Thursday, November 08, 2007

Amazon Vine Revisited

In September, I posted that I had been invited into the Amazon Vine program but found that it was impossible to be a participant due to some difficulties with the process of acquiring items for review. Since that time, the Vine program has made some changes that allow better access for all participants and my husband and I were able to finally get a book for review (pictured above).

My research into why the program was causing some to get no items and others to get a plethora yielded some results that reflected naivete or short-sightedness on the part of those at Amazon behind the program. In the first few months, participants were allowed to request up to three items and then to request more items once they had submitted a review for items reviewed. The result of this way of conducting the program was that people "gamed" the system in order to gobble up as many freebies as possible. To do this, they would request items and then submit reviews before they had actually received them in order to make them eligible to request even more items. Since the entire purpose of the Vine program is to get credible reviews for items that have not yet been released, this was clearly not in Amazon's best interest nor a reflection of their intent in creating the program.

To their credit, Amazon worked out what was going on based on the fact that reviews were submitted before delivery could possibly have been completed and changed their system. The current system allows each person to request one item per month until everyone has had a chance to choose something. Leftover items may then be requested the following month or later in the same month (depending on how things work out and what Amazon believes is best and fair).

The variety of items Amazon is offering has been diversified since the first newsletter which only contained CDs and books. The last few mailings have included keyboards, mice, software, DVDs, and vibrating chair pads. Presently, getting anything other than books is pretty impossible unless you make it a point to log into the Vine page and find out what items can be requested the instant they are made available. This is because the same greed that compelled people to cheat the system has them pouncing like a starving cat on a juicy mouse at the sight of any electronic items or items of higher value than a book. I'm wondering how many of those types of items end up on eBay or sold off to acquaintances at reduced rates at the end of the day as they have some re-sale value.

Personally, I'd never request electronics items anyway since international shipping costs still apply to anything I buy and there's no way a keyboard or electronic item is going to be worthwhile considering shipping rates to Japan. I'm happy to get a crack at a book for the sake of experiencing something new and submitting a review. In all honesty, I really looked at the invitation to the program as a means by which I could compel myself to be exposed to new things, particularly in terms of reading books I may not normally read. The items I get end up costing me $15 or more in shipping so they aren't actually free anyway. I knew this going in.

I'm pleased to say that Amazon took the problems in hand and fixed them and they deserve credit for that. I'm far less pleased to say that my previous post revealed a lot of the ugly nature of people when getting something free is at stake and they want to diminish the competition so they can have more for themselves. If you read the comments on my previous Amazon Vine post, you'll see people accused me of the following:
  1. Misrepresenting myself as living in the U.S. to Amazon in order to be eligible for the Vine program
  2. Failing to pay import taxes on items I receive.
  3. Violating the "items cannot be exported" prohibition on Amazon.
  4. Being generally rather stupid for heeding what Amazon said regarding newsletters being the conduit for requesting items rather than checking the web site and hammering the reload button at the scheduled posting time.
None of these accusations had a base in anything besides the imagination of my greedy and unsophisticated accusers. To spare you from going back to read the comments, I can say that:
  1. I cannot hide my residence from Amazon as they have both my Japanese billing and shipping addresses. They knew where I lived when they invited me. I certainly never mislead them in any fashion nor did I request to join the program.
  2. I cannot avoid import taxes as packages are randomly searched and custom tags denoting the value of the contents are attached on the outside. Amazon and the Japanese postal service have all the control over what I pay, if anything. However, the types of goods that Amazon ships are generally not the sort import taxes are placed on. For what its worth, clothing and shoes are the only goods I've ever had to pay taxes on. I think leather goods in particular are taxed based on my past experiences.
  3. I cannot be an "exporter" if I don't resell the goods I receive. Besides that, the sample book I got is an advance release book. I can't even get credit for it at a used bookstore (should I choose to do so), let alone sell it to anyone.
  4. I took Amazon at their word when they said you should wait for a newsletter and request items from it. Some people set their clocks for the wee hours of the morning to be first in line (the time that the items are posted has since been changed so that it's no longer necessary to do this), but I'm not that desperate and I seriously doubt that anyone in the Vine program is so incredibly poor that they need to be so hawkish about freebies.
As a final word, I'd hope that Amazon would prefer people who aren't so petty and greedy and who are interested in genuinely assessing the given products. Unfortunately, it appears they are ill-equipped to evaluate the tendencies of participants. Of course, a more cynical evaluation of the situation would be that all people will take as much as they can and knock over anyone who gets in their way if it's free.


Chief Lame Deer said...

As a Vine Reviewer myself, I found your post informative and insightful as to the problems that seem to be still plagueing the program.

Hope you're still reviewing ...

Shari said...

Hi, Chief Lame Deer, and many thanks for commenting. I'm very pleased that my comment provided you with some useful information.

I am still reviewing though I'm only in my second successful month of doing so (the first two months were ones in which I was shut out). While Amazon changing the system to allow only one item to be requested really helped, it also helps to know the newsletters themselves are generally useless if you want to get something which many people will request. Knowing that you've got to log into the Vine page at 12:00 pm PST or 3:00 pm EST and check what's there is key.

Kasthu said...


I liked reading your post on the Vine Program. Having been a member since its inception, I definitely like the way in which Amazon has responded to Viners' concerns.