11 August 2014

Marketing Practices

Once upon a time, legal publishers made their money by selling books. That all changed when databases became everyone's preferred means of accessing information, but publishers were loath to let go of that print-based income. This sometimes led to innovative marketing techniques among some publishing firms. What follows is my response to an unsolicited delivery from one of these.

Fortunately, I have not seen this sort of nonsense in several years. Let's hope letters like this aren't needed again.

8 June, 2009

Dear Customer Service Department,

Please refer your marketing staff to the following website, which describes the approved vendor practices of the American Association of Law Librarians (which comprises your primary market):

Principle 3: Fair Dealing. Publishers should engage in fair dealings with their customers.

3.1 Customer consent. Publishers should obtain the customer's consent prior to making a shipment or initiating a transaction, unless such shipment is part of a standing order or subscription to which the customer has previously consented.

3.1 PRACTICE TO AVOID 1: Without prior customer consent, a publisher mass mails a new product to customers who have previously purchased an existing product.

3.1 PRACTICE TO AVOID 2: Without prior customer consent, a publisher ships a free unsolicited newsletter to a customer and then later sends an invoice for the title to the customer.

3.1(a) Where the content of a new product or supplement that is published as part of an existing subscription or standing order bears no direct relationship to the content of the standing order or represents a substantial expansion of the topic or purpose of the original subscription or product, the publisher should seek customer consent prior to shipment.

3.1(a) PRACTICE TO AVOID: Without prior customer consent, the publisher of a subscription service ships to subscribers of the service a pamphlet that includes content that has not previously been supplied as part of the subscription, where that content is not specific or closely related to the topic of the service, and charges customers for the pamphlet.

3.1(b) Where a new product or supplement is published as an addition to more than one existing title or subscription, the publisher should seek customer consent prior to shipment.

We are returning the unsolicited supplement received 5 May 2009 for the following reasons:

1)         Said item is deceptively packaged as part of a series--a subscription service.  Such materials are assumed by the customer to be part of the service for which we have already paid.

2)         Said item does not list a price, anywhere.  In fact, the packing slip--like all other subscription updates--indicates Total: $***** .  This is also deceptive, as the statement 'Invoiced Separately' again echoes other subscription updates--which are, of course, invoiced upon subscription, rather than when the updates are supplied.

3)         Said item is shipped in brown paper.  All documents except the deceptive packing slip described in 2) are packaged INSIDE this brown paper.  These documents, then, instruct that if item is to be returned, it must be shipped in the packaging which was NECESSARILY DESTROYED in locating the documents.  If not deceptive, this is certainly disingenuous.  We are of course ignoring your request to return the item in its original packaging.

While this shipment may not violate the letter of the American Association of Law Librarian's vendor guidelines (though I would argue that it most certainly does), it is clearly an effort to SELL an item for which no real market exists by making it seem like part of a series for which we have already paid, not providing the price of the material, and then making its return more difficult than paying for the unwanted item.

Such vendor practices are entirely unethical.  If one must resort to deception to sell one's wares, one ought leave that business immediately.


Everett Wiggins
Reference Librarian

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