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How Barnes & Noble stole the first e-book I ever bought

16 March 2016

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

Sit right back and I’ll tell a tale—a tale of a fateful e-book.

Back in 1998, I was attending college at Southwest Missouri State University for the second time. (It’s since dropped the “Southwest,” leaving me constantly unsure whether to use the old or new name on job applications.) I was intrigued by the promise afforded by the new Palm PDAs and decided to buy one—a Palm IIIe. (And then a Visor Deluxe, but that came later.)

But after I’d ordered the PDA, and while I was still waiting for it to arrive, I noticed one of my all-time favorite e-books was available on Peanut Press—Vernor Vinge’s classic novel of a far-future Usenet-analog, A Fire Upon the Deep. I’d read the book in dead-tree format and loved it, and here it was electronically for just a few bucks. So I grabbed it before I even had anything to read it on yet, just so I would have a book to read when the Palm at last arrived.

. . . .

Fast-forward 14 years, to 2012. Barnes & Noble had bought eReader and Fictionwise, and was now shutting them down in the wake of agency pricing killing their business. It offered to transfer what titles it could from customers’ libraries to Barnes & Noble’s Nook library, but warned that “A few Fictionwise titles may not transfer due to discontinued publishing programs” and recommended customers download those and save them and a copy of the current eReader app for reading them in the future.

. . . .

Over the last couple of years, ever since B&N made it more difficult to access titles I bought there, I’ve stopped buying e-books from Barnes & Noble altogether. I haven’t even looked at my Nook bookshelf in ages.

. . . .

But imagine my surprise when I found that, rather than the original version, I had the BookRags A Fire Upon the Deep study guide in my library—an off-brand Cliff’s Notes on the book—instead. I never bought said study guide, because I don’t buystudy guides. Apparently somewhere along the way Barnes & Noble got confused over titles and substituted it. The original book itself was nowhere to be found.

I wasn’t too concerned—I still have both editions safely in my Calibre library on Dropbox—but I was bemused. I decided to contact Barnes & Noble chat support and see what they could do for me. After I explained the problem, the representative told me that I could go ahead and purchase A Fire Upon the Deep if I wanted, and offered to give me the link.

. . . .

It wasn’t on my account, therefore, I must not have purchased it. When I explained I had originally bought it from Peanut Press in 1998, he nonetheless asked me for an order number, and when I couldn’t provide one (honestly, I don’t even have my email from that far back!) suggested I should call their 800 number and inquire about it in person.

. . . .

Amazon appears to be in no immediate danger of collapse, while Barnes & Noble has been decidedly shaky for a while. I feel for all the UK customers who didn’t want to support Amazon for one reason or another and settled on Barnes & Noble’s Nook as a reasonable alternative—if they’d gone with a Kindle instead, they’d still have their e-books now, without the hassle of moving titles over and the uncertainty of being able to use their devices in the future.

As I said before, Barnes & Noble effectively trashed at least $200 worth of e-books from my Fictionwise and eReader libraries when it moved them over. Now I’ve found that, adding insult to injury, Barnes & Noble has also trashed—or outright stolen—the first e-book I ever bought.

Link to the rest at TeleRead


18 Comments to “How Barnes & Noble stole the first e-book I ever bought”

  1. Sad but not surprising, and not particularly unique to B&N. Similar things happened to authors when their publishers were bought out by bigger publishers.

    “What, you had a contract that would expire this year? We have no record of that limitation.”

  2. And this right here is why every ebook I offer is DRM free. I also, as a personal policy, rip the DRM off of any ebook I purchase that has it.

    Ebook DRM is, at it’s core, an insult to every honest reader that is forced to deal with it. I’d rather my work be supported by paying fans eager for more, while also accepting that piracy will happen, than I would pretending the books they purchased were really just licenses subject to revocation.

    • Reality Observer

      Piracy will happen, DRM or no. All that DRM really does is encourage piracy – because some lowlife can actually make a few bucks off of it.

    • I agree with Dustin. Nothing I do will stop piracy, so I don’t worry about it, so long as the book is available for free. I don’t like it, but there’s a lot of stuff I don’t like that I can’t control.

      Everything I buy is run through Calibre. It can be wiped from my device, but not from my computer. Not yet, anyway.

      • I don’t have wi-fi so every ebook I buy from Amazon comes to my pc and is then sideloaded into my Kindle ereader. Not as convenient as Whispersync, but certainly safer. After reading this article I’m never going to complain about the inconvenience again.

  3. “Book Rags” may have had more to do with it as they are a creepy company that outsources using exact title of book instead of ‘Study Guide to whatever.’ They thing is, I’ve seen their work as similar happened to me on amazon… in some get one free or something, amz downloaded to me a monstrosity by same name by ‘book rags’ and it’s laughable, im sorry to say. Done by persons who clearly English is not masterful and who bring shallow sort of repeats of the book itself, instead of useful analysis.

    Sorry the guy lost his book from long ago.

    And as I read any of the ebook channels’ agreements with users, including b and n and amz, they also reserve right to vacuum books out of the ereaders if said books violate whatever, including for amz, 1984 which appeared to be a copyright issue. No perfect world. I read bks with DRM and without. If an indie author wants to use drm or not, it’s up to them. I’ll rock and roll with it. Regarding where the money goes and what use it is put to from ‘piratie sites’… and by whom, I dont swing in their direction.

  4. Corporate publishers:

    “Did you hear this story about how Barnes & Noble deleted a purchased book from this Nook and their solution was he rebuy it? What a genius strategy! Someone figure out how to implement this on a broadscale basis. And obviously blame Amazon.”

  5. When Amazon does something similar, it’s in the NYT.

  6. Twice B&N made me carry in books for a signing (and still demanded their 40%), and then never paid me for the books sold.

    Three times they listed my books for sale when they weren’t supposed to be on sale. I proved I could buy a book, reported it and yes, never got my money back or any monies for those books while on sale.

    And yes, Fictionwise. I knew not to trust them, though, downloaded my books and converted them all to mobi so I could load them on my kindle to read. Most — not all of my fictionwise books — arrived in my Nook account but the app was so bad to use, I was glad I’d just converted them and moved on.

    I actually considered buying a NOOK so I could see how my books look on the device and couldn’t do it when I read the customer service horror stories.

    Back in the day, I had some great experiences with individual B&N stores, but then they started requiring you to jump through hoops and provide DNA to actually bring your books into their store, that I moved on. I use D2D to distribute there so I won’t have to deal directly with them.

  7. Al the Great and Powerful

    I don’t trust any seller to keep my books for me, so I always save to my computer and run them through Calibre. And I keep a backup on another disk, just in case of drive faults.

    On the other hand, trusting companies to remember his purchase when he don’t bother to keep records himself, well, thats on him as much as it is on them. I doubt B&N remember what I bought 20 years ago…

    • “On the other hand, trusting companies to remember his purchase when he don’t bother to keep records himself, well, thats on him as much as it is on them.”

      Oddly enough, I don’t need to keep purchase records of the books I bought twenty years ago, because they’re on my bookshelf.

      But then, paper books don’t have DRM.

      • “But then, paper books don’t have DRM.”

        Don’t tell corporate.

        Take care.

        • *BangBangBang*
          “Open up! Book Police! Do you have a license for each of these books, sir? Can you prove you bought them legally, or have a note from the author saying you can possess that copy?”

          “er, Shakespeare is in the common domain, plus he’s dead.”

          Did you kill him? Better call in the forensics guys…”

          • I can’t recall the title, but there was a short (early 90s, I believe) where an overdue library book (Noir, I believe) ended up, thanks to Kafkian authomatisms, as a murder verdict. It’s been a while, and I read it translated back when I still did that (Spanish editions pumped up the price AS amazon came into existence).

            Take care

  8. Al the Great and Powerful

    I have moved seven times in the last 20 years, including 4000 miles to and from Texas for school. I have had thousands of pounds of books, pallet loads of books over those years. While I do still have some books from 20 years or more ago, I certainly don’t have many of those any more. Or any receipts for them.

    I DO have copies of every ebook and file I have accumulated since then, because ebooks don’t take up as much space.

  9. Here’s an update: a B&N rep called me yesterday and gave me my e-book back. I call that a win.

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