I’m annoyed and disappointed

Is O'Reilly intentially deceiving potental Safari subscribers?

The table comparison on this page - https://ssl.safaribooksonline.com/promo - is misleading. It suggests that Safari Library subscribers can download full books. This is not the case as further payment is required over and above the subscription fee. (A subscriber is given five download tokens per month which is insufficient to download any book in full. Therefore, further tokens need to be purchased.)

This is really disappointing. I expect better business practice from O'Reilly.
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  • I just looked at the promo page you cited (this is the first time I've seen it), and I agree that it is potentially confusing, but I have a hard time seeing it as deceptive. It doesn't promise free full book downloads. It is contrasting the two subscription options, and saying that one allows you to download full books, while the other does not.

    Not only that, this is an invitation to a free trial, during which any limitations will become clear. So it's hard to see this as being deceptive. No one is getting charged any money before they know the rules.

    I know this sounds like "inside baseball," but the ability to download full books, even for an additional price, is controversial for some publishers who provide titles for the service. They worry that this will lead to increased piracy. That's why it's not available at all levels of the service. So from their point of view, the ability to download books at all is a privilege worthy of being called out, and an incentive for people to move up to the higher level subscription.

    I do understand your confusion, though. To consumers, the promise of full book downloads can easily suggest unlimited full book downloads. But I don't think Safari ever suggests that. The way they see it, they are offering an added-value privilege.

    However, I will talk with them about trying to clarify the offer.

    By the way, you don't have to pay extra for downloads. You can save up your tokens. You can think of tokens as discount coupons. (I've urged Safari to reframe them that way.) You can use them to reduce the price of book downloads, or your can save them up to get free books. If you are a subscriber for a year, you will accumulate sixty tokens, which should be enough for four full book downloads. At the current price of those downloads bought separately (even assuming the publishers in question offer them), that comes to almost 25% of the full price of Safari.

    Safari is an alternate business model for accessing online books, just as Rhapsody is an alternative to iTunes. The fact that Safari is giving you credit towards individual purchases on the iTunes model as well as an "all you can eat" subscription seems like a benefit to me. I pay $14.95 for Rhapsody, but if I want a take-away copy of any of the songs I listen to there, I have to go over to iTunes, where I pay full price. If Rhapsody offered downloads, and gave me a 25% discount coupon relative to the price on iTunes, I'd think that was a pretty good deal.

    There's one other issue. Imagine for a moment that you got your wish, and you had a free full book download each month. At that point, you'd have the full value of safari in free book downloads, PLUS access to all the thousands of books available in tethered mode online.

    Sounds great from a consumer point of view, and it would make Safari even more of a compelling value proposition than it is - but there's a rub. One of the things we need to do in Safari is to have a method for allocating value to participating authors and publishers. Right now, we do that based on usage. But if we provide all the value via downloads, how do we compensate the authors of the books accessed online?

    Safari is trying to balance multiple constituencies, generating royalties to authors that will be sufficient to keep them motivated to keep writing books even as the physical book channel declines, while providing sufficient value to readers that they want to subscribe. We may not always get it right, but we are doing our best.

    I should also be clear that Safari is not under the sole control of O'Reilly. It is a separate company, a joint venture between O'Reilly and the Pearson Technology Group. We have board-level input but not direct control over Safari's marketing offers. They will be reading my input here as well as yours, and presumably taking it under advisement.
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  • We apologize for the confusion. It was not intentional.

    Safari Books Online offers many different features and it is difficult to convey the specifics within the comparison table. We try to include that level of detail in the "Free Trial Details" link below the table at http://safari.oreilly.com/promo and in our Knowledge Portal at http://support.safaribooksonline.com.

    I agree more could be done up front to inform the user of how the token system works. Based on your feedback, I just edited the Free Trial Details description of Full Book Downloads.

    Thank you for taking the time to contact us. I hope you enjoyed your Safari trial. If you would like to contact Safari's customer service team, please feel free to email us at customer-service@safaribooksonline.com.
    • Hi John,

      Amending the 'Free Trial Details' content doesn't solve the issue, unfortunately. I think the effect would be neglible. For a start, the link appears beneath the fold and after a strong call to action, i.e. 'Click CONTINUE to choose the subscription plan that is right for you...'

      You hope I enjoyed my Safari trial. Well, the truth is that I didn't experience the trial for very long. When I found I couldn't download the books as promised, I swiftly subscribed to the full service thinking that this would solve the problem. Sadly it did not, hence my email here.
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  • I’m disappointed.
    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the lengthy reply. I must admit I _was_ surprised when I was mislead by this. I've sat next to you at conferences and follow you religiously on twitter. I believe you to be a jolly nice fellow and have faith in O'Reilly as a company to follow your lead.

    However...

    1) The title of the left-hand column is 'Which Safari is right for you?', not 'Which Safari TRIAL is right for you?'. The fact the table relates to the Safari plans is further underlined at the table where it says, 'Click continue to choose the subscription plan that is right for you.'

    2) I appreciate you say you can save tokens, but that my understanding is that tokens expire after 90 days. If that's the case, then I wouldn't be able to gain enough tokens to purchase the books I'm looking at, which are listed as 20 tokens or more. Furthermore, waiting four months to download a single title I'd like to get my hands on NOW just isn't practical.

    So, to download the books I'm interested in, I need to purchase, at two dollars a pop, further tokens. (In other words, it's not possible to download those books in full with the Safari library subscription alone.)

    I do appreciate your explanation of how Safari works. However, it was the promise that I could download full books that got me hooked and not the online access to titles, which I could do without.

    I should add that I already posses in print form the books I wish to download. It's just that carrying around a download would be much more convenient.

    I have been a professional writer and I am sympathetic to publishers and fellow authors. I also appreciate your explanation that Safari is a joint venture. However, that shouldn't negatively impact on how I'm treated as a consumer.

    My previous loyalty as an O'Reilly customer and my past enthusiasm for its books just isn't being rewarded or maintained here. :-(

    All the best,

    --
    Ian
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  • As a point of clarification, when the full book download feature was introduced the token life-span increased from 90 to 180 days to allow subscribers more time to accumulate tokens. With a 6-month token expiration date you can accumulate up to 30 tokens in your account at any one time which should be sufficient to download at least one book, and in many cases two.
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  • I’m frustrated
    Hi,

    Just thought I'd highlight that I emailed customer-service@safaribooksonline.com as requested yesterday and am still awaiting a response more than 24 hours later.

    --
    Ian
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  • I’m really annoyed now.
    I'm still awaiting a reply from customer-service@safaribooksonline.com - this is very poor.
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  • ifenn,

    I'm sorry no one responded to your request for assistance. You should have received a case confirmation email from us. If you can provide me with the case number on that email, or your account number, name or email address - anything I can use to look up the case - I will locate and expedite your case.

    Once again, I apologize for the delay. Thank you for letting me know about it.

    Diane
    • Case confirmation code 00D0hgdL.50001od2e. My complaint is that I've paid a lot of money for book downloads only to discover that book downloads are limited to two over a period of several months. And this wasn't evident from the free trial. Others have suggested that I could have joined the cheaper Safari plan and paid for the book downloads that I want for less than the cost I paid for the library subscription. Would like to know if that's true.
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  • Hi Ian,

    I located the case you sent to customer-service@safaribooksonline.com. I wanted to respond to your last question within this thread. I will also reply separately via email to your case.

    Safari Books Online's core business, and the primary value we offer to our subscribers, is as an aggregate online service. For individuals we offer Safari Library and Safari Bookshelf. A Safari Library subscription offers unlimited viewing of books, a video library, online access to Rough Cuts, and the ability to download chapters and full books using tokens. A Safari Bookshelf subscription offers limited viewing (up to 10 books at one time), no video library, and the ability to download chapters only using tokens.

    The downloading of books and chapters as PDFs is offered as one of the benefits of a subscription but is not intended to be the primary advantage of purchasing a Safari subscription. If your main requirement is to view individual books offline, the best value for you may be purchasing individual e-books from the publishers directly. Most of the books available on Safari for full download can be accessed at the publisher websites.

    I am sorry for the confusion and I will follow-up with you directly via email regarding your account.

    Thank you again for writing.
    Diane
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  • I’m satisfied
    Hello,
    I am a charter member of Safari (i.i. I subscribed as soon as it launched and have kept it ever since). I really appreciate the level of membership that I have that allows me to add as many titles to my bookshelf as I want. It's very useful when I need to look something up for work and don't need the full book permanently. I use so many technologies and programming languages that it would be prohibitively expensive if I had to buy every book I would like to read. I also am running out of space at home and work for book storage. My first title from O'Reilly was "sed & awk" from c 1990 and I've been hooked ever since. I wish I didn't want to collect books but I still do like the paper copies too, despite their availablity on Safari so I have to curtail my acquisition by willpower.

    I had forgotten that Safari wasn't a wholly owned subsidiary of O'Reilly and Assoc. Now I know why I don't get the personal reply that I would get from O'Reilly if I wrote. It takes a while to get a response from Safari. If I write to O'Reilly, I get a fast reply and from someone whose name I recognize from reading the O'Reilly site.

    I am a very satisfied customer.
    BB_farmkitty
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  • I’m sad
    I *almost* subscribe to safari (hoping that i could download all books i need for some bucks) lucky me i found this page...
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  • 1
    Come on.

    You CAN download whole books for free, just not ALL books for free.

    Can you download the entire corpus to your machine and give it away to all your friends? Well, there wouldn't BE an O'Reilly subscription to benefit you in this marvelous way if you could.

    You have ready and total access to the ENTIRE library of books EVERY DAY at ANYTIME for as long as you want.

    This includes everything O'Reilly ever published and tons of books from about 40 other , well known IT publishers including all the big names, Manning, APress Wiley etc. etc.

    Where are you going to get THAT for less than your cable bill ( and a LOT less if you've got anything above basic cable..)

    I mean COME ON.

    If you like something in the marketplace, and you want it, and things like it, to exist at all then you have to vote "yes" with your pocketbook.That's a real and powerful form of democratic expression. It's also a reality that every adult, I mean REAL grown up adult, appreciates, accepts and actually, values.

    Walk into any bookstore and see the $49.95 price they want for a single technical book and see if you decide that OReilly Safari is a good deal. How about the best deal, ever.

    Walk into any bookstore and see if they even HAVE the book you want or if it's a special order.

    O'Reilly is an especially good deal for cash strapped students or other people with more ambition / curiosity / drive than money.

    As a matter of fact you can download whole books. They essentially GIVE you three free books a year by giving you tokens.

    And this is a reason to complain?

    Come ON.
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  • I’m confused
    I've signed up to the Safari Library after seeing the comparison table. It is confusing because by showing two different tiers (Library vs. Bookshelf) at different rates (42.99 vs. 22.99), and with check mark next to the "Library" column clearly implied that 42.99 comes with the capability to download the full book (since 42.99 is almost double the 22.99, it is creating the illusion that there is no additional cost needed)

    A more honest way will be having an asterisk next to the "Full book download" and said "Additional cost may be needed". This way, it will be up to the potential customer to do due diligent to find out the exact term.

    It is the perception that creating the confusion - even though technically there is nothing wrong with the comparison table. I for one thought no additional cost is needed to download full book. I fully understand the reasoning why this is not feasible economically to provide full download to every books for free, that is not my point of contention here. As it is, I can see that Safari is providing great value for someone that need access to big collection of books.

    At the end of the day, I would expect a good corporate citizen to do more to avoid potentially misleading the customer.

    Paul
    • Paul-

      As I am sure you understand, it can be a difficult thing to pack all the benefits of a Safari subscription into one page. We do strive to be as concise as possible and we are always looking for new, better ways to describe the service. So, thank you for your comment. I does help to hear from subscribers & prospective subscribers.

      Interestingly enough, we have just completed a round of user testing regarding the sign-up process and the product grid. As a result we will be tweaking our messaging and drafting a series of videos to help with any confusion.

      If you are interested in discussing further, shoot me an email at chodacki@safaribooksonline.com. It is our intent to continue to improve our service and our relationship with the larger community. So it would be great to hear from you.

      Thanks again for the feedback.

      John Chodacki
      Director, Product Management
      Safari Books Online
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  • 1
    Being concise is not an excuse for playing with words for marketing sake. A phrase like "Additional charges and restrictions may apply" does not take a whole lot of space. Only at this thread I'm finding out that PDF download of whole book is limited to two books over several months. I couldn't find this in an article on the customer service page? I still can't seem to find "what is several months?"

    I can understand the free tokens getting expired, why do the paid tokens expire?

    And COME ON - your prices are exceptionally high for the utility you offer. Your comparison to the cable company is naive at best. The Cable company has to pay not only for the content but also for the physical infrastructure of delivering that content to my house, which costs more than the content itself. In fact, in addition to what I may pay you, I have to pay the cable company to deliver your content to my house. What makes you think you can charge a little less than the cable company?

    COME ON again - how much can you read in one month? Isn't there enough unlimited junk on the internet already that I've to pay you to read more unlimited junk. For every 10 books I pick up, only one is worth reading. I spend hours every month figuring out which book is worth my next month. I've been a professional for over 10 years and I don't recall ever a need to refer to more than 10 books in a month. Doubling the price to go from 10 books to unlimited books, knowing that an average professional may occasionally refer to more than 3 books in a month, is a highway robbery; especially when your price for 10-book shelf was so high already.

    I tried your $23 subscription for a month and gave up realizing that, with my reading pattern and even taking into account the guilt of killing trees, buying books from Amazon is cheaper than your subscription. Most technical books at Amazon are $23 to $27 these days. As for referring to sections in books, majority of the time I refer to books that I have read before and need to refresh some technical detail; so it helps to have a permanent copy of them.

    If there were a Safari subscription of $10/month for 5-book book-shelf - I probably would have considered it. One or two slot for the books that I'm currently reading and the rest of the slots for refreshing memory on technical details in previous books. On the top of that I wouldn't mind pay per use; like a token for browsing an additional book; an expandable book-shelf. So if once in a lifetime I need to refer to 10 books in a month, it would cost me $20; just not every month. At that pricing level I probably wouldn't care much about PDF downloads.

    Your model may work well for large organizations but, in my most COME ON opinion, it's too pricey for individuals. I'm voting NO with my pocket - the only COME ON you got right.

    Mir
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  • I’m frustrated
    1
    I'll second this - I was taken in by exactly the same disingenuous copy. The "what you get for each subscription level" could not have been clearer in indicating that Library=download. A big tick was in the box. There was no mention at all (that I could find) that you had to pay over and above the subscription for this.

    At best, poor useability from the Oreilly website designers. (with so much expert help at their fingertips too) At worst, actively misleading.

    It's not a service-killing issue - there are still plenty of reasons to subscribe. But Oreilly, cmon...
    • Comment from Paul S. was spot on - asterix is all that is required:

      Download Full Books*

      *fine print goes here.

      Vis, I actually agree with your points about being able to download entire libraries - it's a DRM nightmare. I was more than a little surprised to see Oreilly make (what still looks like) the download offer.

      One asterix will fix this issue.
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  • i initially thought it was 5 books / month download too. it's misleading, confusing and odd. it now reads:

    Downloads: Receive 5 free download tokens per month. Redeem these to download content in PDF format to print or read offline.

    content should say "chapters". marketing folks. this is very overpriced for basically no download books.
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  • Hi Mark,

    Yes, Tokens can be confusing. Typically 1 token = 1 chapter. Or you can save them up to download full books. The price per chapter and/or per book is set by the publisher.

    You can also save them up to download full books. Many Safari Books can be downloaded in PDF format. Some books allow for downloading in ePub and/or mobi formats as well.

    I hope this helps.

    Craig Ellis
    Manager, Technical and Customer Support
    Safari Books Online
    • But now, they've removed the ability to download a single chapter. You can now only download the entire book. Most books "cost" more than 15 tokens so it takes at least 4 months of subscription (5 tokens per month) to download one book. I liked it when you could download individual chapters. It is unfortunate that option was removed.
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  • I’m frustrated
    No you can't save them up, they reset to 0.
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  • I'm sorry for the frustration. Tokens expire after a set period of time, but you can save them up until their expiration date. You can read about tokens and expiration dates on http://support.safaribooksonline.com/view?id=1033.

    Tokens are granted to accounts as follows:
    • Individual 5-Slot Bookshelf Accounts
      No tokens granted
      Account not download enabled
    • Individual 10-Slot Bookshelf Accounts
      5 tokens per month
      90-day expiration
    • Individual Library Accounts
      5 tokens per month
      180-day expiration
    • Download-Enabled, Corporate Bookshelf Accounts
      5 tokens per month
      90-day expiration
    • Corporate Premium Library Accounts
      60 tokens per year*
      365-day expiration*
      *Pro-rated based on time-to-expiration of account.

    When you download a chapter or book, Safari Books Online will use the tokens which are closest to their expiration date first. If you don't use your tokens by their expiration date, you will lose them. Safari Books Online does not replace unused tokens.

    To find the expiration dates on your tokens, go to the Tokens and Downloads page.


    I hope that's helpful. If your tokens reset when they shouldn't have or if you have specific questions about your account, Safari customer service can help, at customer-service@safaribooksonline.com.

    Kind Regards,

    Rachel James
    O'Reilly Media
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  • I’m confused
    I subscribed on Sept 30th 2012 , received 5 tokens for the month of October and I was just informed by Safari that my 5 tokens are expiring on the 29th. I have a 10-Slot bookshelf, and it has not been 90 days yet. I'm annoyed, because if what you said was true I'd at least be able to download almost all the chapters of a 12 - 15 chapter book in a few months with the roll-over tokens that have built up. Instead, I have to sort of make a decision right now which book to blow them on before I run out of time, which is a hard decision to make because I wasn't expecting this to happen so soon.
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  • I’m confused
    I looked at my tokens I think I understand what is happening. Turns out that I have 15 tokens (probably for signing up) and the first set of 5 tokens is expiring.
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  • Hi -

    You said you subscribed on Sept 30, 2012. This is less than 30 days ago, so none of your tokens should be expiring yet. As Rachel mentioned above, the lifespan of a token depends on your subscription level.

    Please feel free to submit a case to us, and we can dig into this situation and make sure everything is working properly. Please use the email she has listed, or even use this form: http://bit.ly/pDjTOz
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