Monday, May 07, 2007

The Card Arrives!

So after my last post, I received an email from Customer Service, within the promised 24 hours, and they provided me with a number to speak with someone who wasn't a complete and utter moron like Michelle. I called the number that afternoon and was told that I was, in fact, approved for the card. I asked the fellow on the phone whether or not I was going to receive the email I was promised from the start, as it had been more than "a few days." Seeing as how he had just informed me that I was approved, I assumed the answer would be a simple "Yes, I'll send you an email now." I was wrong, though, as should be readily assumed by now.

The response I received was that I'll receive something in the mail within 30 days. Bewildered by the complete change in policy (meatspace mail vs. email, "within 30 days" vs. "in a few days"), I didn't think to ask if he meant 30 days from when I applied or 30 days from this particular call. Either way, in the end it all worked out, as the card just arrived today. Sure, I'm still waiting on that email I was promised three weeks ago, but at least I can finally start earning some WorldPoints.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

We Seriously Let Them Treat Us Like This?

Here is, verbatim, the transcript of my live chat session with Bank of America last night regarding the Detroit Red Wings MasterCard I applied for on 4/15/2007. Enjoy:

Welcome to an online Card chat session at Bank of America. Please hold while we connect you to the next available Card Specialist. Your chat may be monitored and recorded for quality purposes. You are number 2 in a queue of 2. Thank you for your patience.

Hello, my name is Michelle. Thank you for contacting Bank of America. I am happy to assist you with your online credit card application or balance transfer request.

you: I was wondering what's taking so long on my application... the page says that I'll receive an email in "a few days" but it's been over a week and I've received no communication whatsoever.

Michelle: Thanks again for your application, and we look forward to serving your banking needs! Was there anything else I can do for you today?

Michelle: Generally this process can take 3 to 4 weeks to further verify information on your credit card application...

you: That's ridiculous. It clearly states that normally credit decisions can be provided right away. I can get my credit score in 5 minutes, tops. The bank I just opened an account with last weekend checked everything within 30 minutes. How in the world is it going to take 3-4 weeks? And furthermore, how come I was told "a few days" if it can be 3-4 weeks?

Michelle: You have received a response within 60 seconds.

Michelle: However, based on the information provided by you on the application, further review is necessary

Michelle: No worries, our credit department will be in contact with you via email or by phone very soon.

Michelle: Again, thank you for applying with us, and have

Michelle: a great rest of the day.

Michelle: =o)

you: Are you serious? Saying "We need more time" and "Within a few days, we'll send you an email informing you that a decision has been made on your application" is not a valid response

you: We're not done here

Michelle: Wonderful!

Michelle: Do you currently have a checking or savings account with us?

Michelle: I would like to share the special offers we currently have available for checking/savings accounts with you. Would you like me to transfer you to a specialist to get more information?

you: No, I don't

you: Are you seriously trying to sell me? I'm furious with your company, and you're trying to sell me?

you: You need to make a decision on my application, or put someone on who can. I have great credit, there's no earthly reason for the application to take as long as it's taking.

Michelle: I definitely understand your concerns and if I could help, I would not hesitate to do so. But you need to address your concerns with the proper area in which I provided the contact information.

Michelle: Our credit department will be in contact with you very soon. This chat feature is to assist with

you: You haven't provided any contact information. Now you're just flat out lying to me.

Michelle: new credit card application, which you have already applied for.

you: What does "very soon" mean?

Michelle: Thank you, would you like to apply for another card tonight?

you: Is it like "a few days" which stretches well beyond a week?

you: Only if you're going to guarantee me an answer (yes OR no, just an answer one way or the other) tonight.

you: And if this chat feature is for new applications only, how come I received an invitation to chat when I arrived on the Check Status of Application page?

you: Are you going to answer any of my questions, or have you just decided to ignore me now?

Michelle: You may send an e-mail directly to our Customer Service Department and receive a response from a Customer Service Specialist in 24 hours or less. Click here to e-mail our Customer Service Department.

Michelle: It was a pleasure assisting you today. To exit this chat session, please click the Close button. Thanks for choosing Bank of America, have a great day!

Chat session has been terminated by the site operator.

Perhaps I will actually hear back from this mysterious "Customer Service Specialist" within 24 hours... perhaps the promised "response" will involve them violating the sanctity of my man-parts... Tune in on your irregular schedule for further updates regarding your favorite year-plus-long-updating-blogger! w00t!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Ones and Zeroes Make the World Go 'Round:
Part Zero: Introduction! Music!

(Pre-script: I began this post on 4/2/2006, but stopped halfway through for a variety of reasons. Since placing it on hold, I've been noticing a bunch of similar articles popping up around the Intertron. Most of these I've been seeing have been much more focused in their scope, looking at just music, or briefly discussing games as a tangent to another conversation entirely. My goal here is to discuss digital content distribution in all its forms. I may get sidetracked. I may ramble on about arguably inconsequential details. I'm fine with this, and I hope you are, too. While this post may cover some ground that's already been trodden, I feel that this larger view of digital distribution is still relevant.)

We all use the Internet for everything we can. We get our news here. We entertain ourselves on it. Some of us play games on it. We inform ourselves on it. There's little doubt that those ones and zeroes zipping through the ether really do keep us going from day to day. But I don't think we're using the Internet's full potential at the moment. We're getting closer, though, which is heartening. I'm talking about digital distribution.

"Digital distribution of
what," you may be asking yourself, and rightly so. The answer? Everything. Well, everything that
can be distributed digitally... Obviously, I'm not calling for digital distribution of hardware, clothing, etc. Until we have some sort of home nano-synthesizing machines to take digital instructions and construct, say, a Xbox 360, this just isn't practical. Pure-
meatspace objects must, for now, stay in meatspace. What we can distribute digitally, though, we're starting to do. We've just got a bit more work left to perfect it all.

This is the spot where the state of the industry is furthest along. There are many different competing stores, a couple of which are very good, most of which are pretty much crap. I'm going to discuss just two in any sort of depth. First, of course, is Apple's iTunes Music Store. With a huge selection of songs (not to mention TV shows, music videos, and if the rumor mill is to be believed, feature-length movies in the near future... but that's another section), there's a fairly good chance you can find what you want there. Sure, it's in Apple's proprietary format, limiting your listening options to iTunes itself and your choice of iPod (ignoring, for the moment, that you can burn a CD from it and listen in any CD player you may have, not to mention
JHymn for older versions of iTunes), but there are much worse players that you could be locked into. And yes, it's DRM-tastic, but in a couple years of use, I have yet to run into a single problem with Apple's Fairplay scheme. Overall, iTunes Music Store is fantastic. You'd be hard pressed to find a service that's better on all fronts.

Emusic, on the other hand, has a much more limited library of songs to choose from. This is by design. You know all the crap songs you hear on the radio these days (or even back in The Day... we all know that music in general wasn't actually better Back Then, we've all just got rose-colored glasses... but anyway: TANGENT!)? You're not gonna find that on Emusic. The turds you see in iTunes' top ten list? Not there. What you will find, though, is an astounding array of independent artists. It's almost (but not quite) the sort of thing I called on Apple to do in my last post. It's all in MP3 format (of varying bitrates. Literally. It's all encoded in VBR) with nary a shred of DRM in sight. It also blows iTunes out of the water in pricing. Emusic takes a different approach to selling songs. It's halfway between Apple's pay-per-download and Rhapsody or Yahoo!'s monthly subscription rental-style (i.e., stop paying, stop listening). With Emusic, you pay a monthly fee (as little as $10) to get a certain number of downloads for that month. The $10 plan gives you 40 downloads a month. That's $0.25 per song. With the other options, you can get it down as low as $0.16 per song (given their current sale of 25% off the two-year plan). If it sounds like I'm shilling, I apologize. I'm just extremely impressed with Emusic and get all evangelistic when discussing it. Seriously, though... check it out. They've got a free trial where you can get 25 downloads no-strings attached, yours to keep even if you cancel. I'm almost making myself sick with this... I sound like a goddamned infomercial. For my money, though, Emusic's got the digital distribution game locked up. They've got a great pricing scheme, they've got the right idea tossing the DRM, and I'm totally on board with the indie-ness (again, see my last post for more on that). On to the next bit!

As mentioned in my
pre-script, there're quite a few other stores around, but they've been covered elsewhere. I'll leave it to you to click that last link to find out more about the others. Just remember, though: while looks good on paper, there's been no definite ruling on its legality.

Next Post: Conclusion! (Including discussion on digital distribution of games and more)

(Post-script: Okay, I totally didn't mean to do this, but the post's getting long, the hour's getting late, and the bed is singing me its sweet siren song of sleep. I'm going to break this post into (at least) two parts. The next (and if all goes according to plan, last) part will be posted when I Damn Well Feel Like It.)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Apple vs. RIAA (or, How Jobs Could Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Music)

Not that I'm saying Jobs is worrying, mind you. The word on the street, though, is that the RIAA (specifically, Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman) is trying to hold a proverbial gun to Apple's head, threatening to pull their music out of the iTunes Music Store if Jobs doesn't agree to their ridiculous pricing scheme and cut them in on a share of Apple's iPod profits. Obviously, this is ridiculous, and no one in their right mind would stand for it. Exxon doesn't get a share of Ford's Explorer profits, and if anyone suggested Exxon should, they'd be laughed out of town. So why does Mr. Bronfman think he's got a valid point? Who knows. We're talking here about a group of money-thirsty vampires who feel justified in repeatedly suing their own customers (including, of course, 13 year old girls). Anyway... that's not my point.

What I'm thinking is... would it really be that bad if the RIAA
did pull out of iTMS?

I mean, seriously... Most of what you find on iTMS is crap (it
is a music store serving up RIAA tripe, after all... the fact that it has no meatspace incarnation is irrelevant to the quality of the fare being offered). Looking at the top ten downloaded songs on there now, I can see Nickelback (can do without), Kanye West (crap), Black Eyed Peas (I'll pass, thanks), Green Day (okay... I'll give 'em that), Fall Out Boy (blerg), Gorillaz (I'm still on the fence here... I'll give it to 'em for now), Kelly Clarkson (Jesus Christ, people, she won a damned contest 3 years ago... her fifteen minutes are up), Goo Goo Dolls (they're still alive?), Ashlee Simpson (no video means you can't tell she's lip-synching!), and 50 Cent & Mobb Deep (*shudder*). Losing this sort of trash (sorry Green Day and Gorillaz... but you're hanging out with the wrong crowd) can really only help, as far as I'm concerned. Clear out the RIAA bands, and focus on something new and fresh. Something you've never heard before.

Focus on bands like the Decemberists, or Iron & Wine. The Postal Service, Fruit Bats, Neko Case (not to mention the New Pornographers), Damien Rice, Astaire, and Los Straitjackets all deserve more attention than they get with the RIAA overshadowing their various independent labels. Bloc Party should be in that top ten, as should Andrew Bird. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "indie == great by virtue of being indie." These are all bands/singers who are great in their own right and just happen to be independent. Now, whether their independence has led to a level of freedom that allows them to sound different and find their greatness or not is beyond the scope of this discussion. The point is, these bands need to be heard, and with the RIAA out of the picture on iTMS, that gives Apple a perfect opportunity to tout them and others like them.

Apple themselves have always been something of an underdog, so I think they can relate in a situation like this. The way I see it, Apple should tell the RIAA to just piss right the hell off, thankyouverymuch, don'tletthedoorhityourassonthewayout. Then they need to hop in bed with the indie labels and start making new stars. People are used to buying music through iTMS now. If Apple starts holding bands up, people will be interested. Plus, with the RIAA's money-leeches out of the picture, Apple might even consider lowering the prices... I'm sure they could drop the price per track a bit and still make more money for themselves and the artist without the RIAA siphoning off the lion's share of each purchase. "But what," you say, "about <insert your favorite RIAA artist here>? I can't live another day without their new album on my iPod!"

Well, Skippy... you've got a few options, don'tcha. You could buy the CD in meatspace, and rip it. Oops! It's copy protected? Well, the RIAA has to make sure you're not exercising your second option (download it for free via the P2P app du jour) and too bad if a few legitimate paying customers get screwed in the process. Looks like you're going to have to settle for option three. Do without. Or are you? We hear all the time about how the artists get screwed in their contracts with the RIAA, so why do they stick with it? My money is on the mistaken belief that they have no alternative.

Apple is in a position to become an alternative. They can get the current RIAA artists to jump ship. They can be the benevolent RIAA. They can rally the independent labels and hone them into a mainstream-dreck destroying juggernaut. The RIAA can get your band radio play? Apple can get them featured on the front page of iTMS and give away their new (soon-to-be-hit) single as a free download ("Like what you hear? Have the entire album in seconds! Let's see regular old radio give that sort of satisfaction.") that you can play whenever you want... not just when the DJ decides you get to hear it.

It could happen, folks. It may have to.