Questia: Suck or Not Suck?

My mother, of all people, is raving about Questia. Questia is not free, and my university library does not subscribe to it, but for about $99 a year you can get access to:

the world’s largest online library of books, with over 65,000 full-text books, 1 million articles, and an entire reference set complete with a dictionary, encyclopedia, and thesaurus. Your subscription to the entire Questia academic library also includes digital productivity tools for highlighting text, taking notes, and generating footnotes and bibliographies in seven different styles.

Now Questia looks like the kind of thing I hate – a service that attempts to lock you into using all of its information within its own paradigm, I don’t think any of their content can be downloaded; however, it is hard to argue with full text search of thousands of volumes of books and journals from some major publishers including Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis. And if it passes the mother test it must be pretty user-friendly.

Here is a direct link to their truly impressive collection of anthropology texts.

So, anyone here have any experience using Questia? Does it suck or not suck?

UPDATE: As per Rex’s suggestion I signed up for a trial account. You can’t see the trial account option if you go to the subscriptions page, you have to start using Questia and then you will see it appear as an option when looking at a book or article. If you don’t cancel after 7 days you get billed about $20 a month – far more than if you sign up for the yearly plan. And this experience is pretty typical of how crappy Questia is design-wise. For instance, you can create “projects” but then there is no way to move items from one project to another. You have to delete them, open up a pop-up window listing the projects, change the “current” project, then add the items again to that project. Other design elements are equally sucky – such as the fact that you have to go to a different view to delete highlights, it can be done from the same interface you use to highlight text.

Having said all that, Questia might be useful to people who live in remote places (like rural Taiwan!) where they don’t have access to a large library. There are a surprising number of books which you can read on their site. Even with the lousy interface, $99 a year might save yout the cost of buying a book you don’t need, or only need for a reference or two, which could well be worth it. Their crappy interface does not allow you to do anything truly useful, such as do a full text search only within a project or bookshelf you’ve created … but still, it just might be worth signing up despite all that (although I don’t think I will).

Finally, while their book selection is surprisingly large, their journal selection is quite limited. The main highlights for me were access to back issues of the Australian Journal of Anthropology and the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, I didn’t see anything else of much interest anthropology-wise.

7 thoughts on “Questia: Suck or Not Suck?

  1. I haven’t had a subscription, have trialied a few times. Sometimes I find good stuff, other times I don’t. If it was a bit more reliable it would pay for itself in the number of books I *didn’t* have to purchase.

  2. Yeah — I think the nice thing about this package is the price. US$99 is the price of paying like 4 PDFs of a journal article from Elsevier. It’s also interesting to see someone whose business is digital contact aggregation who is not the publisher. You should sign up for a trial and write an “Adventures in digital content” review like I’m doing for some journals.

  3. “Troy Williams. The founder and CEO of Questia Media, the world’s largest online library. Mr. Williams founded Questia in 1998 and, since its inception, has overseen the development of the Questia service, built a management team with a depth of experience in the technology, Internet, library and publishing industries, and secured more than $150 million in financing. Mr. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts from Rice University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School and hails from Mystic, Connecticut.” from one of many such events at Rice. Go Owls. See how much spirit I have?

  4. I subscribed to Questia during the lit review for my treatise. At that time you could subscribe for ‘quarters’-3 months at a time [around 2003]. I don’t know if they still have that option. I went for it becuase Questia gave me instant access to difficult to find Advertising journals. Going thru my university library to get them would have taken too long. Although Questia’s interface is clunky, the amount of info it contains and cheap subscription price are terrific.

  5. Questia is a life saver when I am traveling to go to residencies in other states. I would have to have a suitcase just for the journal articles if I didn’t have the subscription and then I would have a really large bicep. I got the discount as I signed for a monthly contract and then reupped for the yearly price and got $20 off. All of those articles with the bib machine is wonderful!

  6. I subscribed to Questia for 3 months. I hoped to use its resources for a research project I was doing. I didn’t find much there that helped me with that specific project, but I did use a few articles for other small assignments. If I had to rate the service, I would say it is adequate, but not better than the university library here.

    My complaint with Questia is their billling practice. If you forget to cancel, they will automatially renew the subscription and charge your account and they absolutely will not give you a refund. It has been a week since my subscription auto-renewed and I am getting nowhere with their customer service department. They told me that they do not issue refunds under any circumstances and I think that is unreasonable.

    It would not kill them to refund my $44.95 at this point (it’s only been a week and they could prorate it as a solution) but they won’t work with me so far.

    I looked up their profile on the Better Business Bureau and their rating is unsatisfactory because they don’t respond to complaints and the report indicates that other customers have had issues with this billing policy.

    My advice to anyone who is thinking about signing up for this is to make sure to cancel the subscription before Questia dips into your checking account or charges your credit card. Or, you can just save yourself the headache and avoid this company altogether, which is what I wish I had done. Like I said before, the service isn’t that good.

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