VDM or Verlag Dr. Mueller Has a New Tactic

I’ve written about VDM (Verlag Dr. Mueller), an exploitive academic/scholarly mill before.

Writer Beware writer advocate and writer Victoria Strauss notes that VDM has a new wrinkle:

. . . a company called Bloggingbooks that wants to publish your blog in book form

Read Writer Beware’s warning about Bloggingbooks.

Run away; you can do this yourself, if you really want to, via any number of online service companies. You won’t make much money, but you are less likely to be exploited.

Ebook Pricing vs Print Pricing

It really isn’t that much cheaper to produce an ebook. The binding/printing costs are depending on the book and the binding and the numbers printed somewhere around 1 to 3 bucks a book, for a Robert Jordan Hardcover with foil. The costs up to the point a file is sent to an ebook producer or to a printer are identical—and that’s where most of the costs to make a book occur. Author’s advance is often the single largest item in terms of genre fiction. Then you’ve got designer, cover artist, editor, copy editor, proofer, typesetter—and there may be other costs, depending on the book (indexer, rights licensing, compositor). The ebook has to be formatted, and done properly, it’s not just a matter of running scripts. It needs to be created in multiple formats, usually, with administrative costs related to licensing images, cover art, DRM, and QA. There are additional production costs in terms of staff and software/hardware, and in terms of archiving. The initial costs up to the fork are shared. Honestly, for genre fiction, there’s reason to base the price ebooks pretty closely on the prices for the equivalent paperbacks.

Now, what I’m not sure of is how much angst there is from publishers about day-and-date release, and issues of libraries buying hardcover in preference to softcover. Book prices at the point of a printed codex book are of three sorts:

  • Raw cost in labor/materials/costs to the publisher.
  • Price the publisher sells the book to retailers/distributors/wholesaler (discounts of various sorts).
  • Price the retailer sells the book to a customer.

Keep in mind that frequently the author is paid putative royalties on some version of 3, after the publisher has recouped the advance—at which point the publisher may still be trying to (and probably won’t have succeeded) recoup their costs and generate profit. If publishers don’t profit, they can’t pay advances, or make more books.

Harper Collins Wants to Limit Library Circulation of Ebooks

Apparently because of Overdrive’s recent release of an ebook client for iPhones and iPad (read more about Overdrive and library ebooks here and here), Harper Collins has responded by announcing that new Harper Collins titles licensed from library ebook vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires. Library Journal wrote about the announcement here, and included a letter from Overdrive’s CEO Steve Potash which states that the Overdrive licensing terms for Harper Collins books will change

while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.

Harper Collins issued a statement that

HarperCollins is committed to the library channel. We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come.”

According to Library Journal, Harper Collins President of Sales, Josh Marwell, said that “the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.”

In other words, they assumes a mass market paperback with a circulation period of two weeks per loan would be checked out 26 times a year. This suggests to me that they didn’t talk to any librarians; I’ve seen a Harlequin category romance, a paperback with fairly low-end paper and binding, be checked out for three to five years. A book with sturdier binding—for instance a mass market paperback from Harper Collins will typically be checked out repeatedly for two to five years, often circulating as many as 100 times. And then there are the library bound mass market paperbacks which can last much much longer.

I want authors to be paid; I want publishing professionals to be paid. This is not the way to do it. This serves to limit circulation—and limit readers, while essentially punishing libraries who are already under siege.

The truth of the matter is that ebook readers buy print books more frequently than the average print book reader. This is a foolish decision on Harper Collins’ part, and I supect it’s one that will be followed by other publishers.

Instead, they should look to Baen, who has found ebook sales (and free ebooks) are driving sales of print books.

There’s already a backlash on Twitter where users are responding the hashtag: #hcod.

Neil Gaiman‘s response: “I think it’s incredibly disappointing.”

You can read more about the Twitter reaction at Toby Greenwalt’s The AnalogDivide “The Publisher that Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

ETA: Cory Doctorow weighs in here. Doctorow suggests that

libraries should just stop buying DRM media for their collections. Period. It’s unsafe at any speed.

I mean it. When HarperCollins backs down and says, “Oh, no, sorry, we didn’t mean it, you can have unlimited ebook checkouts,” the libraries’ answers should be “Not good enough. We want DRM-free or nothing.” Stop buying DRM ebooks.”

It’s a nice idea in theory, but libraries buy what their users want to read. If users want books that are only available in DRM crippled versions, and libraries don’t buy them, users will retaliate by crippling library budgets even more than they have already, via numerous tax and budget decisions. Libraries are closing, all over. This kind of activism isn’t really helpful because it’s naive and privileged. Libraries are locally controlled, right down to what books they buy&mdah;and don’t buy.

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing AG & Co. KG and VDM Verlag Dr Mueller

About six months after I filed and defended my dissertation at UCLA, I received the following email from LAP Lambert:

Dear Lisa Luise Spangenberg ,

While researching publishable academic papers at the Library of University of California, Los Angeles University, I came across a reference to a work entitled “The games fairies play: Otherworld intruders in medieval literary narratives”.

LAP Lambert Academic Publishing AG & Co. KG specializes in the publication of theses and dissertations.

I am therefore wondering if you would be interested in cooperating with us towards a worldwide marketed publication of your work.

Your reply including an e-mail address to which I could send an e-mail with further information in an attachment would be greatly appreciated.

Looking forward to hearing back from you.

The sig area of the email included a link to their web site: www.lap-publishing.com and the information that their Board of Directors included: Dr. Wolfgang Müller (CEO), Christoph Schulligen, Jürgen Gerber, Esther von Krosigk Supervisory Board: Prof. Dr. Johannes G. Bischoff (Chairman), RA Thomas Bischoff, RA André Gottschalk

Then last May, I got another email from them:

I am writing on behalf of an international publishing house, Lambert Academic Publishing.

In the course of a research on the University of California, I came across a reference to your thesis on “The Games Fairies Play: Otherworld Intruders in Medieval English and Celtic Literary Narrative”. We are an international publisher whose aim is to make academic research available to a wider audience. LAP would be especially interested in publishing your dissertation in the form of a printed book.

Your reply including an e-mail address to which I can send an e-mail with further information in an attachment will be greatly appreciated.

The LAP website notes:

LAP publishes academic research worldwide—at no cost to our authors.

We are one of the leading publishing houses of academic research. We specialize in publishing theses, dissertations, and research projects.

What they are is an academic author mill; they exist to exploit the work of naive scholars who think they’re a legitimate academic/scholarly publisher, the kind that counts for tenure and hiring committees. There are several similar companies who offer to print your dissertation or thesis. LAP has a number of other branches; one of them is their German alter-ego VDM Verlag Dr Mueller

Victoria Strauss of SFWA Writer Beware, has observes that:

VDM uses digital technology (which it dubs “print-to-order [PTO], a further development of the print-on-demand [POD] procedure”) to make its books and monographs “available” (which just means they can be special-ordered) through online and physical booksellers. There’s no cost to authors, who receive a “fee” plus “up to” 20 free copies of their book. There’s also no editing or proofreading: what you turn in is what’s printed, and the process for doing so, in which authors essentially create their own books and covers, is very similar to uploading content to a self-publishing service. Retail prices are absurdly inflated, even for a digitally-based publisher. As for marketing, “data is optimized by the publishing house and entered in all relevant catalogs worldwide. The book is offered to the leading international book distributors.” Put another way: there isn’t any.

VDM, in other words, is an academic author mill.

They aren’t really publishing your dissertation, they aren’t making it available for other scholars, and they most certainly aren’t going to help you pay off your student loans. Do go read all of Victoria Strauss’ post; she knows what she’s talking about. By the way; it’s not terribly bright to waive all your rights to your dissertation—it puts paid, among other things, to you revising and publishing your work as a scholarly monograph from a publisher who will help you up the tenure-track ladder, and quite possibly, put money in your pocket. Victoria Strauss and I are not alone in being less than delighted at the practices of LAP et al.

Nothing in the Ph.D. process prepares us for this kind of thing.

The Academy Doesn’t Prepare Humanists for Publishing Professionally

When I was filling out all the paperwork for filing at UCLA, not even the library seemed terribly clued in to copyright. For instance, as part of the filing process, UCLA students are asked to grant permission to ProQuest to microfilm the dissertation. Page 26 of the UCLA Graduate Division Policies and Procedures for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation and Filing states:

Students are required to complete and sign the ProQuest Agreement form regardless of whether they do or do not copyright the dissertation. Signing the form does not affect control of the manuscript; it simply allows ProQuest to microfilm the manuscript for UCLA.

I did not waive my copyright; despite having the library return the form to me, with the instruction to waive my copyright, I refused. I also did not give ProQuest/UMI permission to sell my dissertation.

So imagine my surprise when in June of 2009 I received a letter from ProQuest that included the following:

We see that you didn’t order pre-publication with our previous discount, but you can still order at a special price. The standard hardbound edition, which is normally $74, is just $46 now, a 40% savings! And if you order multiple copies, you can save even more. Consider who else might want to have a quality-bound copy of your work: your advisor, your committee, the graduate school, mentors, or even colleagues or family.

Remember, I explicitly indicated that I did not want my dissertation offered for sale; the reason I didn’t want it offered for sale is that ProQuest/UMI charges too much, even for unbound copies. Graduate students, the people most likely to be purchasing dissertations for research, don’t really have spare cash.

I wrote ProQuest; I got back a form letter basically saying, yes, in fact, there were “two restrictions” on my dissertation and they would remove it from their catalog. As far as I know they have, and I’m gratified, but I also less than happy that UCLA provided ProQuest/UMI with my contact information; UCLA did not have my consent.

Despite the pressure, and sometimes, encouragement and mentoring to publish in scholarly journals during graduate school, humanists, including tenured and well-published faculty, seem astonishingly clueless about trade publishing or book-length publishing. I’ve sat on more than one hiring committee for English creative writing instructors whose c.v. includes vanity published books. I’ve even seen PublishAmerica as the publisher of record. That’s not really acceptable as an academic credential, any more than a self-published book should be acceptable as a qualifying publication for hiring, promotion, or tenure.

By the way; while I’m not OK with someone else profiting from selling my dissertation, I’m quite willing to give it away. If you want a bound copy, why not take a look at lulu.com?