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UMAX US offers price cut … for free drivers

Less than zero?

We tracked down Wenn Lin, who describes himself as UMAX's US General Manager, to ask about the company's new policy of charging its US customers for drivers.

As many of you have pointed out, the same drivers are available on UMAX sites worldwide: but if you're in the US or Canada, or South America, you're invited to pay for a CD.

Even in countries where UMAX has only a distributor, which is most countries, customers are better served than in the Americas. For example, Israeli distributor Chayon provides links to drivers hosted on UK and German sites, with no fee or registration required. While UMAX in the UK even offers a beta Mac OS X driver, there isn't even mention of such a driver on the US site.

Either Mr Lin's English isn't perfect, or it was a very bad line indeed - although I could hear him perfectly - for it was several minutes before I could establish that I was a journalist. (The word "newspaper" finally seemed to do the trick).

Mr Lin says the company is "too small" to have anyone working on public relations. He declined to say how many people UMAX employs directly in the United States, although he said it was more than "five or ten".

(UMAX has closed its Union City and Fremont offices in California)

The oversees UMAX businesses are independently operated, he said. And unlike the US operation, they're hardly elusive - all the websites and international distributors are listed with telephone numbers.

We asked why UMAX was charging US customers for the drivers, when they're available as a free download. He didn't know they were freely available. He disagreed that this made charging for CDs pointless.

Mr Lin repeated the technical support explanation that drivers are too large for modem users to download:-

"This is not a driver, this is a program," he said. "As a program it's 30MB it's quite big - if we put it on an ftp site it takes too long download. So that's why we decided to change it. Our driver is part of our entire program so we don't distinguish driver and program."

But UMAX has provided US customers with stripped down drivers, you tell us.

His explanation of why the drivers are so expensive was interesting, too:

At first Mr Lin explained that the cost was mostly packaging and shipping costs. He told us he wants to cut the price UMAX currently charges for the CD. When we pointed out that we could press and ship a CD in the United States for a lot less than the $47 MacOS users are charged, he had another explanation:-

"We have a lot of software bundles. We have to pay a royalty. Bundles like Adobe," he said. I pointed out that many users simply want a small driver, but he repeated his point that UMAX doesn't separate the driver from the program.
"We want to reduce our SKUs," he said. What's a SKU [stock-keeping unit], we asked?

"I'm not sure it stands for but it's how many items are in the warehouse," he said.

We pointed out that UMAX could reduce its SKUs to zero if it posted the links to the drivers for its American customers, but he argued that some people prefer to have a CD, especially those modem users. Which is true, some do, but that's no reason to take the free download off the web.

Did he know that UMAX's contracted-out call centre staff were told to not to give out the corporate HQ's telephone number? No, he didn't, and that needed to change. Did he know that the corporate HQ wasn't on the UMAX US web site?

"I didn't know that, I'll look into it. I appreciate it."

As Ron Carlson at Insanely Great Mac, which picked up on this first, points out, "The cheapness exhibited by Umax's US operations will be paid for out of the pockets of the company's other operations. This is an untenable situation both for customers and the company." ®

Bootnote: UMAX's US operation in happier days

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