Cengage Your Brain Into A Death Trap

October 17, 2011 § 6 Comments

I was so confused on Saturday night. I am writing this blog post mostly as a warning to other people who are considering using CengageBrain or CourseSmart or other e-textbook services in general. As always with online purchases, make sure you only spend money on trusted websites. And if the only comments about the website are negative, don’t let your desperation get the best of you! It’ll only result in a waste of money and time.

A tale of woe:

B is currently enrolled in an online class at Mizzou, which requires the textbook Presidential Leadership: Politics and Policy Making. He figured it would be easier to complete the assignments using an e-textbook instead of a physical one, so on Friday, he bought a copy from the only place it was available: CengageBrain.com. It wasn’t cheap, but he was paying for convenience.

The next day, B wanted to work on something for his class, so he tried to access his book. This is as far as he could get:

No matter what page or chapter he clicked on, only the preview version of the book was available. We were both flummoxed. He had very clearly made the purchase, and it very clearly showed up on his Cengage Brain dashboard:

You’ll notice that in the upper-right corner, it says that the “Unsealer” is “Not Installed.” Well, obviously that was the solution! We quickly went about installing the Oracle Unsealer Reader thing on his MacBook [which also required that he install Adobe Reader] and went back to access the book.

Same result: preview only. Back on the dashboard, it still said that the Unsealer wasn’t installed. Clicking on “Install Now” again led to this page:

Clicking “Verify Install” led to this page:

Seriously? Only Internet Explorer? This was getting ridiculous. B tried installing Unsealer on his brother’s PC laptop but got the same results. There was clearly a lot going wrong.

At this point, B had already wasted enough time in this fruitless effort and needed to study for his other classes, so he handed the reins over to me. Very well then!

We had two options: Either get someone to figure out why the book wasn’t working properly, or return the darn thing. I figured returning it would be the better choice, considering you can buy the book used for less than a dollar. The restrictions regarding returns are somewhat contradictory. Under FAQ, I found this:

But under Terms of Service, it says this:

The bigger problem was that apart from these mentions, I couldn’t actually figure out how to return a purchase. Nowhere on the site could I find a “Returns” page or option. I was flummoxed. If I am unhappy with my purchase [especially if I am hindered from actually using it], I have every right to return it, right? It was time to contact customer service.

CengageBrain.com recommends that people use their 24/7 technical support, so I complied. I poked around on that website and even found a video tutorial on how to use CourseSmart, which was both hilarious and unhelpful. [“Simply click ‘Open’ and you’ll have instant access to your book.” NOT!]

I decided to file a case, so I wrote a brief summary of the problem and submitted it. I was then given the option of chatting with a support person, which was what I was looking for in the first place. “Kenneth,” however, proved to be pretty useless. Our unsatisfying conversation:

What’s up with the “Tier 2 level of support” holding everyone back? The main point I gathered from this was that the buyer basically has no power. I understand that the ebook business is a bit different than simply returning a pair of shoes, but I find it absurd that I have to wait an ambiguous length of time to receive an email approval for my return when they give me a 2-week time limit to complete the process. What if they just filibuster my complaint into obscurity?

I couldn’t get very far with CengageBrain, so I decided to try CourseSmart. I don’t understand why it takes two different companies to read one etextbook, but I guess the reading material is hosted on CourseSmart while CengageBrain…takes the money? Except you can also purchase the ebook on CourseSmart. I don’t know what the point of CengageBrain is anymore.

When I went to the CourseSmart “Bookshelf,” this is what I saw:

“Free Trial”?! “Add to Cart”??? Are you kidding me?? B already paid for this book! That is just messed up.

Fortunately, the CourseSmart Help page is infinitely more useful than that of CengageBrain, which at this point seemed more and more like a scam. CourseSmart offers instructions on where to go if you’d like to process a refund, so I dutifully followed its directions and wound up here:

Well. Nothing to refund, eh? I had no choice but to call CengageBrain’s customer service and inquire into their utter uselessness.

When you call CengageBrain’s customer service, there’s a long preemptive spiel geared toward people who are having trouble accessing their purchases. Is this a common problem, or do they just get a lot of stupid questions?

I waited for a while to get through to a real person, and it didn’t take too long for her to approve our refund and process it. I wanted to get to the bottom of our technical issue of not being able to use our ebook, but it wasn’t worth wasting my minutes waiting for an explanation. In the end, we ordered the physical version of the textbook for a dollar and definitely wouldn’t try CengageBrain again.

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