Pig in a Poke, revisited: Amazon Shenanigans

The first version of this post went up in January 2013. I’m revising and reposting it because Amazon is bungling editions, in a rather deceptive and (to me) infuriating way. The update is followed by the original post.


Amazon has a newish feature I actually like, called Kindle Match. If you bought a hard copy of a book from them in the past — and it can be way, way past, fifteen years ago even, you may be able to get the Kindle edition for anywhere between nothing and ten bucks. Most of the titles seem to be at $2.99 or less. 

So I was looking through this list and I come across the fact that I bought the Norton Critical Edition of Price and Prejudice in 2006. Why I did that is a different question — I can’t remember why I wanted yet another copy. But as you see here  I did indeed buy it in 2006: 

Kindle Match
Kindle Match

A critical edition is the queen of all editions for any book that is considered classic, and the subject of study by academics and scholars. Wikipedia provides a concise description of how critical editions come to be: 

Textual criticism is a branch of textual scholarship, philology, and literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in texts, both manuscripts and printed books. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand.[1] Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document’s transcription history.[2] The ultimate objective of the textual critic’s work is the production of a “critical edition” containing a text most closely approximating the original.

Critical editions almost always have additional materials: essays by the editors and/or other scholars, about the book and its history, the author, the time period, and anything else you can think of.  There will also be footnotes to clarify terms that may not be familiar to a current day reader.  Given all this, it probably won’t surprise you that a critical edition costs more than the run-of-the-mill edition.

To clarify what I mean by ‘run-of-the-mill’ edition (or see this post, in which I was totally cranky, but still on target):

Because P&P is long out of print and copyright, anybody can put out a new edition without paying the author or the author’s estate anything. The result is many, many hundreds of editions of P&P put out on cheap paper, with little or no attention to the quality or accuracy of the text, all in the hope of a bit of a profit. You can find new copies of this novel for a buck, and then used copies of that same edition for a penny. 

Do I want the Norton edition as a Kindle book? Need you ask? So I click on the “Get Kindle Edition” button  you see, and this is what comes up:

Not the Norton Critical Edition
Not the Norton Critical Edition

Here is what the page for the critical edition actually looks like:

This is the real Norton Critical Edition
This is the real Norton Critical Edition

 

You see that the critical edition has an editor (Donald J. Gray) and also that I bought it in 2006. But what I was offered as a part of Kindle Match was a crappy movie-tie in edition, one I never bought in soft cover. 

To take this one step further (because it gets worse), if I click on the “Kindle Edition” tab on the Norton edition page, this is what I get:

Still not the critical edition
Still not the critical edition

Note that this was not published by Norton, but by “Top Five Classics” — one of the many companies that specialize in run-of-the-mill cheap editions.  At this point it occurs to me that there may not  even be a Kindle version of the Norton Critical Edition, so I pop over to the Norton website and have a look at the P&P page. And in fact, it’s only put out in trade paper format.  (Click on the link if you want to see what all goes into a critical edition.) 

In a nutshell: if I pay for the critical edition, I want it. I want it for all the reasons touched on above.  If another reader doesn’t care about the edition, s/he won’t even notice the switch. But people should care, because the practice is (a) deceptive and (b) wasteful. I hate to think of all the paper that has gone into crappy editions of this particular novel, one of many.  My guess is that you could repeat this process I’m showing you for everything from Gulliver’s Travels to A Room with a View.

Here’s the question: Is Amazon just tremendously sloppy and unwilling to pay attention to something as simple as an ISBN, or is this a way to lure in less-than-attentive buyers?  

One of the first things you learn in graduate school is to never walk into a seminar where a particular novel is going to be discussed  holding a movie-tie in edition rather than the critical edition. You will not be treated kindly. Also, it’s disrespectful to the editors who put in years of work to make sure the edition is as authentic and error free as possible.

So I’m done venting. I doubt anybody at Amazon will pay attention to my squeaking, but I’m going to keep an eye on this. 

January 2013 Post:

I love all things electronic, but when it comes to buying and selling books on the internet I see room for improvement. To be fair, that improvement is coming along nicely. In most areas.

Don't make Jane angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.
Don’t make Jane angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

I’ll demonstrate with (what else?) Pride & Prejudice. There must be a couple hundred editions of P&P in English alone. Poorly done editions, leather-bound editions (and sometimes those two things aren’t mutually exclusive), editions on paper so cheap it makes your fingers itch just to turn the page, critical editions (put together by academics with special care to detail and authenticity), abbreviated and illustrated and annotated editions. Most people don’t realize how different editions can be, or that one might be better than another. If you’ve read one copy of Pride & Prejudice you’ve read them all, is the general belief. This is a widely held misconception, and one that technology is not doing anything to rectify. Just the opposite. Continue reading “Pig in a Poke, revisited: Amazon Shenanigans”

an open letter to Steve Jobs, part deux

Dear Steve,

After so many years together, you still can surprise me. Usually your surprises are good. For example today your email about the new iPhone.

You know that I have been waiting for an edition of the iPhone that felt right to m

e. And

English: Apple director Steve Jobs shows iPhone
Steve Jobs

now there it is,

and at a reasonable price. Just when my current cell phone has been bugging me to the point of distraction, you save the day. I can pay $99 for the 3G iPhone, or $199 for the newer version, with 16 gb of memory. This means only one electronic instrument to drag around and more important still, it means GPS.

 

I’m always getting lost, as you well know. I hate driving new places, because I need to keep consulting the map and directions, which means pulling over or putting everybody’s wellbeing in peril. My old anxiety disorder, 98% under control these days, comes blazing to the forefront and I arrive whereever I’m going drenched in… well, you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.

But you have handed me a solution. Or so I thought.

I realize I am not your only long-term relationship. I know you went through a commitment ceremony with AT&T some time ago, and that she takes a lot of your time and attention. That’s fine, really. I’m not the jealous type.  Alpha-male that you are, you need to spread yourself around; biology — nay, the entire universe demands it of you.  But when you let AT&T come between us, something has gone very wrong.

According to her, I have to pay $399 if I want the iPhone you wrote to say I could have for $199.

You said $99 or $199, but it turns out, once I’ve dug my way through the reservation form, that AT&T has put down her foot and won’t let you give me what you’ve promised. Because, you see, I already have an AT&T phone. Not an iPhone, just a crappy old phone that needs replacing. AT&T doesn’t care about that. She’s all about the control and power and money. According to her, I have to pay $399 if I want the iPhone you wrote to say I could have for $199.

Imagine the crushing disappointment. Imagine the sense of betrayal. When I went back to your original email, I saw that you had in fact mentioned this not-so-little fact, but at the very, very bottom in very,very small print of such a light color that it was impossible to read until I copied it to a text document. Only then did the truth come out.

You knew what AT&T was up to, and you allowed it. You enabled it.

I am so very disappointed in you. After so many years, to resort to such chicanery, just to please that demanding bitch, AT&T.

Shame on you.

iphone

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DHL: warning. Do not use this company

This is a public service announcement. Some simple facts:

1. On December 19, Apple Computer sent me an empty box. The sole purpose of the box was to put my computer into it, so it could be shipped safely. Apple used DHL for shipping.

2. On December 20 the box arrived at the DHL facility in Burlington WA, which is 18 miles from my home.

3. On December 28 DHL has stil failed to deliver the box to me, 18 miles away.

4. After repeated telephone calls I finally drove to DHL, with my computer in hand.

5. The box was handed over to me with many apologies. I packed up the computer in front of them.

6. They filled out the paperwork in front of me. I signed it. I got the receipt. I was told it would go out immediately.

7. Today, January 2, the box with my computer in it is still sitting in the DHL facility in Burlington, Washington. It is no closer to the Apple repair facility than it was on December 19, when Apple dispatched the box to me.

8. I am now waiting to hear back from DHL on this.

I am working on a loan computer. Which means I have to give it back, and soon. If my calm, reasonable self loses the struggle to stay on top of this, the Italian me will probably be calling my lawyer to ask how to sue DHL for damages.

So, the lesson to be learned:  Do not use DHL. DHL is crap. Do not buy stock in DHL for the same reason. Do not believe the DHL support staff, office staff, help line staff when they make solemn promises. They lie.

Now I have to call Apple and ask them what the hell is going on, and why they use DHL to start with.

 

An open letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Steve,

You should understand first of all: I have no intention of filing for divorce. We’ve been together too long to even contemplate the horrific alternatives. However, I do think we need to see a counselor. Someone who can help us communicate, because I’m feeling ignored and disregarded.

In your current incarnation, you sit on my lap pretty much all day long. There’s a lot of heat between us, but you do your best to keep things cool while I’m working. Together we have written (over the years): one doctoral dissertation, a couple dozen academic articles, two full length academic books, numerous class plans, evaluations, recommendations; newspaper editorials and magazine articles and letters to the editor; short stories; seven novels currently in print (more than a million words, please note); two more forthcoming. You were with me every step of the way when I wrote Homestead, which won the PEN/Hemingway award. You are the keeper of my family history, my banking records, my daughter’s childhood memories, all my music, my entire calendar and all my contacts. If I had to estimate, I would guess that I have written or received a million emails in the last ten years.

You are indispensible. I am very happy to admit that. We make an excellent team. But recently I note you are distracted. Or should I say, more distracted than usual.

I am technically monogomous, but you are not and have never been. For many years this arrangement worked very well. On the rare occasion I had to call you at work, your assistants answered promptly and made sure that you understood what was needed. We functioned so well together that we never had the little hiccups that send other couples for advice. I have a neighbor who has had a partnership with a Windows computer for a long time, but even now I still hear her screaming obscenities in her frustration and anger.

You’ve come a long way, and I appreciate the effort that has gone into the advances. But your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have time for your loyal, long-time relationships. And it shows. For example: for three weeks now I have been calling you at work and talking to people at the technical assistance office.

By the way, the telephone number to call for technical assistance is well and truly hidden. I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to avoid my calls.

I have spent at least three hours on hold. While I am on hold, there is the most horrendous music. You force me to listen to 80s big hair bands, and to add insult to injury, the quality of transmission is very poor. It fades in and out, full of static. Having to listen to this hold music is more than most people can bear.

I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to get me off the phone once I’ve found the number.

That first call I spoke to a young man who was helpful, but curt. Very well, I understand you are busy. I explained the problem thus: Please tell Steve that the plug that inserts into my PowerBook G4 is frayed and breaking, and could he please bring me a new one on his way home? Specifically, I am talking about the end of the cord that plugs into the computer. The young man went away; I waited another twenty minutes listening to that horrendous noise you call easy listening. He came back, and at that moment we were cut off. I hoped he would call me back, or complete the work order on his own. A week later I gave up this childish idea and called again. Again I waited at least a half hour, and again (it’s painful to recall this) I was subjected to torture by Van Halen and Nirvana. The young woman who finally came on the line looked up the record of my earlier call, finished writing down whatever it was she needed to pass on to you, and promised that I would have the replacement part within a few days. All my doubts about our relationship disappeared this morning when I found the box propped against my door. You do still care! I opened it immediately, and stood there, shocked. You sent me the wrong cord/plug. I asked for the part that plugs into the computer, and you sent me the part that plugs into the wall.

Your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have any time for your loyal, long-time friends.

On the website there was no place to record this mistake or ask for a solution. With trembling hands I dialed the support number again. That was at about 3:30pm today. After a half hour on hold (nails on a blackboard? child’s play) I spoke to a polite young man who looked at the history of this problem and told me that the new part had been dispatched. Yes, I said. I received it this morning. It is the wrong part. You received the power cord? I received the power cord, but what I need is the other end of the cord. The end that plugs into the computer, that is what I need. After five minutes of discussion about the difference between the plug that fits into the computer and the plug that fits into the wall socket, he declared himself prepared to send me to dispatch where the problem could be rectified. I pointed out that dispatch had sent the part they had been told (erroneously) to send. Really, it made no sense to transfer me to dispatch. Could I speak to a supervisor? Please?

I was on hold for twenty minutes, waiting for dispatch. Finally I was connected to Jay, who was not from dispatch at all. He works in one of the Texas offices as a parts specialist. Jay was very helpful and polite. He promised to send me the right plug immediately. He did need my credit card number, in case I didn’t send the old part back. (And why would I want to hold onto a fraying, overheated plug?

I can’t believe you’d use such a weak excuse to get my credit card number. I can’t believe you NEED my credit card number. I have bought at least a dozen computers over the last fifteen years, as well as every other kind of hardware and a rich selection of software — and, most relevant of all: I have bought the extended Apple Care protection for every computer. Including your current incarnation, with the fraying plug-that-goes-into-the-computer. Steve, love of my technical life, you should know my credit card number by heart.)

It is now 4:41 and I just got off the phone with Jay. I hope you understand that I open this discussion out of affection, respect and appreciation. It is not my intention to hurt you, but please. Can we please have a return to the days when you didn’t keep me waiting for hours at a time? When I didn’t feel like one in a harem of a thousand? Your little i-friends are very cute, but do they write award-winning novels? Or novels of any kind at all. When people say to me that you only have twelve percent of your market, I always respond the same way: you can say the same of Mercedes-Benz. You are excellent, but you are also drifting away from me.

Would you like to make an appointment with a counselor, or should I?

Your affectionate partner Rosina Lippi