The rash of recent lawsuits filed against online subsidy publishers will make such companies a little more vigilant about their screening processes, but is unlikely to curtail the growth of the industry. iUniverse president Susan Driscoll called the three lawsuits—two against AuthorHouse and one against BookSurge—more of a coincidence than a trend. And AuthorHouse president Bryan Smith said that because of the unique nature of the lawsuits, he didn't expect the growth of self-publishers using print-on-demand to slow. Andrew Pate, v-p of business development for Lulu.com, called the suits a "sign of success"—with POD houses now producing "tens of thousands" of titles, complaints would inevitably emerge, he said.
The two lawsuits against AuthorHouse involve libel and defamation charges, while the suit against BookSurge combines a disparagement claim with breach of contract. AuthorHouse has already been found guilty of libel by a Kansas jury; romance writer Rebecca Brandewyne had charged that a book written by her ex-husband, Gary Brock, and published by AuthorHouse slandered her (PW Daily, May 16). Just days after the verdict was announced, the company was named in a lawsuit filed in Minneapolis by three individuals who claim that they were defamed by the Rev. Charlie Kunkel in his 2005 book, Raising Roger's Cross. The book, according to the charges, defamed the plaintiffs by claiming they murdered a teenager in a small Minnesota town. In addition to AuthorHouse, Kunkel and his religious order, the Crosier Fathers, have been named as defendants.
Smith declined to comment on the Minneapolis case, but said that after Brandewyne brought her suit, AuthorHouse stepped up its review efforts and now has a process in place to screen manuscripts "forever." "We taught everyone in the company to ask certain questions. Libel is a complicated legal concept, so we trained everyone to look for certain general type things that may present problem areas," Smith said. If any employee dealing with potential clients flags a questionable manuscript, the manuscript "is pushed to people who are more trained to identify potential risk areas," Smith said.
iUniverse, which turned down Brock's book, has always had an escalator system in place, Driscoll said. After a book is accepted by iUniverse, it is reviewed by a person assigned to look for potential libelous claims. If concerns are raised, the book moves up the editorial ladder, and if there are still issues, the manuscript is reviewed by iUniverse attorney Ellis Levine, former Random House general counsel. Levine reviews about two to three manuscripts per month, Driscoll estimated. "It's usually pretty easy to tell" when a book contains libelous material, Driscoll said. The AuthorHouse lawsuits will make iUniverse "err on the side of caution" when accepting materials, but Driscoll doesn't believe iUniverse will reject many more than it currently turns away.
The lawsuit against BookSurge was not based on content, but on the editorial and production process. Upstate New York attorney Leon Koziol sued BookSurge and parent company Amazon earlier this year, charging that the company failed to live up to the terms of its contract by delivering books that contained numerous spelling and grammatical errors and also contained pages that were printed upside-down or sideways. The case was recently moved from a New York State court to a federal court in Albany at the request of BookSurge.
Koziol said he sued after spending more than four months trying to get out of his BookSurge contract. Last spring, Koziol paid BookSurge $4,500 for 1,000 books; the company promised a six-week turnaround, a time frame that was necessary to allow Koziol to promote the book, Paradise Under Siege, during the summer. After BookSurge promised to correct the mistakes in the first printing, Koziol paid another $5,000 last May for 750 copies, which he said he never received. Koziol is seeking $11 million in damages, a figure that includes claims for disparagement since Koziol maintains that BookSurge's failure to produce quality products ruined his reputation.
A spokesperson for Amazon said the company doesn't comment on matters under active litigation. Driscoll noted that the suit highlights the need for publishers to be "abundantly clear" with authors about their own responsibilities in the publishing process. Driscoll said she doesn't believe that negative publicity will slow down use of POD subsidy publishers, observing that as more authors look to take control of the publishing process, and as traditional publishers cut their lists, the demand for POD services will continue to increase.
iUniverse Title Output
|*Projected for fiscal year ending June 30. |
|Total new titles||4,016||4,289||4,715|
|Total copies printed||736,218||833,704||949,788|