Amazon’s Tepid Response to the Auto-Subscribe Debacle

At 5:17-p.m. U.S. Mountain time today, I received a short email from Amazon.  It was a form email, explaining what the Kindle Compass is and clarifying the price issue.  This is the text of the email:

This morning we sent you an e-mail regarding The Kindle Compass, a new free publication built by the Kindle editorial team that we’re piloting to a small number of Kindle customers. This e-mail incorrectly referred to The Kindle Compass as a subscription with a free trial. We built it to always be free for customers, and you will never be charged for it. We apologize for any confusion. If you wish to unsubscribe from the pilot for The Kindle Compass, you can do so from a link in the last section of the magazine, or from the Manage Your Kindle Subscriptions page at Kindle Support

While this is admirable (and hopefully they sent it to all of the people they sent the original auto-subscription to), it is not quite enough.  First of all, take out the “opt-out” nature of this whole thing (i.e. give me the option to subscribe, don’t subscribe me and then wait for me to unsubscribe if I don’t want it).  Also, I am waiting for a public response from Amazon, which I don’t believe is forthcoming.  As with most larger organizations, silence is golden, and the less they say, the more protected they feel.  Besides, there’s that whole “too big to fail” thing.  The attitude of “I’m big, you’re little, therefore I can do what I want.”  Bullies!

It is unfortunate that Amazon did not take the time to explain the Kindle Compass, its total cost to the subscriber, and how to subscribe.  They went about it in a completely underhanded way.  And while the actual cost was (apparently) never going to be more than $0.00, they didn’t come right out and say that, and when users who had received the self-subscription went to Amazon’s web site to get more information, they could find nothing.  Users who skipped the web interface and went straight to the phone to make a call mostly got a befuddled customer service agent who had never heard of the product and could not explain what the user should do, if they even got through to customer service at all (which was my experience – two ten-minute waits on hold and I gave up).

In the end, this all made Amazon look sneaky.  The threat of the auto-subscription email was that they were going to charge our credit cards for something we didn’t buy. Even if it ended up that that something was going to be zero dollars, it still means they had the intention to charge us for something we didn’t buy. That is the worst part of this.  I have to have a credit or debit card on file with Amazon to use my Kindle, which gives them access to my money whenever they want.  If we weren’t feeling so safe about that before, how safe are we going to feel about it now?

Like I said earlier today, in this day and age, when we have a million choices online to buy products and services, why would Amazon shoot themselves in the foot this way?  You have to wonder who thought up this wonderful idea, and who didn’t see it before it was distributed to thousands of Amazon users in the United States.

If and when Amazon posts a public response/explanation/apology, I will post it here.  Until then, beware, Amazon shoppers.