Today I canceled my account with these guys. I really wanted to like their service. It’s NetFlix for audiobooks – you keep a queue of audiobooks, they send you the topmost book, keep it as long as you want, and then send it back postage-free and they send you the next one. This worked out great for me. My commute is 35 minutes each way, giving me plenty of time to listen to books. Unfortunately, audiobooks typically cost $30-$40 new. And unlike paper books, I have no desire to keep an audiobook once I’ve finished it – if I want to refer back to it again I want the paper version.
So $14.95 a month for all the audiobooks I could listen to seemed like the perfect solution. And I really did like the service – when it worked. Unfortunately I had a lot of issues. Books showing up late or not at all; books showing up incomplete. “Yong company growing pains” I thought, and gave them the benefit of the doubt. But today they told me my credit card had been declined. I checked with my bank, and the card was fine. They even went over their records, and found no records of SimplyAudioBooks even making the request this month. And this is a card I’ve been using regularly as recently as yesterday , with no problems. But when I called SimplyAudioBooks, the guy insisted it was the bank’s fault, there was nothing they could do about it. He didn’t even offer to talk to the bank, and had no explanation for why the card worked fine everywhere else. This was the last straw. I told him to cancel my account.
Win: First Internet Bank of Indiana
It’s strange, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned them on here before. There are some services that work so well you don’t even think to talk about them.
Way back almost ten years ago, I found myself somewhat unsure about where I wanted to be, geographically. Various opportunities and ideas had presented themselves in different parts of the country, and I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. At the time I was doing all my banking with a local bank chain. I realized that this was going to be an inconvenience or worse if I was going to be moving around a lot, so I set myself to find a new bank.
Being a geeky sort, I decided to look into banks with some kind of online banking service. In 1998 a few big-name banks had already started to offer online banking services. I started reading reviews. For every bank I looked into, I found accounts from disgruntled customers about mistakes and bad customer service.
All but one. There was this one upstart bank with the unlikely name of “First Internet Bank of Indiana”, which seemed to have nothing but rave reviews. I couldn’t find anything negative about them at all. Intrigued, I decided to give them a shot.
I’ve been a happy customer ever since. FirstIB is, or at least was, a unique bank. Unlike other banks they have no brick-and-mortar branches. They are a strictly Internet-only bank, as their name implies. All transactions are carried out through their website or over the telephone.
What makes them so great? Well, for one thing, because their website IS their branch, it isn’t an afterthought as it is with some banks. Where other banks only update their online account registers periodically, one of the promises FirstIB makes is that transactions show up on the online register as soon as they process them. Typically if I pay for something with my debit card I can see it on the website a minute later. Which means that as much as possible, I can get an accurate picture of my available balance at any moment, day or night. I can’t believe I used to have to go to my old bank and ask them for a piece of paper with my current balance scribbled on it if I wanted to check it in between statements.
They also give me free online bill payment, which I use for all of my bills.
Since they have no “home” ATMs, and ATMs usually charge a fee for withdrawals from banks other thank the bank which owns the ATM, FirstIB reimburses up to $6 worth of ATM fees a month. By judiciously spacing out my ATM transactions and taking advantage of cash-back at grocery stores, I rarely lose any money to ATM fees.
But what really stands out about them is their customer service. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about bank customer service. I have a few of my own, from dealing with my old bank. But the service I’ve received from FirstIB has been nothing short of exceptional. Every single time I have called or emailed them the person I’ve spoken to has been friendly, helpful, informative and has done whatever it took to get the issue resolved. In particular they’ve been terrific about resolving disputes with bill payees claiming they haven’t been paid; typically I just have to fill out their little form and forget about it, and they contact the payee and work everything out.
I think Customer Service is the most important measure of a company, and by that measure FirstIB shines. They’ve given me almost ten years of great service, and I think they deserve a plug. If you’re not happy with your current bank, check ’em out.
That’s cool, FirstIB sounds like a much earlier version of what ING Direct is doing now. I just started an “online checking” account with ING Direct and they work similarly–no brick&mortar branches, all online, free billpay. ING uses Allpoint, which they claim means that you don’t pay ATM fees at all if you use Allpoint ATMs. I’ll let you know how ING turns out (they also provide an interest return, just like a savings acct)
I was ranting about this at Borders.
AudioBooks are by far the biggest rip off. Often priced at $29-$79 a book!
Now, I understand a bit of both manufacturing and recording.
a) CD production is < $1, even a multipack 10 disc set is < $5 production costs.
b) Most audio books involve a single reader. Maybe a few have character readers. This is a significant difference than an audio dramitization (ie: radio style story with sound effects, multiple voice actors, etc.)
As such, all that is necessary is a sound room, an audio engineer, and a voice reader. An audio publisher should have the room (probably cost $50,000 to build). And the audio engineer (say $50,000 salary, not a lot of mixing or mastering needed for a single voice audio). And let’s say a good voice reader (say another $50,000 salary).
Such a setup should be able to read & record and post-edit a fair number of books over an entire year.
So why the outrageous costs? I can buy a CD for $10-$15. That CD involves much much more complicated recording. And usually involves a number of artists. Plus a bunch of marketing costs. None of that is necessary for a simple audio book.
For $45-$50 I can get an entire season of Babylon 5 (a not uncommon price for many larger audio books, ie: Wheel of Time – and I don’t mean the whole series. A single book is about $45). And I can get Stargate seasons for only $30.
Now let’s compare the costs. A season of TV show like B5 or Stargate includes 10-15 hours worth of episodes. This is not merely audio but video. The production is far more intense with dozens, sometimes even hundreds of actors. All who must be paid. Film crews. Audio crews. Special effects crews. Musicians who write the audio scores. Production crews. Etc.
We compare a project that requires 4 people (Author, Editor, Sound Engineer, Voice Talent) to the equivalent work of hundreds if not thousands of people that go into producing an entire season of a TV show.
There is absolutely no JUSTIFICATION for the outrageous price of audio books. And it pisses me off that they “decry” copyright theft & piracy.
When you’re charging $30-$80 for a $5 product. Of course people are going to steal it. You’re trying to rip-off the consumer big time. If I paid that much for an audio book. I would try to give it away to as many friends as I possibly could just to I felt that I had justified the cost of my purchase.
That said, you can get a lot of the classics for free from http://www.AudioBooksforFree.com
Put this feed into your podcast reciever
Free audio books. You only get one or two a week but they are FREE! And you can go back a few months worth and pick up all the old ones still on the server too.
I don’t know any specific places off hand but I’m sure I’ve seen places before where you can swap audiobooks with people. Usually you pay just for shipping to other people, sometimes a small fee to join.
Does your bank have many fees?
Also, what did you have to provide to them to set up the account, since most banks want to see a few different kinds of ID?
I assume that when you need to make deposits you also do it through an ATM?
No more than any other bank. We have an interest checking account which charges me nothing so long as the average balance is kept above a certain number (I don’t remember what it is offhand), and a free checking account which charges nothing but gathers no interest. There are fees for overdrafts, of course. So with the services I use right now, so long as I don’t screw up I don’t pay any fees at all. I also have a credit card from them. They offered one with a fixed 10% APR and one with a higher variable APR but with a one-month grace period. I went with the fixed APR.
They charge for checks, and we’ve found it’s a lot cheaper to order checks from a third party than it is through the bank’s own check printing service.
Honestly at this point I don’t remember, it’s been so long.
Either by ATM or by mail. You can either hand-address or they’ll send you free envelopes on request. I’m not sure if they are postage-paid. Since I use direct deposit from my employer, I don’t have to do too many deposits.
I can’t believe I forgot to blab about one of my favorite features: instant online transfers between accounts – any time, any amount, any number of times. Or you can schedule recurring transfers.
Here’s the only 2 issues I can think of.
1.) We don’t have direct deposit at my work. How would I get my paycheck in my bank?
2.) My mother sometimes deposits money into my bank account. How would she do that with this bank?
Oh, and 3… do they have any minimum balance for a savings account? If so, how much?
(Also, realtime banking? Does it do Visa check card used as a credit card realtime? If so, oh, I’d be so screwed. Having a couple of days where stuff floats works in my favor.)
#1: You have two choices: you can either send them deposits through the mail (they will send you a stack of postage-paid envelopes anytime you request), or you can deposit at a bank ATM (many/most bank ATMs have a deposit slot). The former method obviously introduces a delay as the USPS delivers your deposit. I’m not sure how fast the latter works; we don’t often use it.
#2: Good question, and you’re probably better off calling them and asking them about it. I’m sure she could mail checks to the same address that you would send deposits to; but there may be other methods available (like direct transfer).
Regarding realtime banking, I’m not sure I understand the question. As far as I know all banks track your transactions and balance more or less in realtime; the difference with FirstIB is just that they actually give YOU all the information they have as it happens, instead of updating their pages when they get around to it. So any card transaction should show up as soon as the payee submits it.
Uh, I always thought that you had to be a member of a bank to deposit there. ‘Cause banks that I’m not a member of usually don’t give me “deposit” as an option when I put my card in them. Therefore I couldn’t deposit via ATM anywhere, because this bank doesn’t have any ATMs of its own.
I see what you’re saying now regarding realtime banking.
Do you know about fees on savings accounts?
I was under the impression you don’t even need an ATM card to deposit at bank ATMs. But I could be wrong.
Uh, if you don’t have the card, then how would you make the machine work?
Well, I had thought of it as a simple fill-out-card, put-envelope-in-slot operation; but now that I think back I maybe it doesn’t open the slot unless you interact with it. As you can see, it’s not something I do often.
In any case, see below.
From the FirstIB info page on making deposits:
Well, how about that.
(P.S. I’ve been reading old LJ entries in my blog from two years ago lately. I’ve realized how much I miss you and your writings. Drop me an email!)
Oh, #3: I don’t have a savings account anymore, so I can’t tell you offhand. I think all of the information on the account types they offer is public on their site.
When I had a money market savings (a savings account with slightly higher interest than a standard savings account) with them, there was a monthly charge when my average balance was below… some number. $500, maybe? I don’t recall. But there are other savings account types, and they may have different policies.
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