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Friday Report: June 12, 2020

For years, it has been a tradition for the Take Control publisher, authors, and editors to do a Friday check-in (at first via email, and nowadays using Slack). It’s a way we can all keep up with the status of various projects we’re involved in (as well as personal news), whether or not it’s related to Take Control. Today I’m kicking off a public version of that check-in. Conditions permitting, every Friday I’ll post something here about what’s going on behind the scenes.

We’re Overwhelmed, Too

For starters, I should say that all of us involved in Take Control have been deeply affected by current events—the pandemic, the endless reports of police brutality and the protests against it, the divisive and uncertain political climate both in the U.S. and elsewhere, and relentlessly bad news of every sort. It would be a huge understatement to say this all makes it hard to concentrate and be productive. We try to pretend that business goes on as usual, because we need to buy groceries and pay our mortgages, but nothing about these times is usual. We’re tired and anxious, just like everyone.

I like to joke about working at Take Control Galactic Headquarters, but it’s just my home office—a spare bedroom in our tiny (tiny!) San Diego house. My wife, Morgen, and I have two elementary-age kids, one of whom has significant disabilities (as well as sleep issues). The kids have, of course, been off school since mid-March, and without any outdoor play space or other adults to help us care for the kids, you can understand that stress (and noise) levels around here have been pretty high.

As a result of all this, I personally am way behind on my long list of projects, which in turn means Take Control Books is behind. We don’t have a staff—it’s just Mom and Pop, plus our freelance authors and editors—and we don’t have a budget to hire programmers and designers and tech support reps and so on. When something has to be done, we have to do it ourselves. And that’s usually OK, but recently it has been a lot less OK.

I say all this only by way of asking for your forbearance. As I tell you now, and in the future, about things that are less than ideal, please understand that these shortcomings aren’t from a lack of concern or desire, only a lack of time and energy.

Updates on Updates

Since Catalina and iOS 13/iPadOS 13 were released last fall, we’ve been making our way through our catalog, updating as many of our books as possible to cover the new operating systems. A number of titles are still out of date, however, and most of those are books I wrote myself. Since a tremendous amount of my time is spent with my publisher’s (or programmer’s) hat on, there are often no hours left in the day to write. I am painfully aware of how urgently certain updates are needed, and I will get to them as soon as I possibly can. The next five books on my list—in alphabetical order because I’m still not sure what their chronological order will be—are:

  • Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac
  • Take Control of iCloud
  • Take Control of Your Digital Legacy
  • Take Control of Your Online Privacy
  • Take Control of Your Paperless Office

I wish I could tell you something more definitive, but just know that I am more eager than anyone to get all of those out the door.

Meanwhile, our “new” website is now nearly a year old, and it is still missing a whole bunch of features our old site had; it also has numerous layout and functionality shortcomings. My to-do list currently has 110 items on it, most of which involve the website (and that number doesn’t even include books to be written or updated). Some of those tasks might take as little as an hour or two, while others will take days or even weeks. I am actively working my way through that list as best I can given time constraints and my other (writing, editing, publishing, customer support, and parenting) obligations.

I can, however, report some good news: I recently overhauled the code our site uses to deal with coupons and other discounts. As a result, it’s no longer a problem to buy a discounted upgrade and, in the same order, use a cart-wide discount (such as the one for TidBITS members or the one for MUG members). Our automatic Build-Your-Own-Bundle discount (which gives you 30% off automatically on full-price titles when there are at least three of them in your cart at once) is now finally working as intended, and it coexists happily with other discounts and coupons. The result of all this is that you shouldn’t see any pricing surprises—when it comes to discounts, everything should now (I hope) “just work.”

All that will come in handy starting next week when we participate in the annual SummerFest promotion, about which I’ll say more next time.

Payment Problems

In a future week I’ll delve more deeply into this situation, but briefly: a few customers have been experiencing problems with FastSpring, our official reseller. In particular, several people from the Netherlands have experienced an inexplicable problem in which, after entering payment information, they see a blank screen (or see an error message) and the charge shows up on their bank records but the payment is not in fact completed as far as FastSpring can tell, as a result of which it’s not marked as completed here either. In addition, from time to time, customers still report unexplained errors with Apple Pay.

I’m extremely unhappy about these issues, and have told FastSpring so repeatedly and firmly. Fortunately, both problems are very rare, but the fact that no apparent progress has been made toward solving them is upsetting. All I can say is: I will keep complaining. If it were a simple matter to switch to a different payment processor, we’d consider it, but that would in fact be an incredibly involved and expensive undertaking, as I’ll explain another time.

Update 6/23/20: Two customers in the Netherlands who experienced the payment problem described above have told me that retrying their purchases with PayPal succeeded.

If all else fails and you’re unable to make a purchase on our site for whatever reason, there is another option: most of our books are also available (in EPUB format only, alas) from Apple Books, Amazon, and Google Play, as well as on O’Reilly Online Learning.

Until Next Time

Next week I plan to talk about the aforementioned SummerFest promotion, give you a preview of WWDC, talk about some of our plans for the fall, and delve into some complicated questions about taxes when it comes to ebooks. Until then, as always, we welcome your feedback, comments, and questions.