Linda Embraced ebooks long before I did. She had (still has) one of the original Nook Color e-readers and last year she upgraded to a Nook HD+. She loves it and, when you compare its price to an iPad or even any other high quality Android based tablet that size, there really isn’t any comparison. That’s especially true if the primary use of the tablet is reading books. I have no idea how many ebooks she’s read over the years, but I’m sure that it hovers close to a thousand. She’s a voracious reader.
I read regularly too, but I also use my tablets for a variety of other purposes, many of which are work related. Because of that, I opt to get full Android tablets and download the various reading apps, Nook, Kindle and Kobo. Usually, I don’t have any problems when I download a book. Oh, occasionally I see a minor formatting issue on the apps that may or may not appear on a dedicated e-reader, but it’s usually nothing more than a minor distraction. Note that I said usually. A couple of months ago a problem cropped up with a book that I bought that went well beyond a distraction; I couldn’t read the book at all.
One of the authors I like is Richard Bowker. Mr. Bowker has been writing for years, but I only stumbled across his books a bit over a year ago. So far, I’ve read The Portal, Senator, Dover Beach and Forbidden Sanctuary. The only one I’ve reviewed so far is The Portal, but I’ll get caught up on the other ones, I promise. All of them were really great reads.
About two months ago I bought his book Summit from Barnes & Noble. The cover grabbed my attention and when I read the overview of the plot, I was hooked. There’s nothing that piques my interest as quickly as a good spy thriller. Well, a good sci-fi book does too, but that’s a DNA issue. I clicked on “Buy Now”, completed the sale and picked up my tablet to start reading. That’s when things went wrong, really, really wrong.
I opened up my Nook app, clicked on the book cover to download the book and immediately received the message, “Ingestion DRM does not match product DRM.” I’d never seen that message before, so I clicked the book cover again…same result. I closed the Nook App, started it again and tried once more…no joy. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Maybe the app is corrupted. I’ll try my other tablet. I powered up, opened the app, watched while it synced, clicked on the cover and failed miserably once more.
Now I was down to one option, the Nook PC app on my laptop. I lifted the lid, started the app, let it sync, clicked on the cover and was greeted by a different error message, “We are experiencing technical difficulties at this time, please try again later (download 2081).” I’ve been playing with computers of one type or another since 1973 and I’m usually fairly successful at solving problems but, with three failures on three different machines, I was pretty sure that there wasn’t anything I was going to do to solve this one. Back to the Barnes & Noble web site I went.
After a little poking around, I found the on-line chat customer service option and decided to give that a try. Surely they’d be able to resolve this in short order. It was a nice thought, but ten minutes waiting in queue was only the first indication that this was going to be a frustrating evening.
When a CRS finally answered, I could tell immediately that they were reading from a script rather than trying to digest the information that I was giving them. Ten minutes later, after trying a host of useless fixes, I was told to hold for a minute while they spoke with some else. The minute never ended because they HUNG UP on me. I started another chat session. Let me rephrase that, I tried to start another chat session. After twenty minutes of watching a message tell me that there weren’t any CSRs available to talk, I gave up and began searching for an email address. “Surely, if I write a concise description of the problem in an email, someone will be able to solve this, even if it does take a day or so to be read,” I thought. Oh silly me. The first obstacle was finding an email address. I never did find it on the main site so eventually I gave up looking.
Over the next three days, I tried the chat thing several more times. Once I connected with a young man who seemed a tad more competent than the rest of his coworkers. He showed some initiative and tried to download the book from his end. Lo and behold, he got the DRM mismatch message too. At that point, he was stumped and advised me that he would escalate the problem to the “Content Management Team.” They would have the problem resolved within two to three weeks, he assured.
Did you ever see the old cartoon poster of a bear putting his fist through the computer screen when faced with the prompt “Please enter your response?” I posed for that poster. Despite that, I thanked the young man and waited the three weeks. Actually I waited a month before I contacted Barnes & Noble again. In that time I tried every few days, without success, to download my purchase.
I did have one minor victory though. I managed to conjure up the proper email address for NOOK digital problems. There are two. Are you ready? Write this down; you may find it useful someday. The addresses are: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Of the two, I seemed to get the best responses from the second one.
By now my requests for help had drifted closer to the demands for action side of the field. I won’t bore you with the content. The email exchanges were long and tedious and filled with confirmations that the problem was on their side and promises of corrective action within several weeks. Today, after one particularly testy exchange, I received a follow-up email conceding defeat and advising that they would be refunding my money. From their standpoint, the problem was solved.
That’s a mistake. The issue was resolved, but the problem wasn’t solved. One of the first things that I try to teach young engineers is that a problem isn’t fixed until you determine the root cause and are able to make the problem come and go at will. Until you reach that point anything that you do that appears to make the problem go away is nothing more than a poorly fitting bandaid that hides the problem. In this case, I promise you that this problem has occurred before and will occur again. Giving me back my money did nothing to prevent that from happening. The saddest thing is that, while they didn’t solve the problem, they did succeed in undermining a customer’s faith in their product.
There’s been an on-going debate in the publisher/author arena over the past couple of years concerning Amazon’s dominance in ebooks and the heavy-handed clout that they appear to wield with publishers. I understand that. While Amazon doesn’t have anything close to a monopoly, they are the predominant force in the market and have very deep pockets. From a supplier standpoint, i.e. publishers and authors, that has the potential to be a problem. As those of you who stop by here regularly know, I’m an amateur writer, have one book available now at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble and another one on the way. I write as a hobby so my perspective is different from that of an author who writes full time. I like dealing with Amazon. Their author’s portal is easier to navigate and, in my experience, bullet proof.
There’s also the issue of sales and efficiency. Mileage may vary but, for every book I sell at Barnes & Noble, I sell thirty at Amazon. There has to be a reason for that. It’s not the hardware. While the Kindle line is top notch, I can’t find anything negative to say about any of the Nook products either. Since both Barnes & Noble and Amazon have access to the same product mix and sell at the same price, that leaves internet presence and customer service. There’s not much that Barnes & Noble can do about Amazon’s size in the market so, if they want to survive, they have to out-perform Amazon in customer service. That’s a tall order and every time they drop the ball like they did this time, it’s a huge loss. I’ve bought close to a hundred Nook books over the years and I’ve bought several hundred Kindle books. I’ve never had a problem with an Amazon download. Two years ago I discounted the gloomy internet rumblings concerning the long term survival potential of Barnes and Noble’s Nook division. Now I’m not so sure.
If Barnes & Noble doesn’t survive, Amazon will become even more dominant and that will have ramifications for both suppliers and customers. I’m going to make sure that the folks at Barnes & Noble know about this post and I hope someone there reads it. Even more, I hope that someone figures out that, every time a customer identifies a glitch in their system, it’s an opportunity for improvement. In today’s markets, continuous improvement is the only thing that can assure continuous survival.
P.S. I bought Summit from Amazon this afternoon. It downloaded just fine on both tablets and my PC. Ten minutes from now, Valentina and I are going start a high octane relationship. Watch for my review on Amazon.