Monday, December 19, 2005

Amazon Marketplace - caveat emptor

On An Overgrown Path now achieves an impressive Google PageRank of 6/10, and this means every day a lot of visitors land here as a result of searching for a wide range of music-related topics on Google. A surprisingly large number of these searches are for Caiman USA or Brilliant Classics. The Florida based Caiman is one of thousands of Amazon Marketplace suppliers offering heavy discounts when you follow the Used & New link on Amazon. They have some very low prices on classical CDs, and customers are using Google to check them out before buying. Brilliant Classics is an innovative super-budget classical CD label from Holland who have a poor presence in high street shops, but can be found with big discounts online.

Regular readers will know I buy a lot of CDs. I have used Caiman and other Amazon Marketplace suppliers in the past to buy Brilliant Classics and other labels, and have written about them favourably here. As a lot of people are interested in this information I thought it would be useful to post an update of my experiences.

My report is unfortunately not good. The Amazon Marketplace scheme is attracting many suppliers who are falling below the minimum aceptable standard. To a certain extent this should be self-regulating via the feedback reports, but my recent experiences have shown that this doesn't always work. There is a particular problem with availability. There is no real time link between the Amazon site and the Marketplace suppliers. This means if a CD is shown as in stock by a Marketplace reseller this is no guarantee that they actually have it. Several times recently it has been clear that a supplier is sourcing the title from a wholesaler once they have my order, and my money. And once you've ordered from Amazon Marketplace you can't cancel.

Although Caiman USA remains one of the better suppliers I have recently suffered some long delays in despatching, and several orders disappeared into 'black holes' from which they miraculously emerged when a chasing email was sent. But these experiences are nothing like as bad as Entertainment UK. They are a very large company and music wholesaler who should know better. They recently sent me a 9 CD boxed set (the Hanssler - part of Brilliant Classics - complete Bach Chorale settings) sold as 'new'. In place of the booklet was a page downloaded from the internet annotated with handwriting and a Post-it® note. Other smaller suppliers have failed to deliver, or have missed promised delivery dates by a mile. These problems are not confined to Amazon Marketplace. I have used Play.com extensively, but recently they failed to credit a return until chased by phone.

I have now moved most of my music buying back to 'brick and mortar' stores, led by the excellent independent Prelude Records in Norwich. But unfortunately there are labels such as Brilliant Classics which remain far cheaper, and easier to find, online. I use only the larger Amazon Marketplace suppliers when I have to, and then view each order as a gamble rather than a certainty. I avoid virtually all the small resellers, even when they have high feedback ratings - I have simply had too many problems. Amazon Marketplace now seems to be a victim of its own success. As with any retail transaction it is caveat emptor, and there are still some great deals and service. But sadly the aggravation is starting to outweigh the benefits. And before anyone asks why not buy the recordings as downloads? I would explain that I don't fancy printing out the wonderful 254 page booklet that comes with Scott Ross' complete Scarlatti Sonata set on a PC printer.

How do you buy your CDs and books? Any recommendations for dependable online stores for music and books? Or is everyone other than me downloading their music? And if so how did you get your Scarlatti Sonata booklet? Any nominations for exceptional 'bricks and mortar' stores - either UK or US? Any reader's experiences or comments very welcome via the Comments feature below - good as well as bad please.

Some small print on PageRank and related topics. The leading blog tracking service Technorati now audits 23.4 million blogs and ranks them by importance measured by links. On An Overgrown Path ranks today at 14,421 out of 23.4 million, with 944 links from 104 sites - quite pleasing for a 'serious' arts and music site. Thanks for linking, and virtual champagne all round if we reach 1000 links!

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Burning the bookshops

8 comments:

Keith said...

This means if a CD is shown as in stock by a Marketplace reseller this is no guarantee that they actually have it. Several times recently it has been clear that a supplier is sourcing the title from a wholesaler once they have my order, and my money.

That's happened to me a few times. When I get e-mail from the supplier telling me they can't actually supply the title they'd listed, I immediately tell them to cancel the order, then report them to Amazon for fraudulent listing. Dunno if Amazon ever takes any action against them, but at least I feel like I'm doing something.

Anonymous said...

We run a successful independent CD store in the UK. As you may be aware, many of the online stores are setting up Channel Islands shipping operations in order to avoid VAT charges, thereby artificially reducing their prices.

Play.com (offices in Cambridge)
operates out of Jersey, as does Tesco Jersey, Woolworths online (Jersey based again) and others. Apparently the Treasury lost about £200million last year in DVDs/CDs sold without VAT applied, due to this tax-break.

There is a movement to get this unfair anomoly changed and I would be interested in your comments. Perhaps 2006 will bring a slightly more level playing field for shops like ourselves.

Pliable said...

An interesting coda to the terrible experience with Entertainment UK and the Bach Chorale Setting set. I switched this order to the main Amazon site.

I normally avoid using Amazon as I have found their availability information disingenuously misleading in the recent past. But I know Hannsler/Brilliant are difficult and unattractive for 'bricks and mortar' stores to order, so I ordered from Amazon.uk as they showed stock.

The order immediately went into 'Awaiting despatch' meaning it had stock allocated against it. 24 hours later the status had been reduced to 'Open Order' with no free stock. I cancelled the order.

Pliable said...

In praise of independent CD stores, plus an interesting Benjamin Britten anecdote ...

The following was sent to me direct, rather than as a comment to the post. But it is such a wonderful, and deserved, testimony for 'bricks and mortar' retailers in general, and Prelude Records in Norwich in particular that I am posting it here:

Dear OgP

I didn't post this as a comment as it doesn't contribute anything to the debate, but might interest you as a Prelude Records customer. It's really just a bit of reminiscing, and I'm in the mood for that as I draw near to my (early) retirement from UEA Library where I've been since 1978, and have masqueraded as a music librarian - among other roles - since the mid 1990's. Before I took over as 'full' music librarian (ie printed material as well as recordings) I took on what was then a vinyl Record Library in 1985 (the colleague then looking after it had died in post, and I got given the job as someone with an evident interest in music and recordings, and junior and naive enough not to object to further tasks !).
See http://www.lib.uea.ac.uk/lib/libinf/otherlib/cdmusic/info.htm
It coincided, almost exactly with Andrew Cane starting his business in a very small shop off Pottergate. So small was the room that the office space (I think I remember this correctly) was a space below the shop floor, and Andrew would come up the connecting staircase, rising from behind the counter in a way that reminded me of those Dickensian and Wellsian scenes where shop assistants sleep in the space beneath the counter. Since then our library has shed vinyl (apart from a small archive), gone through the direful cassette years, and is now a CD collection of nearly 10,000 albums, and throughout the twenty years Prelude has remained our supplier for nearly all our classical recordings (in whichever format). I am not exaggerating when I say that in all that time they have made less than half-a-dozen mistakes in supplying us. In fact I can only recollect three instances : a wrong Bach cantata in a fiendishly complicated and large order of cantata recordings that required many of the same cantatas but in different performances, the duplicated supply of a spoken word recording, and ( I can't wholly remember the detail) the wrong performance of Mendelssohn (?) piece. Leaving aside vinyl and cassette, that's in the supply of probably over 3,000 CDs.

And it's extraordinary how Andrew has managed consistently to employ people who are not only enthusiastic musicians (most of them UEA music students), but also have a level of diplomacy and tact with customers that is remarkable. Very easy to make howlers in asking for classical music that can provoke instant mirth or some other form of putdown to the enquirer, and I've overheard some hilarious requests when in the shop.

Mentioning our first collection of vinyl, reminds me of a story that Paul Nurse (a UEA alumnus who won the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his research on cancer - see http://nobelprize.org/medicine/laureates/2001/nurse-autobio.html ) told on BBC radio (I heard it but , frustratingly, can't remember if it was Desert Island Discs, Private Passions, or some other programme) about his encounter with Benjamin Britten in the queue to borrow vinyl LPs during the lunch-hour at the UEA Record Library (for many years we only opened 1-2). An interesting sidelight on BB and his professed disdain of listening to recordings. One for another time.

Think your posts are amazing; ideal to find posts on both classical music and cycling (and much else). Leading Sunday club runs for CC Breckland I don't have too much opportunity in the conversation to combine it with my enthusiasm for Janacek...

regards
Alex Noel-Tod

Pliable said...

Having a high Google PageRank has interesting side benefits.

Type a search for erotic music into Google and An Overgrown Path is the first site displayed!

Pliable said...

To keep the record straight I should record that the refund from Entertainment UK for the 'second-hand' Bach set was prompt and trouble free.

But it should never have been sent out in the first place.

Pliable said...

Surprise, surprise ...

18 January 2006

EUK squeezed by Tesco

Woolworth's has warned that profits at wholesaler Entertainment UK will drop by about £10m in its next financial year after supermarket Tesco negotiated new terms with the supplier in order to continue with its current contract until the end of February 2007. It also warned that a cessation of the contract would lead to a further reduction in profits as well as "associated restructuring costs".


From The Bookseller

pet2000 said...

I have bought from Amazon Marketplace and have had only positive experiences. I never buy from a seller who sells for the cheapest price, and only buy from UK based sellers. This way, I never had to pay import duty (on items over £18), which can actually wipe out any savings you made on your purchase. Also in my experience, UK seller are generally more reliable. As with everything "YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR". If the seller has a very small profit margin, they also will have a bad customer service. My Brilliant Classics Complete Bach has cost me £160 from seller dvdrama and was delivered in less than 2 days - "BRILLIANT" (pun intended).