Reaping what you sew

I recently experienced a technical problem with an eBook I had purchased from a small publisher, BeWrite Books. I found the contact details of the publisher on their website, emailed off the details of my error (I could not open the book on my device) and waited.

Within half an hour (about 9:30pm in my local time) I received an email from the publisher (who, it turns out, was in France) containing an apology and three new versions of the file (in case my preferred ePUB one didn’t work there were 2 alternative formats) plus some helpful advice about software I could use to manage books for my eReader and suggestions on where on the web I would find information about using my device.  I was also offered my choice of other titles from the publisher’s digital catalogue to make up for my inconvenience and even when I said there was no need for such a thing I was sent 2 free books anyway.  For the record, the new version of the file worked a treat.

I also recently experienced a technical problem with an eBook I had purchased from a major Australian bookseller (to avoid legal difficulties we’ll call them Hoarders). I used the contact form on their website to detail the error (the book had not been made available in my eLibrary on their website) and waited.

Within a 30 minutes I had received an auto-generated

‘thanks, your enquiry has been received by our customer care team and will be attended to shortly’

email. Despite the fact it was the start of the business day when I filled out the form I heard nothing from an actual person until the following working day, which was 3 calendar days later. Their response was to say

‘the book is now available in your eLibrary and ‘the ticket’ is closed.

When I wrote back to say the book was not now available in my eLibrary I received a message saying

oh there is a technical glitch’ (as if they hadn’t even checked previously) and the book really, truly will be available for you within 24 hours’.

Once again ‘the ticket’ was closed.  When the book was not available 26 hours later I asked for a refund (figuring I had waited long enough for my ‘instant’ download) and was told

it will take 3 business days for the refund to be applied and screw you’.

OK they didn’t actually say screw you but I swear I heard them think it.

My point is not purely to compare and contrast good and bad service. My point is to say to the Australian publishing and bookselling industry that I have had enough of your constant moaning about the need for government protection of your industry because the internet/amazon/bogeyman are killing your business. They’re not. You are.

Hoarders is Australia’s only mainstream retailer of eBooks and is one of only two bookstore chains that has bricks & mortar stores in most states. Here are just a few of the things that I can think of, off the top of my head, that are wrong with Hoarders

  • The standard RRP on new release physical books in its bricks & mortar stores is $4.00 more than the publisher’s RRP (and for those of you overseas that’s $36.99 at Hoarders for a trade paperback versus $32.99 at other stores which in itself is more than double what people in the UK or US routinely pay for non-discounted new releases)
  • The online store would appear to have been designed by someone who hasn’t purchased a product since 1973 and who hasn’t even the business sense to wander over to the competition and copy what they’re doing. For example you can’t browse the store in any meaningful way such as alphabetically by author within a genre (though you can browse by price brackets which roughly translate into ‘cheap crap you’ve never heard of” and  ‘everything else’) and there are no basic features like a wishlist/save for later button.
  • The gift cards they sell online require the most convoluted post-purchase activation process I have ever encountered (requiring the deciphering of a grammatically bankrupt set of instructions, the sending of emails and deciphering of jargon-filled responses and the offering of one’s first-born child in a fiery sacrifice)
  • They don’t ‘get’ service. In my recent example (only one of several poor experiences I have had with Hoarders) all they needed to do to have me saying positive things about them was email me a copy of the eBook I had paid for or offer an immediate apology and refund. Instead, there were emails full of jargon which used the palest grey font colour available so the emails were barely readable and a tone which made it clear Hoarders operates on the premise that they have to weed out all the lying customers before they’ll even try to resolve an issue. Why did they keep ‘closing the ticket’ without checking the problem was actually resolved? Why was it always up to me to prompt them to take the next step in the resolution process rather than them being proactive by saying, for example, we’ll let you know when the book as been added to your eLibrary? Why did it take 30 seconds to take my money but 3 days to give it back?

I once ordered a shipment of several physical books from Amazon that didn’t arrive and when I reported this to Amazon they immediately dispatched a new set of books and never once accused me of being a lying piece of pond scum in the entire process.

Are Hoarders and other Australian booksellers in danger from the internet/amazon/bogeyman? You bet they are but not just because those things exist. It’s because finally, after years of being ripped off and treated poorly we have access to genuine competition on price, service and range of products.

So, screw you Hoarders.

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15 Responses to Reaping what you sew

  1. thurogood says:

    I think that is a remarkably well-worded post. You may be interested to know exactly the same thing has occured in the UK for years and possibly, unfortunately, the Hoarders approach to doing business follows the old English approach. Therefore I use WordPress and Joomla and SiteGround and Amazon and iTunes rather than any UK alternative.

    I use Netvibes and Seesmic, two brilliant French platforms. The only software out of England that has ever impressed is Scrivener.

    Really enjoy your posts and reviews. Thanks for such a lot of great writing about great writing.

    Like

  2. Neil Marr says:

    Gosh, this was a cheery post to start the day with. Didn’t expect reaction like this from a simple courtesy, but it’s most heartwarming. Many thanks. Neil Marr. Ed. BeWrite Books

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  3. bibliolathas says:

    That was a great rant – made my day. Keep up the pressure!

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  4. @thurogood thanks for the kind words, I have to say that of the parts of the world I have visited or had anything to do with most pale in comparison to the Americans when it comes to service.

    @Neil it is a bit of a shame that ‘simple courtesy’ should be so remarkable but these days (and here anyway) it does feel like a rare commodity

    @ bibliolathas I do love an occasional rant – good for the soul 🙂

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  5. kathy durkin says:

    That was a great post! Tell those hoarding Hoarders how you really feel! Their policies are terrible. Maybe other purchasers will get so fed up, they won’t buy anything and Hoarders will go down the tubes.
    I have had mixed experiences with Amazon. Reaching them by phone requires a hieroglyphics code, which is written down under a glacier somewhere.
    Books automatically were shipped to my house, when I had requested they go elsewhere. I called right away to request that and it was confirmed; then the wrong thing happened and I had to transport a box of books.
    However, books did not arrive at a friend’s, although Amazon’s confirmed delivery. Their automatic response did not give me a name of who signed for it. So I said the box didn’t arrive and another replacement box was shipped. The first box was never located. And the signer never revealed.
    I have had good experience with the Book Depository, which responded to me twice and immediate last summer when I was waiting for “The Janus Stone.”

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  6. This was a well-deserved rant. What idiots (apparently they never learned about proper customer service). This is why I LOVE Amazon (great prices and superior customer service).

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  7. JoV says:

    Screw them, that’s right! If they make it so hard for people to do business with, there are plenty of alternatives. And if people can take on a little pride about their jobs, their nations, it will do a lot of good for the general public. The French is arrogant, they say? Well, they have the right to be! They know what quality looks like, and they know what quality customer services look like.

    Love this post. Keep ranting. 😉

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  8. Bernadette – Oh, I’d be furious, too, if what happened to you had happened to me. Your story is such a clear instance of terrible customer service and completely forgetting why one’s in business in the first place. I absolutely loved this post, and I hope that every company out there will pay atetntion to it.

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  9. farmwifetwo says:

    I took a quick glance and their head office is in Canada…. Cool!!! Will add it to my “links” and go window shopping one day… Since I’m still not fluent in “ebook conversion” nor have mastered Calibre, I have been leary about going outside of kobo. 90% of my reading comes via the library…. My winter project is to finally figure it out and then shop elsewhere b/c there’s many stories out there, and kobo definately does not have everything I want.

    Thanks.

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  10. Neil Marr says:

    All BeWrite Books titles will be in the Kobo store in January, Farmwife.

    We’ve noticed that some big online ebook stores (and, let’s face it, they’re all relatively new) weren’t fully prepared for the sudden explosion in ebook popularity over the past few months and the result, here and there, is a delay in their uploading new titles and catalogues.

    Indies like our own tend to offer a range of formats on their own sites that cover all ebook-readers; the bigger operators tend to sometimes be device-dedicated (Kindle, for instance uses only Mobi, whereas the industry standard has become ePub), so you’ll usually find our ebooks and those of other publishers offered in the bigger stores like Amazon and B&N in only one format, or one plus PDF.

    EPub is fine for your Kobo and most other readers, though, including the new Australian Kogan.

    But once you get the hang of free library software like the excellent Calibre, you can instantly convert between one format and another … just as long as the original file isn’t padlocked by Digital Rights Management (DRM). You can actually very easily strip this by following instructions all over the net, but even for personal use, it’s illegal to do so in most countries (including Australia).

    I use a Sony and found a couple of years ago that the Calibre software beats the pants off Sony Library and other store-dedicated library programmes. It’ll store, catalogue and convert your ebooks perfectly. Don’t know if I’m allowed to offer a software link here, but you can find a swift, safe and free download with a quick Google search.

    And if you’re really into ebooks, I’d highly recommend a look around a busy ebook-reading community’s forums at http://www.mobileread.com. All the advice you need is there, and there’s a great number of Australian members commenting and advising on hitches that are specific to Down Under … like geographical restrictions on buying many titles, for instance.

    Hope this info is of some use, Farmwife. Cheers and good luck. Neil

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  11. Mandy says:

    I really enjoyed your post Bernadette. I’ve found the Hoarders online bookstore website to be incredibly slow. I’m always amazed that such a large profitable company doesn’t invest in making it’s online book/ebook purchasing experience a fast and satisfying one.

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  12. Actually it seems to me like Hoarders is probably in financial difficulties here in Oz, there have been rumblings on bookseller’s websites (I don’t pay for subscriptions to the really good stuff though so am only surmising from the scraps available in the wider blogoshpere) and they seem to be lurching around a bit with various in-store and online changes. Although they are a pretty shoddy company to deal with I want them to stay in business both for local jobs and because there just aren’t that many bookstores where I live. A town needs bookstores for all kinds of reasons. BUT more than that I want them to understand why they are having difficulties and it’s not the fault of the global financial crisis or other things over which they have no control.

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  13. Sandra says:

    I had no idea that getting good service could be that difficult in other places. I’m in Canada where we’re quite spoiled as to availability of books. I’m not into e-books yet but I enjoy hearing about those who are serious about good customer service- and those who are not. Saw your post referred to on Twitter- love to see things passed along among book bloggers. We will talk aboutt hese issues and the companies who want our business need to know that. Bravo for saying it.

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  15. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

    Well said!

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