On Friday, I got an email from Mark Thornton, one of the iUniverse authors I interviewed back in May. Mark is an assistant producer for a Louisville-based AM radio station, and in that capacity he discovered something quite unsettling about iUniverse and its parent company, Author Solutions, Inc (ASI).
I’m an Assitant Producer at WGTK 970 AM, and I book authors to be on one of our talk shows.
There’s a publication that every radio station in America uses: RTIR Radio-TV Interview Guide. Anyway, iUniverse is charging their authors to place ads in RTIR and listing the Author Solutions phone number 812-339-6000 ext. 5222 and the contact person Kelly Rynard, but that extension is not vaild and there is no Kelly Rynard at Author Soultions or iUniverse.* So the writers are paying iUniverse to promote their book to Radio and TV producers, but when somone calls to book an interview they hit a dead end.
I used the Internet to track down the author we wanted to interview, and she was shocked to find out that her ad was useless.
Mark gave me the phone number for RTIR. Armed with that and the power of Google, I started digging. What I found was pretty repulsive, but sadly not surprising.
Authors Can Buy Ads Directly From RTIR
Author Solutions’ imprints iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Publish in the USA** and Author House all encourage authors to purchase RTIR ads through their website. However, as is the case with their Trifecta Book Review Services, these vanity presses fleece authors by tacking thousands of dollars on to the original supplier’s price tag.
There is nothing preventing authors from buying ads directly through RTIR, except perhaps the misleading copy on Author Solutions websites.
- ASI companies don’t spell out what RTIR stands for, presumably to prevent authors from discovering they can buy ads without the middleman for thousands less through Radio-TV Interview Report.
- ASI companies brag that the RTIR packages include “professionally written content (with your final approval),” making it sound like ASI’s people provide this service when actually RTIR includes copywriting in their base price.
iUniverse’s Mark-Up on Ads is Unholy
Just how the math works depends on several factors: Does ASI purchase the 1/2-page or full-page ad from RTIR? Does the customer buy 1/4-page or 1/2-page ad from ASI? And does the customer go for a 1-, 3- or 6-issue package? I ran all the scenarios, and estimate that ASI takes in anywhere from $2,000 to $18,000. (Those numbers assume that ASI doesn’t get a price break from RTIR. The gap could actually be bigger.)
Here’s a look at what iUniverse, Trafford, Author House and Xlibris imprints pocket when authors pay for these advertising services:
Missed Publicity Opportunities for Authors
Like Mark mentioned, there’s more than just price jacking going on here. The information printed in the ads points radio and TV producers to an invalid extension and an employee that is no longer with the company. Mark kept digging until he found the author he was looking for, but how many others don’t bother? How many authors should have been contacted for interviews and weren’t? And how many authors paid thousands of dollars for nothing?
The way I see it, Author Solutions has failed epicly this time. First, change the ad copy, idiots. Second, reroute or reassign extensions when an employee leaves. Third, stop being such an awful employer. It’s like those DishTV commercials:
When you run a scam business, your employees hate working for you. When your employees hate working for you they leave in droves. When they leave in droves, current employees don’t know where to route calls for former employees.
So my question for Kevin Weiss and Keith Ogorek is this: Are you guys too stupid to anticipate that this would be a problem, or do you just prefer collecting thousands of dollars from your customers without having to provide any actual services? My bet’s on the latter. Because then your employees don’t have to work for your authors, they just have to make more sales calls for you.
*A search on LinkedIn revealed that there was a Kelly Rynard who worked at Author Soultions from June 2010 – November 2011.
**The imprints Author Solutions owns seems to grow exponentially every time I search the web. Publish in the USA is the latest one I’ve stumbled across. I refuse to link to the site, but you really should see it. It’s like the Time Cube guy made it for them.