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Monday, July 02, 2007

My problem with the Quality Paperback Book Club

I have been a member of the Quality Paperback Book Club since my first year of college - nearly 22 years. When I joined it was with the "3 Books. 3 Bucks. No commitment. No kidding." offer that appeared on the back of every Sunday supplement and in the middle of every major magazine. (Do book clubs even advertise in magazines and Sunday supplements anymore? Have people stopped reading books in such numbers that it's no longer worthwhile to advertise in these places?)

It's been a good club. While things have changed and changed and changed again over the past 22 years, the club has consistently offered good books (well, a few good books) at reasonable prices. In recent years the quality of the titles offered has varied quite a bit, a trend that I think has affected most book clubs as they have veered from offering books that people should want to read to offering books that people will want to buy - a sad caving-in to practical demands of business. Nutritional, substantive food has given way to candy-coated crap. Though not entirely.

But that's not my problem with QPBC.

No, my problem is this: When I first joined the QPBC, book club offerings were on a monthly basis. Once a month you would get a mailing with one or two or three "main selections" and a catalog of other books being offered. If you didn't want the main selections, you would return the reply card (or call the phone number, or, later, go to the website) and indicate that you did not want them, otherwise they would be delivered by default.

OK. Fair enough, and pretty much SOP for any sort of "X-of-the-Month" club.

Then there were special mailings. Seasonal offers, maybe four times a year, and a special Holiday offer at Christmas. Usually the way these worked was that no selection would be sent automatically, and you would have to specify that you wanted the main selections to receive them. But lately that's not the way it's worked.

Lately every mailing has required a response to avoid receiving an automatic shipment. Woe betide anyone who tries to turn back an automatic shipment. And the "months" are getting shorter. Here are the latest offerings and their due dates:

Mid-Summer 2007
Reply By Date: 08/03/07
Club Price: $25.99
THE JESUS FAMILY TOMB by Simcha Jacobovici
THE OTHER BIBLE edited and with introductions by Willis Barnstone

July 2007
Reply By Date: 07/14/07
Club Price: $24.97
THE DESK ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD HISTORY edited by Elizabeth Martin
THE GHOST MAP by Steven Johnson

Summer 2007
Reply By Date: 06/23/07
Club Price: $24.99
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID by Bill Bryson
1,000 PLACES TO SEE IN THE USA AND CANADA BEFORE YOU DIE by Patricia Schultz

June 2007
Reply By Date: 06/04/07
Club Price: $25.99
THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL by Daniel Stashower
THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson

May 2007
Reply By Date: 05/14/07
Club Price: $24.99
'ISMS & 'OLOGIES by Arthur Goldwag
THE INTELLECTUAL DEVOTIONAL by David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheim

April 2007
Reply By Date: 04/24/07

Club Price: $28.99
A HISTORY OF THE END OF THE WORLD by Jonathan Kirsch
THE GOD DELUSION by Richard Dawkins

Spring 2007
Reply By Date: 04/06/07
Club Price: $38.47
THE DISCOMFORT ZONE by Jonathan Franzen
MISS AMERICAN PIE/TOO SOON TO SAY GOODBYE

March 2007
Reply By Date: 03/17/07
Club Price: $27.99
DK ULTIMATE VISUAL DICTIONARY

February 2007
Reply By Date: 02/26/07
Club Price: $26.49
A THREE DOG LIFE by Abigail Thomas
MOCKINGBIRD by Charles J. Shields


You can assess for yourself the quality of the books being offered. But notice the time between reply-by dates:

February - March: 19 days
March - Spring: 20 days
Spring - April: 18 days
April - May: 20 days
May - June: 21 days
June - Summer: 19 days
Summer - July: 21 days
July - Mid-Summer(!): 20 days

So effectively this has gone from a "Book-of-the-Month" club to a "Book-of-the-Not-Quite-Three-Weeks" club! Even trying to settle down into a regular schedule of replying every three weeks might not be good enough to avoid missing every reply-by date, while replying every other week will quickly get you out of synch with reality. It is almost inevitable that you will miss the occasional reply-by date, as I did with the June mailing (the first time I've missed one since early last year), which I suppose is something that these clubs count on.

It will probably get worse as time goes on. What next? Reply-by dates that have passed before you get the monthly mailings? Right now I am avoiding most discretionary spending, so I am not buying any books from the monthly mailings (at least, not at full price - I have many "bonus points" built up, and I plan to exercise those eventually), but I fear there will come a day when I decide that I am fed up with the quality of the books being offered and the frequency of the mailings. And then, I suppose, a relationship of more than two decades will come to an end.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I used to love Quality Paperback Books and was an early member when we could call and talk to a real person. Now, the site doesn't even post a phone number so members can ask questions. I'm going to give them one last try as they once had a great concept and were very obliging. Maybe we can bring back the old one-on-one. CC in North Hollywood

D.B. Echo said...

Hmmm...I do have a phone number for the Quality Paperback Book Club on one of my most recent reply cards - 1-717-918-2665 (1-717-918-BOOK, according to the "Member's Corner" page in the July 2007 flyer. It's not toll free, but at least that area code is for Camp Hill, Pennsylvania and not Mumbai or Timbuktu.

Now, if you want a company that's hard to get in touch with, you should try the Reader's Digest!

Anonymous said...

I am not a member and have been charged 43.06 for membership and sent to collection agency for not paying. I do not want ot be a member the books are too expensive and are not what I read anyway when I have time

D.B. Echo said...

Anonymous, if you are not a member and have been charged for books you never ordered, you may be the victim of identity theft. This could very quickly result in far more than $43.06 in charges! Be sure to look into that right away.

Anonymous said...

I have been a member for about 10 years and am not as happy with QPB as I have been in the past. They have become too expensive when compared to the likes of Amazon. I think I will use up my points and cancel my membership'

David Gulbrandson said...

I am a QPB Member for almost a year now. I looked at my bank account one day and saw that they took out over 35 dollars that i did not authorize. I called them and they told me they took it out because i didn't say no to two feature selections so they sent it to me and took the money. I was going to use that money for some things I need. Now i am Screwed. What should I do?

Joseph Burris said...

J Burris: I have been a members for many years as well, but I have tried to order 2 books early in December; however, we have emailed back and forth without any real help. Now they do not answer my emails. I am trying to find a corporate address to complain to someone other than customer service.

Anonymous said...

I also have been a member for years. Years ago I was able to reach a customer service rep. and set up my account that books were not automatically sent to me - I had to place the order. My problem now is that I have been trying for over a year to redeem the 8 points I have accrued and keep being told that they are not permitting members to redeem their points "at this time". Emails are not responded to. Was recently mailed a coupon for $20.14 to use ONLY online. When I attempted to use it it would not accept the code. Hope I do not have to file a complalint with the Commonwealth's Consumer Affairs but will if necessary. Their lack of customer service this past year makes me wonder if they are preparing to go out of business. A once great bookclub is now on the verge of losing another member...

BKennedy said...

Same as you - I joined in college. Now at age 50 I am trying to pare down --even my books, as hard as that is. I agree they QPBC is now oversending books -- faster than I can keep up with the response emails. I have tried to cancel via their customer service contact on the site since I cannot find a phone number. they won't get back to me. So I see a phone number here -- thank you for that DB Echo. As for Reader's Digest -- I used to work there years ago. It is a shell of its former self. But I DO still know some people who work there and could probably get a contact number if anyone needed one.

Anonymous said...

so i have been a member for 24 years. The last time I remember looking, I had 56 reward points. A couple of months ago, i tried to order a book and there were no points. I contacted QPB and did not receive a response. Today, I go on to order something and now i am told i am not registered customer. Oh yes, Great way to do business.

Anonymous said...

Another Long term member leaving the fold...... or at least trying to. I tried a few weeks ago during the snowy season and today. The number at the top of their billing (717) 918-2665 no longer works. My cell doesn't even connect. Land line gives a busy signal. There is no new number.

Anonymous said...

After 3 emails and 3 generic "your business is important & we will get to your problem ASAP" responses, I finally located a customer service phone # on my bill. (716)250-5700. It took 21 minutes on hold, and some very annoying on-hold music, but I finally got a real person to talk to. The website is down (again) so I can't tell if she actually fixed my account, but I mailed my payment with a detailed account of the conversation and her name & extension#