For some time, I've been receiving questions about VDM Verlag Dr Mueller, a German academic publisher. VDM describes its business thus:
VDM publishes academic research worldwide - at no cost to our authors. Annually, we publish more than 10,000 new titles and are thus one of the leading publishing houses of academic research. We specialize in publishing theses, dissertations, and research projects.
VDM uses digital technology (which it dubs "print-to-order [PTO], a further development of the print-on-demand [POD] procedure") to make its books and monographs "available" (which just means they can be special-ordered) through online and physical booksellers. There's no cost to authors, who receive a "fee" plus "up to" 20 free copies of their book. There's also no editing or proofreading: what you turn in is what's printed, and the process for doing so, in which authors essentially create their own books and covers, is very similiar to uploading content to a self-publishing service. Retail prices are absurdly inflated, even for a digitally-based publisher. As for marketing, "data is optimized by the publishing house and entered in all relevant catalogues worldwide. The book is offered to the leading international book distributors." Put another way: there isn't any.
VDM, in other words, is an academic author mill.
Author mills, which must maintain an enormous volume of authors in order to make money, have a voracious appetite. Those that feed on book writers need only lie in wait on the Internet, since book writers are actively seeking publication--but students and professors may not be, or may be looking only in specialized areas, so rather than wait for them to come to it, an academic author mill must go to them. VDM (and its clones--see the last paragraph) do a lot of cold call solicitation.
If you receive one of VDM's emails, and you've got an old dissertation sitting around, you may think you have nothing to lose, and might even get a little exposure and a bit of money. Be warned, though: the terms of VDM's contract (which Writer Beware has seen) are not author-friendly.
- The contract requires an exclusive life-of-copyright rights transfer, without any provision for releasing those rights other than VDM failing to publish or deciding to discontinue publication. The author's only possible recourse would appear to be Article 41 of the German Copyright Act, which allows writers to revoke licenses "[i]f the holder of an exclusive exploitation right does not exercise such right or exercises it insufficiently." VDM doesn't allow the author to exercise this entitlement until five years have passed, however--and good luck proving "insufficiently."
- The contract allows VDM to transfer the licenses you've granted to third parties without your permission (though if it's paid for those uses, you get 50%).
- In the contract I saw (as well as in this archived VDM author information sheet from mid-2008), ebook royalties were 40%, and print royalties 12%--both paid on net revenue. This may be a relatively recent policy for the company, however. My research turned up discussion from 2007 suggesting that VDM was paying print authors just 3% of net.
- Royalties are scheduled to be paid just once a year.
- Or possibly never. "In order to cover the administration expense and the data management," VDM is not obliged to pay you anything if your royalties average 10 euros or less per month. With a print-on-demand academic book, this is entirely possible--indeed, it's quite likely, especially given VDM's eye-popping cover prices. Moreover, if royalties average 50 euros or less per month, you'll receive book vouchers instead of money. I would guess that VDM rarely has to write a royalty check.
VDM also does business as VDM Publishing House, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, Südwestdeutsche Verlag für Hochschulschriften, Verlag Classic Edition (VCE), and Alphascript Publishing--which appears to specialize in cobbling free Wikipedia entries into expensive books, (VDM's defense of this policy can be seen here).