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The plans are on display

One of the best bits of The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and there are, indeed, many best bits) involves the development plans that result in the demolition of Arthur Dent's house. When he complains, he is told the plans have been on display for the last nine months. Yes, points out Arthur, they were in the cellar, which had no lights or stairs, in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.

I felt something of this coming back to me when I decided to follow up just what was going on with the form I was kindly sent by the 'World Trade Register' for my company to be listed on their website.

The form kindly tells me that 'Updating is free of charge', and I should only sign if I want to place an insertion. Okay, what does that actually mean? There is no mention on the form of any charges incurred if I do sign, but in the small print it tells me that signing the document means I accept the terms and conditions on their web page.

Okay, I like a challenge. So I went to the web page and sure enough I am told that 'by sending an order the customer accepts these terms' (though the signature part isn't mentioned here) and that they will be invoiced if they don't cancel in 7 days. Yes, an invoice. Because updating may be free of charge, but inserting certaining isn't. How much does it cost? Go down a few paragraphs and it is casually mentioned that the insertion fee for the first 3 years is €2,985. That's about £2,500 or $4,000. Not a bad profit for listing someone in a register.

Of course, this may be all of huge value to the companies in question, though it would make a very interesting business case. But what is without doubt is that the 'Updating is free of charge' (the only print in that section in bold, and the only statement in the covering email about charges) is at best misleading, and the indirect route via the small print to the terms and conditions page on the website is not what you might call the most transparent bit of pricing.

Somehow I don't think I will be signing up.

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