– the wrong way to do digital commerce

So the other day I got an issue of Rolling Stone magazine with Pope Francis on the cover. That struck me as odd for a couple reasons.

First, why is Pope Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone? Did he start a band?

rolling stone pope

Oh man. That would be hilarious if the Pope started a band. That’s a universe I want to live in.

Second, why am I getting Rolling Stone magazine? I never subscribed. But there is was: my name and address on the sticker.

This has actually happened to me before. A few years ago I got Working Mother magazine for six months.

Yeah. I am not kidding you. Same deal: my name was on it and everything. And believe me, I definitely didn’t subscribe to that one either.

Anyhow, I decided to check my credit card history just to make sure I hadn’t been charged for a magazine I didn’t order. I didn’t find anything about Rolling Stone but I did see a different charge I didn’t recall making. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. In theory Audible is cool. Supposedly it’s the best place to get audiobooks.. I’m sure there are others but I doubt they have the selection. Since I’ve devolved into a terrible reader over the years, audiobooks have become the primary only way I take in longer works.

Audible has a strange business model. You can buy audiobooks individually or you can choose to subscribe. The basic subscription level (confusingly called Audible Gold) gets you one credit per month. There are a few other membership perks, but the credit is the main thing. One credit equals one book so basically you’re paying $14.95 a month for one audiobook of your choice which is usually cheaper than buying them outright – sometimes much cheaper.

So here’s what happened: a couple months ago I saw an offer on Amazon Local (Amazon’s Groupon-like deals app) for some free credits at Audible. Naturally I jumped on that. I guess there was a catch though. They did that nasty old trick of signing me up for a subscription in order to get the deal. At the end of the 30 day trial period I was charged for a month’s subscription.

I usually am pretty good about either canceling or just not bothering with such things, but I slipped up here. Eh, I’m not going to cry about it. I did get free credits for some books – I could complain, but I won’t.

I tried to cancel my subscription. At the time I was out and about and attempting to do this on my phone. Well you can’t do it from the mobile site. You have to load the desktop site.

Hiding the “cancel subscription button” – that’s strike one.

I finally found it. And that’s when something annoying and stupid happened which caused me to write this in the first place.

Audible warned me that I would lose my audiobook credits by canceling my subscription – even the ones I got by paying.

audible cancel

You gotta be kidding me. Really?

Look, I’d understand if the credits I got for free disappeared or expired. Good job. You guys got me for a month. But I did pay for some of those credits!

Most subscriptions are nice and simple. I subscribe, for instance, to Google All Access for my music. When I stop paying for it, I can’t play the music anymore. Or consider Netflix. Same deal. I pay and get movies and TV. I stop paying and it all goes away. It’s simple and easy to understand what I’m paying for and what I’m getting.

The traditional pay-for-content model makes sense too. iTunes, Steam, app stores: you pay for a thing, you get a thing. It’s a bit different than traditional retail because it’s digital. Sometimes you can download the actual file and sometimes you can’t. Some services are more customer friendly than others by allowing re-downloading or being DRM-free. But they make sense. You pay, you get a thing.

Audible Gold is a weird mutant hybrid of these things. You pay, you get a credit which you can use for a book. You can keep the book if you cancel, but you can’t keep credits.

I love the language they use too. They want me to “get all the audio” I’m “entitled to”. Sure. That’s why you’ll take away my credit if I stop paying you for more… even though I already paid for the credits. This is clearly done to keep indecisive people (like me) subscribed for just a bit longer while we figure out what books we want.

So what am I actually paying for? I’m paying for the opportunity to get books within a 30 day period. I mean, that’s it, right? What a strange thing.

Just because it’s legal for them to do this – I’m sure it’s stipulated somewhere in the fine print – doesn’t mean it’s good business sense. Ensnaring people with deals that opt them into subscriptions and keeping them there by threatening their investment is a poor way to treat customers.

I’d expect better from Amazon who owns Audible. They’re a company I generally like and think well of. But now that I think of it, they’ve pulled these kind of shenanigans with Amazon Prime subscriptions in the past.

Okay. I’ve got 5 books to choose before I get charged again. So… anybody read anything good lately?

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