eBook Spams and Scams

publishing.pngYesterday I mentioned that I want to get the information on how to make eBooks into as many hands as possible. It’s not (just) to make me money – it’s because of something that Dean Wesley Smith predicted:

I have started to get eBook conversion spam, looking to take money from authors.

The quality varies dramatically – some being (mostly) legit companies, others being closer to the Sith side of the Force.

For a (mostly) good example, the Jenkins Group sent me an e-mail that read (in part):

Jenkins Group has many affordable book marketing and publicity opportunities for your book; please be in touch with me for a FREE ebook conversion quote and/or book marketing consultation on or before June 17th via the contact information provided below. I look forward to helping you sell more books in 2011!

The Jenkins Group does a lot more than eBook conversion – and apparently haven’t been too bad about it. I am concerned that they spammed me, or that they think that a free quote for services is a big deal. (Think about the thought process behind paying for a quote: “Okay, so if you want to work with me, you’ll have to work with me and give me money first.” Really? And then I’m supposed to be grateful you’ll tell me how much money I have to give you for free?)

That’s not the bad one, though. The bad one came from Solvedge, where they (in a big list of things) say they do digital publishing and eBook conversion. They’re a “Chicago-US based technology company” that has its “production centre” in Chennai, India. (As a legal note, I have used Small Print Project’s “Reasonable Agreement” to make mincemeat of their stupid EULA.)

I had to wonder about the quality of the service when the quality of the English-language e-mails strongly resembled the output of Babelfish. More than once, I’ve had to rely on my knowledge of the language to determine how to best format an eBook.

They quote a price of USD 0.35 to over a dollar per page, depending on the “complexity of the inputs”. Of course, I don’t know what “per page” really means. 250 words a page? 500 words a page? They later said “by what is on the physical page”. Having taught college classes, I’ve seen some pretty fancy font work.

Let’s assume 250 words a page (typed, 12-point Courier, double spaced). My rate’s $2/1000 words. My minimum price is $15 – so let’s say a short story of 7,500 words. They’re cheaper by a third – $10.50. A hundred thousand word novel would be $200 with me, and $140 with them. Still not bad, right? That’s assuming the lowest possible rate.

Of course, I’ve got a lifetime guarantee on my work (my lifetime, naturally); I don’t know what guarantee they have (if any). So I thought I’d check out the quality of their work (if they’re just running it through Calibre, for example, and charging people money for that). I asked for a quote on a short story I’d already converted myself.

When I asked for a quote, they said they’d start converting it. Which was, um, odd. I wanted a quote, right? So they quoted me the lowest price, and said I could pay by PayPal.

“P.S. We would like to have a minimum order or USD 100+ for the conversion.”

Wee bit of a loophole there, huh? They wanted “to have a minimum quantity of pages which comes around USD 100. If your volume (i.e the no. of pages are less we can have an advance payment transferred and can be deducted.)”. Sure, they claim you can use the rest of the cash toward other projects – but what if I was done after one conversion?

So I called it like I saw it: The minimum price was $100.

Oh, no, I was told. The problem was just that:

the overall cost comes around USD 17.5 and for such small amount we cannot invoice you, as you might be aware of the bank transactions who charge more than this. That is why we normally ask our clients for a minimum order for USD 100 or the no. of pages can be adjusted for further files.

This is generally all service providers ask for such prices and even heavier than ours.

Emphasis mine: Beware of the “industry standard” excuse.

So I replied that I was “skeptical of [the] claim that banks charge more than USD 17.5, since you listed PayPal as a payment source. Their rates are public – and nowhere near that high.”

My final e-mail from them said: “Paypal does not charge like this and I know but in case if we are receive as wire transfer or cheque the bank transaction charges are heavier.” (You can also see that the English goes downhill as they get further off-script.)

So let’s run through this again:

  • I get an unsolicited e-mail.
  • They quoted a price for converting a work that was not really the price, because your minimum price is much higher.
  • They defended a high (unadvertised) minimum price by citing fees that do not apply to my situation.
  • This is exactly the sort of bottom-feeding scum that tries to cash in on authors adjusting to the changing world of publishing.

    And this is exactly the kind of scam that my eBook – or any other that teaches how to create an ePub – combats.

    There is no reason an author with a backlist shouldn’t be getting that backlist up digitally, however they’re comfortable making that happen.

    There is also no reason an author should deal with any company that isn’t reliable and up-front.

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    1. June 10, 2011

      I bought an analyzed my father's first backlist ebook conversion. As far as I can tell, all they did was use the "Save as EPUB" function in Atlantis to convert the book – one gigantic chapter, tons of junk code, etc. – for which they charged him 50% of every sale (after Amazon and B&N took their cut, of course).

      I've since talked him into self-publishing his backlist, and so far he's been pleased (and somewhat amazed) at the results.

    2. June 10, 2011

      You're joking, right? HOLY CRAP, man. That's not even a current version of Atlantis – it currently splits into multiple files if you do it right.

      Wow. I'm glad to hear your father's having much better success now!

    3. June 10, 2011

      And a percentage? Oh man oh man…

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