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Are Amazon Vine Reviews of Technical Books a Joke? 126

Posted by timothy
from the you-should-try-the-craiglist-personals dept.
First time accepted submitter jasax writes "As an Amazon frequent buyer, I rely quite a lot on reviews of the books I want. However, some caution is in order: the (bad) quality of Amazon's reviews and reviewers under the Amazon Vine program has already been news in Slashdot. Today I was shocked by a practical result of that program. This second edition (published in 2012) of a very specialized system identification book has 12 reviews: the oldest (dated 2007) certainly targets the first edition. The remaining 11 reviews are all from 'Vine Reviewers' (VRs). All seem to be ignorant of what 'System Identification in the Frequency Domain' really is. None of the reviews is tagged with a 'Verified Amazon Purchase'; most (if not all) are 'small talk reviews' peppered with technical phrases cloning the publisher's book description, and some of the reviews are ridiculous, to say the least. If this sample of reviewing by VRs really is the norm, then the bottom line is that the Vine program is totally irrelevant and unreliable — at least for technical books."
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Are Amazon Vine Reviews of Technical Books a Joke?

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  • by Dan East (318230) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @12:52AM (#44268031) Homepage Journal

    I guess it is indeed a warning sign when a reviewer spends more time talking about the physical attributes of a book than the contents of the book itself.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @12:59AM (#44268059) Homepage Journal
    I think the bigger issue here is the usefulness of niche products, no matter if they are Amazon Vine or whatever. The size of target audience for this book is MAYBE in the 10s of thousands, and there are probably what, only 1 or 2 other books that would really even be considered "competitors" to this book. With those parameters, are any Amazon reviews going to be all that useful?
    You are almost certain to get a review from someone not in the target audience or who got over-ambitious and ended up not understanding the source material, a review from the author's brother in law just so it looks like people are buying etc. Any sort of useful review is going to probably come in the form of a long blog post/magazine article, and thus isn't likely to be present on Amazon....So what you are left with is someone commenting on how flexible the book's spine is.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:15AM (#44268093)

    Wait a second. What's wrong with a review containing information about the seller (especially if the item isn't being shipped by amazon itself)? If they deliver your product and it is damaged, don't you think it would be important for other people to know that?

    For some items, like groceries, that could be important information.

    Why shouldn't a review contain information about the state of the product when it is delivered? Also, I've noticed that some sellers have "shipping estimates" that they don't always adhere to.

    I mean, it's cool to read a review of how awesome the movie 'Dredd' is, but if 42 out of 43 people received a Blu Ray that didn't work in their players (I think something of that nature actually was a problem), and it arrived late, I think it would be appropriate to mention something about that in the review.

  • by oldhack (1037484) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:16AM (#44268097)
    Read the three- and two-star reviews. They give you both good and bad. Large part of five- and one-star reviews are crap.
  • Gaming the system (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Lefty2446 (232351) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:35AM (#44268147) Homepage

    Homestly I have never shopped at but I fail to see the point in gaming the system by posting veviews about products that these 'customers' have never used.

    Put simply is this a case of those that review the most crap win?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:20AM (#44268267)

    As I had no idea what the "vine reviewers" was about, I read the amazon definition. And it says that: "Once they are invited into the program, to maintain their status as a Vine Voice, they must review *all* of the selected products within 30 days of receipt...".

    So once in the program you get a nice flow of interesting free books related to your topics of interest. But apparently you *must* enter a review for each book that Amazon sends you, or the flow of books stops. The outcome is obvious - particularly for technical books that not every reader will understand. But even for normal books, people can sometimes just be busy - resulting in rushed/content-free reviews.

    So not the reviewers' fault really, just stupid rules from Amazon. Requiring reviewers to review *half* of the books sent would probably produce a better outcome..

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @05:53AM (#44268815) Homepage

    These are Vine reviewers. They all DID use the product, in the sense that they were mailed a free copy of the book to review. The problem is that they're just random people - it isn't like Amazon has a Vine review program for PhDs in electrical engineering.

    This is like asking a chemist to review a dynamometer or asking an auto mechanic to review a mass spectrometer. No useful information is likely to come out. If you're interested in reviews of such products you'd prefer them to come from experts in the field who can either spec to the details of their performance or at least how well they work in daily use.

  • by chipschap (1444407) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:41PM (#44270789)

    I have been a Vine reviewer for several years, and I take great care with my reviews. I do sometimes review a technical book, but I make sure it is in an area in which I have sufficient expertise. While I'll review a book about audio engineering, I won't review one about, for instance, organic chemistry.

    My reviews are not fake. I make every effort to give a fair evaluation. I write positive reviews and negative reviews (even though it's well known that a reviewer's ranking on Amazon goes down with negative reviews, as they are generally not well received by readers).

    I don't know if I'm typical of Vine reviewers; the ones I've interacted with on the Vine forums seem about the same as me. Of course, there are bound to be bad apples in the group. In addition, Amazon has been making review requirements for Vine members ever more strict, and this undoubtedly has lead to decreased quality. But I do sincerely hope things are not quite as bad as portrayed here, or the program should indeed be discontinued.

"Say yur prayers, yuh flea-pickin' varmint!" -- Yosemite Sam