A lonely „honesty book shop“ in Fjaerland – Mundal, Norway, where used books are put for sale at 10 Norwegian krone (€1,25), with no seller in sight (July 2011).
“I definitely want my money back!” This was the first thought which sprang to mind, after I, upon long deliberation, finally signed up for Chris Phillips’ e-book , downloaded the PDF and had a thorough look at it. As of late, I was often asked to help a translation agency with InDesign jobs – preparing InDesign files, importing the translations into InDesign and readjusting the layout afterwards. I am no novice in the field of desktop publishing, I used to work with QuarkXPress quite a lot until the early 2000s and then moved on along with some clients from the advertising and publishing industry to InDesign. I acquired some practical skills but remained largely self-taught and hence slightly insecure, which in my case was probably a side effect of this learning-by-doing process.
In hindsight, I guess, this made me susceptible to the kind of sales pitch on the indesign4translators site. Although I never experienced any serious problems when working in InDesign in the limited capacity of a translator, the impressive list of problems stated there (sleepless nights… missed deadlines… wasted hours…) might have been effective. It is representative of an “insurance agent’s pitch”, which first dwells on all kinds of dangers only to offer the right indemnity protection that, up to now, you somehow inexplicably managed to do without. The Russian word for insurance (strakhovaniye) stems from “fear” (strakh) and, in my opinion, conveys very well the essence of this approach. The pitch is also a variation on the “buy now or regret later” theme. As is often the case with this theme, “or” very rapidly turns to “and”, so “buy now or regret later” becomes “buy now AND regret later”.
Well, I regretted almost immediately having bought this PDF, but still didn’t claim my money back. Instead, I had another thorough look and found out that the tutorial actually exactly lives up to what the pitch promises. The problem is rather what the ad omits to describe. So what, precisely, is this “ONLY GUIDE YOU’LL EVER NEED…”, to cite the claim of its author?
It is a PDF file of 69 pages, sparsely populated with lines and screenshots. Some 6,000 word per 69 pages, approximately 90 words per page – as a translator, you can easily do your own maths and get a picture. The price is not €27 (“a special release promotion” instead of €37), but €27 plus tax which amounts to €32.13. To continue with the figures, which the website keeps silent about, the tutorial features InDesign CS2/CS3 and SDL Trados 2007, so not exactly the latest versions.
Now what is the content about? It is about how to open a file in InDesign (if you ever double clicked on a file, you already know a lot), checking the file, making some changes if need be and exporting the file in INX format for processing with TagEditor. I still have the old training materials by Jerzy Czopik (SDL Trados Training 2007 in Budapest). This half a page by Jerzy Czopik:
roughly corresponds to some 30 pages of Chris Phillips’ indesign4translators tutorial. It is “a step-by-step guide”, after all. The remaining pages are about the guide itself (“Thank you for choosing InDesign for Translators (A step by step guide to preparing InDesign files for translation)”), the InDesign workspace, master pages and layers. At the end of the PDF tutorial, you will find a short list of CAT tools (as of 2007), a word on getting help and two last blank pages. This sums up Mr Phillips’ 69 pages strong manual, still promoted as the “latest news” at his corporate site (“Chris Phillips launches his book InDesign for Translators – a step by step guide to preparing Indesign files for translation”).
I really don’t want to indulge in sarcasm and, conceivably, I am not the target group for Chris Phillips’ tutorial. Moreover, I feel very positive about Mr Phillips. I think he is very good at marketing, with his talent for precise descriptions and a hand at delivering a smart sales pitch. In fact, I’d rather have Mr Phillips on my side. I’d rather see him describe, advertise and sell something for me, not to me.
Update from August 14, 2011:
After publishing the review here, I posted the link to it on the Proz website. The thread, originally started in 2008 by Chris Phillips, who announced his ebook asking for reviews and “unbiased feedback”), fizzled out from initial requests from colleague translators to sporadic questions about whether the book is worth paying for (as no reviews followed). The subsequent events are summarized in my next post to the thread as follows:
“Since I expect this post to be one of the last on the thread I would like to recapitulate some facts and recent developments and possibly find a positive conclusion. My post about the review of the book, published on my blog, was followed by a reaction of Chris Phillips, the author of InDesign For Translators and “topic starter”. He confirmed what was already assumed in this thread months ago (April post: “I guess it was written for InDesign CS2/3, we’re now on CS5”) and what he obviously preferred not to disclose up to now, for two plus years, as long as not expressly stated otherwise. He also admitted to his book being “a little outdated now” and, after I posted my review on the thread, offered offhand the book free for download (“if anyone thinks it may help them”). In the meantime, I received three emails thanking me for the review which helped not to waste €37 or €27 (“promotional rate for a limited time only”) on a book that the email senders, provided there would be some more specific information available, not just a genuinely tempting ad, would rather refrain from buying anyway. I also received an email from Mr Phillips, the author, who kindly offered me a complete refund for the book. (Payment received, thank you very much.)
Well done indeed. I am far from believing my photo of an “honesty book shop” in Norway might be some inspiration for the author to immediately offer the book free of charge, even if someone like me may feel “ripped-off” or perhaps just puzzled (no longer) at the consistent absence of any reviews, testimonials, details about this “best selling guide”, “the only guide you’ll ever need” (Chris Phillips). No matter whether the photo might be inspirational or not, the whole InDesign for Translators story has been an inspiration for me. It opened my eyes on how simple and, yes, effective it might be to throw together several pages of “easy to follow” and presumably useful instructions, set up a website and promote this “guide” on a forum where, incidentally, people also “enjoy helping people” (Chris Phillips), but without offering a promotional rate for a limited time only or even suggesting donations for helpful, consistent advice. Some 300 buyers, with only tho who claimed their money back, make quite a nice return for this guide, or rather, its promotion. But really, once again, a very good marketing job, very impressive, even if this seems to be the only positive conclusion I manage to make right now (aside from the nice return for the author and a PDF that, from now on, you can download for free (link above), even if only to decide for yourself whether it is worth what the ad still promises)”.
Update from August 17, 2011:
One day later, both the last message and the previous one (which appeared as response to Chris Phillips’ statement that he cannot see my review and hence cannot comment on it) were removed from the thread. The forum moderator referred to the forum rule no. 8 which both messages were allegedly “not in line” with:
“Outsourcers may not be discussed specifically. Posts or comments regarding a specific outsourcer (identified by name, reference, link or other means), whether positive or negative, are not permitted. (To indicate their likelihood of working again with a given outsourcer, site users should use the ProZ.com Blue Board.)”.
In her personal email the moderator confirmed that the messages had been removed due to the complaint from Chris Phillips and that the rule certainly doesn’t apply to my postings and was chosen for the sake of convenience (the thread, to remind, was opened specifically by the ebook author – not an outsourcer in this case – to announce his ebook and ask colleague translators, all language professionals with an interest in the subject, for reviews and “unbiased feedback” on the ebook). Later on, Chris Phillips also phoned me to demand that everything pertaining to the company he works for be removed from my posts. It is worth pointing out that in my review the company was mentioned only once, stating a plain fact about Chris Phillips’ ebook still promoted on their website as the “latest news”. Would Mr Phillips be really keen on dissociating his book from the company he works for or afraid of publicity, he’d rather start with his own postings on the thread which are all furnished with his company logo, not his personal countenance.
So, I must admit I fail to provide a really positive conclusion. Any conclusion is just fine, though. It would be pointless to continue with arguments so long as someone prefers to exert pressure to censor unfavourable feedback instead of responding to it within an open, fair discussion. So long then, Proz.
Update from August 28, 2011:
Concerning Proz: Kevin Lossner’s post you may want to check out.