Over a year ago i sent two tweets to @timoreilly. These tweets started what i think is a showcase of ultimate customer service and (i hope) helped bringing a new product: the virtual bundle at O’Reilly Media into place.
This blog post is about that story.
Regular readers of this blog know that i buy quite some programming and computer science books. They also know that part of my job is defining and implementing innovative solutions for news publishers in the ebook space. Hence i know that O’Reilly publishes (most of) its books DRM-free in a number of different formats (including PDF and EPUB).
This books can be purchased via the O’Reilly Web store, either as stand alone digital products or as physical + digital bundles. Whereas the standalone products are priced at approx. 80% of the physical book, the price of the physical plus digital is typically physical + 5$.
The latter option definitely is interesting for guys like me. But here are two problems with it:
- I still prefer to buy them at a (certain) physical bookstore.
- These bundles are only available in the US
I’m lucky to have Lehmanns Fachbuchhandlung in Hamburg, a science bookstore dedicated to Computer Science / Programming and Medical Science. It’s staff is quite extraordinary in providing tips, sharing information about books that i might be interested in havin regular meetings of the community (often with very interesting invited talks), … In short: They do a great job and i want to support them in every possible way.
Late last June i once again bought a couple of books at Lehmanns, including 3 books from O’Reilly Media. Hence i asked them to ask O’Reilly if there is a way that i can buy the books at a physical bookstore and tu purchase the discounted ebook version, i.e. a virtual bundle of the physical book bought at a bookstore and the digital book bought at oreilly.com.
A couple of days later Lehmanns got back to me and told me that there was a no go from O’Reilly USA for bundle deals. Since i follow @timoreilly on Twitter i knew that Tim O’Reilly is actively using Twitter for his business. Hence early next morning i sent the following two tweets @timoreilly:
@timoreilly bought (again) 3 oreilly books at local german bookstore.asked them if thr is sum way 2 get a print + epub bundle
@timoreilly bookstore contacted Oreilly germany which responded: No go from oreilly usa for bundle deals #fail
Much to my surprise only 10 minutes later i got the following DM from Tim O’Reilly:
send mail with details to email@example.com and me firstname.lastname@example.org
Since i’ve been to the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing (ToC) conference in February 2009, i knew that Andrew Savikas is the VP, Digital Initiatives at O’Reilly.
So this DM was basically an invitation to directly tell the two people in command of the business how i think it can and should be improved.
Given that possibility i basically wrote them the the same story i told you:
Hello Tim, Hello Mr. Savikas,
So now for the details i was asked for:
Ever since ToC 2009 (BTW great conference) i was wondering if it is possible to buy print plus ebook bundles outside the United States. Me and my wife are avid OReilly fans and i guess that ovet time we have purchased around 100 different titles privately.
We are also fans of our local bookstore which is the best computer bookstore in germany. The level of expertise and service is simply unmatched and we happily shell out some more Euros for that experience (compared to an online store).
Especially for computer science books the combination of a printed book bundled with an ebook is very attractive to me and i guess others to. You read the physical book in order to understand the topics or simply have a good read. But you also want to carry all your bookshlef around and have it available at your fingertips (and fully searchable) when you are at your laptop, iphone, …). I’m fairly sure that similar reasoning led to the print and ebook bundles available at oreilly.com.
Unfortunately this kind of bundles are not available outside the United States at least not at O’Reilly.de . Moreover, as said above i want to support my local bookstore
I then took the chance to introduce the bookstore to the bundle concept and how i wanted to be able to buy the physical book at the store and get the ebook as a bundle deal.
They took action and got in contact with O’Reilly Germany and sent me an email saying that O’Reilly Germany got back t hem saying that they are not authorized to do bundle deals.
So ultimately i want to be able to buy a book at the bookstore and then be able to buy the electronic version of that book for a heaviliy discounted price. Other publishers enable this by embedding disount codes into the printed titles, or force one to enter the 14th word in the third line on page 25 or whatever. I certainly want a good user experience but wouldn’t mind to jump through some hoops for getting the discounted eBook. E.g. registering the books at oreilly.com, whatever.
So hopefully i’m able to trigger a process within O’Reilly that finally ends in providing this kind of service. Or, even better, just gives me the information how to do this today.
Andrew Savikas got back to me the same day telling me that they were working on a solution for this, but some key people were on vacation and i had to wait a couple of weeks.
I agree that it would be good to provide the ebook versions at a deep discount to customers who purchase our print books. I am discussing coding options with our printers, and working with the oreilly.com team on how to implement such a program. They are working on some major upgrades to oreilly.com, including an expanded “membership” program, and ebook discounts for print purchases are a part of that project.
Thank you for the kind words about the TOC Conference, for buying our books, and for letting us know how we can make you happier with us and our books.
VP, Digital Initiatives
O’Reilly Media, Inc.
Tim O’Reilly also answered personally (on July 4th):
Thanks a lot for the info, Gerd. I will investigate and see how we can do this. In the meantime, I’m sure we can come up with a workaround for you.
In mid-August i hadn’t heard back from O’Reilly. Since i had just bought another couple of O’Reilly books and was preparing for my own holidays. Since i like to read not only fiction in my holidays i sent another mail at Andrew and Tim, asking if there would be some way to get early access to their virtual bundle deal.
Since i’m going on vacation at the beginning of september it would be great if we can find a workaround, e.g, some discount code for oreilly.com tied to my account. … This would enable me to carry these books in electronic form
Again the same day someone from O’Reilly got back to me:
We’ll have an ebook upgrade program in place in two weeks. The program will allow anyone who has purchased an English language book (sorry, but no DE titles, yet) to upgrade to the electronic version for $4.99. We’d launch it now but we’re waiting for two people to return from vacation and to make sure the kinks are all worked out. In the meantime, if you send me a list of books you want to upgrade I’ll have our customer service folks take care of you in time for your vacation.
So i sent them a list of the twelve ebooks i wanted to purchase. Again same day:
Dear Mr. Kamp,
Thank your for your request. We have created an order for you of the titles you requested, with the total coming out to $59.88. I have attached the invoice for the order for your review. If you find the order satisfactory, please call our customer service line at (707) 827-7019 with a credit card number and we will go ahead and process it. You may also fax your credit card number if you like to (707) 824-8268. Once payment has been received, we will deposit the e-books into your account and you will have instant access. Thank you again for your order.
So i called them. When i was just beginning to tell them why i was calling, they told me:
Mr. Kamp, i guess you are calling to give me the credit card for that ebook order of yours. We are a small department so we basically all know the pending issues.
Immediately after giving them my credit card number the books were loaded into my bookshelf at members.oreilly.com and i could take them with me :
After that i thanked everybody for this most awesome customer service and asked them if it is ok to blog about the upcoming upgrade programme. They asked me to wait until it is in place.
At the end of September (so it took them more than tqo weeks :-) i received the following offer via email:
Although it announced that the promotion was only valid for one month, it in fact worked at least until the end of last year and i used it to buy virtual bundles of all the O’Reilly books i bought.
I already thought that this would be the permanent option but was a bit skeptical because it was not officially announced.
Hence i still refrained from writing this post. But after my last purchase i recognized the MB5UP promotion code heavily advertised when you log in into your member page (see image at the beginning of this post). This finally triggered me to finally write this story up.
For me this is a story of two tales.
Firstly it is about the best ebook offer you can get on the planet. Lifetime access to the digital version of the book, all DRM-free together with a heavily discounted price if you also bought the printed version. To summarize, in order to get a virtual ebook bundle from O’Reilly you have to:
- Buy the book at the local bookstore,
- Register it with your member account at O’Reilly (you should always do this because you get access to the errata page of this book)
- Add the book to your shopping cart
- Use the code MB5UP at checkout
But secondly, and at least as important, it is a stoy about how to use social media for the most awesome customer service .