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.