Self-published authors have long known to be wary of vanity presses like Author Solutions and other Penguin Random House subsidiaries, and this may have inspired one predatory operation to pursue a new field with unsuspecting victims: academia.
Joseph Stromberg, writing over at Slate, recently chronicled his experiences with LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, a vanity press bent on publishing all of the theses and academic papers it can.
While LAP Lambert doesn't take the usual route of trying to sell authors unnecessary services, it is eager to publish any paper, no matter the lack of quality, proofreading, or length, and it does still pressure its victims to buy POD copies of the papers they already own.
Oh, and they grab exclusive rights to the paper, too:
The contract told me—as I’d already learned from the blog posts—that I’d transfer the exclusive right to print my thesis to AV Akademikerverlag GmbH & Co. KG, the German company that owned LAP Lambert. (I could still let people download the thesis digitally, if I wasn’t making a profit.) They’d pay for all publishing costs, and I’d get 12 percent of the book’s royalties, but only if they cleared 50 euros per month for a calendar year—otherwise, I’d just get credit to use in buying other LAP Lambert books. I was responsible for making sure the text didn’t contain plagiarism and that I had the right to sell it in the first place. They would set the retail price and could suggest corrections to any grammar or spelling errors they came across. I clicked on the link she’d sent, digitally signed the agreement, and was told to start uploading my thesis.
The terms are actually only slightly worse than what is demanded by most publishers of academic journals (I'm looking at you Elsevier and Springer). Sure, there aren't any reports of authors seeing a dime from the sale of their paper, but that is again no worse than publishers of academic journals. So if LAP Lambert had stopped here they would at best count as a nuisance.
But if LAP Lambert had stopped at simply spamming online bookstores everywhere with unproofed, poorly produced POD books then they would not be a vanity press. They appear to make most of their revenue from selling to authors:
My book was on the verge of being published, and I had a very special opportunity: If I acted now, I could buy multiple copies of it at deeply discounted prices. The standard price for the 128-page book was 49.90 euro (about $68), but I could get five copies for 32.90 euro each, or 20 copies for 29.90 euro each, and if I was prepared to buy 200 copies, I could have each for 22.90 euro. As part of the prepublication deal, if I bought a number of copies at any one of these levels, all future retail shoppers would get to purchase the book at the same price I’d paid, even if they bought just a single copy.
LAP Lambert uses a number of hard sale tactics to try to pressure authors into buying copies of their own papers, including guilt, optimism, and hostility:
- We agreed to provide you free ISBN, free cataloguing of your book in thousands of bookstores, free book cover, market coverage, support and assistance. We are now offering you the opportunity to support your project.
- You can also purchase some copies and market them in your locality or maybe even sell them at your own price, thus not only generating profit, but also getting to know your target audience and perhaps establishing valuable contacts.
- We would have thought that you would have at least liked to have some copies of your new published book and that is why proposed this offer to you in the first place. Maybe you have not realized the importance of having some printed copies of your book in hand?
Stromberg reports that his book made it through LAP Lambert with no sign that it had even been looked at by a person. The book has a generic cover, and it is lying in wait for unsuspecting readers at a number of bookstores, including Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.
LAP Lambert is merely one small cog in a book mill. It's part of an enormous German publishing conglomerate called VDM which boasts 78 imprints and 27 subsidiary houses. It publishes content in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian. The parent company of LAP Lambert likes to boast that they publish 50,000 titles per month, making them the publishing industry's equivalent of a content farm.
You've probably encountered their work. In addition to spamming bookstores with unedited academic papers, VDM is also notorious for churning out books based entirely on copied Wikipedia articles.
You can find any number of examples of VDM’s efforts at their online bookstore, Morebooks.de.