Long considered by some to be a shifty operation, Permuted Press has survived and even thrived in the self-pub boom by being able to offer at least one thing that is still difficult for self-published authors: getting books into physical book stores (in the US, at least).
Alas, that is no longer true. Over the past few days multiple authors have reports that Permuted Press has abruptly changed the contract they signed with authors. Permuted is dropping the print edition for most of the books they have in the pipeline, and they're also pushing publication dates back by 5 months or more.
Jack Hanson was one of the authors who has been affected; Permuted has had his novel since June 2013 and was supposed to be publishing it today. He just found out that it's been bumped to February:
My novel, Cry Havoc, was due to be published on October 14th, today. On Thursday, October 9th, all authors from my publisher, Permuted Press received an email from the editor in chief. It stated that they had their "best year ever", but there were going to be four major changes taking place.
The first was that all print on demand (POD) services were going to be discontinued except for specific novels. What this means is that there was no way you would be able to buy a print edition of my novel - it would be ebook only. Second, all novels were delayed immediately. Third, publishing would resume sometime in "early 2015." Fourth, all covers would be an internal decision.
The reasons given were the usual boilerplate about the difficulty of the publishing industry, changing formats, and the usual excuses offered. They claimed there was no breach of contract and that if we wanted to dissolve our contracts, to contact them about it. This email was sent at around 8PM, which makes it around 10PM in the publisher's time zone. Anyone familiar with how the FedGov works knows what bad news sent over a holiday weekend means.
Naturally he's not all that interested in working with a publisher who isn't even going to bother with a print edition (it is
the majority a significant part of the market, after all), so Hanson asked for the rights to both of his novels back. He says in his FB post that Permuted is willing to cancel the contracts - right after he pays them $1,100 to cover the investment in editorial costs and cover design.
If that doesn't set off your skeeze radar, this next bit might. Hanson's tale has been confirmed to various degrees by R. Thomas Riley, William Meikle, and others. Many are reporting that Permuted broke the news to some authors at a get together back in September, but didn't tell the rest of its authors until blindsiding them last week.,
And to make matters worse, those print editions which Permuted can no longer afford are actually POD, so aside from the initial design and setup costs there is no upfront cost to production.
And yet Permuted can't afford the cost of setting up a POD edition? Really? If Permuted is really in such a dire financial state then authors would be advised to flee immediately.
Alas, many might not be able to, because the contract they signed was (according to a couple different sources) absolutely terrible. Brian Keene says he got a look at Permuted's contracts a decade ago and decided to stay away - far, far, away.
Graeme Reynolds went one step further and detailed the terms of the contract. I truly hope he made this up, because this is wrong on so many levels:
I started hearing grumbles about the terms of the contracts. There were no reversion clauses in some contracts, and in others little more than a meaningless “out of print” clause that would never be fulfilled. If an author didn't like working with them, then they were basically screwed because there was no way to EVER get the book back because they signed away their book for the length of copyright. That means its theirs for 70 years after the author dies. Royalty rates were good, and some authors got advances, but increasingly it seemed that the risk was being pushed directly onto the author. Advances got smaller and then vanished all together. Release dates were nebulous and, in some instances, were YEARS in the future. However, the two worst problems were the “exclusivity” clause which stated that authors were not even allowed to TALK to anyone else about other projects outside of the ones they were contracted for. The authors had to give this press first refusal on EVERY project that they were even considering going forward. And worst of all, they did a massive, and I mean MASSIVE rights grab. All of them, in fact. Every single right associated with the book in any format was licensed to this press for the length of copyright. Foreign translation, multimedia and even dramatic rights. Yeah, they paid a royalty on the “profits” but anyone who has ever had anything to do with book to movie deals will tell you that you should never agree to deals like that because companies have all sorts of ways of showing something never makes a profit on paper. The old $1000 per paperclip scenario.
To be fair, Permuted is no Dorchester (which sold pirated ebooks after the rights had reverted) nor is it even Ellora's Cave (which has many authors and editors saying that they have not been paid).
But this is still pretty damn bad.
In this day and age Permuted had better be doing something damned amazing to justify their contract terms. If not, authors could easily do better by self-publishing.