UPDATE: My sources in the payment industry suggest that a good/service paid for must be delivered to you since I paid for it according to payment industry and card association rules. I am going to investigate further but if items were paid for previously, I am entitled to these goods/services. I will be contacting Mastercard (paid via their card) for clarifications.
Apple has evolved in how it handles customer issues. :-)
- In the Sculley era, I received a typewritten letter on the Apple II (lol -see below)
- In the Jobs II era, I got a one line email reply from Steve (lol - see below)
- In the Tim Cook era, you get a call from the executive offices (today! - see below)
Back in the Jobs II era, I got a one-line response from the man himself. He had replied a year after the revolutionary iMac was released and it was well before blogs launched to track the iCEO’s replies. I didn’t keep the email but remember sharing the reply with friends who were close Apple followers. I don’t remember the exact issue but I believe it had something to do with Apple charging bloggers for a media pass when it was free for future Apple events. Naturally, Apple was still on the rebound and I only highlighted that it was Apple’s loyal community that kept the company going in the dark years after SJ1. Anyhow, he replied with his classic one-line reply, “It’s only $30” or something to that effect. Yes, I chuckled and he went on to change the world more than a few times. ;-)
Being an Apple customer since 1978, I was used to following Apple closely back then. I was a member of old Apple user groups (LOGIC in Toronto) and BBS groups (Warp Six, software created by Apple Canada employee Jim Ferr). Heck, in 1999 a Canadian firm called Firefox Marketing looked for Mac fans to volunteer and demo the new iMacs at Compucentre retail locations in Toronto. Specifically, Yorkdale and Eaton Centre - two heavily trafficked locations. I was trained by Apple sales heads who had an amazing way of positioning product value props. Fun times — and was able to command a real presence in the shopping mall with iMacs that had nothing! I had to compile my own content and stories to build on the iMac. At one point, I had 30 people listening to the pitch from a Mac user. ;-)
Today, I spend more time challenging Apple and other companies around products, consumer issues and strategies. I am a big Apple, Samsung and RIM supporter. And loved Nokia when it made great products but am hoping for a rebound there.
When I wrote John Sculley about the poor Apple II support coming from Apple after Jobs 1, his office wrote me. Here are images of the letters. :-) Hey, at least he replied. Jobs wanted the line killed after the Mac and when you think about it, Apple really did a fair job supporting the line after its introduction in January 1983. It was discontinued by Apple in November 1993.
My Latest Interaction With Apple
A short while back, I subscribed to Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek digital magazine subscription. However, I was one of the customers who bought the digital monthly subscription (not annual one) only vs. those who might have the paid print subscription and automatically received digital issue access for free. Anyhow, I started the BW monthly subscription last fall with their Steve Jobs commemorative issue. Upon first view, I was very impressed with BusinessWeek’s execution. Well thought out, the BW’s digital magazine fully integrated with audio content tie-ins to the article themes and included other smaller benefits.
A few months back, I decided to stop the month-to-month $2.99 subscription. No reasons — just wasn’t keeping up with all the content — with MacLife, WiRED and others being consumed on my iPad, I found I was paying for stuff that I wasn’t reading enough. What’s odd about the entire BusinessWeek subscription is that at one point, I could simply “restore” previous purchases from BusinessWeek (very certain of this) and re-download previous issues under the monthly subscription. Well, something happened and this is either no longer the case or never was and have missed some details. I still can’t confirm if this was the result of an “app update” from Bloomberg BusinessWeek or simply my forgetfulness that the restores only work as long as I remain a subscriber. My gut tells me the latter is the likeliest reason.
This past weekend, I opted to send another email to Bloomberg’s BW support address (from within the digital magazine) — this was now my third attempt to contact Bloomberg’s BW. In each instance, I never received a response from Bloomberg. Pretty crap if you ask me - especially since it’s not very clear how customer issues are handled for digital subscriptions. Is it iTunes support or Bloomberg? Again, my gut tells me the support/feedback email for Bloomberg relates to the app itself. For billing matters, it naturally falls within Apple’s scope since I am paying them and get iTunes receipts to that effect. For the third email to BusinessWeek regarding the inability to restore past issues, I copied Tim Cook on the chain.
RESULT: Tim Cook’s Executive Office Called
A nice lady by the name of Corey indicated she was calling from Tim Cook’s office. She was fully up to speed with my concerns and even validated that there was a common perception that digital subscriptions followed the same business rules as other content purchases like video, music, books and apps. But according to her research through Apple’s knowledge-base, Newsstand subscriptions are considered in-app purchases and as such, when in-app Newsstand purchases stop (like a monthly purchase), the content you previously paid for is not saved. Essentially, you need to pay again to get the same content again. That sucks but this isn’t Apple’s fault. It is either a undefined business rule, a technical limitation for now (no iCloud support) or a business/licensing issue with the publishers.
My email to Bloomberg/Tim Cook already stated that digital content from Newsstand should always be retrievable and should even reside on iCloud using the same experience I already enjoy with content purchased through iTunes such as movies, television, apps, music and books.
Even though I am an early adopter, one of the few reasons I jumped for a Bloomberg subscription was to:
- Keep a digital copy of the Jobs commemorative issue from last fall
- Research the U/X and Bloomberg’s execution based on positive media feedback
During the in-app purchase experience, I never saw any disclaimer which told me that any cancelled monthly subscription would delete all previously paid for content and thus require re-purchase. Corey asked me what I thought about this? My view was simple. If we’re going to shift the paradigm nut to digital, consumers must feel like they’re getting the same deal as if they had a physical subscription. In essence, you should feel like you OWN the purchase (because technically, a physical magazine exists as long as the consumer keeps the issue). In the above sequence, the consumer feels robbed. I told Corey this wasn’t going to work with the mass consumer and if anything might even dilute the adoption for digital subscriptions if more consumers knew that their content was not secure when a subscription is cancelled. So in the “What Would Alex Bosika Do?” world, I would recommend Apple do whatever is technically possible to re-create the experience of physical (ownership, permanence) products with Newsstand and make previous purchases iCloud-secure.
Afterall, don’t take my word for it. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said something similar recently about clouds but in fact, I believe I still own my Apple content but maybe I didn’t read the 75 page terms of service from Apple either. :-)
“With the cloud, you don’t own anything. You already signed it away. I want to feel that I own things.” — Steve Wozniak
So to Corey/Tim, I present the following:
- During the Newsstand in-app purchase, warn consumers that an in-app payment does not currently secure digital mag content if a subscription is cancelled. Warn consumers they need to re-purchase the content if it is cancelled. This seems very gray to me since in-app restores work for iOS apps. Also, what about annual subscriptions and single issue purchases? Hmm, you get my point. It might exist in Apple’s knowledge-base but it really should be clear at “time of purchase”.
- Work towards an iCloud-secure model like you’ve done for movies, tv, app, book content
- Find a better, more clear and consistent approach for consumers to address issues with digital subscriptions. Do we email Apple? Do we email Bloomberg? Can we call? In one prior session, I remember iTunes Support was unclear who had to handle these issues. If it’s Apple, consumers need to be clear they need to call iTunes. For all intents and purposes, this should be obvious since you paid Apple for the digital subscription but remember, this is a new paradigm. We’re not talking apples and old-school magazines anymore
Above all, I want to make something even more clear. Apple is listening. Name one other CEO/executive office for any major corporation that is openly reading and responding to consumer issues? Imagine if other competitors within Apple’s world did the same thing. One colleague (who goes unnamed) mentioned that the very steps that occurred above would be “very difficult” in their company.
And I ask, “WHY?”
- An Open Letter to Tim Cook Regarding Apple ID Security (the.taoofmac.com)
- Tim Cook in Manila (marvinvista.blogspot.com)
- Does Apple Fancy Buying The Pinterest-like Social Network The Fancy? (appadvice.com)
- Tim Cook: Customers aren’t looking for tablets, they’re looking for iPads (imore.com)
- Tim Cook talks new iPhone speculation (imore.com)
- Apple Ties to Samsung in Sharp Contrast to Courtoom Clash (bloomberg.com)
- Here’s An Internal Email Thread From Apple About A Seven-Inch IPad (gizmodo.com.au)
- Apple, Amazon’s Weak Security Allows Huge Hack of Gizmodo Reporter (dailytech.com)