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Topic: questions about PBS fees, membership and the ability to get help

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Subject: questions about PBS fees, membership and the ability to get help
Date Posted: 4/4/2015 10:58 AM ET
Member Since: 11/13/2008
Posts: 17
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I'm going to reserve my opinions till after I get confirmation of my understanding of the way things work now.

I havent trade recently and so i was unaware of the recent changes in policy involving memberships and fees for receiving books. So i'm late to this party, which apparently has been quite lively and spirited.

I got a book offer and was confused why I needed to pay money. I searched and honestly I suck at searching so I eventually went for live help only to be told that live help is only available for paid members (unless related to a transaction). i came to the forums where certain forums are marked as "paid members only" whereas this forum bears no such designation. When i get into the folder however, it states that I can't post unless I have a paid membership.


Unless I've missed something a non paying member can't ask questions or get help. Live help isn't available. you can read forums but can't post. So how does a person get help if they don't have a paid membership? because it sure looks like you can't, and if thats true....... **exhales** WOW. that is ****** up. But I'll wait to express my full opinion till i find out what the truth is. I had to buy a paid membership just to even ask this question..... wondering if it was worth it.
 IF I do understand correctly, why does this forum folder not indicate "paid members only" like the others?

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 11:38 AM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2007
Posts: 11,698
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Yes, that's about it.  Oh, and the Alacarte members (the non-paid memberships) also can not PM other members unless it's under an ongoing transaction.  Alacarte members have to pay a swap fee for every book offered to them, I see you purchased a limited membership so you get 30 swaps a year with no swap fee.

The only thing Alacarte members can do to get help is use the Contact Us link to send the PBS team a message or search the forums or Help docs to see if the answer's there.

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 11:48 AM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2014
Posts: 2,793
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Hi William,  I have been a member for a year and never used Live help until now.  I just asked your question, I will post here when I get a response.

To bring you up to speed:

February 15, 2015 memberships changed into 3 levels.

Standard $20.00 paid member

Limited $12.00 paid member

A la Carte - not a paid member, 49¢ fee per transaction, cannot post in forums, can pm a member during an active transaction.  Cannot pm unless there's an active transaction. 

A la Carte is for people who do not want to pay membership fee, rarely or never post in the forums but still want to trade books.  

A la Carte does have free access to help.

Pm their tour guide for help or click Contact us at the bottom of every page. 

Then there's the Help Docs.


Last Edited on: 4/4/15 11:49 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/4/2015 11:52 AM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2014
Posts: 2,793
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Sarah, Are you saying there's no Tour Guides for A la Carte?


Date Posted: 4/4/2015 12:01 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2014
Posts: 2,793
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From the Help Docs:

Can I participate in Discussion Forums or send Personal Messages without enrolling in annual membership?

A la Carte members will NOT be able to post in Discussion Forums.
A la Carte members WILL be able to send Personal Messages using the PM button on a transaction. They will also be able to respond to Tour Guide Personal Messages.


Why can't A la Carte members post in the Discussion Forums?

This is a security measure - keeping spam accounts out of the Discussion Forums means no spam links that could carry malware.
It's NOT that we worry about our A la Carte swappers being spammers - but plenty of entities exist simply to create spam accounts for the purpose of spamming open forums. It's just not wise to have open forums anymore. The need for Annual Membership enrollment in order to post in forums should close that loophole.
A la Carte members will still be able to read the Discussion Forums.

How do A la Carte members send and respond to Personal Messages?

A la Carte members are able to send Personal Messages from transactions - in other words, you can use the PM button on the request to send a message to the other person in a swap.
A la Carte members can respond to Personal Messages from Tour Guides from their Personal Message Center.

Why can't A la Carte Members send Personal Messages outside of transactions?

A primary concern about Personal Messaging was the lack of security - fake accounts could (and did) send spam PMs, which made for an unpleasant experience for those receiving the spam. Restricting unenrolled members to Personal Messaging only about transactions closes that security loophole.

Another point concerns the design of the club: we've tried to make room for everyone, from lighter to heavier swappers, and thereby spread out the "burden" of the cost of the site over all who participate.

We did envision that A la Carte members would be lighter swappers, who do not participate socially in the club, and that those who participate more extensively would enroll in Annual Memberships - a Limited Membership is a dollar a month.
We know that it may be disappointing for some existing members to consider paying to use a service that has not charged a fee for so long, and we do hope that members whose participation here exceeds light swapping will look over their experience in the club and come to the conclusion that keeping the club going strong is worth a dollar a month going forward.


Last Edited on: 4/4/15 12:03 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/4/2015 12:05 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2014
Posts: 2,793
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Also I'm not sure if A la Carte can read the forums labeled "members only". 

William,   There's an order fee of 49¢ on the DVD and CD sites but no paid membership level. The book site has 3 choices of membership levels. 


Last Edited on: 4/4/15 12:10 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/4/2015 12:27 PM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2007
Posts: 11,698
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I don't know if Alacarte members are even assigned a Tour Guide anymore. If they are, they can't even PM them with a question.  They can only PM in a transaction.

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 12:29 PM ET
Member Since: 4/2/2007
Posts: 6,022
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Hi William, I'm in "Live Help" of the "Help Center" right now. A la Carte members are always welcome to ask questions there.

Cathy A. (Cathy) - ,
Date Posted: 4/4/2015 12:30 PM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2005
Posts: 4,150
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The official way to get help for all members, whether they are a la carte or have a paid membership, is to scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on Contact Us under Company and use the Send Us Feedback button.

Everything else, including Live Help, is unofficial and done by volunteers.

This has not changed.

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 12:32 PM ET
Member Since: 4/2/2007
Posts: 6,022
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Yes, As a Tour Guide I'm assigned members as the come to the site. They're always welcome to contact me.

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 3:56 PM ET
Member Since: 1/14/2007
Posts: 17,157
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All a la carte members are assigned a Tour Guide! .  

When members first join, they are automatically a la carte and given a Tour Guide's name to contact for any help.

Then then get two free credits and swap fees to try out the site. At that time they can decide whether they want a paid membership or not.

These members can always access the Tour Guide that is assigned to them and should be able to access Live Help.


Last Edited on: 4/4/15 4:16 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/4/2015 4:15 PM ET
Member Since: 2/27/2009
Posts: 22,606
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The information above is correct.  A la cart (ALC) members can access Live Help anytime and if you know a Tour Guide (they have the TG medallion in their ID) you can PM them.  Not every TG is here or even participating, but a good number are.  Most will help with contacting other members for an ALC member who no longer has the ability to PM.  That is not policy, just the good nature of of the TG's and not all will do it.

If you go to Club Members Thoughts you'll find lots of old threads beating various issues related to the changes to death.  In large part because PBS was less than transparent and seemed to be modifying the terms as they went along, so we - the members - but also because members kept finding more and more issues when dealing with our now cut off ALC friends.

It has not been what I would call an orderly and well thought out transition.  The banning of personal email addresses, for example, previously an option that many used to show an email contact in their profile, was without notice banned and profiles were changed by PBS, again without notice.  And so it went for weeks after the announcement, one thing after another.

The result of all this turmoil is fewer people on site every day and fewer books moving through the system - not to mention a lot of abandoned accounts.  Another feature - again supposedly an 'improvement' is the whole 'directed delivery' feature.  Let's say you order a book that's available.  The first thing that will pop is a dropdown list of your friends that have that book on their shelves.  This means you can order from a friend.  If not, a PBS algorithm will send that order to someone who -  A - is physically close to you, and B - has a history of responding and shipping quickly.  Their books may, or may not be in better condition as their is no way to rate that, so a worn copy and like new copy are all the same to PBS.  You cannot opt out of direct delivery and take the copy from the first in line.  If you kept a bookshelf, you'll need friends to move your books, especially as ALC.

Unfortunately, many little nuances are still showing up, but if you watch the Pulse of PBS, you see a consistent downward trend in the numbers.  Some is just natural attrition, the rest is people tired of waiting and never getting the books they want, and part is discontent with changes in the site.  So the full impact of all these changes is still evolving.  None of us can say what the future holds for PBS and it's members.

To put some numbers to this:

In 2014, about 23,000 books a week were mailed.  That about HALF of what was mailed weekly 3 years ago.

Since this announcement, the average has dropped to 20,000 or less in a typical week (the last 7 days it's just 17,000, but this is a spring break week)

Members on line has dropped by about 20%

Books available has dropped 15%  - but many accounts have just been abandoned, so it could be higher.  Unique titles has also dropped.

This is where PBS stands today.  Watch the numbers and see what story time tells to know how it's going.



Date Posted: 4/4/2015 7:15 PM ET
Member Since: 11/13/2008
Posts: 17
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If there was an email explaining this new process I either never saw it or somehow skimmed past it. 

when I PM'd someone for assistance I received a notice that i was not allowed to PM other members unless it was regarding a transaction. That message is now gone as it turns out my message did go thru. I would cut/paste precisely what it said, but alas its not there. So I feel kind of ripped off because the only reason I became a paying member is the (erroneous) message that told me my PM to them wasn't delivered. Seeing as how I 
couldn't post in the forums it appears as if there was no way to ask for help w/o being a paid member. I probably would have otherwise remained as ALC. This inaccurate information is adding to my own personal dissatisfaction with the process, which sits atop all the other obvious reasons for being unhappy.

I wont bother ranting about how stupid half of this sounds. I understand the concerns about security but I can't take it seriously because there are plenty of other forums that have operated just fine without resorting to allowing only paid members to participate. If they can do it, why can't PBS? 


Date Posted: 4/4/2015 8:09 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2014
Posts: 2,793
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Here's the reply from my tour guide.

Hi Valerie.

I've received numerous Live Help questions/PMs from a la carte members. Yes, that service is available.

I don't think they can post in the forums, although they are able to read some of them (that aren't Members only).

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 10:41 PM ET
Member Since: 8/16/2007
Posts: 15,225
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I don't think they can post in the forums, although they are able to read some of them (that aren't Members only).

The Forums that are marked "Members Only" such as CMT are still read-only to the A la Carte members. There are a some "Private Forums" that are not visible to them. I think the TG used the wrong term there.  The Members Only just means that someone needs to be logged into a PBS account to access that forum where the others are open for anyone to read them who have opened the site.

William, send in Feedback about that notice. I don't believe one should get it when they send a Live Help message to a TG. I've never heard anyone say they got it and I've received many PMs from A la Carte members through Live Help. Feedback via the Contact Us link under Company at the bottom of the screen is always the main way to get an official answer to any questions or concerns.

You should be able to see when the email about the change was sent to you by looking in your Club Communications. 

Date Posted: 4/4/2015 11:34 PM ET
Member Since: 1/25/2010
Posts: 3,090
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William: From the posts above it sounds like you can PM your Tour Guide for help/questions, even as an A La Cart member. There's also always the Feedback/Contact Us link at the bottom of every page. That usually takes 1-2 days for a response.

Date Posted: 4/5/2015 1:40 AM ET
Member Since: 5/10/2005
Posts: 2,367
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"A la Carte members can respond to Personal Messages from Tour Guides from their Personal Message Center."

It doesn't say they can send the initial message.  While new members may get tour guides and a welcome, older members may not have a message to respond to.  So either you can't contact a Tour Guide as an ALC (just respond) or the help file quoted is inaccurate.

Date Posted: 4/5/2015 8:33 AM ET
Member Since: 8/25/2009
Posts: 706
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Unless a person deleted it, the first Personal Message they received on PBS would be from their Tour Guide & should still be in their Personal Message "To Me" archives.  Just scroll all the way back & check.

Date Posted: 4/5/2015 9:52 AM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
Posts: 2,353
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Just to let you know, the 'members only' designation was there for a long time prior to the move to paid memberships.  It came about as a response to moving the political discussions out of Club Members Thoughts and creating the CAP forum.  At that point, it was decided by the Powers That Be that only members (meaning those with accounts, not paid gold key) could access those forums.  Prior to that you could read the forums without having an account or signing in.

Date Posted: 4/5/2015 11:04 AM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2014
Posts: 2,793
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Sometimes I look up books on here without logging in. I can read the book Bazaar and Questions. I cannot read CMT without logging in. 

If you want to go directly to people in charge click "Contact Us" at the bottom every page. 

Date Posted: 4/5/2015 2:53 PM ET
Member Since: 2/12/2006
Posts: 4,541
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If you can see a forum heading in Forum Discussions, then you can access it - at least to read, if not to post.  The ones that are excluded from your membership level will not appear at all. 

eta: For example,  if you are not a Tour Guide, or member of the Data / Image editing teams then you do not see those forums. 

Last Edited on: 4/5/15 3:00 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/6/2015 1:13 AM ET
Member Since: 2/27/2009
Posts: 22,606
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OK, I once again used the Feedback Form and PBS said yes, live help is available to ALL members, though that will depend on a TG being logged into live help when you need it.  They also clarified the question in the Help Center.

June, who posted above, is a TG who said exactly the same thing, Live Help is open to ALL members,  If all else fails, use the Feedback Form under Contact Us below Company at the bottom of any page.  The Librarian will respond, though Live Help is generally faster.

Date Posted: 4/6/2015 12:23 PM ET
Member Since: 6/15/2006
Posts: 5,751
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To contact your Tour Guide- Click on your Personal Message Tab- On the PM page at the top left in a Blue bar it will show Your Tour Guide: with the name of your Tour Guide and a PM button to send them a message. 

If there is not a Tour Guide Listed- that means that your Tour Guide is no longer a tour guide and you should then contact Live Help which is available to all members including ALC members. 

Date Posted: 4/6/2015 12:35 PM ET
Member Since: 7/19/2008
Posts: 15,485
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Live Help is all volunteers; all tour guides who are online. There may well be no one on line. The names will be removed as the TG gets other questions. And there is a risk that the TG will log off while you are composing your message. 

There have been issues in the past that the Live Help list has been slow to update with the status of the Tour Guides. TGs have logged off or been overwhelmed with questions while their name is still listed. 

The Librarian and Feedback are PBS staff. There is a higher chance that they will be offline on weekends and after hours. They usually respond by email rather than PM.

Date Posted: 4/8/2015 2:25 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2007
Posts: 1,020
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The Librarian and Feedback are PBS staff. There is a higher chance that they will be offline on weekends and after hours. They usually respond by email rather than PM.

I've never known them to respond by PM, and email responses may well take several days, but I do eventually get replies. I'm sure they try their best, even though it can difficult to respond promptly with every request or question.

Last Edited on: 4/8/15 2:33 AM ET - Total times edited: 2