Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Online commerce failure: A book I'm not reading

I thought I might spend this afternoon listening to the audiobook edition of British journalist Andrew Marr's My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, but I'm not.

Roy Greenslade of The Guardian said this in his review of the book back in 2004:
It is not, thankfully, one of those hand-wringing laments for a mythical golden past. It does contain anecdotes, though they are always relevant to his wider argument. It is not a sermon, but it does raise questions about the ethical morass of modern journalism. At the same time it is often witty, consistently self-deprecating and, most importantly, makes an important contribution to the increasingly bitter debate about the nature of the British media.
Sounds like just the thing for any of my media history students who become more interested in the British side of English language journalism.

Alas, my library doesn't have it. I was pleasantly surprised when I found it at Amazon, because of a link to a downloadable audio book version. "Great," says I, "I can download it, pop it in the iPod or PalmTX (if not my Sony or Olympus MP3 recorders), and listen on the road..."

You can listen to Mr. Marr himself reading from the book in the Audible.com sample. He's charming, self-deprecating and very funny. I think journalism students would enjoy the book as text or audio. I was a bit disappointed that the audio version was abridged, but decided to create an Audible.com account and buy it.

I went through the process... filled in "shipping information" or "billing information" -- even though both the "shipping" and "billing" would be done online. When I was done with the fill-in form, Audible returned me to a screen that congratulated me on creating an account.

It didn't say anything about downloading my new book.

It didn't give me a receipt for crediting my Visa card.

I checked Audible's "library," "shopping basket" and "your account" pages, but found no record of my ordering the book.

I started worrying that I had been "phished" by some link spoofing Audible's address to steal my credit card information.

I went back to the book's page at Amazon/Audible, and noticed that I was no longer being offered the "first time customer" discount on the sales price. And when I tried to order a copy, I was sent to a new page headed "We are sorry but your geographic location prevents us from selling you this product."

I don't think that screen turned up the first time, because I was redirected to the "create a new account" pages. That would have been a nice place to tell me I was not going to be able to buy the book.

Enough with the computer. I found an 800 number and called Audible's technical support to complain that -- assuming international copyright or a publisher's restrictions are involved -- Audible should have interrupted my transaction much sooner. The customer support rep said they've tried, but couldn't figure out a way, short of putting a disclaimer on all of their pages, which would be misleading to most readers, since (he said) very few books actually have this problem. (A few readers, like me, might be interested in learning about the copyright issues or publisher's contractual obligations involved.)

I think online readers should expect more. Maybe my play-by-play account (which I emailed to Audible as well as pasting here) will inspire someone. If they get back to me about it, I'll add something here.

And maybe they'll pass the note on to the publisher, who just missed a chance to sell audiobooks to anyone reading this blog. As for me.... back to Amazon, but maybe I'm annoyed at them for linking to Audible in the first place. I wonder if its on the shelf at my local bookstore...

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