Writers’ unions call for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector

From The Society of Authors:

The Society of Authors (SoA) and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) have today called for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector. The trade unions, who together represent 14,800 authors, have jointly published Is it a steal? An investigation into ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing services to expose widespread bad practice among companies that charge writers to publish their work while taking their rights.

The report, supported by ALCS, is the first full-scale assessment of the relationship between writers and companies who refer to themselves as ‘hybrid’, ‘partnership’ or ‘contributory’ publishers (among other terms) but have much in common with what have historically been described as ‘vanity’ publishers. It details aggressive marketing tactics, manipulative sales approaches, unclear contracts and publishing processes and services that fall far short of expectations and value. The report also includes the findings of a survey which found that 94% of writers who had paid to have their book published, lost money typically in the thousands, paying an average of £2,000 with median royalties coming in at a mere £68.

As one survey respondent said, ‘After four months of unsuccessfully trying to get more support from the company, I gave up trying to contact them. My first royalty statement shows earnings of £30. I see the £2,000 I paid them as lost.’

Another writer paid £2,300 and ‘received the ebook, 25 physical copies, 10 posters, 25 postcards, 100 flyers and 50 bookmarks’ after which, they said, ‘the company washed its hands of me’.

A third survey respondent paid £5,000 for publication and said the process ‘completely destroyed my faith in their ability to produce a book and market it effectively, and the experience has dented my confidence in publishing in general’.

Speaking about the report’s findings, Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, said:

‘This report shines a spotlight on some concerning practices including questionable marketing tactics, vast costs with no hope of returns, rights grabs and contracts which are, at best, opaque, and, at worst, misleading. There is no one right way for a book to come to market, but as the publishing industry continues to evolve, we need to ensure that authors are not taken advantage of or blindsided by blandishments that don’t translate into contractual obligations and implied guarantees that, very clearly, these companies aren’t honouring.’

The joint report, supported by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), follows a steady rise in SoA and WGGB members seeking advice from their respective unions about ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing deals they have been offered. The survey found that the average loss for a writer in a ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing deal was £1,861 with some participants reporting losses as high as £9,900. Each deal resulted in a median of just 67 books sold, including those that writers bought themselves, while 59% of writers said their book was not available to buy in bookshops, supermarkets and retail outlets.

‘Fundamentally, what we’re seeing here is a hijacking of the term publisher,’ continues Solomon. ‘These companies are not traditional publishers. They provide a service and should market it as such so as not to mislead authors. We all have a role to play in ensuring people are not exploited by these deals, and that includes being clear in how we define what a publisher is. Trade bodies and advertising platforms have an important role to play here too – they have a responsibility to ensure that paid-for publishers can demonstrate their legitimacy.’

Ellie Peers, general secretary of the WGGB, commented:

‘Digital innovation is opening up new opportunities for authors but we need to ensure this brave new world does not lead to the exploitation and erosion of writers’ rights.

‘Sadly, as our joint report Is it a steal? illustrates, bad practice is entrenched, with authors losing large sums of money, relinquishing their intellectual property and falling prey to misleading marketing and exploitative business models.

‘We have seen an exponential rise in our members seeking help in the paid-for publishing arena and we will be stepping up our campaigning work to educate and protect authors and to call on ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishers, trade bodies and advertisers to step up, stamp out and stem the tide of this worrying and growing trend.

The writers’ unions are calling for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector based on a three-pronged approach and have already written to many ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing services and trade bodies. They call for:

  1. A commitment to 15 key publishing principles, listed in the report, which include clarity about their business models, production and marketing capacity, as well as notifying people who enter paid-for agreements about their consumer rights.
  2. A commitment by other organisations to ensure that companies describing themselves as publishers are just that. Specifically, the SoA and WGGB have called on the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild to clarify their definition of ‘publisher’ and investigate whether that applies to their membership and how their members can demonstrate an adherence to the 15 principles. They have also called on advertising platforms and media outlets to ensure that publishers advertising with them are doing so in line with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code of conduct and not misleading consumers.
  3. Finally, the unions have committed to raising awareness among writers of their rights when entering a ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing agreement, and of the need to have all contracts independently vetted before signing.

Link to the rest at The Society of Authors

Waldorf Publishing: A Watchdog Advisory

From The Alliance of Independent Authors:

When a publisher or assisted self-publishing services enters a financial crisis, character can be put to the test. In this week’s Watchdog Advisory, John Doppler looks at Waldorf Publishing.

When faced with financial crisis, some rise to the challenge. They put contingency plans into action, return rights to authors, pay owed royalties from accounts that were wisely kept separate from the company’s operating funds. They face their challenges head on, they frankly and honestly confront their mistakes, and sometimes, they recover: a triumphant phoenix rising from the ashes to start anew.

Others do not acquit themselves as nobly.

Meet Waldorf Publishing, a company that appears intent on self-immolation. Waldorf and its owner, Barbara Terry, have raised alarms before. The Texas-based vanity press and its various spinoffs have been in the spotlight for their apparent ignorance of copyright, poor quality, and allegations of questionable accounting. And in typical fashion for bad operators, Ms. Terry responded to at least one of those reports by threatening a lawsuit. (I will not be posting links to those threats, as they appear on a page doxxing and harassing a consumer advocate.)

More recently, a storage unit of Waldorf authors’ books was offered up for sale by a liquidator who purchased them at auction. The storage unit went up for auction when the renter defaulted on payments. (If you are a Waldorf client who has purchased books from the company, but those books never materialized, the liquidator can be reached at cmbOutlet@yahoo.com.)

Waldorf Publishing has recently been trying to extract additional concessions from its authors. ALLi’s Watchdog Desk has received complaints from authors who attempted to confirm or avail themselves of the termination clause in their contracts, only to have Waldorf Publishing try to extract more money and additional legal concessions.

One of the more egregious examples of the latter is an amateurish, legally dubious clause asserting that “any willful slander against Waldorf Publishing” (presumably meaning any complaint about shabby treatment) will be punished by Waldorf Publishing seizing all rights to the author’s books.

It seems obvious that this tacked-on clause never passed under an attorney’s nose, as, among other things, it confuses slander and libel. Regardless of its likely unenforceability, the sheer audacity of this ploy to bully authors into silence is shocking.

. . . .

Based on its belligerence alone, Waldorf Publishing would have earned our Caution rating. In combination with its litigious threats, its alleged failure to pay its bills, and its attempts to squeeze money from authors as they head for the door, Waldorf Publishing lands in our most severe rating category, the Watchdog Advisory.

Link to the rest at The Alliance of Independent Authors (February 2021) and thanks to SJ for the tip.

PG warned about Waldorf Publishing in January, 2021, excerpting from a much longer Writer Beware post, including the following caution:

Since vanity publishers never identify themselves as such, one way to check an unknown publisher is to search for the publisher’s name on Amazon’s books section. If you find any books listed, check on the sales rank of those books. It will be a very, very large number, reflecting sales to the author’s mother.

Ask the manager (of a physical bookstore) whether he/she has ever purchased any books from the vanity press. If the manager says something like, “Who?” you’ll also have valuable information.

As a general proposition, always check out any entity you may consider doing business with online before you even contact them, let alone sign a contract. With a publisher you haven’t heard of, hit the publisher’s website and contact several of the authors of the publisher’s books to see what they feel about their experiences.

Spend thirty minutes on Writer Beware to see if your potential publisher or anyone mentioned in the potential publisher’s website is mentioned there.

Finally, don’t pay any publisher money to publish your book. If you want to publish your book, Amazon is happy to do it at no charge.

Indie Presses Have to Partner Up

From Publishers Weekly:

Whether or not we want to face it, there is a startling new reality about small press publishing: we need help. The landscape is shifting and independent publishers are realizing that we need to find new ways to stay competitive. The Big Five publishers continue to buy independent presses, repackaging their lists to give an illusion of diversity when they are, in fact, conglomerates. It is time to rethink old business models, and parternship publishing is one way for new independent presses to emerge and be successful in this competitive climate.

So where does this leave authors? Traditional publishers have long tested hybrid contracts, from custom packaging projects to requiring restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, or museums to buy back a certain amount of books as part of publishing deals. Before signing contracts, authors should weigh their priorities. Some authors may need comprehensive direction from their publisher, while others may want to break out of a traditional mold and stay true to their own visions.

Independent presses offer authors an array of options to choose from, though some models are misunderstood. There’s an assumption, for instance, that a blended model throws away any quality control, but that just isn’t the case—particularly when it comes to partnership publishing.

I founded the Collective Book Studio with a distinct model in mind: authors choose us, but we must also choose them. We accept unagented and agented submissions, with each subjected to meticulous screening, but ultimately offer a wide pool of authors access to publishing expertise. By investing in their own products, clients maintain their agency while also acquiring the services that will make their book successful; thus, we establish a partnership. Authors hold on to their IP, they receive higher royalty rates, and they’re involved in many steps of the development, production, and marketing processes.

Like other partnership publishers, the Collective Book Studio handles editorial development, proofreading, layout, design, production, marketing, and publicity. We are backed by a team of experts. Many of us have worn different hats over the years. We form teams comprising booksellers, editors, illustrators, and designers because it gives us a wide perspective.

Why would an author choose partnership publishing over self-publishing? Self-publishing has an undeniable allure that stems from one major premise: jurisdiction. It seems to many that self-publishing grants the author the largest amount of control over important editorial, design, and marketing decisions. The self-publishing model is one that recognizes the author’s autonomy above all, but often that comes at the expense of quality control. Even if an author has a self-published book with compelling content, they likely won’t have competitive distribution.

At the Collective Book Studio we often hear from self-published authors who love their books but struggle with being shut out of most sales channels. Partnership publishing means spot gloss, foil, and embossing. It means an editor to ensure the highest-quality writing. It also creates a real path into the indie bookselling market, where handselling can make all the difference to a book’s success.

While the traditional vs. self vs. hybrid publishing debate rages on, independent booksellers are also working under enormous challenges. They’re up against Amazon, the dominant retailer that undermines pricing and shipping standards for everyone. The thing is, independent publishers are being swamped by monopolists, too. The best way for both indie publishers and indie bookstores to grow is by collaborating even more than we do now.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG is inclined to break down the OP as follows:

  1. Let’s pretend Amazon doesn’t exist. Ditto for Kindle Direct Publishing.
  2. Let’s pretend that when an author is asked to put up money by a traditional publisher, what’s going on is something more than a gussied-up vanity press operation.
  3. “We are backed by a team of experts.” Times are tough in the book business and a lot of people are willing to do whatever sort of gig work they can find.
  4. Let’s pretend that indie bookstores represent a significant part of the book-selling business.
  5. Let’s pretend that getting a book into a lot of indie bookstores will generate a lot of royalties for an author.
  6. Let’s pretend that authors who use vanity presses – plain vanilla or gussied-up – are really going to be taken seriously by anyone but their mother, father and retired third-grade teacher.
  7. “Partnership publishing means spot gloss, foil, and embossing.” PG couldn’t have worded the publisher’s contribution to the final product any better than that.

Finally, a quote attributed to a variety of different people, “Money flows to the author.” This does not mean that money flows from the author to the publisher.

Potential predatory scholarly open‑access publishers

From Beall’s List of Potential Predatory Publishers:

Instructions: first, find the journal’s publisher – it is usually written at the bottom of the journal’s webpage or in the “About” section. Then simply enter the publisher’s name or its URL in the search box above. If the journal does not have a publisher use the Standalone Journals list.
All journals published by a predatory publisher are potentially predatory unless stated otherwise.

Link to the rest at Beall’s List of Potential Predatory Publishers

In the sidebar, you will find links to other sites, including the following:

​List of journals falsely claiming to be indexed by DOAJ

DOAJ: Journals added and removed

Nonrecommended medical periodicals

Retraction Watch

Flaky Academic Journals Blog

PG notes that vanity publishers don’t just prey on would-be commercial authors. They also fool academics into paying for publication of their works in legitimate-sounding professional publications that won’t do much for the academic’s “publish or perish” requirements.

UK Author Unions Launch Investigation Into ‘Partner Publishing’

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Society of Authors and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain–the United Kingdom’s two authors’ unions–have announced today (March 3) an investigation into “the financial and contractual impact on authors of publishers that charge for publication.”

With the support of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the effort is intended, according to the groups’ media messaging, “to research the allegedly exploitative practices of some publishers that charge authors to publish their work.”

The establishment of an investigation, the unions write, “follows a sharp rise in complaints from authors about these companies received by both unions.”

This is something to be watched not only by authors but also by trade publishers, whose industry can be colored by perceptions of bad actors and author mistreatment: the public has never been adept at discerning the distinctions in how a writer’s work might get to market. Writers not represented by literary agents nor on contract to trade houses can be particularly vulnerable to scams, operating as amateur entrants in a crowded field of vendors’ pitches.

At issue here are offers called by many names and operating in markets beyond the UK. ‘Partner publishing,’ ‘hybrid publishing,’ ‘contribution publishing,’ and ‘subsidy publishing’ are all cases in which an author is published only by paying into the process. As the unions are pointing out, these companies “have much in common with what used to be called ‘vanity’ publishers.”

Standing somewhere between full self-publishing and full trade publishing, these publishers normally assume some of the cost in exchange for some of the rights and/or revenues from a book’s life on the market.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” a saying attributed to P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, con man Joseph (“Paper Collar Joe”) Bessimer and a variety of others, certainly applies to vanity publishing, whatever it may call itself at this or any other time.

The OP describes in general what vanity publishing is. If you need more information, see ALLI, Writer Beware, Writers & Artists, the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, and many other authors organizations.

PG expects most regular visitors to TPV don’t need this sort of advice, but urges them to pass their knowledge on to whomever they think may need it.

Regardless of whatever other shortcomings they may have, legitimate traditional publisher do not ask an author to pay them any money to publish the author’s book.

Vanity publishers often have fancy-sounding names – “Author House”, “Dorrance Publishing”, etc., etc.

One quick way to help identify a vanity publisher is to go to Amazon’s books section and search for the publisher’s name. PG just searched for “Dorrance Publishing” and the first book that appeared in his search results had a Best Sellers Rank of #4,213,968 in the Kindle Store.

This sales rank means that the author’s mother bought a copy and maybe one or two of the author’s drinking buddies bought copies before they sobered up.

Another way to help identify a vanity publisher is to visit a local bookstore (wear your mask) and ask the owner or manager about the publisher.

If the response is, “Who?” then it’s a vanity publisher. After receiving this response, ask the manager to recommend a good book and buy it to show your gratitude for her/his assistance in helping you avoid a stupid and expensive mistake.