Will Apple Refund “Defective” eBooks?

I’m still shocked by Apple’s decision to go with ePub.

Was that decision purely knee-jerk? Did anyone research the problems of ePub?

And what will Apple do when those problems bite them?

I discovered that Apple permits refunds of up to ninety(!) days on media. It’s right there in the iTunes EULA:

7. Limited Warranty on Media. Apple warrants the media on which the Apple Software is recorded and delivered by Apple to be free from defects in materials and workmanship under normal use for a period of ninety (90) days from the date of original retail purchase. Your exclusive remedy under this Section shall be, at Apple’s option, a refund of the purchase price of the product containing the Apple Software or replacement of the Apple Software which is returned to Apple or an Apple authorized representative with a copy of the receipt. THIS LIMITED WARRANTY AND ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES ON THE MEDIA INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, OF SATISFACTORY QUALITY, AND OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, ARE LIMITED IN DURATION TO NINETY (90) DAYS FROM THE DATE OF ORIGINAL RETAIL PURCHASE. SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW LIMITATIONS ON HOW LONG AN IMPLIED WARRANTY LASTS, SO THE ABOVE LIMITATION MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU. THE LIMITED WARRANTY SET FORTH HEREIN IS THE ONLY WARRANTY MADE TO YOU AND IS PROVIDED IN LIEU OF ANY OTHER WARRANTIES (IF ANY) CREATED BY ANY DOCUMENTATION OR PACKAGING. THIS LIMITED WARRANTY GIVES YOU SPECIFIC LEGAL RIGHTS, AND YOU MAY ALSO HAVE OTHER RIGHTS WHICH VARY BY JURISDICTION.

What’s going to be very interesting is how Apple interprets “free from defects in … workmanship” when it comes to ePub.

Is bad formatting deemed “defective workmanship”?

Barnes & Noble Sells Me Broken E-book, Won’t Refund

As I was traveling yesterday, I purchased John Hodgman’s book on my Nook, and started to read it on the plane. Unfortunately, a great deal of the book’s humor is through the comedic use of tables, graphs, and figures. Almost none of these rendered properly on the Nook, rendering up to half the tables unreadable.

I don’t know if that was eventually resolved to his satisfaction, but this is Barnes & Noble’s explicitly stated policy:

Items That Cannot Be Returned
We are unable to accept returns for eBooks, magazines, downloadable PDFs for SparkNotes and Quamut products, gift cards, and shrink-wrapped items that have been opened. Please note: Once purchased, eBooks cannot be refunded.

Complaints about poor formatting are not uncommon with ePub:

Bad ePub formatting

Bad epub formatting

Quality Control: It Matters

Before E-book Experimentation, How About A Little Back to Basics?

Liza Daly, who has extensive eBook creation experience (which includes Ibis Reader for iPhone and iPad!): Getting Past “Good Enough” eBooks: Liza Daly

(Sidenote: Poor formatting isn’t strictly an ePub issue. Kindle suffers from it too: E-Book Design – Do Readers Care? and Please support my Report Bad Formatting Button petition for Kindle books! and Poor Formatting of Periodicals. Unlike B&N, however, accounts on the Net show Amazon apologetic and refunding purchases.)

And what happens when someone purchases an eBook and the cover won’t display on iBooks’ ersatz woodgrain bookshelf?

Would that be considered a “defect of workmanship” by Apple?

We’ll know the answers to these questions in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, there could be Gotchas for everyone who buys eBooks.


4 responses to “Will Apple Refund “Defective” eBooks?

  1. One thing you don’t note — and I’d say it is the root cause of a lot of the formatting issues we see — is the dependence upon a print-based workflow that leads to scanning and conversion errors. These are not the fault of either EPUB or MOBI or any other digital output; they are due to sloppy quality assurance procedures. A digital workflow, one that results in a properly formatted XHTML (or, heck, just plain HTML) file that is then ported to the various file formats, including InDesign>print would reduce the number of errors considerably.

    It would also result in good EPUB, MOBI, etc. Starting from the right place would also, to some degree, address many of the problems noted in the Hodgman book. Perhaps not all — I haven’t seen the book firsthand, so don’t know specifically what caused the problems.

    As for lack of covers, etc., that problem is going to be highlighted in a big way on the iPad (hence my article).

  2. You’re assuming that Apple doesn’t impose strict rules on publishers submitting to the store, as they do with Music; I would be very surprised if Apple doesn’t approve each book for basic formatting, cover art, etc. iTunes Producer does that currently for music submissions.

    The way Apple works is their content pipeline pre-approves all the metadata Apple requires for a song/movie/book. It’s not going to be a free-for-all.

    Books evidently mean a huge amount to Apple, and they’re gonna make damn sure they don’t screw it up first time around :-)

  3. @Kassia and Steve: I hope Apple imposes some requirements. I hope this is more than “Let’s sell ePub too!” from them. Neither Sony nor Amazon have done anything about the issue. Both could have refused rotten formatting but never did.

  4. Lots of good links to check out. Thanks!