Three authors have begun a federal class action suit against Penguin and its self-publishing services provider, Author Solutions, seeking damages of more than $5 mn. Says Publishers Weekly:
The suit, which seeks class action status, alleges that Author Solutions misrepresents itself, luring authors in with claims that its books can compete with “traditional publishers,” offering “greater speed, higher royalties, and more control for its authors.” The company then profits from “fraudulent” practices, the complaint alleges, including “delaying publication, publishing manuscripts with errors to generate fees, and selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.” The suit also alleges that Author Solutions fails to pay its authors the royalties they are due.
Publishers Weekly reports that the suit has been filed in the Southern District of New York and will be heard by Judge Denise Cote, who is current hearing the ebook price-fixing case.
The full complaint, filed by Kelvin James, Jodi Foster (not that Jodie Foster) and Terry Hardy can be read on Victoria Strauss’ site. Strauss, who has covered Author Solutions in depth for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s Writer Beware blog, says that“Allegations include breach of contract, unjust enrichment, various violations of the California Business and Professional Code, and violation of New York General Business Law.”
The suit could expand rapidly as the authors’ lawyers, Giskan, Solotaroff, Anderson & Stewart are asking other writers who have “self-published with Author Solutions or any of its brands and have been the victim of deceptive practices” to come forward.
When Giskan et al say “any of its brands”, it turns out that there are a lot to choose from. David Gaughran points out that Author Solutions has “dozens of self-publishing brands including iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford and Palibrio as well as media companies FuseFrame, PitchFest, Author Learning Center and BookTango.”
Author Solutions also operates Archway, a self-publishing imprint that is actually owned by Simon & Schuster. Furthermore, Penguin’s Indian self-publishing brand, Partridge, is another imprint run by Author Solutions. Says Gaughran:
Author Solutions’ modus operandi is pretty despicable, and they’ve been badgering, swindling and confusing writers out of money—and lots of it—for years.
The deceit starts with the web of brands they’ve established. With so many imprints, Author Solutions has tricked authors into thinking they have dozens of choices. In reality, however, the parent company is just slapping up half a dozen different logos, renaming packages, and selling the same grossly overpriced services to all of their customers no matter which brand ends up on the cover.
On top of that, AS has been accused of launching supposedly unbiased, purely informational comparison websites to help customers pick the self-publishing company that’s right for them, except all clicks lead back to Author Solutions brands.
[Author Solutions’] true business is not publishing, the complaint stresses, but selling services to authors. And not doing it well. As we point out in our recent book, ASI is a company about whom we regularly receive the most complaints from a wide variety of authors.
The suit comes just in time for Andrew Phillips to take over as CEO of Author Solutions, succeeding Kevin Weiss. The Bookseller says that Phillips “has worked for the Penguin Group for over 10 years, currently as president of Delhi-based Penguin International”. It goes on to report:
Phillips commented: “To my mind, self-publishing is the fastest-growing and most dynamic area of the publishing economy. The launch of Partridge, the first Penguin Author Solutions partnership in India, gave me firsthand experience of the huge opportunities that exist both in developed and emerging markets. I am greatly looking forward to working with the talented Author Solutions team, and all our publishing partners, at this exciting time.”
Pearson acquired Author Solutions in July 2012. Partridge, Penguin’s new self-publishing imprint in India, launched last February.
It’s hard to believe that Penguin didn’t know that Author Solutions was seen as a den of scamsters before they acquired it — Emily Suess’s chronological catalogue of complaints goes back to August 2011, a year before Penguin’s acquisition. Simon & Schuster has even less of an excuse as they partnered with Author Solutions in November 2012, by which time AS were notorious in self-publishing circles.
These are serious allegations and it seems very likely that this class suit will grow as more authors hear about it. In a ‘prepared statement’ quoted by Publishers Weekly, Author Solutions says that it has worked with 170,000 authors, a large pool from which to draw more aggrieved writers. But with the SFWA one of the most vocal critics of Author Solutions, this can’t just be written off as the whinings of a few disgruntled amateurs.
Penguin should have taken these problems seriously a year ago and cleaned up Author Solutions’ house, but having let things slide they may now find some very angry chickens coming home to roost.
Adopted from http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2013/05/07/penguin-author-solutions-sued-for-deceptive-practices/#25042ede1f20