____________________________________ On Hiatus ___________________________________

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Note on Barnes and Noble Membership and Customer Service

Ugh.  I know it’s time to say something, when a book review turns into a rant on something completely different.  And as I *loved* the book so much, I didn’t want to mar the review with my rant.

I am an ereader owner.  I will champion my love of the feel and texture and smell of books as much as the next person.  Don’t worry; I still have hoards of books.  But that’s exactly why I needed an ereader.  I don’t just read books and toss them aside, I cherish them for the memories they bring, the stories they tell, and I re-read my favorites over and over again.  I can’t tell you how much of my life has been spent organizing and reorganizing books; putting them on shelves, in boxes, under my bed, or in my closet.  I come from a family of readers who truly treasure books.  And we read fast.  Often when packing for a trip, I used to pack more books than clothes or toiletries combined.  Because I never knew when I’d finish my current book.  And I can’t always tell what book I’ll be in a mood to read next.  I can guess what I’ll want, but finishing a book always brings a certain sensation with it—something that can’t always be anticipated.  And I’m not always in the same mood after I’ve finished, as I thought I would be.  Sometimes I want to read more of the same; sometimes I need a break and something different to cleanse my palette.  And I never know how long it will take to finish the second book, so leaving multiple options open often meant lugging a heavy backpack around, or try to maintain enough leg room for my legs in the cars backseat, without infringing on my sister’s space.  It meant years of ferrying a trunk-full of books to college and back home.  And afterwards, driving half-way across the country and back again across the other way, of mailing books ahead of me, and even a few summers of a tent crammed full of a combination my tbr list and my most favorites.

And why does any of that make a difference?—So you’ll know that when I somehow had another room with another five overflowing bookshelves, facing yet another move, I made a well-thought out decision to get an ereader, taking into account immediate necessity with the convenience of carrying my entire library within one ereader, and of course with the thought of savings.  Not to blaspheme, but if booksellers were the prophets, ereaders were the promised land.  Snake-oil salesmen I say.

As a Barnes and Noble member for MOST OF MY LIFE, I went with their Nook.  I had always had exceptional service and enjoyed the benefits of their membership, including competitive pricing, 10% discounts on books, most media, and other products, and coupons several times a month.

That’s why I was so shocked when, as a Nook owner, all of that disappeared.  Now I’m not saying that there aren’t Nook benefits, specials, or even free ebooks, but NONE of those benefits come from my Barnes and Noble membership.  Let’s just say I’m not super happy about Barnes and Noble’s e-customer service.  And although I love my Nook, I’m no longer a Barnes and Noble member.  As far as I can see, there are no membership benefits for Barnes and Noble’s e-customer’s—I used to get several coupon’s a month from Barnes and Noble.  Some coupons were for specific books, while some were 10, 15, 25, and even 50% off a BOOK OF YOUR CHOOSING.  I guess I should have seen it coming when I purchased my Nook and discovered that not only were coupons not applicable for the Nook, but not for ANY Nook products, or “DIGITAL CONTENT.”

It’s been over a year-and-a-half, and I have not seen any change in this policy.  Recently they did offer a “special discount” for “new” or “renewing” Barnes and Noble members, for $25 off of a Nook Color, or $10 off the New Nook.  Let’s do some math.  If a Barnes and Noble membership costs $25, and you save $25, basically you’re getting a free membership.  The membership is not without its in-store benefits, so, hey, that’s better than nothing, right?  Fine.  But if you’re looking for a small, lightweight, dedicated ereader (like the New Nook), that’s like them offering to LET THE CONSUMER pay $15 EXTRA for many benefits I know that at least I no longer use.  If you use them, hey, great—just remember caveat emptor.  (Let the buyer beware)

And what about the other implied savings of ereaders?—With paper-books consumers are paying for paper, printing, binding, storage, shipping, labor, and so forth.  Ebooks were supposed to be so much cheaper for cutting out all those costs.  I’ve been dismayed to find that as many low-priced and even free ebooks as you’ll find, you’ll more often find the SAME PRICE, or sometimes a dollar less than the paper-books.  I’ve been utterly disgusted by this overwhelming greed and blatant price-gouging—and honestly, I don’t know who sets the prices, or where these profits are going.  But I know that the consumers are not getting the savings that have been promised.  So tell me now, is the cost of convenience and environmental consciousness worth DOUBLE all the other costs?


Remember that caveat emptor thing?  Well, after seeing the HBO Game of Thrones tv series, I wanted to read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
An epic fantasy is a fairly hefty investment any time, let alone during this economic climate.  I thought it was a sign when I saw that there was a Game of Thrones 4-Copy Ebook Bundle…  But I just couldn’t help myself from seeing what a “bundle” I would save—So, on a whim, I decided to pull up prices for each individual ebook.  $35.99 (they have since reduced the price to $29.99) seemed like a good deal for a set of four.  That is, unless each book individually was, say, $8.99.  And according to my math, $8.99x4=$36.  Yes, a whopping savings of… ONE PENNY!?!??!!??!  Color me upset.  All of a sudden, I started to have a feeling of being CHEATED—Which started to grow, when I discovered that the 4-book bundle in paperback was just $19.78—and that by buying the boxed set, I would qualify for free shipping—Or if I picked it up at a Barnes and Noble STORE, I would get the 10% MEMBERSHIP DISCOUNT.—With a total savings of over 50%!

I understand marketing, people trying to make the most profit when something is popular.  But I find it very hard to justify them discounting the paper-books, which are more costly to produce, and SO OUTRAGEOUSLY and BLATANTLY OVER-PRICING the cheaper ebooks; not even competitive or comparative to the paper-books.

I also checked several sites, only to find the same pricing throughout.

The cost of convenience seems very high to me.  But neither do I want to be forced to by hardcopy books when my primary purpose of having an ereader is to be able take a book with me wherever I go, and to lessen my book-shelf needs.  I was *VERY* upset by this.  As a Barnes and Noble member for MOST. OF. MY. LIFE, I tried to contact Barnes and Noble through several channels, and never received a response.

Again, I don’t know who sets the prices.  But I do know that I used to be able to use coupons and a membership discount, and that they MARKED DOWN the VERY SAME ITEM, the only difference being that the item they marked down was the one that was more expensive to produce and distribute.  And you know what, if it had been the other way around, I wouldn’t be arguing that the paperback was over-priced—I’d think it was a good value (though obviously, I know better, now)—And moreover, I’d be praising what a good value the ebooks were.

Maybe Barnes and Noble has no control over any of it.  Maybe it’s the publishers or distributors.  I’m not even saying that Barnes and Noble isn’t doing anything that every booksellers and sites are doing—Only how disappointed I am, because as a Barnes and Noble member for OVER HALF MY LIFE, I never doubted their exceptional customer service—And now, like so many places in this day and age, customer service has become the exception, not the rule.  Barnes and Noble isn’t any worse than any of the others.  They just aren’t any better.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

You dont get any special discounts on Kindle books either to the best of my knowledge.

I think it is something with digital media, but it isn't just a Barnes and Noble issue...like I said...check Amazon..you'll see crazy pricing on ebooks there...too..especially on olders books that are out in mass market paperback form.

Jessi said...

You've hit the nail on the head as to why I refuse to purchase a B&N membership. I still occasionally buy books at the store and each and every time they attempt to convince me that I "need" a membership. I generally promptly tell them that the majority of my purchase are for the Nook and therefore their membership benefits will not really be of use to me 90% of the time.

Jennifer@The Book Nympho said...

I've never bought a membership. You're not saving. You BUY for the membership and unless you are buying a lot of books, the 10% you are "saving" you've really paid for with the membership.

nymfaux said...

@Mistress--I don't know if it's better or worse that Amazon's prices are the same...just frustrating for all of us I think! :(

-- but good to know I'm not alone ;)

nymfaux said...

@Jessi--Before I got the Nook, the $25 I spent on my membership used to be totally worth it--With the amount of books my family and I bought, the 10% discount and coupons would pay for itself pretty quickly.

But you're right--when I'm buying the majority of books for my Nook, I don't see any benefits of membership (not that I'll turn it down, if it's free).--Also, after we moved, my closest BN is an hour-and-a-half away--They need WAY bigger discounts to make a store card worth my while!

nymfaux said...

@Jennifer--very true. Back home, we used to have a B.Dalton, which was bought out by BN, and we stopped for a while, because the membership went WAY up, and we didn't buy the new membership until it went down--I do think it was worth it for a family of readers--Especially, when I was getting coupons for 25% or 50% off monthly...and especially if I could have used it on the Nook, Nook merchandise, and "digital content"--I also used to spend more and buy more books--now I am infinitely more stingy--I have acquired a large ebook library--but I'd say the majority are free, instead of figuring out how to work the coupon deals, I devoted a lot of time to finding all the classics I ever wanted to read, all the books from high school and college that are currently in the public domain--So I'm still getting a lot of value, but I don't need their membership to do it!!!

Anonymous said...

This was a very informative post. Informative because I've been considering both a B&N membership and a Nook. I know that the "savings" for e books aren't really savings, but seeing the math...well. That just sucks.

I'm still dying for an e-reader though. It's to the point of obsession.

nymfaux said...

@Trish--I hope you find something you like--I would honestly be lost without mine!!! Nook was still the right choice for me--I researched all my options, but it never occurred to me that my membership would become useless as a Nook owner...

I really do love my Nook, and my sister has the Color version (which I drool over). Through the Nook they have an offering of free selections on their websites--last spring/summer they had a lot of freebies in their classics selection--the current promotion seems to be that every Friday they offer a free book.--So there *are* incentives to having a Nook--but as far as I know, they're not related to the membership--And also, one of things that frustrates me is that I was able to use the in-store coupons on BOOKS OF MY CHOICE; but my Nook came pre-loaded with 3 ebooks, and none of their specials or promotions have let the reader choose which books WE want.

but yeah, math sucks ;)

p.s. if you're interested in classics, or anything written before the early 1900s--many of those books are in the public domain, and you can get them for free and find them by entering "0.00" along with your search entries--I've been able to get hundreds of classics and random books that way. :D