How NOT to do a pre-order: a case study…

Alright, straight off the top, let me state a few facts:

1.  I have been a fan of Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls since 2002, when a great friend sent me Girl Anachronism.

2.  I am still, to this very moment, a fan of Amanda Palmer’s work.

3.  I am also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman.

I feel a need to state these facts upfront to ensure that fans and the artists themselves recognize that even though I am highly criticial, I am most definitely still a supporter of their art.  I just feel that as a fan, I was misled and, to a degree, mistreated by my experience over the last 10+ months.

(Let the flames begin…)

Last summer, Amanda Palmer offered some incredible pre-order packages for her solo release, Who Killed Amanda Palmer (which, for those who follow me, I named Album of 2008 in my annual round-up).  One of the offers included a package so good I went without decent food for two weeks to afford it:  signed CD, signed vinyl, numbered lithograph, digital downloads of the album and a bonus album, a t-shirt, crime scene photos (!) and a book of photos of Amanda in various poses of death, with text by Neil Gaiman.  I practically creamed my panties and MADE IT HAPPEN.

Now, Amanda Palmer is essentially indie;  her label, Roadrunner, has been utterly useless in promoting the album properly.  They’ve not supported her art at all.  In fact, she even wrote a song begging them to drop her (view it here on YouTube).  As someone who’s disgusted with the music business and how it strangles the art of innovative singer/songwriters (for a great look at that and the life of an artist I hold dear, see the book Piece By Piece by Tori Amos with Ann Powers), I felt for Amanda.  In large part, I ordered the huge package to financially support Amanda’s work, in return for how much her music has meant to me.   I support the artists I love.

And then, my Music Today experience began…

First off:  the CD street date came and went… and over a month later, I’d yet to receive anything beyond my digital download of the album and the two bonus tracks.  I contacted Music Today by phone (long distance) and sat on hold for an age.  The person who answered my call claimed that I had not received the CD because “everything will be shipping at once”.  I called bullshit, as a) my friend had received her CD in spite of ordering the same package and b) the book etc was due out months later.  They then insisted that it was all shipping together because I was outside the US.

I then pointed out the ultimate proof I had:  an email confirming the CD shipped to me.

Music Today backtracks now, with said tracking number.  “Oh gee!  Well it should have arrived, so we’ll send a new one.”  This took 45 minutes, by the way.

Three or so weeks later (almost December, pathetic for a September release), I get my new CD.  The back is covered in smears of gold Sharpie from signed copies being carelessly stacked one atop the other.  I say, “Oh well!” despite not being able to read the text on the back (written by Neil Gaiman) and let it go.

Next, the packages arrive.  Amanda indicates in advance that there are issues with the books and crime scene photos, so they will be shipping later on.  I forgive her – life happens – and open my box up.  Inside, I find a non-numbered lithograph, a damaged vinyl, my shirt in good shape and a postcard signed by Neil and Amanda apologizing (a very sweet touch).  I let the vinyl go, not wanting to argue on the phone for another 45 minutes.

Spring rolls around and the books are still not here.  Remember, folks, that the book was due to arrive in December-ish as promised in the original pre-order.  Amanda unleashes a note of apologies, promises and ways to seek help and make things right with fans who, like me, had lousy experiences.  Bold added by me for emphasis.

hola, comrade.

first, thank you, thank you for buying Stuff in the pre-order. you and other people like you are literally keeping us afloat. thank you.

it makes me sad that i’ve been hearing that things went wrong with some of the orders. some people didn’t get the signed CDs they were promised. others received damaged vinyls, t-shirts or lithos. there was also a mix-up at musictoday (the merch company we used to send out your orders) with the apology notes. this meant that some people received photocopied apology notes instead of the real deal with signatures and photos.

i could tell you that at the time we launched this pre-order, we had only a brief time to set everything up. that two days before launch we found out we had to switch merch companies after the first one we selected turned out not to be able to do digital downloads. i could say that at the time “Team AFP” was three people — my manager emily, my social networking guru sean, and my assistant beth — who were working around the clock trying to make life work. maybe you would forgive the things that went wrong if i told you that none of us had ever run a pre-order like this before and that we were flying blind, doing what we thought was right at the time.

we made some mistakes. your lithographs were supposed to be numbered and in the chaos of trying to get everything to you, we forgot to do that. your CDs were late because we underestimated the time it would take us to get them, sign them, and get them to the merch company.

we also made a mistake in not being more hands-on with order fufillment. i’ve heard stories of people waiting on hold for an hour with musictoday, other people who called and were told one thing one day and a different thing the next day…i wish that we’d been able to be ten places at once handling all elements of this. but we weren’t.

so. the good news with regards to musictoday is that they are out of the picture. we will be having our friends at JSR ship your books and crime scene packets. JSR has filled merch orders for us for many years and we are glad they are stepping in to make sure you get these things undamaged.

but another bit of bad news is that, due to some problems, the book is taking longer than we hoped. it is coming, i promise. the tentative ship date we have is july. it’s looking like that will really happen, god willing. your crime scene evidence packets will be shipped then too.

so. the sheer number of things that have gone wrong with this preorder is very frustrating. but i don’t want this e-mail to become about passing blame.

it’s about how we are going to make things right for you.

we have compiled a FAQ (below) which covers all your problems and how to fix them. please go read it.

and… not that this makes it any better right now… i want to tell you about what we learned from this whole process.

and for fun, pretend that i am saying this in the deep and sexy voice of barack obama. ok. number one, we’re not going to have pre-orders for items that we do not have a FIRM release date for. these delays won’t happen in the future because we won’t sell the shit until it is IN OUR HANDS or at the very least at the printers. number two, we are going to do as much in-house and with trusted allies (like JSR) as possible, and fully check out every potential new company to make sure they will deliver what we need them to. number three, when things do go wrong — and they will, because this is life and that’s what happens — i am going to make sure you know what’s happened and why and how we’re going to fix it. communication is the most important part of this whole thing… i know that we need to be honest with you or else you will eventually get fed up and tell me to fuck off and you will go buy miley cyrus’s CD instead and that would make me very sad. we didn’t do so well with the communication this time but, as your president motherfuckers, i am dedicated to complete transparency. we are in this together. you are my partners and i need you.

thank you for reading this very long apology e-mail. thank you for supporting my art. you are awesome and i am really lucky.

as a reward for reading this far, here is a photo from the WKAP book (it was supposed to be a photo of my tits but we don’t want to piss off anybody’s MOM who ordered for them):


(photo by kyle cassidy)

love,
afp

I followed the outlined directions and contacted Beth and Sean, relaying my story and so on.  At this time, I was very sympathetic at Amanda’s label plight and the fact that perhaps she was simply over her head in handling the pre-order from the start.  Her heart, as always, seemed in the right place.  Below are excerpts from my email to Amanda’s team (I’ve cut personal information and essentially the story above):

To Amanda:  I feel tremendously awful for everything that happened with the label and Music Today.  I don’t need a replacement CD or vinyl if that’s just going to harm you financially.  I’ll live.  I really ordered the big package to support you and to get the book, photos, litho and alternate tracks.  So if you are going to suffer to replace the CD and vinyl, screw it, really.  I’ll live.

However, if you could sign my book please to Amber, that would be awesome.  I’ve enclosed photos from my crappy cam of the CD and vinyl just so you can see.  Above all else, I am a fan, devout til the end, and I never once blamed you for the failings of Roadrunner or Music Today.

The response I received was impressive and kind:

We’re sorry your vinyl and CD were damaged.  We’re working on putting together a database of everyone who received damaged items and will reorder/reprint as necessary and send them your way.  We’re paying for the reprints ourselves, but it’s worth it to make sure folks like you are 100% happy.  We are really lucky to have you and other people like you supporting us.

I will make sure your book is personalized “To Amber” before it is mailed in July.  🙂
Thanks so much for getting in touch so we can make it right!  If you have any further concerns, please feel free to contact us.

This satisfied me.  Amanda was sorry, the team was listening, and everything would eventually be rectified.  Amanda had also outlined a future action plan which seemed reasonable and sound in terms of pre-orders.  Overall, I was definitely a happy camper.

And then, this happened:  word came down that due to the weight of the books themselves, the dust jackets were signed instead.  The book became available at gigs and Comic-Con while others who had pre-ordered almost a year prior were still waiting for their books (self included; it apparently claims to have shipped and considering the last shipment took a month, I MIGHT get it before moving).  This, to me, was kind of the last straw, the one thing that finally tipped me into frustration and a wish I’d just gotten my money refunded.

First of all, in spite of Amanda’s promise for communication, this issue with the books was not really addressed until after a decision was made.  Pretty annoying and such.  Second, the excuse of the weight of the books holds very little credence with me.  Check out Amanda’s blog as of late;  she’s travelled a LOT lately, much of it with Neil.  They couldn’t fly out to the books?  Especially given all the delays and nonsense?  REALLY?  It’s not a big deal to replace dozens of damaged items but flying to the books IS?  (And if it was NOT an option, that should have been stated so that I, the fan, could see there was no other way)  Third, they signed the DUST JACKET.  Hands up, everyone who’s wrecked those things.  *raises both hands*  I paid for a signed book, thank you.  When I get books signed, I have the inside signed, not the jacket!

And this is where I come full circle to point one:  if I had been advised of the issue and proposed solution, I would have requested a refund, waited for a gig of Amanda’s and bought the book there and had it signed where I damn well would want it signed.  I’d sacrifice Neil’s autograph, but hey, I’d live.  This is terrible as far as I’m concerned and only compounds as others who did NOT pre-order, who did NOT support Amanda during the album launch, get the book sooner AND get it signed on the actual book.

So today, I lost my shit on Twitter at two artists who are Twitter junkies.  I had hit my patience limit and let loose, insisting this was crappy and I should have an apology.  Rant rant rave.  I did get multiple replies from Neil, which I appreciated because I was, frankly, being a toddler tossing a tantrum from her pram.  This doesn’t invalidate my complaint – I think I have every right to be annoyed – but the wording was just pure angst.  It did lead to some hilarious Tweets from friends, however:

A:  “I’m not saying you shouldn’t be mad! We should be mad, and they don’t have my trust back. But omg. You talked to Neil!”

M:  “where’s neil when you need him? on twitter, apparently.”  (Tori Amos fans will get that; otherwise, google the lyrics to her song Space Dog)

Me:  “I know. @neilhimself wrote my fave book (Neverwhere) and made me like fantasy. Twitter has made life surreal.”

Me:  “Twitter: the place where you can rant about artists you love and respect and get a reply. Fangirl and fume at once!”

So where does this leave us?  It leaves us with a case study in how not to do a pre-order, and also, an important lesson in communication.  If you’re on Twitter daily and blog several times a week, there is NO excuse for not mentioning a problem that is resulting in signing a book jacket instead of the book as promised.  And considering the initial flexibility, people should have been given a choice.  I know I would have chosen differently.

Again:  Neil, Amanda, I love you both.  Your art holds a high place in my world.  It has literally been there to keep me on this planet, breathing.  In Amanda’s case, it helped me cope with a lot of dark issues and bad events.  But this was an epic failure from moment one, and I know that I will never pre-order anything again.  I’ll just wait for the real release. I just hope other fans hang in there in spite of the aggravation and stay, period.  It’s a shame, because I know how crucial pre-orders are to indie artists.  I just cannot bear to do this sort of bullshit again.

For the record people, Who Killed Amanda Palmer is still an album everyone should own; Coraline is out on DVD and is amazing; and oh yes, Neverwhere is still my favourite book.  Support the arts;  just do it wisely.

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6 thoughts on “How NOT to do a pre-order: a case study…

    • My priorities? I’m sorry, did I sell hundreds of packages I took almost a year to fulfill, then fulfilled somewhat inadequately and without the communication promised henceforth after the initial delays?

      Unfortunately, such is life and things happen. You forget to account for the weight of books and realize, “Damn, that’s expensive to move around.” But if the books made it to JSR for distribution, which is located in New Hampshire by the way, DRIVING distance really if you push it… Why not just initially ship them all there, meet them and sign them, as opposed to having jackets mailed out somewhere then mailed back.

      I’m not saying they should have flown to the printers in China, but come on. JSR isn’t in Australia.

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      • Well, I meant that in general really – it’s just a signature, a ‘bonus’ provided by the artist to the fans. Nothing to get so het up about.

        “Unfortunately, such is life and things happen.”

        You should have stuck with that philosophy from the beginning 😉 To paraphrase Gaiman himself:

        “Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are not your bitches.”

        Like

      • If you read the email I sent after the majority of this nonsense had already occurred, you would see that I specifically told them NOT to replace DAMAGED items because I didn’t want to have Amanda lose money in light of her label situation. I’ve been, up until now, extremely forgiving and patient. I have barely even complained about the delays because I knew Amanda was trying.

        But if I purchase a signed BOOK – and please feel free to give me an example of any other time when the JACKET has been signed in such a promotion/purchase – I should NOT be getting a signed dust jacket without at least being told why, particularly after promises of improved communication. THAT is really what bothers me: I’d forgiven the lack of communication on the grounds that in the future things would improve… and then, they didn’t.

        It seems like a small thing, but being as I have never met Neil and as my luck continues, never will, it means something. If it didn’t mean anything, all of the books would be signed as a matter of course, right? I paid a premium in advance for the item. I should get what I believed I was paying for.

        I am the last person to insist artists be my bitches; please don’t presume to tell me I am. I’m far more relaxed than most, for example, in the Tori Amos fan community, who generally are never satisfied with any album she’s done since Boys For Pele in 1996 and yet persist in sticking around to complain. I don’t appreciate lack of communication from two people who frequently blog and Tweet, and I don’t appreciate not getting a chance to say, “Um, fuck it, refund me please.” I should have had a say or some explanation (“we couldn’t ship them, and flying out wasn’t possible because…”). That’s just customer service.

        I do appreciate, however, that you’ve been civil even in disagreeing. I took the effort to stress that I’m not going to sulk and burn my books and CDs in a fit or take back all the times I have recommended both Neil and Amanda to people because this isn’t the end of the world. There are definitely better ways this all could have been handled, and that’s all I’m trying to convey.

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  1. Pingback: How Amanda Palmer Killed Amanda Palmer « Open 'Til Midnight: Musings of a Music-Obsessed Mind

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