Tour’s Books Blog

August 26, 2014

Robin Williams Tribute by Billy Crystal

Filed under: opinion — toursbooks @ 5:17 pm
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You know, every generation has someone special in comedy come along and somehow remake the genre.  Robin Williams did that for my generation.  We’ve been blessed with many fine comedians from Bill Murray, to Jay Leno,  to Billy Crystal himself.  My brother never cared for Robin Williams’ frantic, manic style.  But possibly one of the best bits of improv ever was done in his interview with James Lipton on Actor’s Studio.  In a way I felt sorry for Mr Lipton.  He’d managed interviews with some of the finest actors in the world and is a great interviewer, drawing out even the most reticent, yet he met the one he simply could not control, Robin Williams.  You can see the full episode here on YouTube.  This is the one where Robin takes that pink scarf/shawl from a lady in the audience and creates such funny, memorable bits of characters, the few minutes stands alone as a comedy classic.

Like his hero, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams suffered from depression and like Winters, refused medications for fear it would impede his gift at comic improv.  We forget at times, Williams trained at Julliard for acting, and certainly he turned in some brilliant dramatic performances, but even then he was famous for never saying the same dialogue twice.  When he did the genie, the young actor playing Aladdin was left so befuddled by Williams off script riff, he went, “Huh?”  It’s in the movie.  He did 19 HOURS of recording for that film and the artists actually redid whole scenes to match what Williams had created on the spot because it was so much better than what was planned.  I own that movie just for the pleasure of his genie character.  Mrs Doubtfire was wonderful.  Even La Cage au Folles, where he let Nathan Lane steal the show.

Williams, his good friend Billy Crystal, and Whoppie Goldberg started Comedy Relief.  How do you replace Robin Williams?  I’m not sure you can.  He was unique.  And maybe one of the most unique things about the man is just how much respect he had from his fellow comedians and actors.  He entertained troops in the Mideast without fanfare or publicity.  He did hospitals and more charitable work than 10 other equally famous actors combined, all quietly.  Yet he laid his battles with drugs and alcohol open to the public in hopes to remove some of the stigma and show you can get past it, but never stop fighting it.

But people who are unique can be lonely.  He had many friends he loved and was loved in return.  But in the end, depression, a terrible disease, took its toll and the one person he couldn’t make laugh was himself.  Billy Crystal, his closet friend, did a perfect tribute to Robin Williams last night at the Emmy’s.  It was funny, balanced, and had a brilliant closing that’s all Robin Williams himself.

Emmy Tribute To Robin Williams

July 31, 2014

Beach Reads 5 – International Part 2

Filed under: espionage/intrigue,General,opinion,Reading list — toursbooks @ 3:59 pm
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OK, we’re talking books set outside the US, preferably ones that provide a lot of atmosphere and capture the feel of the locations.  Certainly some are better at that than others, and places and times change things.  But Europe has always been a local used in mysteries for authors from all countries.  Even Edgar Alan Poe used Paris for her Murders in the Rue Morgue.  It’s also a favorite spot from paranormal and horror, especially with the resurgence in vampire books.  The United Kingdom accounts for a HUGE number of mysteries, paranormals, and Steampunk.  This will be a challenge, but again, I’ll try and stick to authors I know and like.

France – If you’re a devout foodie, read some of the fine books by noted French chefs or Americans who studied in France, including Julia Child.  For me it’s mysteries and thrillers.  Naturally The DaVinci Code takes center stage since it starts and ends in Paris, though in all honestly, I find Dan Brown a boring – maybe tedious is a better word – writer.  My current favorite series in France is Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police books.  He does a great job of folding together a ‘slice of life’ in the French countryside, with their love of food and wine, and twining in history and grudges and how the past impacts the present.  There is always an historical element in his plots, but it’s his gift for capturing French country life, something rapidly disappearing, and creating characters that seem real that make the books a cut above.  But France has been home to many famous detectives from George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret to Daniel O’Brian’s Inspector Jacquot to Cara Black’s Amie Leduc.  Frederick Forsyth’s brilliant thriller based on a real assassin, The Day of the Jackal, is set in France, as well as David Dodge’s To Catch a Thief.  Both books were made into movies, but the remake of Jackal was a butcher job while Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief was a gem.  Jean Auel’s series, Earth’s Children, covers pre-historic man, based all over Europe including France.  It’s a speculative kind of ‘historical fiction’ in that there is nothing to support or deny her assumptions about the evolution of pre-historic society.  You name it in historical fiction and France and Great Britain will be there.  From The Templars to the Terror, to WWI and WWII, you have thousands to pick from.

England,Great Britain – Now we have a problem, because there just so MANY to choose from!  Start with Agatha Christie and go to Martha Grimes, adding Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Josephine Tey for classic mysteries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have come to loathe Sherlock Holmes, he lives on even with other authors.  Historical mysteries – well, Will Thomas with his Barker and Llewellyn series, Susanna Gregory has two early historical series going, Rosemary Rowe covers Roman Britain, Rhys Bowen has the 1930’s with Her Royal Spyness books, Charles Finch, C. S. Harris, and the immortal Ellis Peters with her Brother Cadfael books.  Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans series is set in Wales, while M.C. Beaton sets her Hamish Macbeth books in Scotland.  It’s also home to the most famous spy series ever written, Ian Flemming’s James Bond.  No where near as famous but a brilliant book and equally brilliant movie is The Ipcress Files by Len Deighton, a fine author.  Graham Green and John LeCarre are certainly worthy reads as well.  Might I suggest Our Man in Havana (book and movie), a classic not to be missed.  Actor Hugh Laurie penned The Gun Seller, a rather brilliant and off-beat caper novel that is funny, deadly, and just really well done.

As for historical fiction, heavens, the list is as long a Broadway.  The Black Rose by Costain, Within the Hollow Crown by Barnes, just about everything by Phillipa Gregory, and wonderful Katherine by Ana Seaton.  That’s the book that tells the story of how the War of the Roses came to be and is possibly one of the great love stories ever in the Royal family.  The fact it’s still in print 60 years after it was first published says a lot.

Dorothy Dunnett does the Lymond Chronicles and Nigel Tranter has done numerous historical fiction books set in Scotland, including a personal favorite that I bought while there, Black Douglas.

England also plays home to almost too many paranormal/fantasy/ UF/Steampunk series to name.  A few notable ones – The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, Bec McMasters’ London Steampunk romance adventure series, Alex Verus UF series by Benedict Jacka, The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich, Mindspace Investigation series by Alex Hughes, and pretty much everything written by Simon R. Green.  Riffs on classic and real historical characters are also fodder for mystery and horror writers, like Pride, Prejudice and Zombies by Steve Hockensmith to Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter.  Personally, I stick with UF and Steampunk mystery books.  Of all of them, Benedict Jacka, Simon R. Green, and Gail Carriger are the best for me.

Over the years, I’ve likely read a thousand books set in whole or part in the UK, so go nuts and just read what you like.

Ireland – Well there is one really well done 6 book series (now complete) by Karen Marie Moning, the Fever series.  Although a spin-off featuring a character from the series, Dani O’Malley, is underway, the initial series with MacKayla Lane is done – after a fashion, meaning the author will write short shories and novellas for epubs and anthology, but they will be ancillary to the series.  This series is one of the best out there for fantasy/UF readers.

Ireland is also home of some great mystery writers, though they tend to be grim and dark.  Ken Bruen is a favorite of mine with his anti-hero Jack Taylor.  Benjamin Black has the Quirk series set in the 1950’s, but he’s now writing Phillip Marlowe stories set in California.  (His latest is The Black-Eyed Blond)  Though Jack Higgins used two Irish lead characters, Liam Devlin and Sean Dillion, Dillion spends his time in the UK and only goes in and out of Ireland.  Liam’s stories were all much earlier – the most famous being The Eagle Has Landed.  All fast easy reads and good for spy novels.  Adrian McGinty does the Sean Duffy series set in 1950 Northern Ireland.  Peter Tremayne writes the long running, popular, historical mysteries featuring Sister Fidelma, a Celtic sister in 7th century Ireland.

Italy – I covered Rome separately for a reason, it’s like you have two countries in one.  Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri are the two most prolific and best known for the modern Italian mysteries, police procedural types.  And author’s from Daniel Silva to Dan Brown have used Italy’s abundance of art and antiquities as main drivers in their plots in spy, assassin, and suspense novels.  There is a lot to work with.  Even Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series stopped in Italy with Pasta Imperfect and she would later marry the handsome police inspector she met there.

With families like the Borgia’s, there’s lots of fodder for historical fiction as well, and much of it is centered around Venice.  Kate Quinn does a Borgia based series.  Even C.W. Gortner wrote The Confessions of Catherine de Medici  – another favorite historical family.  You even find some paranormal historical novels set back then – Jon Courtney Gimwood’s Assassini – Vampire Assassin series.  (I didn’t like it)

Spain and Portugal – The first name that springs to mind is Arturo Perez-Reverte with his Captain Diego Alariste historical swashbuckling mysteries.   His more modern The Club Dumas features hunts for rare books.  Spain may not be a hot bed for mysteries popular in the US, but is certainly plays host to plenty of historical fiction, much of it based on Isabella and Ferdinand and Columbus.  And the ever popular subject of the lovely Inquisition, just the happy time we all want to read about on vacation.  For genuine buckle and swash, go back to the original, Rafael Sabatini, an Italian who wrote everything from Captain Blood to Scaramouche to The Sea Hawk – and yeah Errol Flynn got the lead in 2 of those 3 made into films, but Stewart Granger was a memorable Scaramouche.  All worthy beach reads, but none set in Spain proper, though 2 of the 3 are about battles between Spain and England – and The Sea Hawk throws in Barbary coast pirates for luck.  His prolific output is scattered all over Europe and through many time periods.  From The Mapmaker’s Daughter to The Inquisitor’s Wife, historicals take us to many place and many perspectives on the complicated history that is Spain.  Portugal remains more of cipher, not often used even in spy novels except in passing, and it’s empire building taking place mostly in the New World and Africa.

Aztec is one of the best historical fiction novels written in the last 30 years.  Though set in Mexico, is as much about the Spanish and what they did in the name God, King, and Country as it is about the Aztecs themselves. Highly recommended.

Everywhere Else – Well, naturally we have the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larson – which you’ll love or hate.  I kind of had enough after book 1. Too much social commentary for me.  Jo Nesbø has the very popular Harry Hole mysteries set in Norway.  Kjell Eriksson does the Ann Lindell and Ola Haver series in Sweden.  Russia gets tapped by Stuart Kaminsky and Martin Cruz Smith of Gorky Park fame for their mysteries.  And every spy from 007 to Gabriel Allon have tramped through Red Square.

All of these places have plenty of historical fiction, especially Russia, but you pick up The Brothers Karamazov for a beach read and don’t blame me if you get whacked by an irate student forced to read the damn thing.  You might get away with reading Dr Zhivago.  Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great – all prime historical fiction characters.

Pick you poison – or gun – or knife, or romance if you prefer, or a little buckle and swash, and settle in under that beach umbrella or on a lounge on you lanai looking out at the water, and have some long and cold ones while reading for the sheer pleasure of the story.

 

 

 

July 3, 2014

The Evil Aunt – Coda

Filed under: Observations and Comments,opinion — toursbooks @ 7:38 pm
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Yes, it seems the death of the last Evil Aunt, the one I considered staking in her coffin (just to be sure), had one final, unexpected scene – and it was a gem.

I get my mail Tuesday (expecting 3 books that arrived) and there’s this orange slip saying I had to go get a certified return receipt letter at the PO. Well by the time I see it, the PO is closed, so all Tuesday nite I’m wondering, “Am I getting sued?”  “Am I getting audited by the IRS?” (blind panic ensues)

Yesterday, I ran up just before the t-storms hit and the damn thing is from a lawyer a few towns over and I’m mentally going, “Oh s%$t, what kind of trouble am I in.” As I reach the car, I get pelted with giant rain drops and even the letter gets slightly damp before I can climb in. With some trepidation, I open it and ………………. it’s about this aunt’s will.  I’m thinking, “She didn’t leave me anything.  As far as she was concerned, I didn’t exist.”

Nope, she did NOT leave ANYTHING to either my brother or me, BUT state law requires we be notified in case we wish to challenge the will, because she left whatever remained of her estate (not much since the house had a reverse mortgage) to every niece and nephew EXCEPT US.

Sitting in the car, I became hysterical with laughter and thought, “Perfect, this is such a perfect example of what a petty, bitter b*&#%h she was.”  I call my brother, ready to yell at him for not warning me about a certified letter so I wouldn’t freak out thinking I was being sued, only to learn his had not arrived.  So he told him what it was and read the will.  He said, “Good! I wouldn’t have accepted a damn thing from her.”  Which was exactly MY reaction.  I would have refused.  The woman was toxic.  I do NOT need bad karma from her.

Now I have one cousin who is a real softie and a truly GOOD person, and I knew this would bother her, so I called her last night and said, “I got this letter from the lawyers ………” I’m laughing while I say this and she starts crying!!!!!!!!!!!!! She feels so bad about what our aunt did and I kept saying, “Don’t be upset. If she’d gone completely out of character and included my brother and me, we would simply have surrendered our share back to the estate.” She just kept saying, “It’s so wrong!” Finally I said, “That woman was a hateful, nasty, spiteful person. Why would I want anything from her? It would be tainted!”

Turns out, even her daughter refused to take something from the house because, “Grandma said they were mean to her.”  Mean is polite.  The two sisters were just vile people.  Hell, they didn’t even like each other!  It’s why I wouldn’t go to the funerals. (Well that, and my brother was afraid of what I’d say or do, but honestly, I did NOT have a wooden stake with me!  OK, yeah, I was humming, but SOFTLY!)  The other aunt died years ago, so this was the last bitter sister.

As I said to my brother, “Well damn, there goes my dream of finally owning the family candy dish I always wanted.”

So now you know that I had good reason to carry garlic cloves that day.  Yes, she really was that bad and obviously damn proud of it.  I’m just sorry my cousin is so upset by it.  She shouldn’t be.  We have no control over how our relatives behave.  We can only control how we react to it.  She meant the fact she mentioned every “beloved’ niece and nephew except the two of us to hurt.  Instead, we found it funny, sort of sad and pathetic, and kind of the ultimate  example of just what kind of petty person she always was.

Unfortunately, I may have to stop my cousin from trying to split her share with me.  I hope I made it really clear how much neither my brother nor I wanted ANYTHING from that woman.  I’d know she means well, but no.  I have zero interest in her money – what little is left, her belongings, or anything else, except maybe photos.  If my cousin can find photos of dad, that would be great.

Some people are just ………… well let’s just say, the my world is a decent place and I’ll manage my life is just fine without any of her very bad karma around – even in the form of a candy dish.

June 12, 2014

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 3 THE END?

I find I can only do so many series before my head explodes.  Honestly, authors resurrect characters and series, like soap operas, recycle characters.  There are so many epic fantasy series out there, some starting life as a stand alone – or as an outgrowth of early works where and author developed ideas.  Dune was such as book.  I recall how blown away I was by it when I read back when it first came out.  I never did make it to the end of the series, just book 1 and 2, because book 3 was published nearly 7 years after book 2 and I’d moved on.  It would take 5 more years for book 4 and 3 more for book 5 and then book 6 followed and was the last.  Sort of.  Now his son, Brian, along with Kevin Anderson, have continued Dune stories as prequels and sequels to the original series.

The unique universal appeal of Dune is surprising.  It’s themes and characters carry well into other cultures making it one of the best selling science fiction novels of all time at 20 million copies.  But to put that in context, the Harry Potter series sold over 400 million copies and (Lord help us) Fifty Shades of Gray eclipsed that number at over 450 million.  Of course Dune, Harry Potter, and many other books will still be popular long after Fifty Shades is lost in time.  But it does prove one thing, SEX SELLS! Trust me, Fifty Shades isn’t selling based on it’s unforgettable characters, original plot, and brilliant writing.  It’s selling for the same reason Peyton Place sold in the 1950’s, SEX and the lure of the forbidden, in this case, BDSM.  (Quick, who wrote Peyton Place and what was the lead character’s name?)  Yeah, I remembered the author’s name, but in all fairness, I couldn’t get past page 50 in that book either, though it was decades after publication when I actually tried, and I can’t even recall a plot.  Was there one?

Will most of the series so beloved of readers stand the test of time?  Unlikely.  Anyone over 40 would be hard put to find titles popular in their teens and 20’s still on the shelves in print.  Dune?  Yup, that’s there.  So is everything by Tolkien.  But those ARE classics.  I’ll bet in 20 years you’ll still find Harry Potter for the simple reason that his story is one we can all identify with – and the reason adults read so much YA fiction.  Like The Hobbit, Harry will age well.  Some experiences just continue to resonate over time, long after the cheap, voyeuristic thrills of Fifty Shades has been supplanted by the next hot item.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of good, cheap voyeuristic thrills, just not a fan of BDSM.  Which segues nicely into another niche market, erotic paranormal romance and futuristic paranormal romance.  Kaitlyn O’Connor writes a lot of futuristic si-fi/paranormal erotic romance, spiced with humor.  She writes modern shifter romance as Madeline Montague.  I’ve kind of been avoiding this stuff because it is a small market, but I’ll include a few here, with fair warning, it’s for adults only.  Like most romance, alpha males abound, there is often some BDSM or at least D/s going on, but not the level of kink you get with true BDSM.

Si-fi and fantasy are no strangers to sex.  No less an icon than Robert A Heinlein got his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, pulled from school library shelves for a host of reasons including ‘cheap eroticism’.  Hey, if you can slog thru 160,000+ words and find a bit of ‘cheap eroticism’ along the way, more power to you!  Boy, did you earn it!

(Suggestion – if you actually enjoy reading BDSM, try Maya Banks (also writes mainstream), Shayla Black (also rites as Shelly Bradley), Sylvia Day, and Lorelei James among others.  All are light-years better than E.L. James.)

Joey W. Hill (living) – Vampire Queen series now up to book 13, future status unknown, paranormal vampire erotic romance.  Hill writes mostly in the BDSM vein, but does some more mainstream series, and stand alones in paranormal, historical, and contemporary genres; Arcane Shot series centers on witches (2 books so far), and she has a paranormal romance series based on mermaids.

Kaitlyn O’Connor (Madeline Montague) (living) – small press author that has gained a loyal following for her humorous ménage Cyberolution series futuristic si-fi romances, 6 books and complete, but as they were written out of chronological order, they can be read as stand alones; as Madeline Montague she writes Wolfen series, a loosely related group of werewolf shifter books, with some, but less humor. 3 books – status unknown.  Hard to find author.  Short books.  Buy the e-books.

Lara Santiago (living) – small press author; two futuristic stand alones – one intended as a possible series that never happened, Menagerie -is a clever apparently poly-amorous story that begins and ends in present day.  Rogue’s Run is an intersteller m/f/m ménage.  Reads like the start of a series, but she went from futuristic to Western.

Suzanne Collins (living) – Hunger Games – best-selling YA trilogy set in Dystopian future.  Complete.  Before writing Hunger Games, she authored a series of children’s fantasy books about Gregor the Overlander in her Underland series, 5 books, complete.

Veronica Roth (living) – Divergent trilogy – 3 books plus numbers short stories, novellas, complete, YA si-fi Dystopian; kind of a Hunger Games knock-off with shades of Twilight Zone

Pittacus Lore (living) – Lorien Legacies (5 books but on-going to 9?) and Lost Files (12 books complete); YA futuristic alien invasion; Another variation on Hunger Games type tropes

Jaye Wells (living) – Sabina Kane, 5 books, complete, UF, vampire, mage, assassin – worthwhile read; Prospero’s War – 2 books complete another under contract.  Status of additional books – unknown, UF/magic

Kelly Meding (living) – Dreg City – 5 books, complete, Dark UF, si-fi, horror; about a bounty hunter who is killed, loses her memory, is resurrected, and has 3 days to live, but sometimes, you get to die more than once; Meta Wars – futuristic UF/superhero, 4 books, complete, each book focuses on a specific ‘talent’ of a group/

Linda Robertson (living) – Persephone Alcmedi – 6 books so far and 1 more due this year.  Completion status unknown.  UF, witches, vamps, weres, Fey.  Young witch finds she might be one that was in a prophesy, making her a target for her coven and the only one that change the outcome of a potential war.

Harry Connolly(Living) – Twenty Places, 3 books – series cancelled by publisher; UF/Paranormal/fantasy mystery; well liked by those who read it, but not enough readers.

Rachel Caine (living) – Morganville Vampires – 15 books, complete, YA/UF/vampires; Weather Warden – 9 books, complete; UF/paranormal/magic/romance – weather warden (magic worker) is unjustly accused of crimes and goes on the run to look for the one that can offer proof of her innocence. Outcast Season – spin off of Weather Warden, 4 books, status complete.

M. J. Scott (living) – Half-Light City, 4 books, complete, Fantasy/UF/Fae/Vampires – a new author who seemed to be improving with each book.  Watch for more from her.

Marjorie M. Liu (living) – Hunter’s Kiss, 5 books and several short stories/novellas, complete, Paranormal Romance/shifters/magic;  Dirk & Steele, 13 books – status unknown, paranormal romance, can be read as stand alone books.

Lisa Shearin (living) – Raine Benares, 6 books, complete 2012, fantasy/magic/high fantasy/some romance; kind of a classic fantasy adventure series featuring a female thief; SPI Files – 1 book released this year, one on order, UF/modern paranormal; author has engaging humorous writing style that makes for quick easy reading.

Jeanne C. Stein (living) – Anna Strong, 9 books, novellas, shorts stories, Plus 1 to complete?, paranormal/UF/shapeahifter/vamp/ romance …. If anyone has any comments on this series. let me know

Richelle Mead (living) – Dark Swan, 4 books complete, UF/paranormal/magic/romance; Vampire Academy, 6 books, complete, YA paranormal/supernatural/magic;  popular with adult paranormal fans; Bloodlines – spin-off of Vampire Academy, 6 books, ongoing, YA/paranormal/fantasy

Rachel Vincent (living) – Shifters, 6 books, complete; UF/paranormal/paranormal romance, power plays and life among shifters; Soul Screamers, 7 books, plus novellas and short stories, complete, YA/paranormal/fantasy – school taken over by Hellions and the fight to take it back OK, that is a wrap.

 

And I know a missed a WHOLE LOT OF SERIES, but I’ll try and update Finis every so often.  But seriously, too many hours on Goodreads, Amazon, hunting for author websites and I’m DONE.  So for those who hate waiting, you now have a place to start.  Anyone wants me to add a series they really liked, just post a comment.  I review them all.

August 20, 2013

Another Entry in Book Wars – Part IV

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

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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
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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, Half.com 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
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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 Amazon.com’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.

Regards,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Executive Customer Relations
Amazon.com

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
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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.

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