It’s a bit of synchronicity, I guess, that I was talking about Bennett Cerf the other day, as Random House (which he co-founded), has done something that I hope has him spinning in his grave. The publisher has set up a set of virtual imprints that specialize in genre fiction —
Wait, that’s not true. Apparently, they actually specialize in shafting naive writers with contracts so one-sided they would make Saul Zaentz blush. John Scalzi lays out the details, but what it comes down to is that these “imprints” are electronic versions of the vanity press (Vanit e-press?), charging writers for the “privilege” of publication. All the privilege costs them is the bill for anything called “production expenses” (including things like editing, cover design, and the other stuff Snubnose — or any reputable publisher — does as part of its business, because, you know, they want to have good product and stuff). Oh, and it also costs the author his copyright, more or less in perpetuity. Nice, huh?
This kind of crap makes “work-for-hire” contracts seem absolutely generous, as these “deals” are more along the lines of “work-to-hire-the-publisher.” Siegel and Shuster would call you a sucker. As Scalzi observes:
Musicians out there reading this may be smiling ruefully at this point, because they will recognize this sort of accounting; it’s how the music labels worked their accounting for years, carefully calibrating their fees and costs to make sure their musicians made as close to zero as possible while the labels kept all the money. But at least the musical labels paid their musicians an advance; Random House’s innovation here is that they aren’t even doing that.
Note to Random House: You’re aware what the typical consumer thinks of music labels at this point, right? You’re aware that one of the reasons that people don’t feel bad about pirating music is because they believe strongly that the music labels screwed the musicians anyway, so why bother? So, if your contracts are even less fair to authors than musical label contracts are to musicians, what are they going to think about you? And how does it look for the industry as a whole? You’re not making it easier for anyone.
Hydra (SF), Alibi (Crime), Flirt and Loveswept (Romance) — all are Random’s Vanit e-presses (Hey, I like my neologism!) Don’t get suckered.
And in the meantime, support honest e-publishers (with a foot in the print world as well) like Snubnose. This would be a nice start.