Kobo Doesn't Understand "Service", Either

Reading lengthy texts on LCD screens (or CRTs, for that matter) is prone to giving me headaches and otherwise making me miserable. For this reason, I bought an e-ink ebook reader one day, and I found that such a device is an awesome thing for me to have. The ability to lug around large numbers of ebooks on a device that is, frankly, just about as great for my reading pleasure as a physical, dead tree format book has been a wonderful addition to my life. Alas, the Nook Simple Touch is not perfect. After dealing with some of the minor stupidities of my Nook Simple Touch from Barnes & Noble, I started looking for alternatives for my next ereader. Examples:

The first alternative I noticed (Amazon's Kindle having been rejected before I even bought the Nook for a number of reasons) was the Kobo line of ereaders. They appeared to be better devices overall, so I kept that in the back of my brain while going about the business of using my Nook. I also looked at the Kobo site and noticed that the ebook store for the Kobo was somewhat better than the equivalent ebook availability for the Nook. In fact, things are so dismal for using Barnes & Noble's ebook purchasing capabilities for my Nook that I have gone out of my way to get ebooks from other sources and sideload them on the Nook rather than just hooking up to wifi and buying directly from Barnes & Noble. One measure I have taken is to download a lot of economics texts from the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which are available for free. Another measure I have taken is to pay attention to O'Reilly deals, in part because O'Reilly itself offers ebooks for less than full hardcopy price (a shockingly rare state of affairs for ebooks), it does not use DRM (also surprisingly rare -- though perhaps slightly less surprising and slightly less rare); in part because O'Reilly offers other publishers' technical books in its online store; and in part because on top of its already cheaper ebooks in general O'Reilly also offers regular 50% off deals, which brings the price of O'Reilly ebooks below the upper threshold for what I am willing to pay for a bucket of bits at this point in my life. The process for figuring out that threshold is not too complex:

  1. Guess at the resale value of the book if I were to buy it in hardcopy and resell it to a used book store.
  2. Find the cheapest price it is relatively easy to find for the book brand new (usually the Amazon price without shipping, because one can always just order more than one book to get the total over 25 USD and get free shipping here in the US).
  3. Subtract the resale value of the hardcopy book from the "cheapest" price from step two. The result is the most I am willing to pay for the ebook, because ebooks have no used book store resale value.

This obviously does not address the option of getting ebooks for free online in contravention of copyright law. While I condemn no one for doing so, as a believer in the unethical status of copyright law, I still tend to try to stay on the "right" side of the law. If buying an ebook from a particular source is so odious that I refuse to do it (as in the case of giving money to Barnes & Noble for a DRMed ebook, at this point, due to the simple fact I do not want to encourage BN's customer-hostile business practices), and if that source is basically the only one where I can buy it because of some kind of exclusive deal or some such crap, I would generally rather just do without and find another book to read. There are far more books in the world worth reading than I have time to read, anyway.

I thought it might be worthwhile to add the Kobo ebook store to my list of sources, given that Kobo seemed a bit less slimy than Barnes & Noble and Amazon as vendors. Unfortunately, I did not find any particular indications anywhere on the Kobo site that ebooks bought there could be read on my Nook, and reading them with a Kobo application on my laptop would just make me miserable (see above re: headaches, et cetera). It was not exactly a high priority at the time (due in part to the huge backlog of books I am trying to read right now anyway, without having to buy any more), so I ignored it for a while.

While ignoring the Kobo ebook store option, I had an issue with a Nook update wiping out the ebook collection on the device and resetting everything to factory settings. I even had to re-enter my account information to get it working again, which is a damned silly requirement. I do not want to brick the thing while it is my only ereader device, so I have not tried rooting it yet, though that is an option the moment I am in a position to easily replace it with an acceptable new ereader device acquisition if things go awry. I can re-download all my Nook ebooks directly onto the device, and re-sideload all my other ebooks (which I have stored in places other than the Nook, of course), but that does not make me any happier about Barnes & Noble inflicting such inconvenience and frustration on me. I started searching in greater earnest for a potential replacement device.

So far, I have not found anything I would be willing to buy apart from a couple of the Onyx ereader device line products. Unfortunately, it would be prohibitively difficult and/or expensive to get any of them, to the point where I find it very difficult to justify the expense and/or effort when I already have an ereader that is usable "enough". The Kobo devices just will not cut it, on further investigation, in part because of what I have learned about how Kobo runs its business.

As part of my recent reinvigorated interest in all things ereader-ish, I started looking at the Kobo ebook store again. Once again, I did not find any indications of whether I could load Kobo books on my Nook, and I suspected the DRM the Kobo ebooks use would be problematic. I decided to go the further step of contacting customer service this time around. I sent the following message:

I have two problems I would like addressed.

  1. Can I buy ebooks from Kobo's store and read them on my Nook Simple Touch device? I have yet to find anything on the Kobo site that answers this question one way or another, and I would like to know whether it is worth my while to stay signed up for alerts on specials, or if it does me no good because I do not want to buy a new e-ink ebook reader device just to use one vendor's store.

  2. The Kobo site has changed at some point in the last few months, I think, because it now presents a rather frustrating problem. Some functionality does not work on the site, and some content will not display, if I do not have JavaScript active in my browser. When I activate JavaScript for the Kobo site, however, it goes into an infinite reloading loop in my browser of choice -- a WebKit based browser called xombrero. If this problem cannot be solved, that too would be a good reason for me to cancel my account with the Kobo store and eliminate some email volume coming to my inbox.

The eventual response from Kobo customer service looked like this:

Thank you for contacting Kobo Customer Care!

We would like to inform you that you can read Kobo books on the Nook eReader, in order to transfer them on to your Nook device you have to use Adobe Digital Editions. If you are facing issues accessing the Kobo Web site then we would suggest you to use a different web browser ( Google chrome, Mozilla Fire Fox) and try again.

Ignoring for the moment the customer service representative is evidently not even capable of correctly capitalizing and spelling the names of these browsers, there are at least two major problems with this response:

  1. I basically said I would not be interested in using the Kobo service if I could not use the browser of my choice for that (which is a WebKit browser, not a very hard target to hit when doing web design these days), but the customer service representative's answer to the problem of site usability was to tell me to use a different browser. I guess Kobo does not really care at all about potential customers who are on the fence about buying ebooks from Kobo -- it only cares about those who are so deeply interested that they will change their software using habits just to access the site.

  2. Adobe Digital Editions is only available for MS Windows and MacOS X. I guess Kobo is likewise not interested in getting money from users of any other operating systems (including FreeBSD, what I am using).

Even something as simple as directly addressing the fact that my browser-related problem was not simply difficulty accessing the site, but difficulting accessing it in the browser of my choice, would have greatly improved my impression of this brief exchange with Kobo customer service. As things stand, however, the response amounts to "I do not give two shits what your actual issue is. You have to bend to our way of doing things, or you can happily fuck right the hell off." That is not even remotely like what I would call customer service, no matter how friendly the phrasing used to convey that message.

I guess Kobo executives and managers need to prioritize their concerns, and things like good customer service and maximum availability to draw in maximum potential market share are not very highly prioritized. That is fine. Whatever. Go for it. I know that the bad taste this exchange left in my mouth will prompt me to say bad things about Kobo in the future, as I am doing now. I also know that this is unlikely to make a huge dent in Kobo's revenue -- certainly not anything likely to be noticed by the accounting metrics team or whatever Kobo uses to track the success of its policies in supporting its business model. The fact remains, though, that I am convinced to stay the hell away from Kobo, and to try to help others avoid the annoyance of dealing with a corporation whose decision makers think like Kobo's obviously do, given that even if the particular annoyances that apply today do not affect a particular person directly, they could very easily change tomorrow to have a more direct effect on that individual. When a company's policies are not oriented very strongly toward customer satisfaction, policy changes are likely to make quite a lot of customers dissatisfied, and in bureaucratic corporate culture the standard way to rearrange the deck chairs whenever there is a dip in sales is to change policies in such a potentially customer-hostile manner.

Let the buyer beware.

My response to that pathetically customer-nonserving email, by the way, is:

That is a pretty crummy response. Kobo customer service is as bad as Barnes & Noble customer service. I have already resolved to never buy another Nook, and avoid giving money to BN in general. It is frankly amazing how much companies such as BN and Kobo seem to be almost trying to drive people to "piracy" to satisfy their reading cravings.

Adobe has not released a version of Adobe Digital Editions for any operating systems I use, and I do not want to expose my reading habits to organizations such as Google by using privacy-weak browsers, to say nothing of the user-unfriendly design of Chrome and actively user-harmful design of Firefox. It is becoming increasingly clear that Kobo's customer service and security policies are such that I should not share my reading habits with the Kobo company either, though, so thank you for providing the information I need to make a final decision to end my interest in the Kobo store. I will be telling my friends to avoid Kobo as well.

I am not sure this response will even get through. The reply address is probably not a manned email address, I would guess, and I think the help ticket has been closed at this time.

Well . . . no matter. The less Kobo knows about what is driving customers away, the faster it will crash and burn. The quicker companies like this crash and burn, the better off we are. Too bad most people are so inured to customer-hostile policies that it will take a lot more than behavior like this from customer service reps to substantially harm the company.