The Real Story: Amazon Bans Free Review Samples Which Compete With Its Amazon Vine Program
This is about eliminating the competition, not cleaning up the reviews section.
Amazon is making a significant change to its Community Guidelines, announced today, which will eliminate any incentivized reviews, except for those that emerge from within its own Amazon Vine program. This program allows Amazon – not the seller or vendor – to identify trusted reviewers, and has a number of controls in place in order to keep bias out of the review process.
Amazon says that, going forward, the only incentivized reviews will be those from Amazon Vine. These don’t work the same way, however. For starters, Amazon selects who will be allowed to review products, and it does so mainly to boost the review count on new or pre-release products that haven’t yet generated enough sales to have a large number of organic reviews.
Vine reviewers are invited to join the program only after having written a number of reviews voted as “helpful” by other customers, and tend to have expertise in a specific product category.
“We do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written,” explains Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience at Amazon in an announcement about how Vine controls for bias. “And we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product,” he adds.
In addition, vendors don’t have any contact with Vine reviewers, nor do they get to influence which reviewers will receive their products, which are submitted directly to Amazon for distribution.
First, let me cover the one point which readers of this blog are most interested in: the new rules don’t cover books. (Of course, with Amazon deleting reviews based on suspected relationships between reviewer and author, book reviews are already a mine field.)
That said, one detail that most if not all of the stories missed is that this policy is hypocritical. Amazon gives out free Fire tablet, Echo, and Kindle review units all the time, and does not plan to stop.
Furthermore, here’s something else that everyone may have missed:
Amazon charges manufacturers for access to the Amazon Vine program.
I’ve heard from a couple different companies (who don’t want to be named, for obvious reasons) that Amazon collects coop fees for the Vine program. If the manufactures don’t pay what Amazon demands then they don’t get access to the high-value reviewers who can help build buzz by posting early reviews.
That detail changes everything, doesn’t it?
Suddenly this isn’t about cleaning up the review process; the new info makes it clear that what Amazon really wants is to force manufacturers to stop dealing directly with reviewers. Now they are going to have to pay Amazon for the privilege of giving away samples to get reviews.
image by Robert Scoble