Friday, July 13, 2012

Another update: Is Amazon messing with your words?

I am going to publish this in an incomplete form because I want to get this information out as soon as I can.  The basics are here now, and I will be providing the balance over the next day or so.  Unfortunately, I have to devote some time to my day job.

At the moment, Thursday evening, 12 July 2012, I'm so angry I can scarcely type.  And considering my day job consists of transcribing recorded interviews and I'm several hours behind on today's work, I'd better get my fingers back under control.

I just spent an hour and a half "chatting" with "Shiela" at Amazon.  She may be a real person, or she may be a cleverly programmed bit of software designed to answer customer questions.  I don't know for sure.  But here's what happened.

This morning, while I was at my favorite coffee shop, I downloaded the free Kindle edition of Norma Beishir's Angels at Midnight.  I already have a print copy of the 1989 edition, but I'm trying to clean out some of my paper books and this looked like a way to eliminate one more.  After downloading, I popped open the Kindle for PC app and sat back to read for a while.

Unfortunately, I couldn't read it.  The formatting was totally messed up.  I went back and checked the "Look Inside" preview on the book's listing to see if I had missed something, because what I was looking at on my Kindle for PC was totally unlike what I'd seen in the "Look Inside" feature.

Here's what I saw when I looked at the preview:

Standard Times Roman font, indented paragraphs, just like one would see in a "real" book.  Since Norma Beishir is a long-time publishing professional, this was nothing less than I expected.

What showed up on my Kindle was something entirely different!  Arial font, double spaced indented paragraphs, it was horrible! 

So I reported the formatting problem to Amazon via the book's page, and not too long after that I got an emailed reply from Amazon with directions on how to fix it:  Remove and redownload the book, and if that didn't work, make sure I had the current Kindle for PC installed on my computer.

By the time I got that reply, I was at home on the main computer and couldn't access the laptop where my Kindle app resides, so it wasn't until this evening that I got around to trying that fix.  Ultimately, it didn't work -- the Kindle version was still horrible.   I first did the remove and redownload of the book.  Then I installed the latest update to the Kindle for PC app.  Still no change.  I deleted the book and downloaded it again.  No change.

And so I got on an Amazon chat with a technician to fix it.

Guess what.  It can't be fixed.  Period.

The first solution "Shiela" offered me was to de-register and re-register my Kindle for PC.  That would involve removing and re-downloading all 626 books I've already downloaded.  Since some of those books are no longer available at Amazon and I didn't want to lose them,  this was not a preferred option.

As it turned out, it wouldn't have worked anyway.

When I told "Shiela" I wasn't willing to do that just to fix a formatting glitch on one book out of 626, she went to find another solution.

The second option involved her checking to see if the file had been properly formatted.

After putting me on hold for several minutes, she came back and told me she had checked the document as Beishir intended it, and that's what I was seeing.  In other words, best-selling author Norma Beishir is uploading documents to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform that don't look any better than what the most rank amateur SPA does when she/he uploads a badly written short story.

Somehow or other, I just didn't trust this answer.

I then asked why the "Look Inside" preview was fine, if the actual document wasn't?  Again, I was on cyber hold for a long time, and finally the answer came out:  ALL BOOKS are converted to Times Roman font for the "Look Inside" preview, regardless what they look like in actuality.  When I pointed out that there was no such disclaimer, "Shiela" gave some rambling nonsense but eventually agreed.  She said someone in another department would be informed.  And that was pretty much it.

Now, remember the suggestion that I de-register my Kindle app and re-register it?  Well, that proved to be more than a little bit problematic as well.

The original email from Amazon after I reported the problem said to delete the book and redownload it.  I tried that, and it didn't work.

The second part of that email said to make sure I had the most current Kindle for PC version.  The email contained a link to the Amazon page to do that.  I tried that, went back to the new version of Angels at Midnight but the problem persisted.  The font was still Arial and the paragraphs were still double-spaced.

I then tried deleting and redownloading the book again.  Still no improvement.

And I know I'm repeating myself here, but I want to make sure I'm not leaving anything out.

In the process of doing this, however, I discovered that somehow or other I had four versions of Kindle for PC on my computer and on my account.  I have no idea where they came from, but I did know that I had set mine for automatic updates.

"Shiela" informed me that updates require that the existing Kindle for PC app be uninstalled and the new one installed.  But I had personally never done that manually, and so I asked if it had been done automatically via the "Tools" button.  Her answer made no sense.

Shiela:For updates, we need to uninstall and re-install the application.8:52:22 PM

Me:That didn't answer my question: Do I have to de-register, re-register, and redownload 626 items when you do an automatic update?8:53:23 PM

Shiela:If we will re-register an application, we will be needing to re-download the books. There is actually no automatic updates for Kindle application for PC.8:55:02 PM

Me:Then why does it have a box to check for automatic updates? And how did I get all of these applications on one computer if I only installed it once?8:55:42 PM

Me:(Oh, by the way, the box for automatic updates cannot be not checked.)8:57:39 PM
I will post the entire conversation on another post so anyone who wants to can follow the entire conversation.  What eventually came out of it was this:

1.  All "Look Inside" previews of all books on Amazon are displayed in Times Roman font, regardless what the actual book will look like.  Neither readers nor authors get an accurate view this way.

2.  There is no disclaimer anywhere on Amazon that explains the "Look Inside" preview may in fact be significantly different from the actual product.

3.  The Kindle for PC application may or may not be automatically updated by Amazon.  The button on the program for opting out does not operate, leaving the user to believe that automatic updates are, well, automatic.  At least one service rep has stated, however, that Amazon does not automatically update the Kindle for PC application.

4.  I currently have four installed Kindle for PC applications on my computer.  Earlier this morning I had six, because I have managed to deregister two of them.  At no time when I downloaded the "newest" version last night did Amazon ask me if I wanted to replace the existing application.

If you've stayed with me through all this, you're probably wondering why this matters.  Well, check out the next blog post and you'll find out why.

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