It is not often that I can claim that some people are jealous of me but I have one thing that many people are genuinely jealous of: my membership to the Amazon Vine Programme. After all, who wouldn’t want free products from Amazon on a regular basis? I have been privileged to receive expensive TVs and other household appliances, the latest gadgets, books and a host of other goodies. There are only two “buts”: I have to review them (well, sort of) and I cannot give them away or sell them.
You can imagine how excited I was when I received the invitation to join on 4 October 2007. This was what I posted when I was invited to join this exclusive programme:
Wow! Apparently, I’m one of Amazon UK’s “most valued” reviewers with “candid and unbiased critiques”. As a result, I’ve been asked to join Amazon Vine, a by-invitation only “community of influential voices … [with] access to products before others, so that reviews [I] write will be among the first … customers read”.
“Here’s how it works,” said the email I received this morning. “Simply opt into the program, and each month we’ll email you a newsletter of new products that our vendors have submitted for Vine reviews. Browse through the newsletter and visit the Vine Web site to order up to three items that appeal to you. We’ll ship those items directly to your doorstep free of charge, and they’re yours to keep. Once you write your review, we’ll post it on the product’s detail page on Amazon.co.uk. Vine member reviews are be noted as such so they stand out.”
According to Booksellers.com, “The Vine Voices are invited to opt into the scheme according to how ‘accurate and insightful’ their existing reviews on the site are”. So yes, I was flattered and signed up straight away. Looking forward to receiving my first newsletter and start ordering those freebies …
More than ten years later, I am still a Vine Voice (as members of the programme are called by Amazon). However, several things have changed since then. We no longer get a monthly newsletter with a list of freebies. Instead each member has a Vine area on the Amazon website which he needs to log on to see his targeted list of review items.
When the programme was launched in 2007, members were required to review at least 75 per cent of the items they requested. If this condition was not met, the privilege to request new review items was withheld until we caught up with the reviews. The minimum review quota was later changed to 100 percent which meant we had to review every item we requested within 30 days of receipt. Many Viners were unhappy with this change for sometimes being forced to review an item was difficult, such as a book you could not finish reading because it was so tedious.
But now, the minimum review policy seems to have jumped to the other end of the spectrum. The obligation to review any item seems to have been lifted. I say “seems to” because there has never been an official announcement about the big change. I know Viners with a long list of unreviewed items and yet they can still request new items.
I am proud and privileged to be a Viner. I have received many truly useful and desirable products over the years. Often, keeping up with the reviews is difficult, especially if you have a demanding job but it is well worth persevering. People often ask me how they too can become members. As mentioned above, it is a by-invitation only programme. My advice would be to review as many of the items you buy from Amazon as possible, and make sure that your reviews are structured, fair and informative.
And then, who knows … you might get the email in your inbox inviting you to a world of free products.