Oops, I judged a book by its cover – on amazon and honesty

You can judge a book by its cover, or at least you can judge a product sold on Amazon by its photograph and all other information is irrelevant.
This is a warning to book fools like me.
After a Diane Arbus exhibition in Canberra, I became fascinated by the work of Lisette Model, a clear influence on Arbus. Seeking out a book of her work, I browsed for something secondhand on the internet. This was what I found on Amazon.


I have a Diane Arbus Aperture Monograph book, so this looked just the thing (and what a wonderful Coney Island image on the cover). As something of bibliophiliac gannet, I thought it best to not be excessive on my splashing out, and so I clicked on that page to choose a paperback version.

This is what came up.


I noticed that the picture was wrong, but presumed that was laziness and Amazon had just used another in the Aperture Monograph series. The title was Lisette Model Ltd (yes, LTD was an odd addition), but the description was for a book of Lisette Model’s work, the reviews were of a Lisette Model book, and Lisette Model was in the title.

Three weeks later, I received the book in the picture. I did not want the book in the picture. I wrote to the seller, Owlsmart USA and explained that I presumed a book called Lisette Mode etc etc would be a Lisette Model book, not one with no link to her whatsoever, save for a shared publisher.

They replied,

“Thank you for your email. I’m very sorry for any confusion, however in checking your order, I see that the book ordered has Eugene Atget listed as the author. I’ve pasted an image below from the Amazon order page with the information highlighted.”

I wrote back, in between putting taking off a mini skirt and putting on an Isaac Newton costume, that’s the fun you have working with Eric Idle.

“I do not think it is acceptable that a product clearly described as a book about Lisette Model with Lisette Model in the title that had no link whatsoever to Lisette Model is a  book about someone else. Please look at this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/0893810525/ref=ya_st_dp_summary
and tell me that you believe this is honest selling”

But they came back with this (anyone else getting flashbacks to Sunday nights watching That’s Life?)

“Hello Robin,

Thank you for your email. I’m very sorry, but the item descriptions  on Amazon are provided by Amazon. Also, in checking the link you had provided, it shows Eugene Atget listed as the author. Again, we are sorry for any confusion. If we can be of further assistance, please feel welcomed to contact us again.”

Though all other information from title onwards for another book, the only thing I should have based my purchase on was picture and author? I am an art idiot, so had no idea who Atget was, and for all I knew, Atget was a Lisette Model biographer.

And back and forth and back and forth. I may return the book, but I will not get back the postage costs etc and it is still considered my silly fault.

So, am I the idiot? (i must make it clear, am I the idiot on this particular transaction, I accept I am a halfwit on many other things).

Is this Amazon’s error? Does that page aim to sell Eugène Atget books? If so, how does the canny buyer know that asking for a Lisette Model book is the right starting point? Should OwlsmartUSA think, “hmmm, I can see how this mistake was made, let’s just refund”, or is the virtual marketplace now so authentic that it scams as well as any flash and canvas bazaar? (Footnote – Amazon have started dealing with this and hopefully they will repair the link as well).

If you like books, right ones or wrong ones, Josie Long and I have done many book shambles podcasts with actors, authors, comedians etc. You can find them all here, why not begin with Stewart Lee and end on Evie Wyld?

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8 Responses to Oops, I judged a book by its cover – on amazon and honesty

  1. Brian M says:

    Irrespective of whether or not the seller supplied the image/description, Amazon as the conduit for the transaction clearly are misrepresenting the item, would expect a refund with a direct complaint

  2. strandanastasia says:

    You should be able to get a full refund through A to Z Guarantee scheme on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201460170
    The product is definitely misrepresented in the listing (best to get a screenshot just in case), so you should be able to claim your money back from that Marketplace seller. Even if the seller themselves refused to deal with the issue when you asked them directly, Amazon should be able to interfere and sort it out. They usually take the side of the customers!

  3. CelticRose says:

    You are not an idiot. Whether intentional or not, that page is downright deceptive. It would take an overly suspicious person with a fine attention to detail to spot that the book being sold was not the book being advertised. Most people don’t fit that description.

    It doesn’t matter whether the error was Owlsmart USA’s or Amazon’s. When you contacted Owlsmart USA they should have apologized, offered to refund your purchase, and fixed the listing. Anything less is unacceptable. You should definitely contact Amazon and complain about this. Complain about getting stuck with the postage and see if you can’t that refunded too.

  4. Peccy says:

    This can happen when two items are incorrectly linked to each other.

    If you contact customer service and explain (include that explanation!) then I’m sure they’ll help out.

    It’s not (necessarily) the seller’s fault, though not all descriptions are Amazon-supplied, some are created and configured by sellers directly.

  5. Dave Bush says:

    I agree with the above. If you look *hard* at the paperback description it says it’s the description of the hardback! “This text refers to the Hardcover edition.”
    Amazon definitely thinks these are two different binding of the same book – so whoever tied the two together is at fault.
    Does your book have ISBN-10: 0893810525 or ISBN-13: 978-0893810528 inside it as claimed in the listing? That’s the key identifier, not the author.

  6. Graham says:

    If you contact Amazon directly, they are usually pretty good at putting this kind of thing right.

  7. mybraininjury says:

    The joys of Amazon! Did the same thing with a set of digital phones, when they arrived shipped from the States alarm bells rang (the phones didn’t). The Amazon description did not state anywhere that these were US spec phones (and not licensed for UK use either). They apologised for their error and gave a full refund plus extra for inconvenience of returning to delivery depot 30 miles away. On another matter entirely we spoke at wells comedy festival few weeks ago, you suggested I contact you via social media, you do not allow direct messaging so how shall I do this?

  8. mybraininjury says:

    On earlier comment posted forgot to say I now take a screenshot of any order from Amazon showing description, great ammunition when your actual seller takes their page offline and denies all knowledge!

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