Tour’s Books Blog

August 20, 2013

Another Entry in Book Wars – Part IV

Filed under: Editorial,Observations and Comments,opinion — toursbooks @ 3:39 pm
Tags: ,

I just read about non-book price advantages at Bed, Bath, and Beyond over Amazon, then Tom Gara of the Wall Street Journal added,

“It’s not just physical retailers putting Amazon in their sights — online competitors also seem focused on matching the company’s low prices. Today online retailer Overstock announced it would match all Amazon prices on books, in a move coming just a month after the company said it would undercut Amazon by 10% in the book market — a discount Amazon quickly matched.

“Last month we started a book pricing war with Amazon,” said Patrick Byrne, Overstock.’s chairman, in a statement announcing the price matching. “We’re hoping to continue that battle, in a way that lessens any harm to the mom-and-pop booksellers we consider our comrades in arms.””

Price wars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And we, the consumer, might win – at least in the short term.  Companies can lose money forever and stay in business, but like airline price wars, get it while it’s hot!

I do order from Overstock, just not usually books, just household items.  I think I’ve bought 6 sheet sets, an end table, comforter set, and a number of other things, all at very good prices.  Like Amazon, Overstock is strictly mail order.  But Bed, Bath, and Beyond is NOT.  It’s a brick and mortar store that seems to be ubiquitous throughout the country.  Ranks up there with Pier 1.  I never bought much of anything from them, so I have no comment on their goods.  I’ve been in a few stores, but they rarely seem to have what I want.

So I did some checking:

  • The English Girl (HC  Aug 6th) –  Overstock – $15.81 +15% on Club O Dollars     Amazon, $19.28
  • Never Go Back (Jack Reacher) HC (Sept 3)  -  Overstock – $16.80 + 15% in Club O Dollar    Amazon  -  $16.80
  • World War Z (Trade size Oct 2007) –   Overstock  -  $7.86 + 15% on Club O dollars     Amazon  -  $7.86
  • Eylsian Fields (HC Aug 13) –   Ocerstock  -  $17.93 + 15% Club O dollars     Amazon  -  $17.93

Translation:  Like Amazon Prime, Overstock offers an annual membership for $19.95 (Amazon is $80 but includes lots of other perks) that includes free shipping on all orders AND at LEAST 5% on Club O dollars that can be used toward future purchases.  So even where Amazon has matched the price, and obviously they have, they lose in that Overstock members would get an ADDITIONAL $8.75 in discounts on future purchases.

Now Overstock does not have the range or the long pre-order capability of Amazon, and I had much better pricing on Elysian Fields on pre-order at BAM even with the 15% O dollars calculated in.  But taken over all, I’d have to say on recent releases, and soon to be released titles, you’d do better at Overstock.

Who knew?  I always think of them for bed, bath and household stuff, not books or movies.  It’s worth a look and if you’re planning household purchased, you’ll find those O-dollars adding up fast.  Not bad for $20/year.

By the way, I got The English Girl the cheapest way possible, through Paperback Swap, for free.   Pardon me while I gloat.

August 19, 2013

The Game is ON! (Again) – Amazon Price Roulette and Bookseller News

Filed under: Editorial,General,opinion — toursbooks @ 2:27 pm
Tags: ,

Well, for awhile there after eliminating Amazon’s 4-for-3 program on mmpb’s Amazon did deep discounts – in the $4.39 to $5.39 per book range in a completely random fashion.  It was strictly $7.99 books, but some $8.99 and $9.99 ones got a few discounts beyond their now standard 10%.

I left a number of books on pre-order at Amazon and until the last 2 weeks not ONE had more than the 10% discount.  Suddenly, the site had these great buys, mostly on cozy mysteries and some paranormal.  Like the last time, it might $4.79 today, $5.39 tomorrow or anywhere up to the old $7.19.  Now, if you wanted to take a chance that the book you wanted would get a deep discount, you could ore-order it, but judging by the fact that only 2 of the 20+ books I rec’d from the pre-order pile  had it, I wouldn’t place any bets on the pre-order price guarantee kicking in to any substantial savings.

On top of that, Amazon’s UK division was offering discounts on DIFFERENT books, including the new Cassie Palmer installment due out soon.  That was NOT on sale on the US site.

I found the whole timing bizarre since it came on the heels of the announcement that Amazon sales had fallen 3% for the first time.  It was blamed, rightly or wrongly, on the Kindle Fire sales slump and the saturation of the tablet market and preference for the iPad.  There is supposedly some big secret project in the works at Amazon, but whether it’s new technology or some other change, who knows.

Meanwhile, Book Closeouts is changing its name and its website.  Starting September 7 it will be Book Outlet.  They will also open a brick and mortar store in Buffalo, NY.  Watch for sale and mark the new website.  They do have some good deals and fall is their big discount time.  They are promising a more user friendly website.  I hope so, because the one they have now sucks.

As for Books-A-Million and how they’re doing with my orders ………….. well, there’s good and bad coming out there.


  • Regular discounts of up to an additional 20% are emailed to their Millionaire’s Club members.  (Requires minimum purchase)
  • Sent UPS or USPS same as Amazon
  • Well packed and no damage to books
  • With their extra discounts, 10-18% cheaper than Amazon on mmpb’s, a substantial difference


  • Once an order is placed, you CANNOT cancel or change it, so if you accidentally order a book more than once, you’re screwed
  • When you pre-order a book and it released under a different ISBN, they just cancel it – affecting your discount based of dollars spent
  • The books are not SHIPPED till THE RELEASE DATE, which means you get them 2-3 days after your Amazon order would arrive
  • There is no ‘Pre-order price guarantee’, so if their price drops, too bad.
  • Website does NOT show you if you have already ordered a specific book
  • Does not add new titles as early as Amazon

So, where does this leave the book buyer?  With a surefire discount on BAM, but with more work, orders cast in stone, extra record keeping, and later delivery, OR price point roulette on Amazon, who DOES allow cancellations till an order is on the floor for pick and pack?  I have found BAM’s order system very inflexible, but their pricing is good when you use the additional discounts.  I find Amazon’s ‘price Point Roulette’ erratic, unreliable, unpredictable, and not something I’m entirely comfortable with.  In short, I’m not real impressed by either company, though Amazon has the customer service and website ease of use edge big time.

In all of this, Book Closeouts, soon to be Book Outlets, has improved their shipping operation – thank heavens.  They get an order picked and packed quickly these days, rather than a week to 10 days after the order is placed.  They still use USPS Media Mail, but otherwise, it’s fine.  And you still get GREAT buys at low prices and no ‘per book’ shipping cost!  Those $3.99/bk fees can really eat up the savings on a multi-book order.  I just got 4 books from them (thru their website, though they also sell on Amazon) and the shipping was still only $3.99.

So there you have it, my latest adventures in book buying.  It all kind of sucks, just in different ways, and that whole sales tax thing ……………. well that does impact my buying, make no mistake.  It looks like I’ll continue to split my business among sellers.  I’m not completely happy with any any of them!

March 1, 2013

Amazon’s Newest Marketing Ploy – Random Discounts

Filed under: Editorial,On Order,opinion — toursbooks @ 4:01 am
Tags: ,

Well, I guess we know what is taking the place of Amazon’s 4-for-3, a bizarre and apparently random pattern of discounts, mostly on mass market paperbacks (MMPB).  There are a few trade books affected, but they seem few and far between.

In the past week I reviewed my open orders on Amazon and cancelled those books that weren’t high on my want list.  Time to strip down this insanely large TBR pile.  Why?  I noticed some of the 4-for-3 discounts on pre-order were getting odd discounts that made 1 book cheap and the others more expensive.  Thing is, the others weren’t that high on my book lust list.

In perusing books I found prices within a genre and general release date priced anywhere from full list to as little as $4.69 for a $7.99 book.  I bought 3 in the $4-5 range.  Some in the low $6 range – a little more than the 4-for-3 rate, and ignored those with 5-10% discounts.  Was there are consistency in the rate, % off off?  None at all.

Go take a look.  There are some great buys, but what this means and how long will the hold the price. who knows?  It’s always been a crap shoot on the trade sizes, but now MMPB seems to be kind of a big hit or complete miss.  I honestly don’t know what to make of it all.  Books that were full price last week have 15% to 39% discounts this week, others have 3% to 10%, many none at all.  Are we expected to order and hope the Amazon ‘lowest price’ guarantee will mean we get a bargain by the time the book is published?  I’m not sure I like that whole ‘blind faith’ thing.  Or do we constantly check our wishlists to see if discounts are happening on titles we want?

Oh, as an added twist – there are also deep discounts on Kindle ebooks too, some as low as $2.99 on $7.99 list and $4.62 print price books in pre-order!!!!!!!!  I find the whole thing confusing.  I feel like it’s some game that I don’t have the rule book for – and truthfully, it’s a bit of a turn off.  Yeah, I’ll take advantage for a 30% or more discount on MMPBs, who wouldn’t?  But to be honest, I think I’d like a consistent policy on discounts over random ones that come and go.  And I sure don’t have enough faith in Amazon’s continuing the deep discounts to pre-order a large number of books and sit around hoping they get the benefit of a price cut somewhere along the way.

So I guess it’s time for me to watch, wait and snag some great buys as they pop up on the site.  And wonder how long THIS marketing ploy will last.

February 12, 2013

Whither Goest Amazon?

Filed under: Editorial,opinion — toursbooks @ 2:01 am

Quo Vadis?  Translation: Whither goest thou?  A movie, a book and maybe the ultimate question for Amazon and its users.  Their business model was always evolving and now we’re about to see the next version.  One thing they always did better than any other online bookseller was how they structured and built their website.  No one matches them in that.  But over the years, other companies have bettered them in service and price.  For years I would search on Amazon, but buy at B&N online or in store.  I spent a lot of time in Borders too.  Now Borders is gone.  B&N stores aren’t what they used to be, and Amazon has turned into a full service online seller, a virtual bazaar, or souk, filled with small stores all under a common roof with what is one of the best search engines around.

But what was a company that sold itself on delivery at your door, the ultimate convenience, now morphing into?  They do charge and insanely expensive annual Prime membership – but it did buy a lot of free shipping.  Thing is, Amazon never tried to find a way to consolidate member orders for pre-release books ordered on different dates.  I might pre-order some books 10 months out, other 2 months, but they’d all have the same release date.  That meant I’d get 8-15 boxes of books – each holding just 1 book.  Then it was PILES of corrugate to recycle.  I am amazed at how fast the stuff piles up.  I swear it breeds when I’m not looking.

Then recently they were asking if I want to drive to a pick-up site and get my order.  HUH?  If I wanted to drive, I’d go to a store and buy books.  Not even 4-for-3 pricing would pay for the gas and tolls, and my time!  The nearest locker was 30+ miles from my house in the most densely populated county in the country.  Oh yeah, I’m REAL anxious to spend half my day running there!

But what if they push this locker system?  What will that mean?  I don’t just buy books for me, I buy them for friends, for book swap winners, for other family members in different states.  What about them?  Will they be driving to some ‘locker’ in a city they hate to get their book?  WHy drive to pick up books from Amazon?  I mean I can ALWAYS do that with B&N.  It’s a service they’ve had for YEARS.  Not exactly new or innovative, except Amazon will have them ready ‘same day’.  It that enough for me to get in my car and drive somewhere?  If I HAD TO HAVE IT RIGHT NOW, why not just walk into the nearest bookstore and buy it?  Is this really an option we need?  And if this is their new business model, and you request shipping, will they charge more?  Where does that leave us?

Well, here’s the thing, Amazon finished off the independent booksellers, except for a hardy few that concentrate on specific genres, like The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ, or places selling religious books, or ones on everything from yoga to witchcraft.  There are no corner bookstores any more that have the latest mysteries, thrillers, romance, fantasy, urban fantasy, or paranormal.  Hell, my town doesn’t have a USED book store!  Yeah, the food stores have a tiny selection of new paperbacks, mostly bodice rippers and best-selling mystery series and the latest fad diets.  Not exactly a decent choice.

According to the letters I got from Amazon’s Customer Service:

While we’re planning a variety of special discounts and other promotional offers, I’m unable to share these details. I encourage you to check back in the next few weeks. Any special offers will be advertised throughout our website.

So stay tuned.  Will the promotions center around this ‘locker’ system they’re setting up?  Will it be based on how many dollars you spend?  Or just more of their 5% off daily special, which aren’t very special?

More importantly, are we really stuck with Amazon?  Maybe not entirely, or at least not me.  I still have a decent B&N not too far from me and BAM! (Books-A-Million) with it’s automatic 10% discount about a half mile away from them.  Online, is usually a better value than Amazon for used books, especially if one seller has multiple titles you want, and Alibris and HPB (Half-priced-books) have similar websites composed of a collectives of independent used book sellers.  Warehouse stores, especially Costco, has books, mostly top sellers, same for Walmart, not that I use either.  The Book Depository in the UK has free shipping, though that often means long waits.  Great selection and good website, too.  As a member of paperback swap, I can also buy from the PBS store, though once again, it’s a game of patience.  That’s a LOT of stores to replace one seller – still, I HATE feeling trapped.

I look around an realize two things – 1) I’m a dinosaur.  I prefer print books to ebooks any day of the week, even though I own a Kindle – and 2) we are all responsible for never-ending cycle in evolution on retail sales.  We abandoned downtowns for shopping malls.  We walked away from the family hardware store for some home supply chains.  Local bakeries closed because of competition from supermarkets with store bakeries.  We left local bookstores for large book retailers with 10% off and instore cafes and reading chairs.  Then we left stores and began buying online from sellers who had no stores, just supply warehouses.  We could go online day and night and buy everything from curtains to underwear.  On the best sites, we’d know if the item was in stock or not.  We could book flights, hotels, vacation packages, then buy the luggage, clothes, specialty gear, travel books and maps and never set foot in a store – or even talk to a person.

The very rich have personal secretaries, we have the internet.  Thing is, when it all goes south, we also have no one to call for help.  No travel agent to work for hours to find what we need.  No local hardware store you can walk into and say, “Hi Mr Zinnzer, can you tell me what I need to fix this this?”  I haven’t had a REAL Danish in YEARS, and then, it was from a bakery in Paris.  My local baker had real butter Danish, fabulous plain white bread, even good cookies.  He was just blocks from my house.  The last ‘real’ bakery in the area, one of a very few independents, closed its doors in the last 2 years.  I walk down the main street of my home town and more than half the stores are empty.  Yeah, some of it is the economy.  They rest of it though …………… we did that to ourselves.  You want to know why you have to drive 10 miles to some neighboring town, walk half a mile in some huge store, try and find someone to help you buy 1 lousy gasket?  Look in the mirror.  That gasket that cost $1.05 in your local hardware store and “just $0.79!” in the big home supply place – plus $5.80 in gas and 90 minutes of your time.  You bragged about how cheap it was, how they ‘had everything’.  Everything except what we’ve come to value most, friendly service, ease of use, and ACCURATE information.  It saved time and was much lower stress, but we walked away for the big, bright, shiny new store with all the cool stuff – until we found out the reason it was so cheap is because it’s not the same thing despite the name and appearance.  Ask a good, honest plumber about faucets and water heaters from those chains and hear what he says.

Is what’s happening with Amazon really any different?  B&N, Waldenbooks, Borders all combined to put many independent book sellers out of business.  Then came Amazon and the local bookstores watched what was left of their market slowly fade away.  Then the very companies that put them out of business slowly collapsed under the pressure of Amazon, ebooks and internet shopping.  Like all big companies, they couldn’t move fast enough – even all these years later B&N hasn’t come close to Amazon’s website for ease of use, Walden’s and Border’s are g-o-n-e.  Publishers suddenly have to deal with established authors defecting to Create Space, the Amazon owned book writing/publishing platform.  The whole business of books has changed and print books are being supplanted by ebooks – a fact B&N ignored far too long.

This isn’t so much about the 4-for-3 promotion, it’s about customer expectations.  Amazon sold itself on business model that would not work long term.  I moved my buying to Amazon because they delivered 2 days for free with Prime and they offered the 4-for-3 on some MMPB’s.  Then all MMPB’s, with a very few exceptions.   But even I said it made no sense they way they shipped so many books as singles when I was getting 10+ books on the same day.   I work in a related field and KNEW profit couldn’t be enough to fully support the system and something had to give – and what gave was the major lure Amazon used to pull in customers for your print books, the pricing break of 4-for-3.  Yeah, the trade and hardcovers are often a bit cheaper than at other sellers, occasionally a LOT cheaper, they stream movies, many free for prime members, they offer free kindle books – and I’ve grabbed a few of those.  Amazon does have its positives, but when I look at my towering pile of books, 70% are mass market paperbacks, the backbone of publishing.  They fought tooth and nail to avoid the whole sales tax thing.  Now Jeff Bezos is suddenly doing an about face and saying EVERYONE should be paying it!!!!!  In some states it’s meaningless, where I live, it isn’t.  With the demise of 4-for-3, my cost won’t jump 25%, it will jump 25% PLUS 7% sales tax, for an astonishing 32% increase!  That translates into fewer books and/or finding another source.  Maybe both.  Because I know one thing, I can’t afford to spend another 32% a year on an already too large book budget!

So, where goes Amazon?  What will it look like in 18 months, 3 years, long term?  Will ‘lockers’ supplant shipping, even the less desirable FedEx Smartpost?  How big a part will play in my future book buying?  I’ll keep my Prime for another year, but after that ……… I want to know if I get my money’s worth.  I want a better idea if Amazon will be a company that fits my life.  I dropped my B&N membership because I stopped buying enough to make it pay.  If I move to BAM or Book Depository, how much will that impact the amount I spend at Amazon?  Enough to justify the continued $79/year?  Will that cost go up if you refuse lockers?  Get discounted if you say YES to lockers?  So many unknowns.  And Amazon holds its plans as secret as Apple did in the days of Steve Jobs.  As for me,  I know I will be exploring alternative sources, see how they work.  I’ll give Amazon time to make their next move, but honestly, I don’t see anything long term in favor of customers like me.  Then again, maybe I don’t fit their most desired customer profile, so I’m not the one they want to please.  The world does not revolve around me.

But a suggestion to the readers out there who have options – start looking around for good alternatives.  The signs are not good that Amazon will continue the print book business as we’ve known it.  If you read mostly ebooks, this won’t affect you, except maybe the sales tax.  I know this, my old eyes prefer print, or as a friend calls them, ‘dead tree books’.  LOL  Hey, I pass them on to be reused and eventually recycled.  Those books have long and productive lives.  I wonder if some new player will step up and take on the behemoth?  The certain thing in life is change.  So I’ll adapt.

December 12, 2012

Lessons in Annoying Customers Amazon Style – The Follow-Up

Filed under: Editorial,opinion,Uncategorized — toursbooks @ 6:08 pm

Well miracles do happen.  I actually got a email response from  a living, breathing person at Amazon.  Now, do I really think Jeff Bezos read my email?  No more than I believe that my US Senators read the emails I send them – and given the often bizarre non-responses I get from them, their staff doesn’t read them either.  Actually reaching anyone in a position of true authority in any company is difficult, in government it’s worse.  It doesn’t help that I view politicians (expert professional liars) on both sides (and their staff) as scum-sucking bottom feeders.  I usually hold a very slightly higher opinion of business executives (excluding bankers and financial service firms who rank right up there with minor demons from Hell and the professional liars), but realize that the lives of those in charge are more important than my issues.

One customer more or less really has no impact on a company.  Screwing up on Twitter and getting cyber-verse after your tail is a much taller order.  Still, at least attempting to reach a person in power sometimes pays off.  (Remind me to tell you about the time I asked American Express’s CEO if the company was run by the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges – but that’s a whole other story that happened long before email – or Twitter.)  Anyway, much to my amazement, here is a pertinent response from Amazon.

Hi xxxxxx,

I’m xxxxxxxx of’s Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

First, I want to thank you for bringing this experience to our attention – as you know, we strive to be Earth’s Most Customer Centric Company and it’s truly disappointing to hear that wasn’t what you encountered when you contacted us.  I want to assure you I’ve personally reached out to the appropriate managers to ensure additional training is provided so this doesn’t happen for other customers in the future. 

Regarding your original question about the missing bar on detail pages of items you’ve already purchased, our technical team’s been notified of this issue and is working to resolve this as quickly as possible.  This is a feature that’s valuable to many of our customers for much the same reason you use it and there are no plans to disable it at this time.

xxxxxxxx I’m only sorry it took so much of your time to get the correct answer to your question.  Please know we appreciate your time in writing to us, and I hope you have great rest of your week and a happy holiday season.  Please feel free to write back to me directly by replying to this e-mail if you have any further questions.


Executive Customer Relations

So there you go.  The answer I SHOULD have gotten when I first contacted Amazon Customer Service.  Was that so hard?  Did I really need to spend so many frustrating hours trying to get and answer – then killing orders to get their attention?  No.  No way should any customer service issue become such a problem.

If I had taken this to the Twitter-verse, Amazon might have paid attention faster.  Maybe that’s all companies understand these days, getting massive tweets about something.  And isn’t that a shame.  Maybe it’s as much to do with how we communicate and how companies respond to the pressure of social media as it is about doing the right thing.  Certainly social media is an immediate and powerful weapon, but one that is also often abused.  Still, it seems the big club really is far more effective than a single voice.  I will have to think about using it the future, however much I distrust it and the emotional tidal waves it causes.  Social media is an amazing tool for good and ill, but this blog is about as social as my media gets.

At least this story has an ending, but Amazon will not be seeing print book orders from until that status bar is back or they have something I’m dying to read.  I have so few Kindle books, I can easily check that inventory, but that’s pretty limited range of books since I still prefer print.

So there is the lesson for today.  You will eventually get an answer, of sorts, but at least a pertinent one, if you try hard enough.  Or you can stir up social media and see if that wakes them up.  Social media would likely be faster and far more effective.  LOL  But one fact remains, Amazon blew through a lot of customer goodwill and loyalty by how they handled this.  It’s not something I’ll forget quickly.

December 8, 2012

Lessons in Annoying Customers Amazon Style

Filed under: Editorial,opinion — toursbooks @ 6:29 pm

OK, how many times have I mentioned Amazon here and their 4-for-3 deals that I use for most of the mass market books I buy?  Many, right?  I’ve often mentioned their quick delivery and ease of use.  But lately things are changing.  And yesterday, they made a huge error with me.

First of all, unless you have a specific order issue, customer service at Amazon is clueless.  Seriously, they fumble around giving these non-answers.  A couple of months ago Amazon began using FedEx Smartpost for many of their deliveries, in particular for pre-orders on new releases.  Given I’m an avid reader, that means once or twice a month I have to go to my mailbox and cart back as many as 10 corrugate cartons of books.  My brilliant Post Office even left them at my garage door where I would have run over them with my car when I backed out because unless I went around the back of the car, I would never have seen them.  Now carrying them near the house was nice, letting them SIT IN THE RAIN RATHER THAN PUT THEM UNDER THE OVERHANG AT MY DOOR, not so much.  Plus, they never even rang the bell to let me know I had packages.  Just two weeks before, UPS made a big delivery in the rain and put all the boxes in a big plastic bag and set it right by my door.

So, I contact Amazon and explain that FedEx Smartpost, while less expensive (why else would they do it?) is not their best idea and explain people who must walk to their mailbox, especially in areas with a lot of bad weather, will have problems.  They said they’d replace any wet books.  Excuse me, but if I slip on the ice getting the crap in and break my hip, will they replace that as well?  Did you miss my saying it wasn’t a good idea in areas with a lot of bad weather?  I even explained I often used a cane due to advanced arthritis in one leg causing stability problems.  Plus last year I broke a wrist.  How many of their customers have various health issues that make carrying large numbers of packages around an issue?  Probably a fair percent.  People who read print books tend to be older.  E-books appeal more to younger people.

OK this was an argument I knew I couldn’t win going in.  They basically don’t care if they inconvenience a % of their customers because they will still keep their profits up.  So, screw those customers who have issues.  A business decision pure and simple. I can understand that even if I don’t like it, though it made me start thinking twice about using them, especially in the winter when walking can be really tricky around here.  But what the heck, I’d deal or stop ordering.

Then came the big surprise.  As you know, I belong to PBS, Paperback Swap.  Now when you look a book up on PBS there is a link in Amazon blue and orange that says ‘Buy from Amazon’ and PBS gets a % of that sale each time a member uses that link.  It’s a great way to pre-order books in a series or by a favorite author.  Now Amazon had (note the use of past tense) a great feature that got me ordering more books, if I clicked through, next to my Prime membership logo at the top, an orange bar would appear and say “Oder Status: You ordered this book on (insert date).  To view the status of this order click here”.  That did two things, I could easily determine if that item was already ordered and two, I could view the order.  Now it would NOT say ‘you ordered this in hardcover’, but I could easily check on that just by clicking on that version of the book.  Even if I ordered a used copy, the feature would tell me that the book had been ordered.

When you pre-order book as much as 9 months out, it’s easy to forget if a specific book has already been ordered.  While it didn’t eliminate accidental duplicates, it greatly reduced them, and in doing so had me more willing to pre-order lots of books.  Well, when that most useful feature disappeared, I was both upset and concerned.  And an epic of Amazon customer service stupidity ensued.

It ended last might – well early this AM with a vain attempt to reach Jeff Bezos to express my frustration and absolute annoyance.  Below is the email I sent (I cleaned up one paragraph because it was 3AM and I got sloppy)

Mr Bezos (or whoever is actually reading this, if it’s even human),

I’ve just had an amazingly frustrating day dealing dealing with your so-called customer service.  After the attitude I got about my comments on your corporate switch to FedExSmartpost, I didn’t have high hopes, but you managed to fall below even my very modest expectations.

As a member of PBS (Paperback Swap), I was looking at books and using the link in PBS to “Buy from Amazon”.  I do this often for yet to be released or recently released books to create my wishlist or create an order.  Imagine my surprise when I linked to Amazon for a title I was fairly sure I had purchased when I didn’t see the bright orange Status line next to Prime  Member designation, didn’t appear.  So just to make sure the site had an issue, I looked up a book I had just received, Trapped by Kevin Hearne.  Lo and behold, no status line that said ‘You ordered this book on (date).  To view this order click here’.  hummmmm  So I checked two more recently received items and …………. no flag that they had been ordered.

Now when you order as many books as I do – hundreds a year – and most of those are on pre-order, I need an easy way to know if a title is already on order.  That is one of the main reasons Amazon is my preferred online book store.  It also is a very handy way to make sure an item I wish to re-order is the one I previously ordered – especially shipping supplies and other such items.   

So, being a reasonable person, I contacted Live Chat (someone calling themselves ‘Brian’ but I seriously doubt that was his name.) didn’t have any idea what I was asking about and told me there was no such feature.  He then went through a description on how I could search my order history.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, I’m going to search my order history for every book I order, I mean, seriously, I have absolutely NOTHING better to do with my time.  I’m sure it’s the same for you.

Less than satisfied with that response, I ask for a customer service call and got someone named ‘Shirley’ – and if she was Shirley, my name is Natasha Kinsky.  Anyway, once I managed to translate her questions, I once again engaged in an exercise in futility in explaining the problem in hopes of getting an intelligent response.  I might not like it, but SOMEONE had to know what happened to that very useful feature.  Once again, my hopes were dashed and I got the description on how to search my order history. 

OK, I get it.  They have only certain scripted responses and not one single clue about what’s REALLY going on.  But I am nothing if not determined, so I send an email.  I mean surely there is intelligent life SOMEWHERE in Amazon.  Alas, my hopes were again dashed.   

My question was very specific.  Narrow, pointed and without any ambiguity.  I’ve even attached the various emails.  The responses get increasingly ‘canned’.  Not one single person said, “We have removed the order status bar and plan to 1 – reinstate by (insert date) or 2 – have no plans to continue that feature.”  Simple straightforward answer.  Did I get that?  No.  The answers were vague, non-specific, never mentioned the ONLY feature I was interested in, just gave me the usual ‘valued customer’ drivel – which is truly meaningless when you DO NOT ANSWER MY QUESTION! 

Now I have a really, REALLY low threshold for companies that do that to good customers.  I have a simple a direct response.  It is attached as a document titled ‘Cancelled Amazon Orders’.   

Amazon is convenient, it provides good delivery service, but lousy customer service, and when you ignore good customers, they find alternatives.  There are other ways to buy books, especially since that edge in sales tax is disappearing.  Yeah, the 4-for-3 is nice, but I end up buying books I have little interest in.  So I can do with less.  A LOT less.  I have hundreds of books I have yet to read and good town library.  Hey, life will go on – with a lot less Amazon in it. 

I hope, if nothing else comes of this, Amazon does two things, educates their customer service reps to the point where they can give intelligent answers without a script, and 2, stop trying to fool customers into thinking they’re speaking with ‘Shirley’ when it’s obviously someone for whom English is a second language and most assuredly NOT named Shirley – she couldn’t even say it without hesitation.  Insulting your customer’s intelligence is not a smart move. 

I will make a point of expressing my dissatisfaction in PBS and include this episode in my book blog.  It should at least entertain some people.


Sincerely annoyed,

How many orders did I cancel? 14.  How many books? 39, a combination of mass market, trade and hardcover that ranged in price from $7.99 to almost $20.  Think about this a moment.  That’s somewhere in the area of $400 in lost orders and probably 2 to 3 times that in future orders.

The two biggest expenses I have are property taxes and health insurance/medical dental costs.  Next is food.  Then books.  Now I do order more than books from Amazon, including very expensive folding chairs, kitchen appliances, and packing materials.  That little ‘you purchased this on ….’ also allowed me to be sure I was reordering what I had bought previously and wanted again.

Do I think my little protest will have any impact on the so-called ‘most customer-centric’ company on Earth?  HA, not a chance.  I am not delusional.  But I did learn something.  Better than half those books I cancelled will never be missed.  Any saving I had thanks to the 4-for-3 promotion was lost in my buying books I didn’t want all that much.  Something to flesh out the order.

Amazon failed miserably in customer service.  They are ill equipped to deal with anything that doesn’t have a stock phrase they can use.  AT NO TIME did any of the people I contacted discuss the specific feature I was questioning.  They even asked for an ORDER NUMBER.  HUH?  This is not about an order, it’s about a site feature.  It was repeatedly running head first into brick wall.  In the end, all I could shake my head in mingled amazement and disgust.  All Amazon had was a stock phrase book of meaningless general platitudes  they did NOT have any answers.  And because they didn’t LISTEN, they lost.  No one, not even one person said, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look into it and I will get back to you.”  That was the correct response when presented with a problem you don’t have the answer to.  Anyone who has dealt with technical people in any business knows this.  I had to say it myself more than once.  But at least the customer felt like they weren’t being brushed off, and I DID get answers if at all possible.  I didn’t ignore them, which, bullsh!t aside, Amazon did to me.

So that’s our lesson for today.  Winning customer loyalty takes time.  Losing it can happen in hours.  Customers do get even.  They leave.  They find alternatives.  I was once a loyal Ebay customer, now I’m not.  Hey, Amazon might be the biggest game in booktown, but they do have competitors, and maybe local bookstores will benefit from their failure.  So Amazon has proven to be just like every other big corporation, tone deaf to customers.  Alas, it’s the story of all big business.  Victims of their own success.

March 1, 2012

The New e-reader War

Filed under: Editorial,Musing on life,opinion — toursbooks @ 2:43 pm
Tags: ,

3-8-12 Here’s an update.  Don’t know how long the link will work DOJ Takes on Apple & Publishers in Price Fixing


With days getting longer and temperatures getting warmer, my nose running and eyes watering, it sure does feel like spring is coming.  The other sure sign, no football.  SIGH!  It’s the only sport I actually watch, so when the season ends, it’s withdrawal time and weekends are not fun.

I was reading an article on the web about the revolt that’s slowly happening among ebook reader owners.  I often whine about the lack of value for the money with ebooks, especially those from small press publishers.  $5.50-$5.99 for a novella is just plain silly.  The vast majority of books I’m reading these days are purchased thru Amazon on the 4-for-3 plan.  I do buy some just released hardcovers by favorite authors, and I also buy used hardcovers and trade paperbacks.  With the 4-for-3 promotion, I’m paying $5.99 for a full novel – and many are 300+ pages and 120,000+ words!  Why I should pay  $5.50-$5.99 for 35,000 words of a badly done novella?  Is convenience worth that kind of money?  Makes no sense to me.  But the big problem with e-reader owners seems to lay with the price of of the ebook version of newly released hardcovers.  Not having a dedicated e-reader, and still reading most of my books in print, that hasn’t been a personal issue, but I do feel they have a point.

Americans love gadgets.  Especially electronic gadgets!  Smartphones are the hottest of the hot – until the cell providers start charging by usage, or throttling speeds on those who suck up too much capacity.  By 2013, air time will be really rationed as demand outstrips capacity, despite the FCC making more frequencies available.   But how cool is it to watch a movie on a smartphone?  Apparently, very cool.  Well, e-readers, Apple’s I-pads, and now Amazon’s Fire and B&N new Nook don’t call friends, but they are doing battle in the ebook and entertainment wars. Welcome to the brave new world – you can pay silly prices for little gadgets and watch movies on business card sized screens, or lose the phone and watch them on slightly bigger screens (Kindle Fire and Nooks), or join Apple I-pad and get the biggest screen.  Bottom line – what do you want, what will you pay upfront, and how much are willing to go on paying over the useful life of the product?  (Life expectancy being only slightly longer than that of the average fruit fly.)

In the beginning, the purpose of e-books was to eliminate printing, physical storage and distribution, bricks and mortar stores, and all the associated costs for the infrastructure and personnel.  OK, makes sense.  A HUGE chunk of the book cost just went away. (Yes, yes, I know there’s all the formatting crap for various software packages, but I do that all the time in my work.  It’s a pain, not brain surgery, so publishers spare us the drama queen act.)   The big plus for owners of e-readers remains the convenience of being able to carry hundreds of hardcover and paperbacks in a device that weighs less than a small paperback.  (The durability of such devices is a whole different issue I’m simply avoiding here.)  A win-win, right?  NO!  Seems basic human greed has entered into the equation.  It usually does.

Ebook readers were sold on the basic premise that ebooks would cost less than print and Amazon promised bestsellers for $9.99.  Makes sense. Early e-readers certainly had a hefty price tag, but cheap ones are out there these days.  It might just be a break even on cost, but the convenience is worth it, especially for those who travel a lot.  When Amazon introduced the Kindle, I ran the numbers on book pricing and figured it would take me 5 years to save enough to pay for the nearly $400 device – or 3 years longer than the device would last.  Well, now they sell (a MUCH smaller version) for as little as $79.  At that price, yes, you can get it back in savings if you read a lot of hardcovers, reap the convenience of an e-reader, but lose the ability to ‘send it on down the line’.  Now it’s just a question of personal preference.  Many people will pay for the convenience factor – and publishers are loving them!

From the beginning, my reason for not getting a e-reader had less to do with price than with value derived from sharing books.  Passing on the pleasure of a book to another.  Amazon tried to address that by allowing owners of ebooks to ‘loan’ their ebook for a limited amount of time.   Of course that other person would need a Kindle AND have to be in range of a cell signal.  (Hummmmm – that leaves my brother out!)  Well, I don’t want to be a librarian – despite the fact that I worked several happy summers in libraries in my youth.  I want to give my books away.  I want, “Bye Bye!  Have a good life where ever you go!”  Not, “So long.  See you in a few weeks!”

No question, in the convenience race, ebooks win hands down.  My house if littered with piles of books – and piles of corrugate from Amazon that needs recycling. My hundreds of ebooks sit unnoticed in computer hard drive.  But I can send the print books to my brother, and if his wife wants to read them she can.  Then they go to their friends or to PBS for swapping!  Or they head to a book sale as a fund raiser.  I give books to a neighbor who lets other neighbors select what they wants and takes the rest to the Friends of Library sale.  That works for me.  But all of that is work.  I spends hours each week wrapping and shipping books, packing books to be given away, and re-stacking the ever growing mountain of to-be-read books.  All that clutter would disappear with ebooks.  But then, so would all the third, fourth and fifth readers the books have, readers I’ve never even met.  Readers who can’t afford used books, much less e-readers and ebooks.

All my own warm, gooey sentiment for print books aside,  it’s the owners of e-readers that resent the current pricing structure – one that publishers control, not Amazon or B&N.  Understandable.  That Amazon 4-for-3 promotion that has me buying books like crazy does NOT extend to ebooks!  And take a look at the price of ebooks for current hardcovers.  It’s not the $9.99 that everyone thought they would be.  Publishers see ebooks as a premium service where their profits are larger. “You can afford an e-reader, well be prepared to pay!”  And Amazon is now selling more ebooks than hardcovers.  As long as that happens, it’s unlikely prices will come down any time soon. Publishers want their cash cow alive, well, and all theirs!   Some authors are getting clever and doing end runs.  The Detachment by Barry Eisler was released 6 months early in ebook prior to the print copy – from a indie publisher.  Welcome to publishing’s new frontier, well known authors going indie.  Can you blame them?  The only ones raking in more money on ebook price gouging are the publishers, not the authors.  And it’s readers who get their pockets picked.

I can sit back and watch the whole war play out.  I don’t have a dog in this fight, so let ‘em rip.  Amazon and the DOJ vs Apple and old line publishers.  The poor readers are forgotten.  Steaming about cost, and poor quality, they find themselves paying more than they ever thought for the privilege of convenience.  I read the Amazon reviews for a book and I am amazed at how many have blistering negatives not about the book content, but the ebook and pricing/quality issues!  That has got steam the authors.  The other side effect of this ‘luxury pricing’ attitude is the fact escalating ebook costs have cut deeply into my willingness to read novellas and short novels from small press pubs and new authors.  I’m a small scale user of ebooks, so I doubt I’m much missed, but I do try new authors all the time and I’m happy to promote the good ones here, on PBS and elsewhere.  Now, I’m reluctant to send the price of a discounted new print book for a novella or short novel in electronic format that I can’t pass on to friends.  I have to believe there are others out there like me.  Books are my one big vice, but even I have have my limits.  Plus ebooks are up against Amazon’s 4-for-3, PBS swaps, and used books, so they aren’t essential for my entertainment.   I’m good.  I don’t know for how long, but right now, I’m OK.  Let the ebook wars rage.  And may the consumer FINALLY win one!  Then I’ll buy an e-reader!  Maybe.

December 3, 2009

Somebody Hit the Snooz Alarm

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,Editorial,General,opinion — toursbooks @ 2:07 pm
Tags: ,

I feel like I’ve been swimming in a sea of mediocre books lately.  It isn’t limited to genre either.  There are a slew of mysteries due for release in January – hardcover, of course – that I’m lusting for, but right now I’m just depressed over my inability to find an excellent read.  Over on PBS (Paperpack Swap) they mentioned a big book sale at  Oh wow, did I go nuts.  No, the books I wanted the most weren’t there – big surprise – but a lot of others were.  I went crazy twice.  Once doing mystery/thrillers and whatever paranormal books on my wish list that I could find.  Then I went back and ran amok in the fantasy section – or wizards and nonsense as my brother dubbed it years ago.  Raymond Fiest, Robert Jordan and many others.  Soon, over 30 new hardcovers cost $2-3 dollars each will add to my alarming pile of to-be-read books. (more…)

October 25, 2009

Authors After Dark – In Retrospect

Well, it was quite a weekend.  There were a ton of authors and what a great group they were.  Unfortunately, Bianca D’Arc didn’t make it due to a sudden issue with her mother, which I gather was not good.  Then Jacquelyn Frank went dashing down the hall, caught her foot somehow and took a bad header.  She was taken to the hospital and spent the night there.  When I left around noon today she hadn’t made it back, but they were expecting her to be released.  I skipped all of last night thanks to a horrible headache triggered by the smell of the chemical sanitizer used in the hotel bathroom.  I understand I was not alone in developing a nasty headache, so maybe it was something in the ventilation system. (more…)

August 29, 2009

In Retrospect – Part One: Looking Back at Reviews

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,Editorial,General,opinion — toursbooks @ 4:05 pm
Tags: , ,

Like most people, or maybe unlike, I go back and revisit my ideas to see if they’ve changed.  There’s almost no way to keep personal likes and dislikes out of review.  If something makes you mad, or upset, or just violates your principals, maintaining an emotional distance just doesn’t happen.  In my work I deal with data and form my opinions based on facts, but even there two people can look at the same data and see different things.  If opinions vary when dealing with numbers and facts vary, it’s inevitable that reactions will vary even more widely when forming opinions on books – after all, a book is intended to elicit a reaction from the reader.

So I went back and revisited some of my reviews to see if I still felt the same way – positive or negative – about some of the books I’ve reviewed.  To do this, I looked primarily at those I like the best and the least.  I don’t give many A reviews and even fewer F reviews, so the lists aren’t long, but I did include a few B books that might be deserving of a second look. (more…)

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