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December 11, 2019

Vanity Radio: Why You Should Think Twice Before Paying For an Interview

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

In a super-crowded, hyper-competitive marketplace, one of the main challenges for book authors is to stand out. And where there's a need, there are always unscrupulous operators waiting to take advantage. The internet is awash in worthless schemes and outright scams designed to profit from authors' hunger for publicity and exposure.

I've written about a number of these--Hollywood book-to-screen packages, the hugely marked-up PR options offered by Author Solutions, the plague of marketing scams originating in the Philippines. Others to watch out for include book fair display packages (publishing industry expert Jane Friedman has a good article on why these are not worth your money), pay-to-play book review services, and what I'm going to talk about in this post: vanity radio.

What's vanity radio? In the "writer beware" context, it's radio air time that you, the program guest, have to pay for. Such schemes have been around forever in various forms, aimed at experts and creatives of all kinds, from services that explicitly sell pay-to-play interviews, to show hosts that charge interview fees to defray the fees they themselves have to pay their platforms.

The main selling point is the promise that your interview will be heard by a large and eager audience, giving wide exposure to you and your book (see the pitches that I've pasted in below). But vanity radio is primarily online radio, delivered via platforms like Blog Talk Radio and Spreaker, and streaming services like iTunes, iHeart Radio, and SoundCloud. Online radio listenership is steadily rising, but unless there are subscriber lists (as on YouTube, for instance), there's usually no way to determine the audience for any given host or show--or to authenticate any listenership claims the show may make. Lots of people may be tuning in...or no one at all.

As a result, the only verifiable benefit authors may receive for their money is an audio or audio-and-video clip that they can post to their websites and social media accounts. Whether that's worth it when it costs $99 or $150 or $200 is debatable enough. But when the price tag is four figures?

As always in the realm of junk marketing aimed at writers, Author Solutions has been both the pioneer and the primary practitioner. All its imprints sell vanity radio in some form: here's AuthorHouse's offering, for instance (just $1,099!). iUniverse's is identical. Xlibris and Trafford currently sell teasers rather than interviews (for significantly more money), but through 2017 they too hawked interviews.

Recently, however, AS's leadership in the realm of predatory marketing services has been challenged by a flood of scammy imitators. These copycat ripoff factories have adopted vanity radio in a big way, and they aggressively hawk it to authors, both on its own and as part of costly publishing and marketing packages. Here, for instance, is an offer from Book Vine Press (cost: $1,500):

From Author Reputation Press (cost: £1,500):

From Parchment Global Publishing (cost: $1,499):

The copycats re-sell the services of a number of show hosts (there's a list below), but the three personalities noted above--Kate Delaney with America Tonight Radio, Ric Bratton with This Week in America, and Al Cole with People of Distinction--make the most frequent appearances on the copycats' websites and in their email solicitations. Delaney and Bratton have substantial, legit resumes in TV and radio; Cole is a bit harder to research, but he too seems to have a sizeable track record as a talk show host.

What, if anything, do they know of the reputation and tactics of the copycats that are re-selling their services? I contacted all three for comment last week. Cole's assistant responded in email that "Al Cole knew nothing about this....Our office will certainly look into this." As of this writing, I haven't heard back from Delaney or Bratton.

Given that the copycats routinely charge an enormous markup on products they re-sell (see, for instance, this warning from the Combined Book Exhibit, whose book fair exhibit packages many of the copycats re-sell for hugely inflated prices; the copycats also seriously jack up the fees for paid book reviews such as Kirkus Indie and BlueInk Reviews), it seems a fair bet that the interviews' hefty price tags are substantially inflated as well.

Apart from the question of such interviews' value for book promotion, that seems like reason enough to avoid them.


Author Solutions copycats that sell interviews from the individuals mentioned above:

BookVenture, ReadersMagnet, Maple Leaf Publishing, Parchment Global Publishing, Rustic Haws, Branding Nemo, Creative Titles Media, Paradigm Print, Stampa Global, Books Scribe, Matchstick Literary, PageTurner Press, EC Publishing, WestPoint Print and Media: Ric Bratton

LitFire Publishing, Author Reputation Press, ReadersMagnet, BookTrail Agency, Book-Art Press, Box Office Media Creatives, IdeoPage Press, Book Agency Plus: Kate Delaney

ReadersMagnetAuthor Reputation Press, Rustik Haws, URLink Print & Media, Workbook PressParchment Global Publishing, BookWhip: Al Cole

BookTrail Agency: David Serero

BookTrail Agency, Book Agency Plus: Angela Chester

UPDATE 1/9/19: Parchment Global has added the disclaimer in red to its solicitations for Al Cole interviews (it might want to do some proofreading):

I don't know if this was at Mr. Cole's behest (remember, he's the only vanity radio host who responded--if not very expansively--to my request for comment) or is just CYA by Parchment Global itself, but hey--it lets me know that the scammers are still reading my blog.

Do I believe Parchment Global has stopped taking a cut? What do you think?


PT Dilloway said...

Good thing I have a terrible voice for radio.

Allen F said...

So many ways to be conned - a good thing I don't have the money for them! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm probably being dense but I don't understand how the "reselling" of interviews with known radio personalities actually works.

Do these interviewers sell interviews at a much lower price and the company is functioning as a middleman without the interviewers permission? Does the company have a recording of set questions the interviewer asked a different writer/writers that they plug the answers into to piece an interview together? Is there a different person being paid by the company to impersonate the named interviewer during the recording? Do the companies just take the money and run? What's the deal?

However it works, it sounds awful for the interviewers since this could potentially damage their professional reputations if this is done in a really amateur way or being paid for but not delivered.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 12/15,

You're not dense. The whole enterprise is cloaked in mystery. There's no cost information on the shows' websites--or, indeed, anything on any of the websites to indicate that interviews are for sale. I contacted each host to ask what they charge, and received no response. I also--still--haven't gotten any response from Bratton or Delaney to my question about their relationship with the scam companies mentioned in my post.

My guess about how it works--and keep in mind that I don't know for sure, because none of the hosts responded to questions about their fees--is that the scams negotiate some kind of fee-per-interview deal with the hosts, and then re-sell those services at a markup. The hosts may not realize how big the markup is, but I can't imagine they don't know that their services are being sold on--in fact I've seen an email from Kate Delaney (responding to a skeptical writer) confirming that she is "contracted by publishing houses for Author interview campaigns". Even at a lower rate than the scams charge, the interviews have to be pretty lucrative for the hosts.

I've listened to some of the interviews, and they are real interviews by the hosts themselves, and are at least somewhat tailored to each writer's book--though I doubt the hosts do more than skim the book, if that, and the questions are the kind that can be asked just on the basis of reading a synopsis or back cover blurb. Delaney seems to do some pre-interview prep; I don't know about the others.

So writers who buy these interviews do get real interviews--but since the shows' audiences are unverifiable, the only tangible benefit (as indicated in my post) is the audio or audio/visual clip they get at the end. Whether that's worth four figures is seriously debatable.

Jeff Hecht said...

I've been getting telemarketing calls for Kate Delaney interviews, a live person asking about a specific book of mine -- "Beam Weapons," originally published in 1984, which I slightly revised and self republished a few years ago. The telemarketer got me on the phone once, and I quickly figured out what they were up to. I just got another one a day or two ago.

Victoria Strauss said...

Jeff, can you let me know which companies contacted you? I'm trying to keep track. Thanks.

ナガミツ said...

Rustik Haws wants me to authorize them to print my book. They say they will publisize it in coming BookExpo in New york. Were they there last year?

Victoria Strauss said...

Rustik Haws is a scam. The publication offer is a way to get you in the door so they can pressure you to buy overpriced, worthless, and substandard "marketing" services.

Like other scammers who offer book fair display, they will either have their own booth at the fair or place your book in the Combined Book Exhibit at the entrance to the fair. But this is not meaningful book promotion, regardless of what's claimed, and the scammers make a ton of money by displaying dozens or scores of books for which they've received hundreds or even thousands of dollars per book.

Unknown said...

Just got contacted from Access Media for an interview with Ric Bratton for $1600.00. They wanted a decision by the end of the week....I thought it was kinda pushy for that much money.

Anonymous said...

Is this company genuine? I paid for services...I am unable to contact them.

Victoria Strauss said...

Which company, Anonymous?

Howard Dando said...

Thanks for publishing this as a warning to others. The scammers never stop calling and every few months it's a new scammer with the same come-on about book fairs, radio interviews. Sad that people are so corrupt they to cheat others out of their money.

CarouselKisses said...

Are you saying that these radio hosts charge for interviews? If I deal directly with Bratton or Delaney, they charge for interviews? I was contacted by EC Publishing for an interview with Ric Bratton. $1899. They will shoulder the first $1000. I would have to pay $899. I said NO. I also contacted Bratton. He said he is legit and they work with several publishers/publicists.

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