramatically effect sales." That's where the general consensus was on Amazon Reviewers for some time and was only recently turning around for the better with an article spotlighting Amazon's number one reviewer in a positive light. Gasp! Where's Stern to chase him down? I couldn't believe how quickly he called for censoring voices after he positioned himself as the champion of open information.
The reviewers within Amazon Vine are so varied by profession, that anything posted that rises like stink or bombast, or even praise for that matter, is bound to be noticed quickly and thus the core readers and lurkers of the closed online forum will immediately respond en masse. I think some bloggers, journalists and other media concerns will use this and seize on it -- even if it is only a few thousand strong. It's enough. If a new author can cull 5,000 sales for his debut novel, by today's publishing standards, he's in good shape. So why not the same with on-line journalism?
I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more people doing this just to drive traffic to inflate their numbers for advertising or something else. Amazon Vine might soon become a new target by blog snipers / mark-ass busters (to use a dated term) to sensationalize a book, a product or some upcoming event knowing that a response is most-likely guaranteed. Hey 60 responses to an article is 60 responses and worthwhile.
Latest related Betsy Bird posts for those who are interested: (one pro, one against)