I’ve been on the hunt for a while now for a very specific book. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was recently released as a First Edition facsimile printing. This is *ahem* precious to me for a variety of reasons, not least of which because it’s one of my favorite books. But in this case, the facsimile First Edition means that there are parts of it that are new to me, that I’ve been dying to read since I first learned of the differences.
To put it in terms a modern fan could directly identify with, it’s like having grown up only with the Star Wars Special Editions and seeing for yourself what “Han Shot First” actually means. The 1937 first printing of The Hobbit has some scenes in it that are completely different than the version we know now. When Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he went back and made some vital changes in The Hobbit so that the two stories would line up better. The biggest change involves the infamous Chapter 5 introduction of Gollum, “Riddles in the Dark.” Gollum is a very different character in the original version because at the time it was written, Tolkien yet didn’t know that the magic ring was The One Ring to Rule Them All, and thus the effect it would have on Gollum was likewise unknown to him. Intrigued? Yeah… me too.
There’s a law in my world that says that if I want something badly enough, the universe will go out of its way to dangle the carrot and keep it forever out of reach just because it’s apparently amusing to make me jump through hoops. And the sick part is, I’ll jump those hoops because I become blinded by the same kind of obsession and not notice that I’m doing it until after I’ve done it.
In this case, I’ve scoured the internet because local shops could not get it or keep it in stock long enough for me to order it. Without fail, every single time I’ve placed an order for this book, I get a notification first of receipt of the order, then that the item has been shipped. At this point something screwball happens. The seller will contact me the next day and say the count was off in the computer, and they actually didn’t have it to ship in the first place despite the fact that a shipping label was made. Or it was shipped from some warehouse successfully, but unfortunately it’ll be three months before it arrives because they’re walking it over on foot in a spiral path through a maze of traps that would eat Indiana Jones or Lara Croft alive or some other lame excuse. In each case, each successive order I’ve placed has been met with increasing difficulty and a higher price tag, which ultimately gets refunded. In cases like this, I typically believe in going to the source. The official online Tolkien shop? I’ve tried there a few of times. They don’t have it available when I check either, but hope springs eternal. After all, even though I had to pay double over what everyone else wanted, they at least got me The History of Middle Earth hardback series box set — intact to my hands — when absolutely nobody else could. But for now, they’re not an option according to their website, so I keep looking elsewhere.
I finally found it on Amazon, back in stock in their own warehouse, after multiple attempts (I look there every time another seller fails me), for $25. So not only would I get it at less than half price of what I’ve tried paying for it in the past (and less than 20% of what some sellers wanted to me to pay), I’d get it in two days with free shipping because I’ve been a Prime member for years. Or so I thought that’s how it’d play out. Say it with me: “It’s never easy.”
It should have been delivered Sunday, according to the option I picked during checkout. I had it shipped to home because I’d be at home. To deliver during the week means I ship it to work so thieves don’t get it off my porch (which is common in my area). The system tells me it’ll arrive Monday. I freak out because now I can see it in my mind’s eye being swiped by some punk kid who doesn’t care what it is, only that he got away with taking it. I try to redirect, knowing I’ve successfully done this in the past. It won’t let me on the Amazon site. I see they shipped it US Postal Service, which I’ve repeatedly told them not to do. I go to the USPS site. They’ll redirect for a fee, but only to another residential address, not to a business address. I call Amazon, and the customer service rep is an understanding Tolkien fan who sings the praises of The Silmarillion. He’s as excited to know about this First Edition facsimile as I was. He bends over backwards trying to get this to work out, up to and including trying for a redirect to my work address in the event Monday still holds. Nope, the Post Office won’t even answer the phone. Go figure… they’re closed at this point. The universe is conspiring against me. I decide to let it go. Nothing I can do but wait.
Early Sunday morning, I get a text. The package will be delivered on Thursday. WTF? An hour later, another text: to be delivered on Monday. For real this time, presumably. I sigh. I need more coffee. Screw that, I need real food. I go out to breakfast about an hour after that. While I was out, the notice came through that it had been delivered to my mailbox. I’m all excited. I get home, open the mailbox… nothing. Porch? Nope. Off to the side in the bushes? Not a chance. Suminabitch!!!
I called Amazon, fought a different customer service rep, and got another copy of the book sent out, this time to work. I tell them outright how important this is to me, of the circus it took to get this far, and I explain that if that book doesn’t arrive on time and in perfect condition, I will show up at Amazon in person, and they will not like me when I do. It’s easy to do that since Dallas has a major facility here. I make my demands known up front to keep this from happening. First, I want this book protected in a box, not a flimsy envelope. It had better not be damaged before it goes in the box. That’s happened too many times to count, and it’s getting old. They know I’ll ship it right back to them every time until they get it right. Second, I want it shipped either UPS or FedEx this time, not US Postal Service. USPS is unreliable at best for me, both in my home neighborhood and at work. They keep messing things up, including this particular Sunday delivery they lied about… which is weird because I know they do actually deliver Amazon packages on Sunday through some special deal they’ve struck. Odds are they really did deliver it, just to the wrong house.
In the time I was on the phone to Amazon, one of Amazon’s couriers dropped off another package to my house, some presents I’d ordered for Christmas that were also timed for Sunday. Gee, those showed up. Where the freak is my book?! I wants it. I wants the precious…
Monday morning I get a shipment notice. The book is yet again on its way… via the Postal Service I specifically told them not to use. So I called up Amazon to complain, knowing full well it wouldn’t do any good since it’s already shipped. I talked to someone in “leadership,” and as near as I can tell, that’s a cattle call too. How do I know? I got disconnected and tried to call back that same supervisor but was told there was “no guarantee” I’d get her. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The supervisor I talked to informed me that she could put in a “deprioritization request” on my account that says they will “likely” not use the Postal Service, but — you guessed it — “there’s no guarantee.” Oh, and that will start in around two weeks, and it’ll only work once, not for every package going forward. *head/desk* You know… if I did my job to these standards, I’d be fired in a week. But then, my firm (like most firms in the corporate sector) expects actual end results while, somehow, Amazon makes money hand over fist without such results, and the only thing they seem to require is that their people handle the irate customers.
Anyway, I got disconnected. That’s due to the piss poor phone reception in my office, not anything I could blame Amazon for. So I called back and basically unloaded everything on the next poor rep whose job it is to play gatekeeper, and who informed me that there was no guarantee I would speak to the same supervisor. Grand total between the two calls, I spent over 90 minutes and worked up an anger sweat.
That’s when I decided I’d blog about this. Sure, I’m not on any major social media sites, but I have a blog, and word of mouth does has always done damage. I really have nothing against the Amazon reps. They’re doing their jobs. But the way the company is structured, in such a way that no single department actually talks to any other department, and in such a way that customer complaints are handled with kid gloves and summarily ignored if it goes any further than “replacement or refund”… this is wrong.
I will still be invested in them just due to the sheer amount of music I’ve purchased over the years since much of what I’ve purchased wasn’t available in CD form. The industry is changing, and physical media is dying. I’m against this, but not much I can do about that. Regardless, I can access that account without spending more money. As far as actual products goes… well, as the best CEOs and business owners will tell anyone, you lose customers one at a time. I am willing to pay a little extra and have things move a little slower if it means I get my products shipped in such a manner that they are protected (re: not in a flimsy envelope so they can get smashed) and shipped via a service that can actually read the address number on my house.
In the back of my head, I’m now wondering what it would take to start a service that can compete with Amazon on its own terms. Probably more money and power than I can imagine, but the point’s valid. See, this is why monopolies are dangerous and why fair competition is vital to the free market system. It keeps megalomaniacal companies like Amazon hungry and more honest. It keeps makes them willing to listen to and enact customer suggestions before they become complaints.
I just want a book, and I want it packaged in a box in such a way that the corners and pages are protected. Is that really so much to ask? I try the brick and mortar stores in my area first, such as the ever-reliable Half Price Books, but they don’t have it. Ironically, it’d probably be easier — and probably cheaper after calculating time and medical expenses due to stress — to get an actual first edition, if only I had that kind of money to spend.
Could it be…?
YES! When I got home this evening, there was an unprotected envelope stuffed in my mailbox. I opened it immediately, and…
SUCCESS!!! WE HAS THE PRECIOUSSS!!!
Against all odds, this book arrived perfectly unscathed despite being crammed into an ill-fitting mailbox with no protection. What’s more, because of the Postal Service erroneously marking this as having been delivered when it wasn’t, and after all that back there, I will be the recipient of a free replacement copy of this either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Don’t judge me. I’ve earned it.
But I’m not going to keep it. Professor Tolkien warned us in this book what it means to be a victim of dragon sickness, so I’m going to follow Bilbo’s example and share the wealth. I’ve decided that — should this extra copy arrive intact — it will go to one of my loyal readers. The money I would have used to buy it will instead go to shipping it to one of you.
The thing is… you will have to win it in a contest of geek knowledge. Knowledge that includes, but is not limited to, Tolkien lore.
I’ll post details later this week, once I confirm that the second copy has safely arrived.