EDITED JULY 2013 TO ADD: Pubslush has changed its basic business concept. See the Addendum below.
On Tuesday I posted about PUBSLUSH Press, a new crowdfunding venture for books. I found it an interesting idea (rather than just donating cash to worthy projects, PUBSLUSH supporters actually pledge to buy books; if the number of supporters reaches 2,000, PUBSLUSH publishes), but had a number of concerns, especially regarding PUBSLUSH's publishing contract.
PUBSLUSH contacted me soon after I put the post online, and we had a cordial email exchange. As a result, they've made some positive changes--but unfortunately a number of important issues remain unaddressed.
The discrepancies in the number of supporters required for publication, as well as in the royalty rates, have been resolved. A new publication agreement has been posted, and the figures are now consistent with the information in PUBSLUSH's FAQ.
Authors' 120-day display commitment now extends from the date of submission (before, for authors who submitted while the site was still in beta, the clock didn't start ticking until the official launch).
The website's misleading characterization of the $5,000 publication bonus as an advance has been corrected.
I was also concerned by the fact that simply submitting to PUBSLUSH constitutes acceptance of the terms of its publishing agreement. That's not something PUBSLUSH seems to want to change, but they did tell me that they'll be re-desiging their submission page to make it clearer to authors that they're binding themselves to a legal agreement.
The publication agreement (though not the website) clarifies the circumstances under which PUBSLUSH will morph into writers' literary agent, and states a commission: 15%. This is good to know, but still a concern--there's an inherent conflict in a publisher also functioning as a writer's agent, possibly in what ought more properly to be a subrights licensing situation.
Unfortunately, also, PUBSLUSH doesn't seem to want to address the other contract issues I flagged. I'm particularly worried about the lack of an adequate rights reversion clause (not only is "out of print" not defined, books must be out of print for a full two years before authors can request return of rights; PUBSLUSH insists that "two years is standard in any publication agreement," but this is just not true); about the fact that royalty rates aren't fixed (they will be set only upon a work's selection for publication, which means that writers must bind themselves to a publication agreement with no idea of what they will actually be paid); and about the option clause's sweeping claim on sequels and related works.
Last but not least--and leaving aside all questions about the viability of the PUBSLUSH concept--I remain concerned about PUBSLUSH's staff's apparent lack of publishing industry experience.
PUBSLUSH's willingness to respond to criticism, and to put changes in place, is welcome and commendable. But there's still plenty here to suggest that writers should be cautious about its publishing venture.
ADDENDUM: As of sometime in 2013, Pubslush has changed its basic business concept. Its crowdfunding model now works more like Kickstarter, except that authors keep the money they raise whether their campaigns reach their goals or not (more at PW). There's no longer any publishing commitment or obligation for authors who use the crowdfunding platform.
Crowdfunding is now Pubslush's main focus. In accordance with this, it has de-emphasized the publishing side of its business. However, according to its website, it is still committed to "pioneering a new kind of flexible, highly mobile publisher," and Pubslush Press does still plan to acquire books that "trend highly on the site."
I haven't seen a current Pubslush publishing contract (I asked, and was refused), so I don't know whether the contractual problems I've identified above have been addressed, or whether they remain.
UPDATE 10/14: Here's an interesting assessment of Pubslush's crowdfunding platform, by an author who used it and identified both strengths and weaknesses.