Friday, March 1, 2013

Why I am developing a hate-on for Penguin House

I don't like Penguin Random House.

In case you don't know, Penguin, who is a big name publisher of everything, and Random House, who is also a big name publisher of everything, merged last year. I blogged about it.

And then I found out that Penguin's parent company bought Author Solutions not too long before the merger, and has done fuck-all to clean it up as a company. And then they started using Author Solutions to have the other big name companies (Harlequin, Simon and Schuster, couple others) start yet another Author Solutions front, only with the big name company's name as the hat. I blogged about how STUPID that is here.

But up until today I didn't have a good reason not to like Random House. Because...they weren't really talking, I guess. Welp, let's take care of that.

And in case you want the teal deer version, that link states that Random House now has an e-book only division, and that they offer you a lot of nice shiny objects like editors and artists and training in using social media tools, and they don't mind if your work is short or if it has been published before. Basically, this is a bright and shinier version of KDP, Amazon's self publishing arm.

The difference? Amazon expects you to do most of the work yourself, they take a set percentage of fees (65% in one price bracket, 30% in the other) they don't market your book for shit unless it's incredibly popular (nor should they be expected to) they're not back-charging their expenses by taking their costs out of YOUR cut, and oh, yeah, THEIR CONTRACT ISN'T FOR LIFE OF COPYRIGHT.



Alright. To explain why that is the most MIND NUMBLY AWFUL thing I have read today INCLUDING the book I'm reviewing? Copyright is the thing that you sell to a publisher. It's not the actual book, it's just the right to print it for a set time. Most contracts are for X number of years OR for however long it takes for the book to run out of print, whichever is faster. Ebooks and POD (Print on demand) publishing made the game really complicated because technically the book is never out of print, which is why most good contracts these days are for X number of years plus a revision clause (usually if the book doesn't sell Y number of copies, you get the rights back and you can take it elsewhere. There ought to be another "in case of bankruptcy" clause as well, but that doesn't always hold up in bankruptcy court.).

Life of copyright, however, is exactly that. You sign a contract with Hydra-Random House (which you should not be dumb enough to do ever without serious, SERIOUS revisions, which if I'm reading this right would basically amount to them rewriting the entire contract), your book has to STAY at Hydra-Random House. Period. If an issue comes up with them that you don't like? Sucks to be you, your book is theirs for your lifetime plus another 70 years.

This is why research is important, and why you need to treat your writing like a business and not a dream. Five years ago if I had sent my stuff in to Hydra and gotten accepted, I would have signed that contract in a second and I would have been SCREWED. That is a bad contract. That is a very bad contract.

The more I pay attention to the publishing world, the happier I am with self publishing. Yes, I don't have big advances or a huge audience, but I don't have to deal with this shit, either. And that sucks because trade publishing is still something I believe in. Books that are trade published are better than books that aren't. But for FUCK'S SAKE, this is the kind of bullshit little bitty baby publishers get dogpiled for. This is NOT what a big publisher should be doing.

Then again, these are the people who are letting Author Solutions continue to be the suckiest mistake in the history of suck. Maybe "not dicking authors around" is a little too much to expect.

And yes, folks. I really do get that Penguin House needs to compete with Amazon because Amazon is on the verge of owning all the things. But the reason why Amazon's KDP program is coming out on top of the great self publishing competition is that it's one third of the best option (the other two-thirds being Pubit and Smashwords). And also? As a self publisher myself? I'm really offended that Random House/Penguin/Hydra/Pearson Group thinks that I've got an IQ low enough to settle for a life of copyright rights grab buried under the thin veneer of "real" publication.


  1. A) I call the new hydra-corporation Random Penguin. Because awesome.

    B) Oddly, Random Penguin isn't doing this to fuck with people. Yes they are fucking with people, but that's just a side effect. They're doing this because they want to control huge batches of Intellectual Property, and IP inherently fucks people over (See Also: Endlessly extended periods of copyright that only benefit IP-holders).

    C) They're also doing it to try to fight Amazon. But instead of trying to build their own self-publishing platform or partnering with/buying an outfit like Smashwords, they've tied themselves to an outfit easily revealed as a pack of rip-off artists. Because rip-off artistry is what happens when you get into the IP-management business (See Also: Games Workshop's attempt to trademark the phrase 'space marine'. See Also: Spot The Space Marine, which is awesome and you should buy it.).

    D) Despite frantic claims about the death of the music industry, there are more people now making money off their music than there were in the pre-digital days. It's just less profitable to be a big brand studio than it used to be. The same thing is happening to publishing. There are more people getting their works out to the general public, and more people making some sort of money at it, than there were in the pre-ebook days. The only people suffering are the big publishers.

    1. I think the reason this bothers me so much is C. I agree that Amazon needs serious competition. It's verging on monopoly as-is. But underhanded tactics, mass rights-grabs and just being a flat out jerk is not the way to go. Every time I see Random Penguin (...yeah, we're using that) doing this shit, it's like "OH BOY AM I GLAD I DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THIS". It also ensures that I'd rather run my books through an e-shredder than I would publish with the Random Penguin.

      If they change things and start flying right and become a company that isn't ACTIVELY being a douchebag? Then I'll reconsider. But it's like EVERY SINGLE MOVE they make right now is VERY bad for authors.

    2. Yes, Amazon so needs competition. It's like they looked at Google's motto "Don't Be Evil" and decided to delete the first word. Every move they make screws someone over.

      I would love to see some sort of active cooperation between one of the non-evil publishers (Say Baen) and one of the non-evil ebook distributors (Say Kobo). Or a group like Rakuten making an active effort to push ebooks, instead of the current passive "Oh yeah, I guess we've got ebooks too" marketing.