A few years ago I was quite a highly rated reviewer over at Amazon, since I reproduced a lot of my film reviews for DVDs on the site. Late last year Amazon contacted me with an offer to join their Vine programme. Essentially they supply free copies of books, CDs or DVDs to be reviewed. The system works via a regular newsletter with the items that need reviews, and the reviewers can pick any in which they are interested. Recently I’ve reviewed Extraordinary Rendition and The Banquet (do feel free to rate them up!) in this way.
While writing the review for Extraordinary Rendition I realised the inherent flaw in providing such review copies for free. An extreme view, propounded by some, is that reviewers should pay for things like everyone else. The free model is common in most industries on the basis it would be far too expensive to purchase every product in order to provide reviews for each. However, the money one parts with is a fundamental aspect of one’s evaluation of a product’s worth. When an item is free we are far more likely to forgive flaws.
I am happy with the eventual review that resulted, but it required a significant amount of rewriting. The issue is that the film contains an incredibly important scene that I think everyone ought to see — the CIA approved “waterboarding” interrogation technique is transformed from a conceptual notion in the press to a brutal on-screen reality. So the experience of having watched it was good. However had I paid for the DVD I would have been rather unimpressed with the overeall package, because as a film it has major issues (largely structural) which permeate and deflate the effect of the entirety. Nor am I likely to rewatch it.
Reviewing a product, particularly for a store, has to be seen as a purchase recommendation, not merely an abstract analysis. I still worry that, had I initially been writing the review here I would have go so far as to say “rent this but do not buy it”, something I may have been unwilling to do when the product was freely provided via a web store. I think, however, that armed with the knowledge that not paying was inevitably informing my view, I was able to factor that in and produce a review I can stand by.