Friday, August 24, 2012

Why I Left iUniverse

I published The Virtual Kibbutz, my collection of short stories about life on the kibbutz, with iUniverse in April, 2003. At the time, iUniverse appeared to be the most professional publishing-on-demand option for my book. I paid my fees, received a number of free copies, and purchased many more to send off to Jewish publications with hopes that reviews would encourage future sales.

This week at my request The Virtual Kibbutz was removed from the iUniverse book catalog. It is still possible to order the one or two remaining copies at Amazon and other online retailers, but soon the original edition will become a collector’s item.

I plan to republish The Virtual Kibbutz independently in the coming months. For now, here is the reason why I left iUniverse.

Publishing News

In July of this year, Pearson PLC, a provider of education and consumer publishing services including the Penguin Group, acquired Author Solutions Inc from Bertram Capital for 116 million dollars in cash. The same Author Solutions purchased iUniverse back in 2007. While these corporate acquisitions are not directly connected to my own book, the business logic behind them eventually led to my decision to leave iUniverse.

According to Author Solutions chief executive Kevin Weiss, his company generated $100 million in revenues in 2011, 1/3 were from publisher services, 1/3 from marketing services and 1/3 from distribution or consumer book sales. Meaning, 2/3 of the revenues generated at iUniverse were from sales to authors (publishing and marketing services). The main focus of Author Solutions is to make money from authors, not from book readers.

How does this relate to The Virtual Kibbutz? In the years following iUniverse’s sale, I was approached a number of times by sales representatives offering me additional publishing and marketing services. If I was willing to spend $3,000, I could publish a huge advertisement in The New York Review of Books. And for only $1,200, I could issue a press release announcing the publication of The Virtual Kibbutz.

Belated Press Release

A press release? In 2010 to announce the publication of my book which originally appeared on virtual bookshelves back in 2003?

“How else will people know about your book?” the sales representative asked me. “What are you doing to promote your book?” he asked.

After a number of persistent phone calls and numerous emails, I thought that the offers would stop coming. Until I received a new round of calls a year later.

It became obvious to me that this was not the iUniverse I knew from 2003. These representatives had no intention of helping promote my book. They were just interested in seeing how much more they could milk out of me.

Phone calls can be dismissed and annoying emails deleted. The reason that I decided to leave iUniverse was much simpler.

Non-royal Royalties

According to the original contract I signed with iUniverse in 2003, “if the royalty payment due in a single calendar quarter is less than twenty-five U.S. Dollars ($25.00) the balance will be applied to the next calendar quarter until the royalty payment due equals or exceeds twenty five U.S. Dollars ($25.00), at which time we will make the appropriate royalty payment to you.”

Yet, despite this clause in the agreement, every quarter or so I was sent checks in the amounts of $10.23 or something similar. I wrote repeatedly to iUniverse, stating that this was not according to my agreement and explaining my circumstances, saying that living in Israel I am unable to cash checks of these small amounts.

Suddenly there was a new clause in the agreement, something that miraculously appeared nine years after I originally signed with iUniverse. “Should the total royalty due is still less than twenty five U.S. Dollars ($25.00) by the end of the year, iUniverse will dispense all royalty checks due regardless of the amount.”

The bottom line here is clear. When the occasional copy of The Virtual Kibbutz is purchased, I am not being paid royalties and the only one who is profiting is iUniverse.

Complaints Against iUniverse

This sounds like a very small complaint compared to the many documented cases of authors losing huge amounts of money when purchasing services from iUniverse that they never received. 

A website called Suess’s Pieces serves as a complete index of complaints against the services of Author Solutions and iUniverse. According to the website’s owner, freelance writer Emily Suess, “the real problems with iUniverse began in 2007, when Author Solutions bought them. So, yes, many in your situation had a reasonably happy experience publishing with them before that time. The unfortunate thing is that after they were purchased, it wasn't just new customers that had complaints. Those with already published books seemed to find themselves getting irritating sales. Some found their books had been put up for sale again when they were supposed to be out of print.”

If you haven’t yet read The Virtual Kibbutz, please DON’T purchase it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because if you do, I will not receive any credit for it. Please wait patiently for the upcoming, independently self-published version of the book.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal knowledge of iUniverse/Author Solutions. Your experiencenwill prevent other authors from similar frustrations.

    May blessings fall on The Virtual Kibbutz ~

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  2. I commend you for sharing this story of warning to all would-be and actual authors. I feel writers are all colleagues, not competitors.

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  3. I've made a mental note to avoid iUniverse. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  4. This is interesting to me, as someone who has published with both traditional academic presses (American Psychiatric Press, Hamilton Books) and with iUniverse. The two books I published with iUniverse, in 2010 and 2013, were both produced and edited professionally, and I was satisfied that the publisher had fulfilled its obligations. I haven't made a lot of money, but I did see the 2013 book (to my surprise!) in Barnes & Noble (The Three-Petalled Rose). I have not been bothered by high pressure marketing scams, etc. So, maybe I was just lucky--or are there others out there with similarly positive experiences with iUniverse? --Regards, Ron Pies MD

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  5. iUniverse was a wonderful company when it was a family-owned concern in Nebraska. Sadly, the best rated electronic publishing company was purchased by one that wasn't rated nearly as well. It didn't take long for things to change and you are not the only one to leave. I bailed in 2009. Good luck with self- publishing. It's hard work but at least you know your publisher has your best interests at heart.

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  6. I never used iUniverse nor was I ever in a position to do so. But I know people who have and I cannot report one positive story. One friend used to forward their emails to me. They were absolutely outrageous—asking for thousands of dollars for absolutely nothing in return. Example: we'll display your book for ONE HOUR at the LA Times Festival of Books for $$$$.

    Maybe they were better back in the day, but I've never heard anything positive. I also don't understand why a company that basically prints your book has any rights at all as a publisher.

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I will certainly avoid iUniverse if I decide to self-publish.

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