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July 31, 2019

Alert: Trouble at Dog Ear Publishing


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Founded in 2004, Dog Ear Publishing is part of the surge of Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing companies--many of them now defunct--that entered the market in the early aughts.

Headquartered, like AS, in Indiana, Dog Ear presents itself--with more than a smidge of exaggeration--as "The best of traditional publishing, re-imagined for the modern author". Its publishing and marketing packages are typical for this type of company, and while they're not among the most expensive, they aren't cheap, either.

Unlike the various Author Solutions imprints, Writer Beware never received any complaints about Dog Ear, which appears to have been reasonably trouble-free for most of its existence.

Not so now.

I first became aware of problems at Dog Ear in March of this year, via a Watchdog Report from the Alliance of Independent Authors' John Doppler.
The Watchdog Desk has received multiple reports of problems at Dog Ear Publishing, an Indianapolis-based self-publishing service. After careful investigation, in our opinion there is indeed cause for concern.

We have heard from several authors who allege they have been waiting months for payments on royalties due. Emails and phone calls to the company reportedly go unanswered. In at least two of these cases, the authors sent legal notices via certified mail, demanding immediate payment of overdue royalties and an accurate accounting of sales.

Although receipt of the demands was confirmed by the U.S. Post Office, Dog Ear Publishing has so far failed to respond.
A large number of similar complaints appear at the Better Business Bureau, which revoked Dog Ear's accreditation in March due to its failure to respond to or resolve the complaints. Other complaints can be found on Yelp, which is not typically a forum for reports about publishing services; and on Complaints Board--where they go back to 2009.

Now the Indianapolis Star has published a detailed story on trouble at Dog Ear, entitled "Dog Ear Publishing Faces Claims It Owes Authors Thousands."
Actor Michael Kostroff self-published his book Audition Psych 101 in 2017 with Indianapolis-based Dog Ear Publishing.

Kostroff, who played roles on The Wire as well as Law and Order: SVU, said he was happy with the production process and the book sold well.

Then it came time to give the author royalty payments – something Kostroff and nine other authors interviewed by IndyStar allege the company has not done on time, in full or, in some cases, at all for about the past 12 to 18 months.
IndyStar reports that its attempts to contact Dog Ear's owners have gone unanswered, apart from a vague comment by one of the company's owners, Ray Robinson:
"We do seem to have crossed a threshold where the challenges have reached a critical mass," [Robinson] wrote. "The industry has seen this with most self publishers when they accumulate more than about 10,000 authors." 
(It is highly unlikely that Dog Ear has or ever had that number of authors. According to reports by Bowker, it issued a total of 4,926 titles between 2008 and 2017; the most titles it has ever published in a single year is 662 [in 2014], and the least is 282 [in 2008]. Assuming that numbers for 2004-2007 are similar to 2008, and also assuming that every author who ever published with Dog Ear is still publishing with Dog Ear--which obviously is not at all probable--the total clearly doesn't come anywhere near 10,000.)

Non-response appears to be a pattern for the company. Authors interviewed by IndyStar say they've received no or vague answers to their questions and requests for payment, and according to the article, Dog Ear's owners, Ray Robinson and Alan Harris, have failed to show up in court for multiple lawsuits brought against the company, both by authors trying to get paid and by one of Dog Ear's founders, Miles Nelson, who left the company in 2016 but alleges he was never compensated for his share of the business. Another recent lawsuit, by Dog Ear's former leasing company, drew an appearance by Robinson but not by Harris, who was slapped with a $19,000 default judgment.

IndyStar details authors' speculation that Dog Ear may file for bankruptcy, either to re-organize or to liquidate and pay off creditors. I suspect, though, that this isn't terribly likely, especially if few assets remain; and in any case, authors are not well-served even when there are specific provisions for bankruptcy in their contracts. A group of authors is hoping to gather enough plaintiffs to launch a class action suit--but even if assets can be found, the cost of litigation could easily exceed them; and if (as is probably much more likely) there are few or no assets, a class action is pointless.

Authors have contacted the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General, where there are 19 open complaints. According to IndyStar, the AG is investigating, although the official quoted by IndyStar doesn't sound too keen:
Betsy DeNardi, director and chief counsel of consumer protection with the office, said if a company doesn’t respond to inquiries, a complaint case is usually closed. This happened with a case against Dog Ear in fall 2018, though 19 others remain open.

Some cases do result in litigation, if there seems to have been a violation of consumer protection laws. DeNardi said she did not know of any recent legal cases handled by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office against a self-publishing company.
(In fact, there have been at least two. In May of 2008, the Indiana Attorney General filed suit against Airleaf LLC, an assisted self-publishing company founded by an Author Solutions alumnus, for, among other things, violating Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The suit resulted in a Consent Judgment that did not include significant restitution, but did ultimately drive Airleaf out of business. And in October 2010, the AG filed suit against New Century Publishing, an Indiana-based "publisher" that charged enormous fees, also for violations of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, resulting in a default judgment ordering restitution of $81,875.15 to 43 authors. Amazingly, the AG had sued New Century's owner, David Caswell, twice before for different frauds; each suit resulted in a monetary judgment, but somehow Caswell managed never to pay.)

So is the end near for Dog Ear Publishing? The signs certainly don't look good. Ultimately, it may never be possible to know exactly what went wrong--but I'm guessing that at least some part was played by the general decline of the Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing business in recent years, under pressure from lower-cost and more straightforward DIY self-publishing platforms like Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and others.

Author Solutions itself has been dwindling for a while: per the Bowker reports referenced above, its title roster for 2017 was less than half of what it was at its high point in 2011. Output for Outskirts Press, another of the early assisted self-pub companies, peaked in 2013 and has dropped by 21% since then. Wheatmark's titles are down 77% from its 2008 pinnacle, and Xulon Press hit its highest numbers in 2013 but by 2017 had seen a drop of 39%. As for Dog Ear, after a 2014 high point of 662 titles, output fell year by year through 2018, when, according to Amazon, it issued just 378 books--a decline of 43%.

Dog Ear's website is still open for business, and its Facebook page is active (though its Twitter feed looks a bit neglected). It is also still issuing titles, the most recent of which has a pub date of July 2. Writers be warned.

If you're a Dog Ear author and have not been paid (or have had other problems), you can file an online complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division here. Where litigation has been undertaken against problem publishers or publishing services, it has usually been the result of a large volume of author complaints.

UPDATE 5/29/20: Dog Ear has finally surrendered to the inevitable, and closed its doors. Some Dog Ear authors received this email last week. Note the flimsy excuse to avoid addressing any financial issues:

Thanks to Angela Hoy at WritersWeekly for the tip.

UPDATE 7/30/20: As sometimes happens with shady operators in the publishing space, the collapse of one author-fleecing business just signals the birth of a new one along the same lines. 

Dog Ear owner and debtor Ray Robinson has set up a self-publishing services provider called Bookplate Press. There are no names on the website, of course, but the domain registration info tells the tale. Note the date the domain was created; at the time, Dog Ear was still nominally in business. Writer beware, indeed!


13 comments :

PT Dilloway said...

Shouldn't the AG investigate further if a company refuses to respond? That's a really lazy bit of "due process."

Iola said...

I'm sure I once read a promo piece from Dog Ear saying some independent reviewer had said they were better than Tate and Author Solutions.

That's kind of like saying a Wendy's burger is healthier than a burger from McDonalds or Burger King. It might be true, but if you're looking for healthy food, you're probably looking in the wrong place.

Nyssa Kruse said...

Hello!
The Indy Star story is now online and can be read here: https://www.indystar.com/story/news/investigations/2019/08/07/dog-ear-publishing-accused-owing-thousands-self-published-authors/1860676001/

Angela Hoy said...

At WritersWeekly, we've been warning authors about Dog Ear Publishing since May. The comments by the owner on the Better Business Bureau website were a huge red flag. They made it appear he was only paying royalties to the squeaky wheels. And, his excuses were downright absurd.

According to the BBB, authors reported Dog Ear's excuses included:
Blaming the retailers/distributor for late payments
Having a computer system that couldn't handle their growth
Switching bank accounts and not having new checks yet
Running out of stamps
And, even a broken stamp machine

See more here:
https://writersweekly.com/angela-desk/complaints-about-dog-ear-publishing-wow

Angela Hoy
WritersWeekly.com

Matthew Bauer said...

I have had a book with Dog Ear published in 2011 and everything was good until about 2016 when payments started to get very delayed. I was the one that was told their stamp machine was broken.

Of course, I have not done anything to promote my book lately because of not getting paid and I need to get it re-published.

My print version still slightly outsells my e version so I would like to do both. Any advice on an honest service offering both would be helpful and I can be reached at info@makingacupuncturepay.com Thanks

Victoria Strauss said...

Matthew,

I usually suggest that authors start by investigating the free or low-cost services with good reputations in the self-pub community: Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark if they want to do both print and ebooks, and Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Kobo Writing Life if they want to do an ebook only.

All of these are DIY-style services. If you'd prefer a less hands-on, more soup-to-nuts service, BookLocker and BookBaby are worth checking out.

I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUnverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson's WestBow Press and Hay House's Balboa Press), since I've received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics. There are also many copycat services that are even worse and that are actively soliciting authors; see the Writer Beware blog for a roundup of all my posts on them, as well as a full list of the ones I've discovered so far: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2019/08/from-philippines-not-with-love-plague.html

Some self-publishing services claim to specialize in particular genres (such as self-help) or markets (such as the Christian market). This really isn't meaningful Self-pub services do no targeted marketing (unless you buy it a la carte), and they all use the same distribution channels.

For information to help you comparison shop, a rundown on the benefits and challenges of self-publishing, and links to helpful resources, see the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware: www.writerbeware.com/

Kathleen S. said...

My 2 books were published by Dog Ear in 2013. Now I can't get any response, my website is down, and Amazon lists a paperback at a price of $935 !!! It should be $10. How can I get my digital files back so I can republish with a reputable company?

Victoria Strauss said...

Kathleen S.,

I'm afraid the only way to get your digital files is to obtain them from the people who have them--i.e., Dog Ear. I know they haven't been responding to communication, and they may have completely shut down; the last pub date for a Dog Ear book shown on Amazon is February 9. However, many--though not all--Dog Ear books are still for sale from the publisher (rather than just through third-party sellers, as happens when a publisher takes a book "out of print").

I'm still encouraging authors to make a complaint to the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General's Office--it's worth doing this in spite of their wimpy response to earlier complaints, since if complaints mount up enough, it may spur them to take action.

Don't worry about those crazy Amazon prices--they're an artifact of the automatic pricing algorithms used by third-party sellers on Amazon. These sellers likely don't have any copies of your book in stock--they're just listing ISBNs scraped from the internet.

Unknown said...

I published a book with Dog Ear Publishing in 2007. For many years things were fine, but the last two years they stopped sending me any royalty checks. I confirmed on the author website that were several books sold, but I no longer received any royalty payments. I tried to contact Dog Ears many times, leaving messages for the owner Ray Robinson, but no one picks up the phone and there have been no responses to phone messages I left or emails I sent. I requested they send me the digital files for my book (which according to their contract, is the ownership of the author) so I could switch to another publisher, but again, they never responded. In February, I finally received an email from Dog Ear, but not in response to any of my correspondence. Instead, it was requesting my permission to charge a credit card of mine they had on file for "book distribution costs". I immediately responded by email, forbidding this action, but they ignored me and did it anyway. And after charging my card for "distribution costs", they stopped distributing my book! It is no longer available on most websites I've checked, and on Amazon.com it states "out of stock". I'm wondering if it's possible for the many authors who have shared similar stories to somehow come together and initiate a class action suit. Something has to be done.

Image Treasure Hunter said...

I published my first book with Dog Ear the end of 2008, it was released Jan 2009. The problems started immediately. I worked so hard to get sales, including 3 book signings, one of which I sold 200 copies (Wal-Mart)& I was on the news, I was off to what I thought was a good start. I received my first quarterly statement they paid me for 4 books. After arguing, she somehow found a 'few more on her desk she had missed' and suddenly it was hundreds. This went on for years. I'd get emails from readers and then I'd ask where they got it, call the store, confirm they have carried it, and so on. Then, in 2013 I found out that Dog Ear went behind my back and put my book on nook and had been selling it for years & without my knowledge or consent or compensation. It was a top seller. When I called, they denied it, I sent them proof and then I cancelled my book all together with them. All that meant is that they just stopped acknowledging me at all. They have continued to sell the book has in stores all of these years and I've never received a cent payment. I am in Canada and I couldn't go through the regular avenues that other authors have, so I basically turned a blind eye and eventually I gave up on writing... that is, until I learned of their own demise. All of those links that would lead buyers to my book that they sold all these years are now gone. Gone. Beautiful. The bleeding has finally ended for me as well as the other authors. Though, more than just money is lost when a publishing company steals from its authors. I hope that myself and the other authors recover from this.

Anonymous said...

I am an author who published with Dogear Publishing 2015 I terminated their services 2016. To dste Ray Robinson his hacked into my email and is doing business using my name and has made himself administrator and reseller for me. Bvb He is at the moment trying to register my book in audio with the library og congress. I only knew when I received emails from the library of congress with forms to register my book in audio and I did not request them. He currently has links attached to my email and he has removed the storage from my files and when I try to access my files it is asking me for microsoft office account.

This is shameful that someone is allowed to do this on the internet and no one does anything about.

Anonymous said...

Unknown In future if you have a credit card transaction that you do not agree with you call your credit card company and let them know and they can stop the payment.( dispute the transaction).

Anonymous said...

I am also yet another of Dog Ear Publishing's "victims" (published May 2016). Same story as I read about other authors: royalty checks stopped, no response to phone calls, emails, etc. My book also is no longer available on Amazon. I eventually got in touch with Ingram Spark, who is the company that actually prints my book when orders are made. I have been back and forth with Ingram Spark for the past few months. They insist that the only way I can retrieve my files (MY files!) is to obtain "permission" from Dog Ear Publishing, who as we all know by now, no longer exists! Ingram Spark is aware that Dog ear is out of business but maintains the stance that the ONLY way I can retrieve MY book files, is to get permission from....you guessed it....Dog Ear. In my mind, Ingram Spark is party to this debacle. I know I must not be the only author who is facing this frustrating situation. I am interested in continuing to hear from others who are experiencing the same frustration. ANY ADVICE IS APPRECIATED!

 
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