Monday, September 15, 2008

A darker side of a favorite Utah author?

This is a long post, I hope somebody reads the whole thing

I am writing you concern what appears to be a shady bit of business dealings. While I acknowledge that nobody is above being a little shifty to save their neck, I expected better behavior from the founder of the company Richard Paul Evans. After all, this is the inspirational writer that brought us such books as The Christmas Box, The Locket, and The Gift. I must admit that I have never made it all the way through any of his novels...still, I know many people who have and who claim he must be one of the best and most philanthropic people on earth.

The company he founded is/was BookWise. It existed as a "Multi-Level Marketing" company, later transitioning to an "Affiliate Program." I was a member of BookWise from their initial launch in the fall of 2006. As with most MLMs, there is a monthly purchase requirement in order to maintain your status as an active member. During my membership, I never missed a month (as I could prove using credit card records if necessary).

In 2007, as a way to try and promote membership and "prove" to the members that he cared for them and wanted them/us to succeed, Mr. Evans unveiled his "Better Life Guarantee" which stated that if you have been an active member for 12 months, you are entitled to cancel your membership for a full refund of the member fees (not including shipping/handling) with "no questions asked" and you could keep the product (books). Sounds a little too good to be true, but he put it in writing and sent it out to the company. I am attaching a copy of the document here. In May of 2008, they removed the Better Life Guarantee from the business plan for all new associates. However, they indicated that any associate who had enrolled prior to May 2008 was still eligible for the guarantee. The text of this change can be read here:

In 2008, BookWise began making changes to their business model and by mid-June of 2008 I had decided that the company was no longer for me. I called to cancel and was told that I had to send in a formal email and include my reasons for canceling. I also asked about the "Better Life Guarantee" and (despite their 'no questions asked') was given a brief survey to fill out and identify what I had done as an "active member" and what I had received from BookWise. I was told that I could expect my refund in "10-12 weeks."

On August 6 2008, a notice was sent to BookWise members and posted on the BookWise blog indicating that BookWise was "merging" with another MLM. You can read the notice here: If the blog goes down, I can send a copy of the message separately.

About 1 week after the merger was announced, I sent an email (on Aug 12) asking how this would affect the Better Life Guarantee (since I was now on the cusp of my 10-12 week window). Nearly a week later (on August 18), I received a one line email stating that "You will hear from BookWise founders on your BLG request this week. Thank you for your patience." I replied indicating that I would wait. One week later (August 25), I sent another email indicating that I hadn't heard from the founders but that I was still hoping for the best and looked forward to hearing any more details. Two days later (August 27), I had still received no reply and there was no answer when trying to call the BookWise phone number. So I sent another email, this time adding "Richard Paul Evans" and "Robert G. Allen" to the CC list on the email. I indicated that I was a bit flustered but I still tried to stay positive. On September 3, I had still heard nothing so I sent an email again (to BookWise customer service and CC-ing Richard and Robert). In this email, I indicated that I was very frustrated that there wasn't even any communication and that my perception was that they were just trying to sweep it under the rug and run for the hills. I talked about possible legal action though I'm not sure how much of a case I would have. I got an "auto reply" to that email from the BW customer service address. The reply indicated that the BW office was closed and that if I had questions about the guarantee I could expect info in September 2008.

One week later (September 10), I received an email from "Better Life Guarantee ''" The email was 'signed' by "Grimes & Reese Attorneys at Law" and was filled with legalese worded with the main intent of playing on the sympathies of associates in claiming that BookWise had millions of dollars in debt and that the company is now completely insolvent. They also tried to suggest that the guarantee was invalid because associates were trying to take advantage of it. I have copied the text of their email into a document and I'm attaching it here. The law firm indicates that BookWise is making a "goodwill" offering and will provide associates with "product offerings" consisting of either 5 books or 20 cd/dvds. Their suggested values are ~$400 and ~$1000 respectively. These product offerings are in fact indicative of the BW direction change that led me to cancel my membership in the first place because I honestly do not see the value of these products and definitely did NOT feel they were a good product offering. Furthermore, the "value" they are suggesting is totally subjective and based on the pricing structure setup by BookWise itself. While the books are of high quality, trying to claim that they are worth $80 is laughable. As to the cds and dvds being worth $1000 (or $50/each), I haven't seen the actual content so I can't refute it, but based solely on the suggested pricing structure, the value seems inflated there as well.

So, after this lengthy message (which I hope wasn't too long to turn you off), I come to multiple points.
  1. * First of all, the "Better Life Guarantee" was fully in effect at the time I canceled (in late June / early July) and I was fully eligible for it.

  2. * Secondly, the language from the lawyers seems to suggest that they want to nullify the guarantee in whole just because it was a stupid guarantee to make in the first place and left itself open to abuse....that fact is the fault of the company and not of the associates.

  3. * Third, BookWise "merged" with another company. The language in the merger announcements as well as communication with the support staff at BookWise suggests to me that new parent company (iLearningGlobal) actually "purchased" the BookWise assets and member list, meaning the BookWise founders actually made some money off of this merger.

  4. * Fourth, I see no indication of BookWise or its founders declaring bankruptcy or otherwise proving to be legally insolvent, which to me suggests that they should still be held responsible not only for the "several millions dollars of debt" as claimed by the law firm, but also responsible to the associates to honor the guarantee that they put in place (no matter how legally and financially foolish that guarantee was)

Each of these points lead me to various questions. I am not a greedy person although some will surely say I'm whining about the money and I should've known better before getting into an MLM. While the money is a motivating factor, my bigger complaint here is that it seems these guys are just trying to save face and pretend that they are wonderful and perfect and are honestly out to help everyone in their "BookWise family", when in reality, they are only interested in walking away from nearly 500k in debt which they should legally be required to pay out as outlined in their (hopefully) legally binding Guarantee.

I have sent this information to Utah's "Get Gephardt" (a news team that likes to expose the underbelly of things that hurt consumers in the state). I have also attempted to contact the law firm that BookWise has employed. It seems "Grimes & Reese" are specifically MLM Lawyers who focus on bailing out MLM bigwigs. I made a phone call to their Idaho office and was hung up on. I called and left a voice mail on the direct line to their Utah rep. We'll see if anything happens.


Anonymous said...

Go get 'em!

Anonymous said...

I hope Gephardt sets those jerks straight!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone is finally speaking out about Richard Paul Evans, Robert G. Allen and Thomas Painter! People need to know.