Aktionsbündnis für faire Verlage

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eine Initiative deutscher, österreichischer und schweizerischer Autorenverbände

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Alliance for fair publishing companies

63 authors’ associations from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have constituted a joint initiative for more fairness by the publishing companies on World Book Day (23 April 2008). They have started the “Aktionsbündnis für faire Verlage (Ak Fairlag)” [Alliance for fair publishing companies].

In this way, the associations are drawing attention to the misconduct of certain publishing companies (the so-called vanity press). This misconduct comes unilaterally at the expense of young authors. “Fairlag” is a play on words, combining “fair” with the German word for “publishing company”: “Verlag”.

The main issue of the alliance is laid down in the “Fairlag” declaration about unfair business practices by the Vanity Press. This declaration was also signed by a huge number of other literature facilities from the whole German-speaking area. These institutions are thus underlining their sympathies for the commitment of the authors’ associations. The “Alliance for fair publishing companies” demands fair treatment of authors by publishing companies.

They work directly against such dubious publishers who turn upside down all publishing principles by placing the full entrepreneurial risk away the company and unilaterally upon the authors. Having such a publisher as a “partner” is extremely disadvantageous for authors: just to publish a single book, authors have to pay up to twenty thousands Euros at a vanity press company.

A frequent complaint is also insufficient editorial work. A German vanity press publisher even accepted a manuscript that was “created” by an online poem generator (see German television (ZDF) broadcasting “WISO” on 19 December 2006, weblink in German: www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/content/WISO_ermittelt_Teure_
Veroeffentlichung/66042). The entirely unacceptable manuscript was classified as "unambiguously recommendable" by the vanity press editorial board (accompanied by detailed invoice for the publication costs).

The books published in such companies are hardly ever entering the regular book trade. The publications themselves are mostly dull and rarely laid out in bookstores. What’s more, serious newspapers normally have no interest in reviewing them. And authors who exclusively publish with vanity press companies cannot become members in a lot of authors’ associations. Of course the vanity press publishers do not educate their clients (the would-be authors) about those facts.

Finally, the publishing contracts are often characterised by really outrageous clauses.

Between the Association of German authors (Verband deutscher Schriftsteller in ver.di) and the German Publishers & Booksellers Association (Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels) an agreement for authors and publishers was made that provides some orientation for more fairness in publishing contract law. A similar agreement is also in existence for the Switss Authors’ Association (Autorinnen Autoren der Schweiz, AdS). But the vanity press ignores such principles.

The signatories of the declaration would like to point out that an author’s being published with a vanity press company is completely unrelated to the literary quality of his or her texts. On the contrary, the declaration says quite clearly that „nobody who publishes with such a company is by definition a bad author. However, the publishing companies we criticise are exploiting the publication wish of authors to their own profit. This is a practice we want to strongly condemn.“

This criticism must necessarily be made loud and clearly, because meanwhile some vanity press companies have created organisational contexts that further their schemes. Thus authors are being recommended to those vanity press publishers by seemingly independent facilities. The Fairlag declaration comments as follows:

„The situation is even more problematical when there is an organisational context (see a decision by the Frankfurt/Main District Court from 17 May 2005, file number: 2‑03 O 730/04) that approaches young and inexperienced author to recommend them a costly publication with such publishing companies. In a similar vein, there is a so-called „free internet portal for authors“ promotes self-financed publication with vanity press companies but this portal belongs, as it turns out, to the very owner of the publishing houses it promotes. Of course, it is difficult for young authors who are new to the literature business to appraise, for instance, the true intentions of an allegedly independent authors’ association that advertises in several leading German newspapers offering free consultation in copyright and contract questions for “new authors”. However, this association, another facility owned by a vanity press publisher, has hardly any members in comparison to established authors’ associations.“

The undersigned authors’ associations regard it as their duty to draw the attention of young and inexperienced authors to these machinations. They aim at provoking a public debate about the big problem inherent in the vanity press market.

They condemn the current commercial methods of these publishing companies. Outspoken critics of vanity press publishers have already been driven into financial ruin or publicly disparaged by defamatory statements. All this is in no way acceptable.

The undersigned authors’ associations warn authors explicitly from spending any of their own money on publications of their books, making the point quite clearly:

„The good relations of authors to their publishers and readers and the great achievements of authors’ rights and publishing rights as well as of professional publishing work must not be unhinged by the speculative gambling of vanity press companies that are basing their business model on nothing but the inexperience of their authors.“

In the meantime, many more authors’ associations have signed the Fairlag declaration and entered the alliance. Two well-known vanity press companies have already lodged complaints against the initiative of authors’ associations to found the alliance. However, these threats will not be tolerated.