I’ve been trying to procure a copy of The Inform Designer’s Manual for a while. The book has been out of print since 2001. The big online used book shops don’t have copies. So I thought I was out of luck until I happened upon this listing at, which states that new copies are available through them via print-on-demand. The listing clearly states that the order could take up to four weeks to fill, which seems odd, but I went ahead and ordered anyway, on March 9. The site let me know that print-on-demand orders cannot be canceled, but that no credit card charge is made until the book ships.

On March 31, e-mailed me to report that they had not yet procured the print-on-demand copy, but that they expected that to happen soon, and would I please be patient.

On April 8, I phoned customer service to find out what the heck was going on. The rep I spoke to told me that this sort of delay happens “a lot” with their print-on-demand orders, and that it could be another month before my book ships. This led me to ask, “How can you call it print-on-demand if it takes two months?” to which there was no answer. I asked if I could cancel the order, and was told (as expected) that no, print-on-demand orders cannot be canceled. The one good bit of news the rep gave me was that they would waive my shipping fees when the book finally shipped. I felt I’d hit a dead end, so I got off the phone.

I then submitted a message to customer service via their not-at-all handy Web form. Five days later, I received a response [emphasis mine]:
At the time your order was placed, the availability of The Inform Designer’s Manual was listed as Print on Demand: 2-4 weeks. This item cannot be cancelled or returned. Due to a change in availability from our original supplier of this item, we are trying to locate alternate sources of the item you have ordered. We anticipate, at this time, that we will still be able to supply this book to you soon. If you are unable to wait due to this change in availability please contact us at to cancel your request for this item.
Sigh. Were they giving me a way out? Unclear. Maddeningly unclear. I mean, how can you work in customer service and send out a message containing two such obviously contradictory statements? I must admit: I seethed. Then I took deep breaths. And then I responded to the message, asking for clarification. The response came two days later:
Thank you for contacting customer service.

We apologize for the error in our message.

You are unable to cancel this order.
So where it stands right now is, I have a book on order, and that order is in limbo. I cannot cancel the order. Someday, when gets its hands on a copy of the book in question, they’re going to charge my credit card and ship it to me. But at this point they’re not willing to even tell me how long that might take. In the meantime, I’ve found a used copy of the book online at the Amazon store in the U.K. But I don’t feel like buying it, for two reasons: (1) The price is outrageous given the weak dollar, and (2) someday my copy may actually appear, and then I will have paid for two copies. I don’t need two copies. I need one.

If anyone has any comments on how I could have handled this differently—or what I should do now—I’d welcome them. And if not, well, if this post manages to dissuade even one person from doing business with, then it’s been worth the effort.