Social media has been buzzing of late with Permuted Press’s decision to cease print-on-demand publication of many of its new titles. I was planning on staying quiet about the whole mess until I read this horribly inaccurate and slanted story in The Digital Reader.
If you’ve been following this and you’re interested (both long shots, I know), here’s my take for what it’s worth as a Permuted author:
Permuted’s contract is slanted to the publisher, but so are most small press contracts. (I just turned down a contract from a reputable small publisher that made Permuted look like philanthropists.) The version I signed with Permuted was based on Simon & Schuster’s. In response to complaints, the Horror Writers Association is reviewing the current contract model and cited some issues with it, which they will make public. I support that, and this kind of activity is why I’m a proud member of HWA. The result will benefit authors and hopefully also Permuted.
Based on their email to the authors, the company couldn’t handle their current workload for and didn’t see the value of the time and money required to develop print-on-demand editions, as print sales are a very small part of overall sales for a small press like Permuted (sales of my Permuted zombie books have been historically roughly 80-90% ebook, 10-20% print, for example). Since the company’s acquisition by new owners last year, Permuted had signed contracts with a massive number of authors. The result for many new authors was delayed production and now no print edition.
What Permuted did was legal, but the way they handled it hurt some authors, particularly those who’d sold preorder copies and otherwise set up promotions for the print edition. The company seemed surprised by the backlash and took too long to respond to what fast became a PR nightmare. The thing is, even though print sales are a small part of overall sales for the average Permuted title, authors feel like they’ve made it when they hold a print copy in their hand. Authors use print copies for giveaways, to sell at cons, something they can sign, a prize on their shelf. In my view, if Permuted had released their acquired print-on-demand rights back to the author (limited to self publication), allowing them to make their own print editions, it would have gone a long way to avoiding the backlash they’ve gotten.
Sadly, differing opinions among the some 200 Permuted authors resulted in things getting ideological and even personal. That is one of the most unfortunate things about the whole mess. Some authors are so angry they’ve publicly attacked the company, and respected authors like Brian Keene have chimed in. Other authors, who are sticking with Permuted, are upset with them because they feel an attack on Permuted is an attack on their chances of success with the publisher.
If Permuted isn’t doing print on demand for many of its new titles, what are they offering authors they can’t do themselves? That’s a question any author, new or established, should ask anytime they approach any publisher. “Legitimacy” is important to new authors–affiliation with a positive brand as a way to get validation and recognition and build their own personal brand on. For many, however, a print copy is part of that. The challenge for Permuted in continuing to attract great talent is to articulate a winning value proposition that doesn’t necessarily include a print edition.
I’ve been asked how I’m personally affected by the changes, and I’m fortunate to say I’m not other than dismay that good people have been hurt and now so is a good brand and company that has done business with me honestly. Otherwise, my zombie titles will continue to be offered in ebook, trade paperback and audiobook versions. Even better, Permuted is making a move into bookstore distribution for select titles, meaning The Infection and The Killing Floor, which will be printed as a single bind-up edition, will be getting significant brick-and-mortar distribution for the first time later this year. More on that later.
I share all this with you not to say one side is right–as I honestly sympathize with both sides–but to give you what I believe to be an accurate, nonpartisan view on what happened and the issues involved. If you’re a fan of horror and in particular good zombie fiction, simply support your favorite authors while recognizing that Permuted, despite its problems, will continue to produce quality fiction. If you’re an author hoping to sign with Permuted or any other publisher, be prepared that not all promises (unless clearly stated as obligations in the contract) may be kept because things change in business (and businesses occasionally make mistakes), and support organizations like HWA, which advocates for authors.