Does Apple Want My Money? And Other iBookstore Mysteries

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting at the hairdresser, I had time to read the teaser for Michel’s Jeury’s Le temps uncertain (Chronolysis).

Things started out well. The sample I requested from iTunes on my MacBook was already waiting for me when I opened iBooks on my iPhone. I noted the mention on the copyright page, ” This book was digitized in partnership with the CNL,” the Centre National du Livre.


Actually, I didn’t quite get to the end of the sample before my appointment was over, but I was hooked almost immediately, and I finished reading it as soon as I got home. The last page contained the link to buy the complete book.


I found the price a bit expensive. On the other hand, Payot lists the softcover at 34CHF, so 14CHF seems cheap. I tapped, expecting a “one click” purchase after which I’d be able to continue reading right where I’d left off.

It didn’t turn out that way.

After tapping the “BUY” button, it briefly turned grey and said DOWNLOADING. A few seconds later, it prompted me to log in to my iTunes account and then up came the familiar “iTunes Terms and Conditions Have Changed” message.


I tapped ok, the network icon started spinning and the screen went blank. I waited for several minutes. Note the time stamps on the previous snap and the one below:


After about five minutes, I had to quit the application to look up something else. I figured it was hung up anyway, and I’d have to restart it.

Once I’d finished my query in Safari, I went back to iBooks. It opened straight to my Library, but the sample was gone! So I tapped to go over to the Store, tapped on Search, typed in my title and then tapped BUY on the result. As before, I was prompted for my password and then shown the Terms and Conditions pop-up. I tapped OK again, and this time the screen went black and in a few seconds the Terms and Conditions came up. They were in German, of course, even though the interface is in English, and I was buying a French-language book. That’s normal for the multi-lingual Swiss iBooks/iTunes store. After accepting the new Terms and Conditions, I was asked if I still wanted to BUY the book. I tapped OK, thinking I would finally be able to complete my purchase, but I wasn’t done yet.

A few seconds after the button briefly said DOWNLOADING, up came another pop-up informing me that my payment method had expired, so I had to repeat the same circus again, by logging into my iTunes account, which required me to enter my password yet again. The pop-up said that after logging in, I’d be able to enter my payment details. As before, that didn’t seem to work. The screen went blank again for several minutes with the network icon spinning. I left it for a while, but nothing ever happened. I quit the application, and thought to myself that since this happened before, the second time would be the charm. I reopened iBooks and went through the motions again. Nothing.

Thinking it might be that Apple doesn’t want people updating their account info on their iPhones, I pulled out my MacBook with the intention to continue there, but I had misgivings. That couldn’t be right. I’m sure I’ve updated my account information from my phone in the past. For curiosity’s sake, I really wanted to see if I could complete the purchase on my phone. Just in case, I tested my network connection. I was connected via WiFi and the connection was good. I decided to give it one more try before launching iTunes on my MacBook. That meant restarting iBooks, going back to the Store, searching again for the title, and tapping on BUY. Before that I tried poking around a little in the store to see if I could find another way to access my account information. I couldn’t, so I went to the BUY button one last time.

I searched in the store (a recently viewed button would be very helpful here), tapped BUY, tapped Continue when prompted to update my payment method, typed in my password, and it worked! The account details page finally appeared, and I was able to update my info. Once I saved the updates, although I’d tried four times now to buy Le temps uncertain, Apple asked me again if I still wished to buy it. I tapped continue and the button turned grey and said DOWNLOADING. The network icon started spinning, but only briefly. I waited for a while. Nothing happened. I tapped the item again and the Cloud icon appeared with a down arrow. I tapped it. Nothing. I forgot to make a snap, but I think it had changed from saying DOWNLOADING to DOWNLOADED.

I tapped on the Library icon at the top of the app. Nothing happened. I waited and then tapped again. Nothing. I quit the app and reopened it. It was still stuck on the item. I tapped the Library icon again. Nothing. It was still frozen. The network working icon had disappeared.

I quit the app and waited wondering if I should restart. Instead I decided to open and close another before trying one last time. I opened iBooks. It opened to my library, and Le temps uncertain was there at the top. I clicked expecting to see the title page, but no, iTunes actually remembered that I had read the entire sample and opened the book to the right passage exactly where I left off. Well, finally, that was something nice.


I thought it might be interesting to write up my experience. I don’t know if this is happening to other users–it has never happened to me before–and I don’t know what Apple’s iBookstore sales figures are, but I’d be surprised if the average user would put up with this for long before going somewhere else to make the purchase. It’s just too damned annoying.

I put the phone down to type some notes on my MacBook, and then I had to do a few other things and put the phone aside without closing iBooks. When I came back, somehow in handling the phone, I managed to turn the page so that when I was ready to read again, it wasn’t at the same place anymore. I hadn’t set a bookmark and thought to myself, “Good thing I have a snap.” I took a look and decided that “Volkswagen” was a word on the page that probably wasn’t used many times in the book. Searching on it, I’d surely find my place quickly.

I didn’t. Instead I quickly discovered that something is not quite right with search in iBooks. It found three pages with the word “Volkswagen,” but not the last page I had read. I had to page through the first chapter until I found it. I snapped this before I started reading again,

search results

A few pages later, I found the word “Volkswagen” again.


Curious, I checked to see if it was among the three references found in search. It wasn’t. This is strange, and it isn’t obvious to me what is going on here so I have simply noted it in passing.

As for the rest of my reading experience, I haven’t read any French books in iBooks yet, so I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was able to download and install a French dictionary when I tried to define a word I wasn’t sure of.


I simply tapped on the DOWNLOAD A DICTIONARY button, and the app did the rest, figuring out which dictionary it needed, downloading it and then taking me directly to the definition once it was installed.


I don’t know what to make of this. Apple’s latest advertising campaign says that “the experience of a product” is what matters. Of all places, if Apple is concerned about making its store profitable both for itself and for its sellers, Apple should make sure the buying experience is simple and easy. My purchase yesterday was anything but. Had I not just read the sample, I might have just bailed, putting the purchase off for later or not at all.

Fortunately for Apple and for the publisher, Michel Jeury is a great writer, so I wasn’t going to give up. How many others would do the same?


An Unexpected Encounter
Real Life People Don’t Care About Apple’s Design Philosophy

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8 Responses to Does Apple Want My Money? And Other iBookstore Mysteries

  1. Sounds like an incredibly frustrating experience. I have only purchased one book through the iBook store, and it all went very smoothly.

  2. NickBangO says:

    Considering ebooks made by Nord Compo are just pieces of crap (which are definitely not worth the price the publisher is asking), believe it or not but it could be the ebooks’ code which triggers the “search bug”.

    I have never seen ebooks that badly made from any other outsourcing company. If the CNL cared, it would quite simply put Nord Compo on a blacklist so that its money doesn’t go in the pocket of a company which doesn’t even have a clue how you use HTML and CSS (the two languages EPUB is made of, like the web). This company is the biggest joke in the ebook industry, it is so bad at making EPUB and kindle files that files made by a dozen people in an ebook factory located in India, which really are mountains of utter crap, appear well-made in comparison…

    Unfortunately, Apple won’t reject badly made files from big publishers, and that is the main problem. Just take into account that apple agrees to sell files which are not valid by the extremely low standards that exist today. And For files not to be valid, you have to try really hard! As a matter of consequence, resellers have to deal with crap and readers are the ones who suffer. If only resellers rejected bad files, then companies like Nord Compo wouldn’t last long in the ebook industry, but big companies wouldn’t screw one another, would they?

    • laura says:

      Aside from a few odd page breaks and the strange search errors, I haven’t found anything major to complain about in this one. Of course, I’ve only been reading on my phone so far, and with such a small screen some errors might be hard to notice. I also haven’t had much time to read since yesterday; I’m only 10% through.

  3. Interestingly, Amazon France only offers the paperback. Kobo doesn’t have the ebook either. But France’s ePagine offers the ebook, “sans DRM”, for 9.99 € (

    I’m on a PC: It always feels as if Apple deliberately makes its iBookstore impossibly difficult and obtuse just to punish us PCers. I gave up on it long ago, especially because Apple never has the best selection nor the lowest prices.

  4. Richard Day says:

    I have seen something similar once, while purchasing an iOS app. It would be really helpful if Apple launched the dialog asking one to agree to changes in terms (or any other administrative item) when one opens iTunes or lands in one of there stores, rather than triggering it when a Buy button is clicked.

    I have bought quite a lot of books from the Apple store (I also buy at times from Amazon and Kobo), and not had any serious problems. The worst was a “bundle” of three ebooks in one massive file. Clicked Buy on my iPad without thinking how many other devices in the house were also on the wifi at that time. The download stalled, multiple times. Later discovered my wife was watching a streaming movie on her iPad and my daughter was using her iPhone to have a FaceTime chat with a cousin in Italy.

    When I think back to my early days with the Sony PRS-700 and the endless Sony-USB-ADEonWindows crashes, iBooks seems quite benign!

    Most of the ebooks I buy are not on this week’s best-seller lists; they are older titles. I generally do not see significant price differences between Apple and the others for them, so buying via Apple is often the best, low-friction choice for me.

    • laura says:

      Thanks, Ric. You made me think of something: if you only have to accept the new Terms & Conditions when you buy something new, that implies that the old Terms & Conditions apply to previously purchased items. I wonder if they force you to accept that the new Terms apply retroactively to those previous purchases. Something to check.

  5. richfinck says:

    I sympathize with you. I try not to purchase on iPhone. I’m afraid I’ll wind up with 2 or 3 items. Always purchase on MacBook.

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