Tuesday, September 15, 2009

another textbook skull fuck

i have posted at some length about the unmitigated ass rape that is the college textbook scam.

it managed to bite me again today, and i am so unbelievably angry i won't even try to bother being nice (or hide the guilty party behind some "won't say their name" thing).

the book in question this time is this one. the book is decent in terms of material, but i have complaints about the course structure i'll save for another post.

today i bought a new computer i'll also save for another post. (i'm writing from it now, and it's pretty sweet.) as part of the setup for this new computer, i needed to put the electronic textbook i bought onto this new computer.

the electronic textbook is about $50 cheaper than the paper version, and being on a budget so tight i couldn't stick a straight pin up its ass, i went for it.

like all textbooks, it's drm-laden shitware. you have to download the vitalsource reader, log in, and then download your book to mess with it. (you can only print two pages at a time, or copy text two pages at a time, and when you copy, it includes citation garbage stuffed onto the clipboard whether you want it or not.)

it turns out that they only allow you to use your book on two computers at a time. it should theoretically be possible to de-authorize one computer and transfer the authorization to another.

but no.

there's no way to deauthorize within the software on one computer, and when you try to authorize the third, you get the wonderfully helpful error "you have reached your machine activation limit."

the useless faq doesn't actually say anything about errors like this. oh, no, you don't have to back up your purchases, you can re-download them ... but if your machine crashes, apparently you actually can't redownload because the system won't let you "authorize" your computer!

call support, which is 24 hours. i talk to a rep who doesn't understand the problem. i tell him i need to deauthorize one computer and authorize another.

he puts me on hold to find out how to do this.

it turns out, the way you do this is to escalate to second fucking level support. a simple, straight-forward situation that happens all the time is beyond the capabilities of their first level support team: customer with a desktop and a laptop calls in, has upgraded one computer or the other, and wants to take his textbook with him. but gotcha! we can't help you do that.

so the second level guys will supposedly get in touch either by phone or by email -- he doesn't know which -- with a resolution -- but he doesn't know when. he also couldn't explain the benefits of the product to me, when i asked -- as in, why i'd want this product now.

meanwhile, shitware ebook company that over-charges for their drm-laden, mind-numbingly broken crap has my money, while i have a book that's half-broken.

while i have lots of personality and philosophical clashes with the guys over at the free software foundation, it's true that vitalsource's shit is defective by design.


  1. Oh man, I can't STAND the whole textbook racket. It's SUCH bullshit. I have never been inclined to get an e-textbook, because I can't sell it back, but now I have even more reason not to! What always fucks me up is how much I get back for selling my textbooks back to the school book store, and how much they charge for the used book. They are making a serious profit on that. I can't help but wonder where the hell all that money is going. Especially since I'm at SF State, which is reeling from budget cuts in California like the other State schools. Then I find out our school's president not only gets a hefty salary, but also gets a food and car allowance. It's disgusting.

  2. Hey, I just happened upon your blog from a google search for that dreaded activation limit message. Just to share my experience, I was equally frustrated/angry upon being told that I was unable to switch to using my textbook on another computer! I immediately called customer service, and within 3 minutes the rep had deactivated the computer which I no longer wished to use the textbook on, and I was immediately able to activate it on the new computer. I hope that you finally got your issue resolved, and I'm sorry you spoke to someone who was clueless. :(

  3. Hey, nice post. I recently found 2009 legislation in my state of Washington that was supposed to fix this problem, but it didn't. These bookstores are making a handsome profit.

    Students are resilliant and continue to come up with ways to circumvent the greedy.