A hand holding up an e-reader device showing the logo of Packt Publishing. 🅭

Don’t preorder ebooks from Packt Publishing

Two months ago, I preordered an interesting-looking ebook title from Packt Publishing. Neither the post-purchase experience nor the final product lived up to my expectations.

The ebook’s product page said it was due for release in the second week of June. However, I didn’t receive any information about the book availability after I’d placed my order. Both the order confirmation page and the receipt email told me to visit my downloads page. I didn’t find any ebooks listed in my account and no information about my purchase.

I knew I had preordered the book, and I expected to see it listed in my account. The purchase experience was confusing and unclear overall. The PayPal receipt email made it clear that I’d paid for something, but Packt dropped the ball on the delivery. Packt didn’t ask me to set up an account or do anything other than providing an email address. All I’d want to see was one sentence saying something like “[Book Title] will be delivered to your email inbox by July 2020.”

I didn’t receive an email from Packt when the book was supposed to be released. I had created a reminder in my calendar for the following day, though. I logged back into my Packt account, but it still didn’t list any books. I found my way back to the book’s product page where it said the release date got delayed by a month. Which is okay; stuff happens.

It’s been almost two months since I preordered the book, and Packt had sent me seven emails. I never consented to receive marketing emails from Packt or its partners, by the by. That didn’t stop the company from sharing my email address with third parties for marketing purposes. Packt even sent me three emails (the first came in duplicates) asking me to review the purchase, over a month before the book was released.

Yet, Packt didn’t believe “the preordered book is now available for download” warranted an email notification. This lack of communication is something that Packt must address!

I used on of the feedback forms to complain to Packt. I complained about the preorder experience and the lack of communication about my purchase. I clicked on the survey email again while fact-checking this article, and found that Packt replied just a few hours after I’d left the feedback. I never received an email notification letting me know it had replied.

I logged back into my account and found the book and download links for the book. It came in three ebook formats totaling 10 MB. I downloaded all three simultaneously, and the downloads took almost 40 minutes. That’s slower than dial-up modem speeds! Packt distributes them through Amazon Cloudfront (a content delivery network). Given my internet speed and the might of Amazon’s hosting services, the download shouldn’t have taken more than a second. I guess I was the first to download the book in my region or something. The experience was frustratingly slow.

The book I ordered had one review at launch: a one-star review from another customer complaining about not being able to locate their download links. A week later, and this one one-star review is the only review of the book on Packt’s website.

I finally had my ebook in PDF, ePub, and Mobi (proprietary to Amazon Kindle) formats. The PDF is too wide to be read comfortably on a mobile display in portrait mode. It’s a little better in landscape mode, but the PDF-reading experience on mobile will always be subpar.

I intended to use the ePub with a dedicated app on my phone. My backup plan was to read the ePub in a web browser. The ePub format is essentially just “webpages packaged up in ZIP archives.”

However, the ePub file Packt gave me wasn’t properly formatted. It lacked all formatting for inline code and blocks of code examples. Seeing how I’d bought a book on programming, it was kind of essential to get the formatting right. Blocks of code are typically set in a monospace font, and the exact use of whitespace can influence the computer execution and human reader-understanding of the code. Preformatted code blocks just don’t look right when presented as flowing body text.

I unpacked the ebook and had a look at its source code. I initially thought all the ePub apps I tried just didn’t work properly with the CSS stylesheet Packt had prepared for the book. The ePub had embedded a sans-serif font used on headlines, a serif font for body text, and a nice monospace font for use with code.

Unfortunately, Packt had just failed to properly mark up and style the code examples as code examples. I figured it was just a small thing like the book’s stylesheet referring to an unused class called code instead of the HTML code element or vice versa. Instead, what I found was the code was just embedded in the ePub as unformatted plain text.

Packt publishes roughly 300 book titles per year. Most of their books contain example code to some degree or another. It didn’t even cross my mind that their ebook product wouldn’t have the right formatting.

I could technically go through this 400-page book and mark up the code myself. However, I don’t intend to spend hours doing what I’d paid Packt to do for me. Instead, I emailed Packt to complain about the formatting. I also complained that I hadn’t received an email notification about the book now being available for download.

Packt quickly got back to me and clarified that the book hadn’t been released yet. It was due for release the following day. The product page had changed all purchase links from “Pre-order” to “Buy”, but I didn’t argue the matter. Packt said it would investigate the formatting issue and get back to me.

A week later, I received a follow-up email from Packt where it said the ebook was now available for download. Packt claimed to have checked and couldn’t identify any issues with the formatting of the ebook. I’d already sent it details and examples, but Packt also wanted screenshots of the problem. I’ve sent a couple of screenshots, and I’m waiting for Packt to acknowledge the formatting issues.

The intervening week was my big reading opportunity featuring two six-hour train journeys (with just my phone). I’m just going to read the PDF — which doesn’t have the same formatting issues — on a desktop computer instead. Or, maybe I’ll pick up an e-ink ereader device instead? I hear those can display PDFs nowadays.

I’ve refrained from mentioning the title of the book I purchased or its author. The publisher is responsible for the purchase experience on its website. It’s also responsible for typesetting and quality control in the areas that failed for this book.

I’m not impressed by the purchase experience at Packt. I don’t recommend that you prepurchase ebooks from Packt. If you do, then you should also create a reminder on your phone to grab the downloads. You also shouldn’t expect that the formatting in all the ebook file formats will be perfect on day one.