BooksOnBoard: Amazon’s risking anti-trust action, and Macmillan is favoring Amazon and Sony stores in e-book wars

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booksonboardsite Is Amazon pricing e-books below cost and risking anti-trust action? And is Macmillan favoring Amazon and Sony stores in the e-book wars heated up by the Kindle? So charges Bob LiVolsi of BooksOnBoard. It’ll be interesting to see what rebuttals come from Amazon and Macmillan.

The above issues arose when BooksOnBoard revealed promo codes to make available “Clive Cussler’s The Chase, David Baldacci’s Stone Cold, Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Wheel of Darkness” for just $9.99.

“Our pricing system,” LiVolsi said in a comment to the TeleBlog in the wake of our e-book pricing post, “was designed to prevent pricing (except via promo code) below a certain calculated cost to us. We did not anticipate that Amazon, as the dominant player in the space, would risk anti-trust action with pricing below cost.”

Accuses Macmillan of favoring Amazon and Sony

“Macmillan pulled Rhett Butler’s People from our Mobipocket feed two weeks ago after we had already positioned it for promotion,” Bob LiVolsi also wrote. “They are making it available only through the Mobipocket.com store, Amazon and Sony. It is not available to the rest of us, nor are the rest of the Macmillan imprints. Other Macmillan titles include all of the Andrew Greeley titles, the St. Martin’s Press line, etc. No explanation has been provided by Macmillan. This kind of action by dominant players in the book space is troubling at many levels.”

As TeleBlog regular Mike Cane, a fan of St. Martin’s books, makes clear, it’s reasonable to wonder about possible restraint of trade if the LiVolsi accusations are factual. Assuming that’s the case, just who and what led Macmillan to pull the titles from BooksOnBoard’s Mobipocket feed? And how about the other W—why?

The F Word factor

Jeez. As if we didn’t have yet another reason for a standard nonproprietary e-book format! Remember, Amazon (owner of Mobipocket) and Sony aren’t mere retailers, they’re also giant tech companies with proprietary e-book formats and the usual corporate urges for dominance. And publishers such as Macmillan can hardly escape notice of that, especially with the use of Mobipocket as a distribution format for books from St. Martin’s and other important imprints.

To Sony’s considerable credit, it apparently will use the International Digital Publishing Forum‘s nonproprietary .epub via software on the Sony Reader—not just Sony’s in-house BBeB and Adobe’s PDF. But what kind of tacit or not-so-tacit understandings might be happening between Amazon and Sony to choke off smaller rivals, perhaps in part through Amazon’s playing tricks with the Mobi format? Significantly or not, I notice that Fictionwise, too, not just BooksOnBoard, wasn’t carrying Rhett Butler’s People as of Friday afternoon. So there could well be something to LiVolsi’s statement that Amazon, Mobi and Sony are the only e-stores carrying the book.

An anti-suit or other legal action in time?

Smaller retailers and publishers of all sizes, including big guys, Macmillan among them, should not just heed LiVolsi’s general warning but also go beyond and consider the F Word. Format.

I wonder if/when antitrust suits or other legal action will be filed in time over format-related matters among other things. Amazon, the 600,000-pound gorilla of e-tailers, at least partly sabotaged years of e-book standards work by the IDPF when it insisted on a new proprietary format for the Kindle. Meanwhile concerns exist about the Amazon-owned Mobipocket format that so many independents use; will Jeff Bezos and buddies kill it off or let it shrivel away, now that they’re playing up their new Kindle format, complete with $10 bestsellers that the Mobi store doesn’t offer at that price. Questions are even arising among tech-hip TeleBlog and MobileRead readers as to whether Amazon simply tweaked Mobi to create a new proprietary format—perhaps mainly to increase its dominance over other e-tailers? Is it the same old Mobi with just new DRM and fresh machine-identification numbers?

Keep us posted, Bob LiVolsi! And assuming you’re the same guy as this one, a former HP executive, the very best of luck with your first novel!

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6 Comments on BooksOnBoard: Amazon’s risking anti-trust action, and Macmillan is favoring Amazon and Sony stores in e-book wars

  1. Tried finding Jeff Gomez’s PRINT IS DEAD as an ebook? As far as I can tell, this Macmillan title is available in e only at MobiPocket, Sony, and Amazon. Unless I’ve missed a listing somewhere, there is no ebook edition in any format except MobiPocket, Kindle, and Sony. No Adobe, no EReader. And if you don’t feel like paying the full hardcover price for the ebook (which is what MobiPocket charges), you’re outta luck unless you own a Sony Reader or a Kindle.

    Bests,

    –tr

  2. Funny that you don’t mention the .LIT format. So much for that format… (which seems to be best to buy in, if you know what I mean).

  3. Bob LiVolsi – you need to take better care of your customers if you want your company Books on Board to make it through these tough economic times. I purchased a Bookeen Cybook from your Books on Board and it didn’t work out of the box. Your customer service reps were unwilling to even consider a refund (even for a defective, non-working device) – since more than a week had passed until I opened the package and found the DOA device. So far my only remedy is to send the device back (at my expense) to Bookeen France with the hope they’ll fix it (of course neither they nor Books on Board actually promised they would fix it – so my guess is they’ll find a way to try and charge me for the repair – and who knows – it may actually work after that). All I can say is when dealing with Books on Board – Buyer Beware!

  4. BooksOnBoard // May 22, 2008 at 7:25 pm //

    Jacob Ukelson comment is not accurate. BooksOnBoard and Bookeen both went out of their way to help him. Both companies have an excellent track record of taking care of customers with BooksOnBoard having over 1,500 customer testimonials on file in just the last year. Both companies are disappointed that Jacob is unhappy. We choose to let the facts speak for themselves in the points below, allowing readers to ascertain for themselves how this was handled. We also welcome feedback re: the handling so that we might find improved ways to serve customers. Any time a customer ends up this unhappy, we know there must be a nuance we missed along the way, some lesson to be learned.

    (1) BooksOnBoard does, in fact, accept opened product back as a return in spite of Jacob’s unfounded claim to the contrary. There is a 7 day refund policy, but it is very flexible in consideration of customer concerns. Had Jacob’s product arrived in our offices defective, we would certainly have entertained giving him a refund, but he still had not sent it 37 days after receiving it.
    (2) BooksOnBoard tried to get the product back from Jacob to evaluate for repair, replacement or refund, but he insisted that BooksOnBoard not only pay the return shipment – which almost no retailer does – but on paying import duties from Israel where Jacob had traveled from Florida with the Cybook before “discovering” it was broken almost a month after receiving it.
    (3) Jacob also insisted on a refund without returning the product and when told that could not be considered without BooksOnBoard or Bookeen seeing the product, he filed an action for a full refund through PayPal on April 22nd – seeking another way to get money back while still holding the product.
    (4) Late on April 22, Jacob requested a refund – 34 days after first receiving the product – outside even the most generous electronics return policies. BooksOnBoard responded with the following: “Thank you for contacting us regarding the warranty return of your Bookeen Cybook. BooksOnBoard is happy to receive the return of your Cybook device and submit it to Bookeen Paris for evaluation of whether the necessary repairs are covered by the Bookeen Standard Warranty for their product. Our support staff has received forwarded emails from you that Bookeen has already communicated to you that they are willing to take shipment. We are the authorized Bookeen Cybook dealer for the United States and Canada. We do not ship Bookeen Cybook to additional international locations and therefore cannot assume liability for import tariffs which may be incurred by customers who transport the device outside of the United States. Again, BooksOnBoard is happy to receive and return your Bookeen Cybook for repairs under the conditions stated in our returns policy. We will happily pay return postage to ship the repaired Cybook to any U.S. or Canadian address. However, we do not offer refunds on Bookeen Cybook for situations that are covered by their product warranty.”
    (5) On April 23rd, Jacob responded to the above: “So effectively you are telling me that you won’t help… As I am sure you understand, your suggested solution doesn’t solve my problem – I am abroad, not in the US, so how exactly does your solution help?”
    (6) On April 24, BooksOnBoard, consistent with prior correspondence, wrote to Jacob: “We encourage you to return your unit either to Paris or to us… Once the unit has been seen and evaluated by Bookeen, we will all have more complete data to review options for resolution.”
    (7) After persuading Jacob to return the device to Bookeen in Paris, Bookeen wrote Jacob on April 24: “Dear Sir, Here is the Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) procedure to follow. Please note that our team will do its best to replace your device as soon as we receive it.”

    It is clear from the correspondence that both repair and replacement were never ruled out by either BooksOnBoard or Bookeen, even 37 days after Jacob first received the product. Instead, when the product finally arrived for evaluation in Paris, it turned out to have a smashed screen, having the clear characteristics of accident or mishandling since Jacob first received it, possibly in his travels between the US and Israel. (While Jacob gave us a Florida address for shipping, we subsequently learned his phone number is in Israel and that he transported the product there with him before requesting support for the first time 24 days after receiving the product. ) Nowhere in his prior correspondence does Jacob mention a problem with the screen, instead referring to an issue with the buttons. Of approximately 300 Cybooks shipped by BooksOnBoard, only 3 have had screen issues: one was covered by the optional BooksOnBoard Accidental Damage policy; in another case, the customer acknowledged inadvertently crushing it; and the third is Jacob’s.

    BooksOnBoard has over 1,500 customer testimonials in the last 18 months. Jacob’s is an unusual case and we’re sorry it came down to his angry blogs and emails. We remain available to help Jacob, possibly doing something through our Accidental Damage Policy, but he has chosen instead to rage though email and blogs, foreclosing options for us to do the kinds of extraordinary things we try to do to help customers.
    We hope that consumers will review the above data and judge the facts for themselves. We remain committed to outstanding customer service and fairness. When customers work with us, we work with them, going out of our way 7 days a week to help through our email support.

  5. I take issue with response. I could post a long reply about how much of the above isn’t true. These guys seem to be more interested in justifying how they act rather then providing service. Bottom line- I paid for a device that never worked,and don’t have the device or refund. They didn’t (and don’t) seem interested in resolving the issue – just justifying thier own shoddy performance. It was (and still is – since it isn’t resolved yet) – the WORST customer experience I have ever had. As I said before – BUYER BEWARE of Books on Board.

  6. The customer service I have received through BooksOnBoard has been excellent! I purchased a Cybook from BooksOnBoard and love it. However, approximately six weeks after receiving my Cybook I broke it. To be completely honest, I sat on my Cybook and broke the screen. This is not covered under warranty through Bookeen (understandably). I fully expected to be told by BooksOnBoard that I would have to pay a large amount of money for repairs or replace the device. That was NOT the response I received.

    When I contacted BooksOnBoard and explained what had happened, I was told they were creating an Accidental Damage Plan for their customers who were in my situation – which they obviously did not have to do. They allowed me to purchase the plan retroactively (again… something they didn’t have to do). For the price of purchasing the Accidental Damage Plan, the deductible and the cost of shipping my damaged Cybook to BooksOnBoard I have a new Cybook (the one I broke had to be replaced).

    The BooksOnBoard staff who originally responded to my request stayed in contact with me throughout the process with updates and answers to my questions. I have never received better customer service from any company/business and highly recommend BooksOnBoard to others.

    Now I have my Cybook again and am enjoying it wherever I go.

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