Monday, January 19, 2015

Simon & Schuster attempted to bribe me. Should I call the cops? What about misleading advertising, incest and conflict of interest?

I have frequently written about the expansion of Author Solutions, Inc ("ASI"). It has become the pay-to-publish behemoth by gobbling up and combining former competitors such as Wordclay and Trafford and doing deals with traditional publishers including Harlequin and Hay House, and even Writer's Digest magazine. There are many complaints online about ASI from its author-customers and I wrote a detailed commentary about a particularly shitty book published by ASI's "top" Xlibris brand.

I wrote about formerly respectable publisher Simon & Schuster doing a deal with the devil by setting up Archway Publishing, a pay-to-publish brand operated by ASI. Since then, ASI was bought by Pearson (owner of Penguin and other traditional publishers) for $116 million -- at about the same time that Penguin was merging with competitor Random House. Penguin has set up Partridge Publishing to serve self-publishing authors in Asia

It's logical to assume that even more self-pub labels will appear -- as false competitors. ASI sends out email and operates websites that appear to help writers decide among various self-publishing companies -- but all of the possible recommendations are ASI brands!
  • Even weirder, we now have the strange situation where the combined Penguin-Random will profit when writers pay up to $24,999 to competitor Simon & Schuster on a money-losing, ego-driven fantasy to become a "published author." 
  • Will the stockholders and directors of Simon & Schuster object to Archway enriching Random Penguin in an apparent conflict of interest?
  • Is it corruption when Writer's Digest reviews a book published by Abbot Press or another ASI brand? Will the magazine ignore a book that competes with an Abbot book or an Archway book?
  • Is it incest (or just a violation of basic playground rules of fair play) if Simon & Schuster tries to 'adopt' a book published by Abbot or Westbow Press, Balboa Press or DellArte Press -- the offspring of ASI and other "traditional" publishers? Would that be like Woody Allen marrying Soon-Yi Previn?
  • How soon will the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews do deals with ASI? ASI is eager to find new partners. It says: "we develop everything including the initial website design, products and services and the lead generation plan. In addition, we provide all sales, production, fulfillment and customer support. These imprints . . . present an unmatched opportunity for the partner to discover new talent cost-efficiently.
And now, more sleaze:

A while ago I (and some other people who write blogs
aimed at authors) received emails about Archway from Veda Kumarjiguda, "digital coordinator" at Simon & Schuster.

When I read the first paragraph and the first two sentences in the second paragraph I assumed that someone smart at S&S had discovered that I had said terrible things about Archway -- and was reaching out to try to change my opinion. Maybe Veda wanted me to know that S&S is sensitive to criticism and has decided to turn things around, to produce high-quality books at reasonable prices with good service to authors.

But, no! S&S was offering me a bribe (which they call a "bounty") if I help the company extract money from eager and naive writers.

Dear Michael,

Simon & Schuster recently launched Archway Publishing as a new type of offering for self-publishing authors. With services delivered by Author Solutions, Archway was developed to help authors achieve their publishing goals and reach their desired audience. S&S has provided guidelines on book design, introduced certain unique self-publishing services, designed packages tailored to meet specific author objectives, and will monitor titles for potential acquisition.

Your blog is an important resource to help authors navigate the variety of self-publishing options. We believe Archway is a unique new service for authors, and would be valued by your readers. The Archway Affiliate Program enables partners to earn a $100 bounty for each author they refer who publishes with Archway.  Click here  to learn more about the affiliate program.  In addition, we'd like to extend to your audience a 10% discount off any Archway package, when referred though affiliate links on your site.  We can also create contests, webinars, and creative for your site, or discuss other ways to work together.

Please let me know if you have time for a brief call and visit to learn more about Archway.

You're probably expecting me to provide some lame humor based on "Mutiny on the Bounty," so here it is:

So, no, Veda, I will not be bribed. I will not accept money to help you get customers. In fact, I will work even harder to help you fail.

However, there is a way I would try to help you and would send customers to you (and you don't have to pay me a penny).

  • Just publish good books and treat authors right. It's not that difficult.

There must be someone at S&S who knows how to do the right thing. Please find her and put her in charge of Archway.

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