The problem is not the lack of advances against royalties.
I agree with John (and many others) that there’s no reason whatsoever an imprint from any Big Six company should not be offering advances. The real problems are the other two terms (in reverse order):
For life of copyright. Seriously. FUCK THAT. (Enough emphasis?) There is no valid reason that any publisher should be claiming rights for that long automatically. A publisher should be worried about losing the rights to the properties they represent. That way they can’t take them for granted.
They charge authors “set up costs”. To quote Scalzi:
The author is charged “set-up costs” for editing, artwork, sale, marketing, publicity — i.e., all the costs a publisher is has been expected to bear. The “good news” is that the author is not charged up front for these; they’re taken out of the backend. If the book is ever published in paper, costs are deducted for those, too.
Folks, this is where I am damn near uniquely qualified to comment.
THIS IS WHAT SCAMMERS DO. THEY PRETEND TO BE PUBLISHERS WHILE PROVIDING PUBLISHING SERVICES.
It’s possible to provide both. I mean, I do. However, I make a big freaking deal about explaining the difference between the two.
Publishing services – whether with me or someone else – means that a specific service is delivered for a specific fee. I do what you pay me for, and not any more or less. (For example, I don’t correct grammar or spelling during eBook conversion.) Someone providing publishing services gets paid by the author.
A publisher instead takes a percentage – usually a majority one – but handles much, if not all, of the business aspects without involving (or bothering) the author. The publisher would hire both copy and line editor, cover artist, etc without payment from the author. The author is paid an advance against royalties (most of the time) and royalties are paid out to the author through the sale of the book to the general public. The publisher makes money from sales of the book to the public.
Hydra crosses that line with a flying leap. They might be one of the better set up publishing services outfits, but they are still offering contract terms that make them providers of publishing services, not a publisher.