Adding to the Conversation on Amazon Vine

I’ve been home sick for three days now, which has given me entirely too much time to read blogs and now, some time to ponder over the Amazon VINE program.

Amazon.com has a program in which they get a whole bunch of books, often advance reader copies, from publishers and offer these to what they call "select reviewers," which I expect are people who have posted lots of reviews on the site that have been voted as helpful.  People who participate in this program get a newsletter once a month and can choose up to two things (books and sometimes strange other items…software….sheets…diet energy bars…that I don’t really understand) to receive and review.  Then later in the month, another newsletter comes out with all the remaining review items, and participants can select two more books or whatever.  The understanding is that participants review 75% of the items they request.

Amazon Vine’s review program has come under fire this week from some blogger/book people for whom I have huge amounts of respect.  Betsy Bird, Fuse #8 at School Library Journal’s post is called "Said I Heard It Through the Amazon Vine," and Chasing Ray’s is called "Three Controversies: One Bigger Issue."  This one addresses not only Amazon’s program but also recent news about Walmart’s predatory pricing of bestsellers and Scholastic’s reported pressuring Lauren Myracle, author of LOVE  YA BUNCHES, to "change" a character’s same-sex parents into a heterosexual couple so the book could be considered for school book fairs. There was an uproar over this.  I’m proud to say I was part of it, as I’ve taught many kids with same-sex parents and have always believed that ALL kids need to see families like theirs respresented in books. I’m also proud of Scholastic for apparently realizing its mistake and scheduling the book for spring fairs, gay parents and all.

Anyway…back to the VINE thing.  Here’s why all the recent blogging has me thinking.

If you read this blog or visit my website, you know that I support independent bookstores.  I don’t order from Amazon unless I absolutely cannot get a book through one of my local indies, and I don’t link to Amazon on my website. But I was a reader and a teacher and a book-pusher before I was an author, and I’ve always posted reviews of books that I like on Amazon, as well as on GoodReads and on my own blog because I think it helps both authors and readers. 

When Amazon started this Vine program a couple years ago and asked me if I was interested in choosing books off a newsletter for possible review, I said sure.  It was before my book was out, before anyone really knew my blog, before I had been a panelist for the Cybils, and before I was at any conferences where ARCs were being handed out.  As a middle school teacher, it helps me a ton to have access to advance reader copies when I’m choosing books for literature circles, class reads, and just the classroom library.  My public library isn’t particularly well-funded, so new books take a while to get here. So the idea of getting a couple new books a month to review?  Great.

I’m one of those people who gives all positive reviews.  I only talk about books that I like a lot, and that goes for my blog, GoodReads – not just Amazon.  So when I choose from those newsletters, I only request books that I’m pretty sure I’ll like.  From some newsletters I only request one book.  Others I skip all together.  And when I do receive books, I read them. If I like a book — and I usually do because I like a huge variety of books — I post a recommendation on GoodReads, on Amazon, and sometimes on my blog.  I take it to school, book talk it to my students, and buy a hardcover copy for my class library or recommend it to our school librarian. If a book is especially great for discussion, we’ll order five or six copies for literature circles.

And so even though I’m not a fan of Amazon as a corporation, being a part of this program seemed okay.  To me, it was always more about helping books and authors and readers than something that was promoting Amazon.  And yes…getting books in the mail rocks.  It’s  helped me discover a lot of great books for my classroom that I might have otherwise missed.

I’m re-thinking that now, though. And I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I actually considered making this a friends-locked post, given the hooplah about the Vine program (I try not to insert myself into the middle of hooplah), but decided that would be kind of cowardly. And I really would love to hear a variety of thoughts on this before I decide what to do. 

So fire away…

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