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Post #4239

Broken SVK torches and what we’re doing to fix the problem

We published SVK two weeks ago today — it sold out the whole run of 3,500 copies in 48 hours (more copies went to advertisers and contributors). We’ll shortly print our second run! A quick recap for newcomers: SVK is a comic by Warren Ellis and Matt Brooker, published by us, with a twist that part of the story is printed in invisible ink, readable only with a special object that you get when you buy it. SVK is available only from BERG, and we’ve set up an online shop, etc, to make that happen.

But we’ve had an embarrassing trip-up: in the last two weeks, we’ve replaced 9% of our customers’ SVK torches which were dead on arrival or not quite working.

9% is way too many by any standards. It’s disappointing and annoying for our readers.

It’s also embarrassing. Sorry Warren and Matt, and sorry people who bought SVK.

Let me tell you what happened, what we’re doing, and what we’re going to do for the reprint.


As it says on the product page, SVK is an experimental publication. We were trying loads of things for our first time, from publishing to shipping, and from sourcing objects from China to customer service.

So before we went on sale, we brainstormed 20 problems that might occur, and what we’d do about each. Personally I though we’d have problems with postal systems — last time, when we sold maps, we had a lot of post go missing. This time we were sure we were organised, and even if things did go wrong then we had made sure we could respond promptly.

Out of all the possible problems, once SVK started arriving at people’s homes, we quickly found out that some of the torches were broken. We had planned for there being some kind of hiccough, and it looked like peaking at 2-3% initially. And okay, 2-3% is a problem, but a just-about acceptable problem if we respond fast, and it’s understandable to have some kind of glitch or another. We had already decided to ship free replacement torches out to anyone who wasn’t totally satisfied, so we started doing that.

But if you look at the @berglondon Twitter stream you’ll see the volume is much higher than 2-3% — we’ve redirected a large number of people to our customer service email address. It grew gradually to 9% of customers. What happened?

Where the broken torches come from

The torches come to us in cartons of 100. We’ve now checked carefully through 3 cartons, and the numbers are these:

Even before shipping, 2% are totally dead. 2% have only 1 of the 2 LEDs working. A further 2-3% not broken but unsatisfactory in other ways: the light flickers or is a little weak, or the power button is too easy to click. These are ones that would clearly die in transit.

That makes 6-7%. These should have been rejected before they left our hands, and we knew that not all the torches would work straight from the factory: There was in fact a QA (quality assurance) step planned during package assembly, which would have caught these, but it appears that this was lost. It shouldn’t have been missed, and it’s our fault for not ensuring it happened.

This leaves 2-3% of torches unaccountably broken on arrival, and we believe it’s due to the battery discharging in transit — some of the torches have looser power button mechanisms than others, and these might activate under a heavy weight. Or maybe all the torches are susceptible to that, and it’s only a small fraction of packages that have the necessary pressure applied while in the post. We hadn’t anticipated this.

We didn’t believe broken torches would be a problem because our initial checks hadn’t revealed any torches that were dead on arrival, and the packaging appeared to be fine. It turns out we weren’t thorough enough with our checks.

What we’re doing

First, anybody with a broken torch should contact and we’ll ship a replacement, free, ASAP. We’re monitoring Twitter to let customers know there too. Replacement torches are checked before packaging, and wrapped in bubble wrap. That’s a picture of the replacements being packaged, above.

Second, for the reprint:

We’re going to be stricter on the QA during packaging, and to ensure it takes place, we’ll ask to see rejected torches (we’re not doing the packaging in the studio). If there aren’t 6% rejected, we know QA has failed and we won’t ship that batch.

We’ve also sourced bubble wrap envelopes to put the torches in, in addition to the regular packaging. This appears to deal with torches that are discharged in transit.

And we’ll continue with the free replacements for torches with one or both LEDs dead on arrival. (Update 6 August: it’s been a month since the initial sale, and there are very few people getting in contact now. So we’ll close this offer at the end of the week — the 11th. We’re currently looking at other ways to distribute replacement torches.)

Last, I’m writing this blog post to explain what happened, and how we’re responding. The best thing is to be open about it.


Thanks here to Kari and Simon, who have been doing a sterling job manning customer service, talking to people over email, and packaging and dispatching new torches. And thanks to Denise and Matt J who have been super responsive on Twitter.

In terms of the experimental nature of this project, we’ve done a number of things right, and we’ve got a new appreciation the important of and how to do quality assurance. This is good team knowledge to have for future projects, but I didn’t want to acquire it like this.

The whole team wishes this torch problem hadn’t happened, and we’re all working to make up for it, and to fix it for the next run.

Before this:

After this:

32 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Mark Simpkins said on 19 July 2011...

    Great post, and thanks for replacing the torch so quickly.

    The comic is excellent!


  • 2. Eric said on 19 July 2011...

    It takes a lot for companies to man to ‘fess up to mistakes, but mistakes happen all the time. I work in a custom stainless steel company as a design engineer. We have a LOT of unexpected problems that arise. Many get discovered in the shop, but some also manifest in the field. The problems in the field are the hardest to ever predict…especially when you aren’t personally handling the product from end to end. So many things can happen in between far out of your control.

    That being said, while I was sad receiving a dead torch, within an evening of contacting your firm, a new torch was in process of being posted to me that day. As a customer, I cannot complain one bit with that type of service.

    Customers need to understand the possible failures in any manufacturing of any new product. No matter how much testing is done, it’s impossible to project every possible issue. Every single product we release is different than any other products we have ever made. I can’t even tell you all of the unforseen circumstances I have run into while designing parts here. Sometimes, it seems like 1 in a million shots are far more frequent than that hehe. What really matters is stepping up to the plate, fixing the issue, and then knowing how to prevent it in the future. I feel more sorry for your company if you have to take a hit on extra manufacturing than me having to wait another few days, or a week or whatever, for the post to come in. There is a big difference between “There’s a problem! We will fix this!” than, “There are no problems, and here’s how much replacements are.”

    Outside of the torch inop issue, all material is of excellent quality(including torch construction). I am relieved you guys work in the prior state of mind, and I look forward to more products like this in the future.

  • 3. Josiphine said on 19 July 2011...

    Bravo! This is how Customer Service should be done. This is the best example of Customer service, support, experimentation I have ever seen.

  • 4. Jason! said on 19 July 2011...

    You guys have got nothing to worry about. You responded quickly and appropriately to the problem. As a customer, I couldn’t be happier!

  • 5. Eric said on 19 July 2011...

    Also to note, I should’ve proofread the first line “choose your own PC/non-PC adventure” before posting hehehe.

  • 6. Eric Marcus said on 19 July 2011...

    Not yet a customer, I’ll buy one of the 2nd batch. But I would like to congratulate you on a sterling case of customer service!

    This is the way it should be done.

    Looking forward to comic and working torch…



  • 7. Matt said on 19 July 2011...

    Thanks for the post – I’ve sent an email asking for a new torch.

  • 8. Ray Cornwall said on 19 July 2011...

    Thanks for dealing with this. I sent an email.

    Out of curiosity, is there a DYI solution for the torch? I’d be happy to spare you the expense of sending out another unit across the river if I could just cobble together a unit from Home Depot parts.

  • 9. Dan said on 19 July 2011...

    Thanks for that Matt

    I got my hands on my copy after a weekend of it sitting in a Sorting Office and had a dead torch. Twitter and email response was very quick and a new torch dispatched.

    They only thing that rankled was the suggestion somewhere that the delays had been whilst shipping, and specifically the nature of the torches, had been ironed out.

    But kudos for the support when it did hit the fan and for following up with the post.

  • 10. Jonathan Allen said on 19 July 2011...

    I was one of those whose torch appears to have burned out en route, and the response to my request for a replacement was prompt and courteous. But the irritation at having the book in my hands and having to wait for the replacement to arrive before it can be read immediately raises another problem: there’s no obvious way to replace a burned out battery in these doohickeys (which is something I would have done rather than bothering you for a replacement). Even if I’m not using my torch, the battery will just naturally lose juice over time, which means my torch — and therefore my non-electronic, printed book that I can hold in my hands — has an unspecified expiry date.

    Not very high tech, I know, but I would have preferred a sheet of tinted plastic, something like a pair of 3-D glasses, or even lemon juice ink if it meant I’d still be able to take the book out and read it again in five years time without having to first track down yet another replacement for my dead light. I don’t mean to be critical: I support this kind of self-publishing experimentation and am willing to go through some extra hoops, and expense, in order to do so, but the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of a printed book that relies on batteries.

  • 11. Grant K said on 19 July 2011...

    There’s a great line in one of the episodes of “From the Earth to the Moon” (great series btw) where one of the astronauts is testifying about the Apollo 1 fire. When asked what went wrong, he notes that it was a “failure of imagination”.

    Having worked in the contract manufacturing field, I can attest that one cannot anticipate everything, or QA everything, let alone imagine everything. What you guys have done is the next best thing – you make it right when it goes wrong.

  • 12. Josh said on 19 July 2011...

    I didn’t even think to ask for a new torch when mine was DOA. Was going to try and find a light that would work locally. Email sent for a replacement torch. You guys are outstanding.

  • 13. Jon Furno said on 19 July 2011...

    I was unfortunately, too late to buy one of the first batch, but am waiting for the second printing with baited breath.

    Your honesty and explanation is refreshing in this “culture of spin” we seem to live in now and it only makes me more determined to buy one as soon as possible!

    Keep up the good work!

  • 14. Greg said on 19 July 2011...

    I hate chiming in with little more than a “Me too” comment, but I can’t help it. I received a broken torch, looked around a bit for what to do about it, sent an email and got a response from Simon within about 12 hours saying “Sorry, we’ll send you a new one.”

    You just can’t complain about customer service like that. I’m a little disappointed I’ll have to hold off on reading the book, but seeing this kind of response makes it worth it. I’ll be watching for your next experiment and won’t hesitate to order.

  • 15. Max said on 20 July 2011...

    Terrific job explaining this and making it right. Maybe disappointing for some for an extra week or so, but glad to hear you’re focused on the systems and planning for future fun things to arrive in the mail.

  • 16. edward bart said on 20 July 2011...

    Just wanted to share re: the whole experimental product… in the middle of reading SVK with my functional torch- which made it from the UK to Texas, USA just fine- I was struck with one thought. “I’m reading the future.” The minor hassles that accompany production and delivery of this product (at least minor on the consumer’s part) are outweighed by the privilege of being able to live in the future for 20 or so minutes.

  • 17. Ned Matheson said on 20 July 2011...

    I received a dead torch, was amazed at how quickly you got the replacement one to New Zealand. Great customer service

  • 18. Eric said on 20 July 2011...

    I’ve got an IR torch already; please sell the comic without one!

  • 19. Marc said on 20 July 2011...

    Mine was a little blinky but really just fine for reading by. I hope this doesn’t discourage folks from buying potential later print runs, or from experimenting with new medium in comics.

  • 20. Dethe Elza said on 20 July 2011...

    Thanks for the post, I was relieved when my torch arrived DOA that there was already a process for replacement.

  • 21. Rod said on 20 July 2011...

    The quality of the product and of Kari’s customer service follow-up (I had a replacement torch the next day) heavily outweighs that initial inconvenience. Well done Berg.

  • 22. Matt Badham said on 20 July 2011...


    My torch arrived broken. Was replaced speedily. Great customer service. And no biggie.

    An excellent comic. (One of the best of 2011.)

    More please.

    Matt Badham

  • 23. Periklis Begzos said on 20 July 2011...

    Thanks so much for the replacement. The whole SVK experience has been super…

  • 24. John Schippers said on 20 July 2011...

    Mistakes happen. But my experience here is that it was backed up by excellent customer service. A company that fixes mistakes so well, is one that is trustworthy.

    Thank you to the good people at Berg.

  • 25. Eric said on 20 July 2011...

    I’m pretty sure I will dissecting the old torch and making it so I can change the battery out. On that note, I’m kind of glad the first one was inop 😉

  • 26. Jeff said on 20 July 2011...

    Great post. I had a dead device and after sending an email a new one is on its way. I did find while playing with my dead one that the covers are stickers and can be peeled back. Inside ar etwo small watch batteries that can be replaced. I’ve not had a chance to go to a store to buy new ones, work nights and sleep days, but I do plan on just replacing the batteries if another problem does arise.

    Thanks again, can’t wait to read the book.

  • 27. Kay said on 20 July 2011...

    Just to repeat what has been said above – the customer service was fantastic and the book itself most excellent. Cheers

  • 28. Jon Bains said on 20 July 2011...

    With every innovation there are always hiccups. I’d just like to applaud first off the approach and then the response. As most others have said – you identified the problem, taking responsibility and being utterly transparent about it. I was a major fan before of both Berg and Warren Ellis – I am an even greater one now. Grace is an utterly under appreciated trait.

  • 29. Klaus said on 20 July 2011...

    I had also one of the near-dead torches, but I took it in the spirit of the experiment, I even climbed into the cupboard under the stairs because I thought daylight might interfere with the device :-)
    Since I was a few days away, Warren had already posted the mail address of the customer service when I returned, so it was absolutely no problem to contact you.

    Part of the fun of following Warren’s work is, he boldly leads you where no comics writer has been before. I will definitely be there for any follow-up project.

  • 30. Saheli said on 21 July 2011...

    I come to this post completely unaware and with no stake in the game; I’m nosing around your site for the first time thanks to Robin Sloan. I have to say, the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking something along the lines of #10 by Jonathan Allen–outstanding spirit of service and responsibility and transparency, but shouldn’t you try to have future torches be both more sustainable and less . . .janky? One should be able to just replace (or preferably) recharge the battery for the comic to be a meaningful object long term? I signed up for the mailing list for the second print run and am pretty interested in getting a copy; it looks like it would cost me about $30 USD with shipping. That’s comparable to a new, nice hardcover. If it’s really such a great object of art,it might be worth another $5 USD/3£ to get a more sustainable light.

    Just saying, since you seem like such diligent and humble folk. :-)

  • 31. Andy said on 21 July 2011...

    Thanks to everyone at BERG for the quick reply to my (admittedly semi-disdainful) email after receiving a incredibly dim torch. The post above shows a remorse and earnest demeanor from a company that can admit it’s faults, and strives to do better. Thank you. I await my new torch, and wouldn’t hesitate to purchase from BERG in the future.

  • Trackback: SVK Teardown « toastblog 22 August 2011

    […] eye. Unfortunately, the included “SVK object” arrived with a dead battery. Fortunately, BERG London are awesome. I barely had time to finish reading the book before the replacement arrived and I had the […]

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