Beware of Publishers Bearing “Free” Gifts

I buy a lot of programming books. Like, a lot a lot. If you’re a publisher and producing any books on OpenGl, VR, robotics, etc… I am probably giving you money.

One place that I buy a lot of programming books is Packt Publishing. They were one of the first publishers to have books out on the Unreal 4 engine. They have a lot of graphics and game programming books and their prices are fairly reasonable.

Back in May they had a deal on a set of five books on game development. Two were books I was planning to buy anyway for the price of the other five, so I bought the set of books. I noticed at the end of my invoice that they gave me a 10-day free trial of their online library of books.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…


I am already a Safari Books Online subscriber and have access to the Packt library, so I just ignored this add on to my purchase.

(Yes, I do go out and buy books I am paying to have access to through Safari. I know I could save a lot of money by not buying a bunch of programming books I probably won’t read, especially when I am paying to have access to them. Don’t judge me.)

A week later I got an email from Packt telling me my trial was almost over and they hoped I was enjoying their books. I was kind of miffed. I never initialized the trial. I have gotten free trial offers for Safari that I have never been able to use because I wasn’t a new member, but they always had a code that you needed to use in order to start the trial. I didn’t know that the trial would start automatically.

I had somewhat forgotten about this until I got an email yesterday telling me that Packt had charged me $12.99. I went to check on what the charge was for and guess what? It was for a monthly subscription to their online library.

So, they signed me up for a service I didn’t want, gave it to me without my permission, and because I was unaware that they were doing this they started charging me for something I never authorized.

I was incredibly annoyed. I feel this is a really sleazy way to do business. I cancelled the subscription immediately and wrote an email to complain. Here is the response I got:
email

They basically tell me that if I don’t want their subscription I have to cancel it. I grok that. Already done it.

There is no acknowledgement that what they did was underhanded or sneaky. Their response basically treats me like I am an idiot who didn’t know what I was doing.

I know that most services like Amazon and Apple Music and whatever offer you a free trial period after which your credit card gets charged. They hope that you forget that you signed up for a free trial period and they can charge you because you forgot to cancel when the trial was over. That’s kind of sneaky, but it’s still something where you are choosing to opt in. You are saying “I want this and I agree to pay money for this if I forget to cancel my subscription.” I have avoided free trials of things for this very reason.

It is not okay to “sell” someone something they didn’t choose and then charge them for something they didn’t opt into.

There is a bit of shady behavior on this site. They recently released a $50 OpenGL book that is so out of date that it does not mention shaders, which have been around since 2004. People have complained and gotten a “We’re sorry, we’ll pass your criticism on to the author.” This book is still available and does nothing to warn the reader about how out of date it is. Good publishers like the Pragmatic Programmers remove out of date books all the time.

Their royalty structure also leaves much to be desired. The 16% royalty is not necessarily bad, but considering how many times a year they sell every book on their site for $5, I find it incomprehensible that anyone working on a book ever outearns their advance.

It’s really too bad. They have a lot of books on rather obscure and esoteric topics that most people don’t cover. They have one of the few books on the OpenGL Shading Language on the market. As far as I know they are the only publisher producing any books on LLVM. I would like to think there are better ways of producing a broad range of interesting content without screwing over both the authors and the customers.