Tuesday, September 16, 2008

PublishAmerica Auctions Ad Space to Authors

PublishAmerica has always been a vanity press focused on getting the most out of its authors for the least effort on its part. Recently, though, PA has ramped up its collection process, using a three-pronged strategy.

1. Weekly emails to authors offering them a chance to buy their own books from PA.

Here’s an example, and this website provides copies of all the emails PA has sent to an author who told them in advance that he would not buy any of his books. In the past, PA sent these out less frequently, at least attempted to tailor them to seasonal events (e.g. “Since it’s Halloween, we have an offer so great it’s scary”) and only gave authors a discount if they purchased books in bulk.

Now, however, PA offers authors the same, continuous discount for smaller purchases (and, hilariously, warns them that “this one-time discount offer will not come back anytime soon”). This might seem like a good thing, if not for the price hike.

2. Book prices raised by up to $5.

Posts about this on the PublishAmerica Message Board (PAMB) were quickly deleted or moved to a private forum, but here’s one which was saved elsewhere. This puts the price of the average PA book well above that which most readers (and some authors) are willing to pay.

”My book just came out. It is three hundred two pages long, paper bound, and retails online at B&N, Amazon, etc. for 29.95. That really put a damper on my excitement.”

As a comparison, yesterday I bought a paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged, published by Signet. It’s 1074 pages long and costs $12.99. Even with the 50% discount for authors (not readers or bookstores), the average PA novel is simply not good value for money compared to books put out by actual publishers. Posts on the PAMB questioning the price increase were moved to the private forum or deleted, and the authors chastised.

“Anyone questioning their pricing policies has had their user names and passwords deactivated (mine being one of them) and scolded by P.A. as requiring a 'time out' if we can't tow the line.”

3. An auction for advertisement space in the backs of books.

Books put out by real publishers often contain blurbs for other books on the last few pages – such blurbs being tailored to genre or advertising the author’s next or previous novels. PA has recently decided to copy this, with the only criterion being how much the authors are willing to pay. A post from the PAMB makes this clear.

“By now, everyone will have received the e-mail from PublishAmerica auctioning that advertising space to the highest bidder.”

Copies of the email are available on Absolute Write and The Author Society, a board which was previously very pro-PA. However, its administrator (a PA author) was recently banned from the PAMB for questioning the auction.

The auction itself sounds extremely suspect.

“You may now bid on being the next author whose book will be advertised in 10,000 other books that will be seen by readers all over the country. Titles are selected based on immediate demand and may include all genres.

May include all genres? Does this mean, for instance, that an inspirational novel may contain an ad for an erotic romance if the author of the latter pays enough? It’s also not clear how how the ten thousand books will be selected – the next ten thousand copies of any books printed (since PA runs a POD operation)? – and how readers all over the country will see these books, given that PA does no marketing except to its own authors.

“How much do you want to spend on securing a full page in ten thousand books? Please respond to this email with the dollar amount of your bid, together with your book title… Bidding ends this Thursday morning at noon EST, Sept 18. The highest bid wins.”

Sounds like a very honest and reliable way to run an auction – not. There seems to be no way for the winning author to ensure that his or her ad will be in 10,000 books. Hopefully there won’t be too many authors bidding to get what real publishers provide for free. PA has always been venal, but the auction goes beyond that and into bizarreness.

In summary, with PublishAmerica…

1. You pay for your own books
2. You pay for your copyright
3. You pay for PublishAmerica to advertise your book
4. When you’re tired of all this, you pay $300 to have your contract terminated

After all that, is it really a consolation to believe that you didn't pay to be published?


Angela Ackerman said...

Wow. There's really just no words.

Can you imagine the people working for PA? What are they, people too slimy to get jobs at the really scummy used car dealerships?

Marian Perera said...

Most of the lower-level employees hate the place - click here to see an example of what I mean. They have to keep their quotas of acceptance high or else they're yelled at. Here's another account from an ex-employee - fascinating reading, in a horrified kind of way. They take the jobs because they're unemployed and because PA is always hiring (due to the high turnover of staff).

The really nasty people are Meiners, Clopper and Prather, aka the Founder, the CEO and the Executive Director. Those are the Three Stooges behind PA.

Angela Ackerman said...

Holy moly. That is some scary stuff. Still, what i don't get is if PA is such a bad company to work for and they fire people so easily, then how do they attract employees?

Interesting too what was said about the BBB. One would like to believe that complaints are taken seriously, but if the only qualifier to an issue being resolved is a response of some sort by the company accused...I don't feel very protected, that's for sure.

Marian Perera said...

From what I've read, the job market in that city (Frederick, Maryland) is depressed, so people are willing to give almost anything a try for a paycheck. PA always has openings thanks to the high turnover rate - and from what I've heard, they fire people just before it's time to give them a raise, creating even more new jobs. Finally, PA prefers people who aren't too educated (eg. a degree in literature), so that opens the field up even more.

As for the BBB, it's not much good regarding publishers and agents. If any agent's or publisher's claim to legitimacy is that they're in good standing with the BBB, that's worse than nothing - that implies either cluelessness or scammery on their part.

Better to check AAR, watchdog organizations, and Google sleuthing - enter publisher's/agent's name and the word scam, see what comes up. I tried that with PA and got reams of pages about writers PA had tricked, bilked and insulted. I tried it with Random House and got references to books about scams that Random House had published.