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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Saint or Skimmer, 2 - Black Hat White Hat!

Times change, the days when the good guy wore a pristine white hat are gone, today's hero is likely to be grey, muddy, washed out, and tired.

The last few weeks have seen Indies Unlimited exploring the experience of authors at the hands of the Vanity Presses, and the same familiar names crop up with an unnerving frequency. Part of the explanation is revealed in the list of subsidiary imprints under the umbrella of Author Solutions(see Saints and Skimmers). If any company has donned the black hat and cape of the villain of the piece it is this one.

There will be authors who have a had a good relationship with Author Solutions, the Bloomington, Indiana giant, but on the whole the response to the #PublisherFoul survey followed an expected pattern. Lynne Cantwell's resume of the results bore out the figures quoted by Author Solutions; 180,00 authors, and 250,000 books, - 78% of authors published one book with Author Solutions, an average of 1.3 books per author. (Lynne Cantwell quotes figures at the time of the Penguin takeover of 150,000 authors and 190,000 books which gives an almost identical publishing rate of 1.27 books per author).

The operating procedures of Author Solutions and their long term repeat rate remain unchanged. The reality is that another raft of authors have been bitten once, and are twice shy of the experience.

The major shift in self-publishing has come through choice and diversity, but the anonymity of the Internet also allows the skimmer to hide behind the saint.

Researching the subsidiaries of Author Solutions revealed the links between Traditional and Vanity publisher and the openness of the connection; and trumpeting it from the header of the web page is being pretty upfront. Whatever the legality of the relationship the reputation of one company in partnership taints another. The high ground cannot be claimed or occupied if your feet of clay are mired with the people you so  roundly and recently condemn. In short, you can't slag off the vanities if you are banking their profits, own the company, or in partnership.

Balboa Press , part of Hay House Publishing made the list in the International Partnerships in the previous post, They are not alone, any hope that Penguin would improve the reputation of Author Solutions disappeared when the three Partridge operations, Africa, India and Singapore were established, this was more of the same, and with the new parent's blessing.

Author Solutions do not always disclose the imprints they are partnered with making it difficult, even impossible for an author to make an informed choice. Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan makes no mention of the connection with Author Solutions, who trumpet the link from their own site, alongside Simon & Schuster's Archway and Reader's Digest LifeRich. The partnership between Abbott Press and Writer's Digest was broken up in June 2014, and the connection with Author Solutions: Abbott Press operates out of the same Liberty drive, Bloomington, address as Author Solutions.

The complaint lodged at the U.S. District Court, District of Southern Indiana against Author Solutions cites the company's main source of revenues as the authors themselves and the claims made for commercial success in publishing with them as lacking any foundation, because the relevant analysis required to support and justify the claims have never been carried out. The PDF of the complaint available from the website of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart ( the link is in 3/25/2015 update towards the bottom of the page, Author Solutions deceptive practices) lists; Unjust Enrichment, Fraud and additional counts under the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act; the Indiana Senior Consumer Protection Act; The California Business And Professions Code; The California Unfair Competition Law, (Unfair Business Acts and Practices) and The California Unfair Competition Law (Fraudulent Business Acts and Practices).

The details behind these counts are listed within the complaint, and makes sobering reading. Promise after promise lifting the hopes and dreams of the authors are left broken and mangled as the marketing consultants work to extract larger and larger sums on the basis of unfounded and unsupportable claims,

Their are only two plaintiffs named on the second class action against Author Solutions. However, the size of the class is staggering, in 2011 27,500 publishing packages were sold, each one a potential class member. The class period is cited from April 26 2007 to the present day, with two sub classes, California residents who bought a package and or services  whose services have not been fulfilled since April 26 2009, and Senior Authors, at least sixty years of age who made purchases and the services have not been fulfilled since July 1, 2009.

Whether you are looking at the numbers represented by the class action or the figures involved in the claim itself, the numbers are huge, and this story is going to run! There is definitely more to come.

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