Amazon Vine™ is a program that enables a select group of Amazon customers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. Customers are invited to become Amazon Vine™ Voices based on the trust they have earned in the Amazon community for writing accurate and insightful reviews. Amazon provides Amazon Vine™ members with free copies of products that have been submitted to the program by vendors. Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine™ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.
Hardly seems problematic on its face, and I believe that the majority of Vine reviewers are indeed probably "accurate and insightful." But I appreciated Betsy's critique, particularly this quote. Parenthetical notation is mine:
Guess Again! (my book with Mac Barnett) is the straight picture book equivalent of a fractured fairytale, upsetting a reader's expectations, making it hee-larious to kids around the 5-8 year-old age range (I agree with Betsy's age recommendation here, though in the interest of honesty I should point out that the publisher markets it as 4-8). But the Vine program sent the books out to folks with small children who were then shocked SHOCKED when they discovered it wasn't for their tiniest of tiny tots. That would be fine, but then they felt obligated to leave tepid reviews in spite of the fact that they knew perfectly well that their kids weren't the intended audience.
Betsy's post has generated about ten times the comments she could normally expect, and these are mostly from Vine reviewers who feel she's being unfair. I originally thought I should stay out of it, since my book is one of the two examples she uses to explain her position. But that's cowardly.
Amazon reviews (and, presumably, customer reviews in general) have always had a problem with people buying books under false pretenses and then trashing those books for not meeting their ill-informed expectations. The trouble with Vine is that it seems to be institutionalizing these mistakes.
Literally all of the 19 middling-to-poor (3 stars or less) reviews of Guess Again are by Vine reviewers. Of these, a full seven, by my count, base their low rating on the fact that the book failed to appeal to a person for whom it was never intended. In most cases the reviewer was a parent of a 2 or 3-year-old. In one baffling case, the reviewer acknowledged that Guess Again! is a kids' book but explained, "...I am adult and not a 5 year old."
These people are essentially assuming that all clothing is one-size-fits-all, and then grumbling when a grade school uniform is too large for their toddler and too small for their husband.
I hope readers will understand that I do not mind poor reviews if they're thoughtfully written. Kirkus called my novel The True Meaning of Smekday "Inspired but problematic." They felt I'd missed my mark but at least acknowledged that I'd aimed high, and I preferred that review to some which were quite positive but described the book as nothing but a zany romp.
Anyway, the point is probably moot for a number of reasons. Poorly considered customer reviews are unlikely to go away, and they probably have less of an impact on sales than I think–I'm told, despite everything, that Guess Again! is doing all right.