The Supreme Insult to Me From Jeff Bezos
An old client and friend, Gordon Grossman, former circulation director of Reader’s Digest and a brilliant magazine consultant, has retired to a life we can only dream about. He spends much of the year traveling the world on luxury cruise ships. Last week I received the following letter from him:
Very good, balanced article on the Kindle. I’m an unabashed enthusiast, and would sooner go somewhere without my credit card than my Kindle. The reason I got it is because I’m very, very tired of lugging something like 60 pounds of books on the three- or four-month cruises we take every winter. It does solve that problem with style. On a daily basis, the wonder of the little devil is being able to order a book and watch it appear on my screen about a minute later. I’m up to something like 50 books and counting. It’s a great device. Love it, love it, love it.
Alas, Carlin Romano’s line about “book folk being weaker in gizmo-related prognostication” applies directly to me.
My Kindle arrived last week, and, in a word, Amazon’s fulfillment stinks.
In the Amazon.com carton was a fat, handsome, book-like cardboard package with two compartments secured by an elasticized fastener hooked around a metal stud. The design of this elegant, ivory-colored package is amusing, with a confetti-like explosion of little black letters that fall into place and spell the world “Kindle.” Cute. Stylish.
Open this book-like package and the Kindle itself is snugly ensconced on one side with the instruction booklet, power cord, USB cable and book cover on the other.
Below are illustrations of the packaging and the Kindle as it arrived—with a protective glassine sticker that invited me to “Start Kindling” with a simple diagram and instructions on how to power the li’l devil up.
I figured out how to charge the battery and spent some time going through the little 30-page pamphlet to familiarize myself with the various elements of the Kindle machine.
“Remove this Start Kindling sticker,” I was told. This was followed by the line, “The Kindle User’s Guide will open automatically, and lead you through the basics of how to use your Kindle.”
After all the hype and hoopla, which included a razzle-dazzle presentation by Bezos himself the prior week at BookExpo in Los Angeles, I wanted to see if my $359 was a good investment.
Quite simply, I wanted to read a book on the Kindle.
It was downhill from there.
What I Got Instead
I flicked the wee power switch “on”—and its companion wireless switch—that got me to Mother Amazon. Up came the Amazon.com logo, followed by a welcome letter from Jeff Bezos:
June 10, 2008
Kindle is an entirely new type of device and we’re excited to have you as an early customer!
I suggest that you first explore the Kindle Store—it’s right on your device—just click on the Menu and select Shop the Kindle Store.
The lead sentence was classic “It” copy—all about “it” (the Kindle) as an “entirely new type of device.” Bezos was patting himself on the back.
If I were writing the letter, I would lead with benefit copy. Example:
The little device you are holding in your hand weighs just 10.3 ounces and yet is capable of storing approximately 200 books that would normally weigh well over 200 pounds.
What’s more, you can read these 200 books anywhere and in whatever type size you are comfortable with.
Why not take a moment right now to explore the Kindle Store, which offers more than 125,000 titles in 23 categories (including 100 of the 112 New York Times best-sellers) at roughly half the cost of the printed edition? Any of them can be yours in just 60 seconds ... blah, blah, blah ...
I found the Kindle store and was salivating to buy a book and see what it was like to read it in this bold new way.
It was not to be.
I ordered “Ike” by Michael Korda for $9.99, a book that I had perused in bookstores and looked interesting.
I awaited my promised 60-second download when a warning box appeared on my screen.
To order a Kindle book, I was told, my Amazon “Buy Now with 1-Click®” account had to be activated. I was told to either go online or call the 800 number.
I should have been told this at the outset. Nobody likes an unpleasant surprise.
At the very moment of consummation—when Jeff Bezos was about to validate my judgment in spending $359 for his “entirely new type of” gadget—he throws a wrench into my gratification.
I was forced to drag my sorry ass up three flights to the office, boot up the computer and beg Amazon.com to allow me to order my first Kindle book.
Coitus interruptus digitalus.
The Supreme Insult From Jeff Bezos
The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I became.
Last month, my wife Peggy was out of town on business and my favorite Mexican restaurant was closed on Monday. I went next door to a new sports bar called Paddywacks and sat down at the empty bar. The bartender eased over, and I ordered a Grey Goose on the rocks, which he promptly poured and brought me. “Do you want to pay for it, or shall I run a tab?” he asked.
“Run a tab.”
“I need a credit card.”
“In order to run a tab, you have to give me a credit card.”
In 54 years of frequenting saloons, no one has ever said anything like that to me. I gave him a $20 bill, finished my drink, took the change on the bar and left, never to return. At age 72, I am not going to stiff a new bar around the corner from my home. Clearly customers of Paddywacks are NOKD (“Not Our Kind, Dear”).
As a 10+ years customer of Amazon with a flawless payment record and a history of never returning a book or anything else—and having just spent $359 on a highly questionable new gizmo—Jeff Bezos tells me:
“I will not send you this book, because you might stiff me for $9.99.”
In terms of a marketing cycle, this was a delicate moment. I was looking for affirmation and a long-term relationship with Kindle—hopefully the purchase of hundreds of books. Bezos chose to hit me in the face with a lemon cream pie.
I mean, in the unlikely event that I did stiff him for $9.99, what would he lose? Not paper, printing, binding or shipping. A single volt of electricity and some wireless air time!
“To be a successful direct marketer, you must be a conceptual thinker,” said Lew Smith, my first mentor in the business. “Like method acting, you have to get inside the head of your prospect and BECOME the prospect. Think how your prospect thinks ... Feel what your prospect feels.”
As Seattle guru Bob Hacker pointed out:
You must think through the entire sales process. Nothing can be taken for granted at any stage of the relationship, from the clicking onto the Web site or the opening of the envelope to the act of giving the credit card number or putting a check in the mail all the way through to the 10th renewal and beyond.
I have long said that one reason for the great dot-com implosion of 2000 was that the hotshot 20-somethings who dreamed up the protocols were totally unschooled in the rules of marketing. “This is a new medium and a new paradigm,” they told us geezers. “Old rules are out the window along with you old marketers. We make up the rules as we go along.”
Jeff Bezos may be a brilliant conceptual thinker, but he is a truly lousy marketer. Clearly if someone with direct marketing savvy had thought through how to sell the Kindle, the following system would be in place:
1. The offer: “YOURS FREE! Choose any title from more than 125,000 Kindle books when you buy a Kindle. When your Kindle arrives and the battery is charged, just as soon as you activate the wireless system, the book you have chosen will be automatically sent to your Kindle and will be downloaded in 60 seconds. This is my welcome gift to you—my thanks for becoming a member of the Kindle family.” Again, the cost is peanuts, a volt of electricity and a $4.99 payment to the publisher, a drop in the $359 bucket and a terrific premium that should tip fence-sitters into the buy column and result in more sales.
2. If the new Kindle owner orders the first book with no 1-Click account in place, Amazon should offer profuse thanks, electronically ship the book anyway and request the new customer to please get the 1-Click account up-to-date so that more books can be ordered.
3. At the very least, make damn sure the new Kindle customer knows in advance that books cannot be ordered without the 1-Click account being activated.
Is Kindle Any Good?
It’s OK. Just OK—the Stanley Steamer of digital readers.
If you want to take a bunch of junk fiction along on a round-the-world cruise, it’s terrific. Text is readable; page turning easy. No lugging 100 pounds of books aboard ship.
But I ordered Korda’s “Ike,” which is heavy stuff—footnotes, etc.
* When an asterisk (*) appeared in the text, I couldn’t figure out how to find what it referred to.
* When a number appeared in the text to reference a footnote, I couldn’t find the footnote.
* The built-in dictionary is lousy. Theoretically, if you find a word you don’t know, you can click on the line and the definition appears. However, here is a line:
“... daring, that they were gambling va banque ...”
The definitions you get: dar-ing, gam-ble and VA (“abbr. in the UK, Order of Victoria and Albert”). In short, it doesn’t speak French.
* If somehow you lose your place and get somewhere else in the book, it’s a nightmare getting back on track. Don’t even think about looking up something in the index or bibliography (if this Kindle book has them) and expect to find your place in the text any time soon.
* The page-turning bars are huge, running almost the length of the machine. I find myself inadvertently pushing them by mistake all the time. You have to hold the thing with great care.
* It’s virtually impossible to read the Kindle using the protective cover, which is simply ill-fitting.
* The in-built “Kindle User’s Guide” is wordy, filled with self-congratulatory prose and not much help in teaching you to navigate the system.
Kindle: The Bottom Line
* I’ll keep the thing. It’s okay for light fiction, say for our planned six-day cruise to the Bahamas over Labor Day.
* If you are a serious reader or a student going into annotated texts, Kindle is primitive, deeply flawed and frustrating.
* Being accused of potentially stiffing Amazon for $9.99 does not set well with me. I think Jeff Bezos is a weasel.
Update on a Prior Story
The June 10, 2008 issue of this cranky e-zine discussed the clownish ads by the DeVito/Verdi New York agency for Boston’s Legal Sea Foods restaurant chain on the sides of MBTA trolleys. The story generated a lot of response from readers. In the June 12 edition of The Boston Globe, Erik Jacobs wrote a story titled, “Legal Sea Food chief offers MBTA operators a sort of fishy apology”:
Looking for a Better Job?
Check out Drayton Bird’s Special Report, “HOW TO GET A BETTER JOB: Where most people go wrong and how to get it right.”
Bird was a long-time associate of the late David Ogilvy and a very amusing guy.
Note: I am not looking for a better job and have only skimmed the report. I have no financial interest in this whatsoever.