Hesitant to Use Academic Discount Due to Lack of Transferability

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Bob Pritchett | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 10:05 AM

I'm sorry for the concern this thread has caused. It seems like issues like this one erupt every once-in-a-while as a side-effect of our desire to not have policies.

I hate policies. Policies are straight-jackets that prevent organizations from doing the right thing for individuals. Policies force organizations to treat individuals as a single, adversarial entity, rather than as people with special needs and concerns. Policies empower front-line staff to avoid listening and to shirk the responsibility of making decisions.

We try to have as few policies as possible.

Dan did not outline a policy. Dan said that the program was not "designed" for license transfer. He explained the logic, and the specific scenario we were concerned about. We do disclose that we license a single user, but he didn't say anything about inheritance, he didn't say there were no exceptions. 

For 20 years we have been trying to do the right thing for our customers, trying to be generous and flexible. I believe we have established a great track record and a strong reputation for excellent customer service. (If you don't think so, please email or call me immediately. bob@logos.com; 360-527-1700. I'll take care of whatever you're concerned about.)

We're not throwing that away with a single forum post, or phone conversation. (And it's frustrating to me how quickly people take one small statement and jump to amazingly distant conclusions -- as if, after 20 years of customer-first orientation, we've suddenly had a personality change and decided that throwing away that reputation is the way to be even more profitable! I think some people are watching too many Hollywood movies where the businessman is the bad guy... <smile>)

We have well-over one million user accounts. While the majority of our users are among the greatest people on earth, there are some people -- out of over one million! -- who try to take advantage of us (and, I imagine, other businesses). Many companies create policies in response to, or to defend against, specific abuses. For example, a clothing store might require tags to be attached when clothing is returned in order to ensure people aren't "borrowing" clothes for a one-night event and returning them the next day. An electronics store might charge a re-stocking fee on opened flat-screens TV's to discourage their purchase for just watching the Super Bowl.

But these policies, designed to prevent abuse, always catch a few "innocents" too. That's why we prefer guidelines to policies, and discretion by our customer service agents. We want to always do the right thing for the customer. (Sometimes this means an agent will make the wrong call -- they're people, and make mistakes -- but we back that up with a policy of easy access to managers and the president of the company. Nobody ever gets unfairly caught by a policy at Logos.)

Every policy we do have (few) and every restriction we promote (the end user license agreement, etc.) exists as a backstop against abuse; on our side, though, none of these is a handcuff that prevents us from doing the right thing, and it is in our continuing interest to do that.

I don't want to open another long discussion on how digital licensing is different from the purchase of physical goods, but I'll hit the highlights:

Physical manifestations of intellectual property (books, DVD's, etc.) are resell-able because the physical object is purchased, and thus can be re-sold. This fact is priced into the original purchase price of the object, and transaction "friction" prevents the whole world from just buying one copy and passing it around. It has to be physically transported, moved between parties, accumulates actual physical wear and tear, etc.

Digital intellectual property is rarely sold; it is licensed. Most licenses are for limited use by the original purchaser only. This is because there is little to no friction in sharing something that doesn't have to be physically moved; there's no technical reason that 50 people couldn't share one Netflix license, and all watch streaming movies off one $8.99 /month subscription. It is a license which prevents this. (This is also why you can have thousands of movies streamed for $8.99, but pay $15 or more for a DVD of a single movie.) 

In the same way, we're able to offer many expensive reference works in bundles with list-price discounts approaching 90% because the publisher knows that the content is licensed to a single user. Everyone knows that some of these books have limited use, and that people may be "done" with some of them shortly. That's priced into the deal. If you could immediately transfer the book you were done with to someone else digitally, without even the friction of taking it to the used bookstore, we'd sell a lot fewer copies of the expensive reference works. Theoretically a single license to a book could be owned by a college library, and students could check it out digitally in blocks of 5 minutes, allowing an entire class to use the same book in one evening.

This is why we don't license libraries, why we discourage re-sale, etc. And it's why the few publishers who do license digital books to libraries introduce "artificial friction" in the form of limits on the number of lends per license, or a two-week minimum check-out period for a digital check-out, etc.

My long-term dream is that Logos can offer something like the $8.99 / month Netflix subscription -- all the Bible study materials you could want for an incredibly low monthly price. In that model we wouldn't allow account sharing or content resale, But we'd offer incredibly inexpensive access to everyone. You wouldn't need a used-copy at half price; you'd get everything for less.

We aren't there yet, though, and presently we sell things at varying discounts. Some prices are close to print, some are 90% less than print, and sometimes (academic discount) we offer certain users / scenarios special deals.

In general, we license individual users. In general, we price on the expectation that we're selling to one person without transfer. (Remember, we're offering ongoing service, support, software upgrades, etc. We have ongoing costs, and if every copy was actively used forever we couldn't sustain that. Most users do not transfer their licenses, and many eventually -- by change of interests, profession, school, or vertical-status -- stop needing ongoing support.)

We recognize that some users, however, are making a large investment. It may be objectively large -- thousands of dollars in resources -- or relatively large -- a big investment for them, based on their income.

These users want to know that their investment is wise, and that they can transfer it at death, or in other necessary circumstances. They aren't trying to "borrow" the books for a class, they aren't trying to re-sell the same copy five times, they aren't passing a copy of a single text around a class, etc. And so we try to always do the right thing for these users.

The bottom line is we have the minimum policy to protect ourselves from expensive abuse. We have some policy to avoid creating a legal entitlement to abuse. But we are driven by doing the right thing, and even our policy enforcement tends to be after-the-fact and in response to the worst abuse. (We had a user who returned _every_ purchase a few months later, for years. We eventually -- in my opinion, long after every other company would have cut him off -- stopped selling to him, with an apology that we couldn't make a product he was happy with.)

In some ways it would be easier to just make some policies and post them. "No refund after x days. No resale until y years. No installing on more than z machines." etc. But while they might give clarity on the web site, the policies would turn into straight-jackets for our users. They would turn into excuses our staff could use to end calls quickly and avoid listening to individual customers. They would turn us into the big, monolithic, money-driven, people-insensitive organization everyone seems to worry about.

But we aren't that yet, and I don't want to be that. So instead I'll just keep coming back here to the forums (and to my inbox!) to put out the occasional fires, and hope that our persistent, continuing, excellent, one-on-one service will win out over paranoia about what might happen in the future when the people at Logos lose their minds and retreat to an evil corporate lair on a hollowed-out volcanic island where they plot ways to antagonize the million users who built the company. :-)

-- Bob

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JT (alabama24) | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 10:24 AM

Thanks Bob for your gracious reply. Smile

macOS, iOS & iPadOS | Logs |  Install

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Milford Charles Murray | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 10:35 AM

Thank you, Bob!                               *smile*                                                      You are truly -- and much! -- appreciated!

                     Peace to you!                             ... and ..........             Always Joy in the Lord!

Philippians 4:  4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand..........

Posts 110
Kristin Dantzler | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 10:42 AM

Thanks for providing an excellent clarification. As a member of the Board of Trustees of a University and Seminary, I am always concerned for our students.  This clarification removes this as an issue from my perspective.

Posts 681
Into Grace | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 10:43 AM


Thanks Bob for your gracious reply. Smile

+1 Yes

Posts 704
ChelseaFC | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 2:02 PM

Thank you Bob. This is what I needed to hear. Thank you for your clarity and for looking out for your customers. I can confidently and happily move on now.



Chelsea FC- Today is a good day!

Posts 255
Sogol | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jul 5 2012 3:00 PM

Thank you so much for the great reply, Bob. This is why I was willing to give up my much beloved physical library in exchange for Logos. I really think you run a first class operation.

However, if you will allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment, I wanted to make a couple points:

1) The landscape is littered with technology/media/retail companies that were once very cool but eventually turned lame, thus leaving formerly loyal customers feeling angry and betrayed. Just look at the fiasco Netflix created when they announced their big 60% price increase last year - people who absolutely loved the company and had been happy subscribers for the past decade felt that the company had turned greedy and betrayed them (I believe they lost somewhere around 1 million subscribers after this). And there's plenty more companies in technology, media and retail that were once loved and are now loathed or in the process of being abandoned by formerly loyal customers - Yahoo, Palm, MySpace, Gateway, Research in Motion (Blackberry), Hewlett Packard, Motorola, AOL, Nokia, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Netscape, Best Buy and on and on and on. The ultra-competitive and rapidly changing nature of these industries means that it's extremely difficult for such companies to simultaneously grow and stay on good terms with customers. Of course, Logos has the advantage of being privately held, as well as being owned and operated by believers who value their integrity more than just their P&L. However, my point is that people have good reason to be skeptical that a technology company can remain a good partner in the long-run. If anyone can buck the trend, I'd put my money on Logos, but again, I hope you understand why Logos' customers might be cautious.

2) Though the subscription based model is becoming increasingly popular in the technology and media worlds, and I'm sure many people would love such an option, I suspect that many still feel drawn to the idea of owning their own library rather than renting it. Just as owning one's own house is often not as economical or practical as renting, and paying off your entire mortgage may not be the most financially optimal thing to do, many people still prefer to own their own homes and pay off their entire mortgage (even Warren Buffett says this). Let's face it - people who love books own them for reasons that are not always entirely practical. I'm betting that one of the big attractions that many of your customers have to Logos is that, through Logos, you really can feel like you own your own digital library. I think this point is relevant for the whole discussion of the transferability of academic purchases - not being able to transfer feels much more like a very long-term rental than ownership, and that detracts from the overall user experience with Logos.

Again, I truly appreciate your post, Bob, and my intention is not to drag this thread out forever. Furthermore, I believe that Logos can be trusted to do the right thing in the end. However, I think it's important that all sides of these issues be discussed so that Logos customers, employees, owners and content providers all win in the end.

All the best.

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