Random House Launches Digital Only Imprints but at What Cost to Authors?

by LizM

Random House has announced the new Hydra, Loveswept, Alibi, and Flirt for digital only imprints with all risk and cost to the authors.

Digital publishing (ebooks) are taking the literary world by storm. With authors becoming able to self publish easily through simple profit sharing services or by coding the books themselves, traditional publishing houses have been feeling the pinch.

Random House recently announced a new stable of digital only imprints that it hopes will flesh out it's footprint once again. But there's a glitch. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America found out what the terms of this process was and issued a warning to members that the Hydra imprint would not count as real publishing for membership purposes.

Authors Take the Risk

Hydra and the other imprints were widely suspected to be targeted at self publishing authors.  The announcement of the platforms were long on pointing out that authors would have a publicist and editor but short on what the terms would actually include.  After all, you'd be a Random House author!  What more could you want?

Then the terms came to light, specifically for Hydra but it is reasonable to assume that terms for the other covers would be the same or extremely similar.  Basically, while you pay nothing up front, you pay for it before you see any monies at all.  And part of what you are paying for is that marketing Random House so loudly touted in the initial announcement.

Random House Says

"Under this program, authors will have a complete and unique publishing package. Every book will be assigned to an accomplished Random House editor and a dedicated publicist. They will also have the invaluable support of Random House’s experienced marketing and digital sales teams, who know how to reach out to and expand each book’s dedicated readership. Not only will authors benefit from working with the finest cover designers to ensure irresistibly eye-catching books, but they will also be offered the unique advantage of social media tools and training that will allow them to connect directly with their readers. To reach the widest possible readership, every title will be available for purchase at major e-retailers and will be compatible with all reading devices."

Random House Announcement

What You Actually Get

- It's a life-of-copyright contract that includes both primary and subsidiary rights. 

- There's no advance. Net proceeds (defined as net income plus subrights income less the deductions detailed below) are split 50/50 between author and publisher.

- Deductions for ebook edition: "one-time out of pocket title set up costs" (editing, cover art, design, etc.), plus a "sales, marketing, and publicity fee" of 10% of net sales revenue.

- Deductions for print edition, if there is one: "actual direct out-of-pocket paper, printing and binding costs," plus 6% of gross sales revenue to cover freight and warehousing costs.

Summary via Writer Beware

SFWA vs Random House

As this public debate has continued, Random House has responded to SFWA with defense of its process and terms.  SFWA stands by it's de-listing of Hydra.  Authors are beginning to report being able to negotiate much better than the initial offered terms with Hydra.  It should be interresting to see how this plays out and if other writer's organizations will speak out for or against the other imprints under the Random House brand.

So Go for it or Stay Away?

Until the dust settles, my personal opinion is to stay away from Hydra, Loveswept, Alibi, and Flirt.  There are other more established "vanity press" publishers with better deals and a longer track record at that sort of publishing.  Or dive in and learn to format your book for iBooks or Nook yourself.  Then all rights are yours and you can always market the book later elsewhere.

Updated: 03/08/2013, LizM
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katiem2 on 03/19/2013

Hmmmm another of the many hurdles writers must both be aware of and over come. Thanks for the heads up on the honest to goodness facts about Random House Digital changes. :)K

Guest on 03/08/2013

So glad to see this. It's all over the web, but the more people know about it, the better. It's nice that some writers are able to negotiate for better terms, but if you're new and don't know enough to negotiate, you're still screwed. It doesn't matter how Random House spins it. Every professional writer that has spoken out is horrified by this attempt to make vanity publishing look like something else.

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