“Under this program, authors will have a complete and unique publishing package. Every book will be assigned to an accomplished Random House editor and a dedicated publicist. They will also have the invaluable support of Random House’s experienced marketing and digital sales teams, who know how to reach out to and expand each book’s dedicated readership. Not only will authors benefit from working with the finest cover designers to ensure irresistibly eye-catching books, but they will also be offered the unique advantage of social media tools and training that will allow them to connect directly with their readers. To reach the widest possible readership, every title will be available for purchase at major e-retailers and will be compatible with all reading devices.”
Traditional publishing (without an advance on royalties) IS backend paid-publishing! Period, no arguments!
Scalzi described the terms of Random House’s digital imprint, Hydra, as egregious. He is spot on, but I would go further. It’s also exploitive and cynical and a devious way to use digital publishing as a backdoor entry into the self-publishing author market. No author’s agent with a grip on reality would recommend an author jumping into bed with Random House under those terms when we already have far better options like Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. At least authors are assured of better terms and control of their work. Even Author Solutions’ Booktango is better than this. In fact, the terms of Random House’s digital imprints make Author Solutions look like a company run by a bunch of Catholic altar boys!
But what really pisses me off about all this is the amount of hours expended by pundits, experts and online commentators, with their heads stuck under the hood of self-publishing, happy to throw virtual shapes, pontificate and moralise on the cracks and leaks and woes of every self-publishing service provider. When in reality, over the last couple of years, some of the most egregious and contemptible entries into the world of self-publishing have actually come direct from—or under the guise and umbrella of—traditional publishers.
Late today, Allison Dobson, VP Digital Publishing Director responded to the criticisms from SFWA president, John Salzi in a letter to the organisation (letter via PW):
Dear John, Victoria, Jaym and SFWA Members,
We read with interest your posts today about the new Random House digital imprints and our business model. While we respect your position, you’ll not be surprised to learn that we strongly disagree with it, and wish you had contacted us before you published your posts. We would appreciate you giving us an opportunity to share why we believe Hydra is an excellent publishing opportunity for the science fiction community by posting ours below to them.
Hydra offers a different– but potentially lucrative–publishing model for authors: a profit share. In the more traditional advance- plus-royalty model, the publisher takes all the financial risk up front, and recoups the advance before the author earns any cash royalties. With a profit-share model, there is no advance. Instead, the author and publisher share equally in the profits from each and every sale. In effect, we partner with the author for each book.
As with every business partnership, there are specific costs associated with bringing a book successfully to market, and we state them very straightforwardly and transparently in our author agreements. These costs could be much higher–and certainly be more stressful and labor-intensive to undertake–for an author with a self-publishing model. Profits are generated once those costs are subtracted from the sales revenue. Hydra and the author split those profits equally from the very first sale.
When we acquire a title in the Hydra program, it is an all-encompassing collaboration. Our authors provide the storytelling, and we at Hydra support their creativity with best-in-class services throughout the publishing process: from dedicated editorial, cover design, copy editing and production, to publicity, digital marketing and social media tools, trade sales, academic and library sales, piracy protection, negotiating and selling of subsidiary rights, as well as access to Random House coop and merchandising programs. Together, we deliver the best science fiction, fantasy and horror books to the widest possible readership, thus giving authors maximum earning potential.
As a last point to the SFWA leadership, my colleagues and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss the advantages of the Hydra business model, describe the program overall, and respond to any of your expressed concerns. Please let me know a good time for us to set up this meeting.
Many thanks and all the best,
Allison R. Dobson
V.P., Digital Publishing Director
Random House Publishing Group
…and today, March 8th, the SFWA responded to Allison Dobson’s letter…
Dear Ms. Dobson:
Thank you for your letter regarding Random House and Hydra, and your interest in speaking with us.
Unfortunately, there is very little to discuss. SFWA has determined to its own satisfaction that Hydra does not meet our minimum standards for a qualifying market, as its contract does not offer an advance. Additionally, your attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious. The first of these things alone would disqualify Hydra as a qualifying market. It is the second of these things, however, that causes us to believe that Hydra intends to act in a predatory manner towards authors, and in particular toward newer authors who may not have the experience to recognize the extent to which your contract is beyond the pale of standard publishing practices.
You extol your business model as “different”; the more accurate description, we believe, is “exploitative.” We are particularly disappointed to see it arising out of Random House, a well-regarded, long-standing publishing firm. Bluntly put, Random House should know better.
If Hydra is willing to assume the costs long assumed by publishers rather than attempting to shift those costs to authors, and is willing to pay advances in line with SFWA minimum rates at the very least, we will be willing to reconsider it as a qualifying market, and as a suitable home for writers. Until that time, however, we cannot do either, and will warn writers about Hydra.
Additionally: Our president has seen a contract for Alibi, the sibling imprint of Hydra, and has noted that it features the same worrying lack of advances and attempts to set the costs of publication onto the author, to the advantage of the publisher. For that reason, the board has voted to keep Alibi from being considered a qualifying market for SFWA membership. If we learn that the standard contracts for Flirt and Loveswept, Random House’s two other eBook-only imprints, feature similar language and actions, they will also be excluded.
The contracts of these imprints mean that SFWA will now be watching Random House very closely. If the egregious features of Hydra and Alibi’s contracts begin to make their way into the contracts of Random House’s other imprints, particularly Del Rey and Spectra, we will be required to act, up to and including delisting Random House as a whole as a qualifying market for SFWA.
We urge you to reconsider your business model for Hydra and Alibi. It is bad for authors, it is bad for the publishing industry, and it is extraordinarily bad for the reputation of Random House as an equitable partner for writers.
The Board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America