Digital Assets: Choosing Between Customer Satisfaction And Sales Integrity

Recently I purchased two digital products that did not meet my satisfaction. The way each company handled the situation brought to light how complicated business can be when your product has zero production costs.

Digital assets follow the rule: the first instance costs thousands/millions to create. The cost of creating the 2nd and subsequent instances is effectively zero. So how do you protect that asset if there is no way to return the product with certainty it was not used, duplicated or sold?

Experience #1

Last month I bought an audiobook from iTunes: Trust Agents. It’s a great book, highly recommended and well worth the read. I knew that before I bought it and I still believe it. However the audio version needs a lot of work. The two authors, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, actually narrated the audiobook. I’m not sure why some people want to do that. And if they do there should be some gatekeeper auditioning the authors as narrators. One of the two authors would consistently drop the volume of each sentence towards the end so that the last word was whispered. I listen to 3-4 audiobooks a month on my drive to/from work. It was in my Top 3 “A Pain To Listen To”. I stopped listening after chapter 3.

Having spent $20 for the audiobook I was a little upset. Years ago I would have chalked it up as a loss and just fumed. But not in today’s world. I decided an email to iTunes would only take 2 minutes of my life. So I explained my dissatisfaction and sent it away. After an immediate auto-reply I received an email from John within 4 hours.

Dear Mark,

I’m sorry to learn that this item did not meet the standard of quality you have come to expect from the iTunes Store.

I have reversed the charge for “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust”. In three to five business days, a credit of $20.95 should be posted to a combination of the credit card that appears on the receipt for that purchase and your store credit.

I have also submitted this item for investigation. Apple takes the quality of the items offered on the iTunes Store seriously and will investigate the issue with this item, but I can’t say when or if the issue will be resolved. Please try again in a few weeks.

Thank you for your understanding. I hope that you continue to enjoy using the iTunes Store.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue, please feel free to reply to this email and I will do my best to assist you.

iTunes Store Customer Support

Of course the credit was applied within 24 hours not 3-5 business days. This was handled so professionally I felt guilty for even asking for the refund.

Experience #2

Next up was a Joomla-WordPress integration tool from CorePHP. I had been pining away for this tool to use here on this site to integrate this blog (WordPress) into the look-and-feel of the website (Joomla). When I finally forked over the $80 I realized (or so I thought) that it was meant for another purpose. It would not work for me. I was bummed. Certain I could not use the tool I emailed their support team explaining what I really needed and asking for a refund given my misunderstanding. Yes, you would think that since it was not an impulse buy that I wouldn’t have made this mistake. And you’d be right, read on.

No auto-reply to my email was received, but I did receive a less than satisfying response from CorePHP within an hour:


‘corePHP’ does not offer a cash refund or any exchanges once they have been downloaded. Unlike physical goods, electronically distributed software and software licenses can be easily duplicated. Accordingly, it is our policy that once we have distributed a release version to a customer, the sale is final and the software can not be returned for a refund or credit. Please refer to our Return policy as stated on our site:

The WordPress is a product that sets inside of the Joomla, so the Joomla site is still in it’s normal state. The demo site shows how the site works. If you have any issues that you wish the developer to assist you with feel free to ask, and they can help you.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Kindest Regards,


Here’s my problem with this response.

  1. He didn’t address the true cause of my refund request. I actually explained what I thought it would do and that it didn’t meet my needs. Had he tried to solve that problem he would have shown me that the product actually does do what I need it to do. I had pulled the refund trigger too quickly. Of course I didn’t find this out until I was told I had no recourse for refunding my money. It was then I that I spent the time to look at the tool more closely and realize it does do what I need.
  2. Having a policy that penalizes the legitimate refund requests to protect the company against the scammers is wrong. You should not build your business model protecting yourself against all forms of attack. Just the most likely ones, which this is not. Any scammer who wants this product is going to find it for free or pay $80 and share it liberally. Their policy does not stop that, but it does penalize me unnecessarily.

I don’t have a problem with CorePHP. I’ve intentionally not linked to their site because I’m not interested in bashing them. I only use them as an example. They have a good product that I am still working on deploying. My issue was with the blanket “no” response that was obviously a canned response since the sale could have been saved and this post never have been written.


In the end I have consumed both of the products that I asked for refund. The book was eventually bought in hardcover because I really did want to read it. And the tool is slowly being deployed on this website.

I don’t envy companies that sell a digital product. However I do believe that the online world again mirrors the offline world when it comes to customer satisfaction. You must do what’s right for the customer. My loyalty to iTunes only grew from my experience. CorePHP will need to do a little more to earn that level of loyalty.

Friends and Family Happy Hour Tuesday January 27, 2009

Ever wonder what my company, Flat World Media,  does?  You’re not alone.  Most of my friends and family don’t understand it, either.  So Kathy and I will be hosting a happy hour on 1/27 at The Rack in South Tampa to mingle and evangelize.

Very casual.  No sales.

You don’t even need to talk to us if you don’t want to.  But if you’re interested in learning more about online marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, web analytics and everything else, then come on down.  We’d love to have you.

Tuesday January 27, 2009
The Rack
1809 W. Platt St.
Tampa, FL 33606

Google’s new search within a search

Check out what Google is now doing with certain online merchants/businesses. From their search results you can search within another site exclusively. Search on ‘best buy’ and you will get back a screen similar to this allowing you to search within Best Buy’s website only. I wonder how I can get some of my businesses integrated into this.

Why Free Really Is Free

If you’ve ever wondered how companies can offer free services (Gmail, YouTube, MySpace, etc) or wondered if it really is free, then you need to read Chris Anderson’s (WIRED’s editor in chief) wonderful piece on the new economics of free.

Don’t think this doesn’t matter to you or your business. It does or soon will.

You Must Snag SnagIt!

We have all attempted to capture words, images, and webpages from our screen and share them with others. There are many methods to do this:

  • Print Screen
  • “Save As”
  • Print to PDF
  • And other screen capture tools

About 30 days ago I heard about a tool that had come up in other conversations for years. So I downloaded the 30-day trial.

Wow! SnagIt is the Mac Daddy.

DO NOT download this trial unless you have $40 to spare. I challenge anyone to download and run this program for 30 days and NOT buy it. It is that good. Now that I’ve used some of their features I cannot live without it. I have made it part of my must-have tools.

And no, I do not get any kickbacks from your buying this software. I am here evangelizing for free.

Here is one of the best marketing tools I have seen so far. During your trial they send you very simple exercises to try and fall further in love with their product. Why doesn’t everyone do this? It is a 30-day trial after all. As marketers we should be doing everything within our power to close the sale on such a highly-qualified prospect.

Nice work, SnagIt!

Keeping things straight in the 21st century

One of the great parts of the Internet is the ability to find all kinds of useful tools. What’s even better is when these tools are cheap (sometimes free) and web-based, because then you have the ability to access them no matter where you are. Whether you’re running a small team, working on a project in an online or virtual capacity, or simply cannot keep lists in your mind long enough, there are hundreds of tools out there to keep you organized and accomplishing your tasks. Here are some favorites:

Hailed by PC World magazine as a reinvention of the classic to-do list, RememberTheMilk is quite a robust little application. Beyond the basic ability to create task lists with due dates, you can share your lists with others (to the horror of husbands that have a honey-do list), set up reminders via all major chatting platforms and calendar applications, and even plot your to-do locations on a map to help you plan your route better.

This is a very timely tool with the holidays coming up as well. Schedule out your dinner parties, create holiday card lists, and…remember the milk.

For those tasks that are longer-term goals and tend to be repetitive, JoesGoals can be a nifty resource. You set up your goals and monitor your progress, with the added benefit of putting in vices or things that thwart you from you task. It helps you to visualize those small things that never seem to get done or often fall through the cracks so you can kick the bad habits.

Sometimes what you need is a literary kick in the rear. WorldofInspiration is a good place to pick the brains of the famous (and not so famous) for some words of wisdom. The beautifully clean design will instill a zen-like sense of focus, and provide words worth chewing on all day. You can even subscribe to receive emails with quotes for when you’re too busy to even take personal inspiration time!


If it feels like projects and to-dos are circling your team like a tornado, give BaseCamp a try. It easily helps you create projects, keep related file stored, have team chats, assign to-dos, and set milestones with email reminders. It’s your one-stop for effective collaboration and project communication, and you don’t need a PhD in software to figure it out, as seems to be the case with other applications. You can check out the company that develops it, 37signals, for additional easy-to-use tools that can seriously help out a team that’s hurtin’ for help.

Xobni releases your email

Last Friday I finally received my invite to test out a new tool that reportedly made email easier to use, Xobni. This Web 2.0 app claims to make our use of email more efficient. I don’t know about those claims, but I do know that it has some nice features.

After installing the Outlook Add-on, a new preview window appears when an email is selected. I’ll highlight two of my favorite features:

1. If you have a contact for the sender and also have a photo of that sender, then their photo is shown. Just like my cell phone I like this feature because I recognize faces quicker than I do names.
2. Email analytics show when that sender most often emails you. This “eye candy” is actually pretty cool to see the emailing tendencies of others.
3. An implied social network is created based on all email from this user. So you quickly can see your many relationships. Don’t know why I need this, but I like it.
4. Much like an add-on from LinkedIn, it extracts phone numbers from emails, so you can quickly call them even if the current email does not have their phone number.

If you like to play with new toys, Xobni, is one to try out.

The Power of Web Analytics

I just returned from a week in the very dry state of Utah getting certified to implement Omniture’s web analytics product, SiteCatalyst. Without getting into the technically boring parts, if you are not familiar with web analytics, you may wish you were. Even if you are no more than a user of the Internet.

Web analytics is the study of the behavior of web users. Think about using Google to search for “left handed scissors”. At the top of the search results page is a sponsored placement for a company that paid to be there. That company probably wants to know which phrases in the ad make you more likely to click through, but more importantly it probably wants to know which phrases in the ad make you more likely to click through AND BUY. This is but one of the common uses of web analytics.

Web analytics can answer the following types of questions:

  • The ability to see how people find your website, including entering through non-existent pages (should I create a partnership with them? Should I tell them about their broken link into my site?)
  • Which input field people are in when they leave your registration form before completing it. (Is there a problem in my form that is frustrating my users?)
  • Which background color on my website is more appealing (and therefore more revenue-generating) to my website users (this is accomplished through A/B testing and multivariate testing)
  • What are the most common keywords searched for within my site that return no results? (this could be an opportunity to add something that people are expecting)

If your website is nothing more than an online brochure then you are not likely to get much value from web analytics. But if your web presence provides a more integral part to your company’s marketing, sales, support or whatever, then you can probably use web analytics to boost its effectiveness.

Now Omniture, my personal favorite, is one of many offering analytics tools. Google even offers a free analytics tool that is great to get use as a learning tool. But the more powerful products, that are going to make a difference on your website, are not going to fall into the free category.

Either way, try it out and let me know your thoughts or questions.