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September 25, 2020

Pay-to-Play Alert: Europe Books / Europa Edizioni / Gruppo Albatros Il Filo


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten a number of questions about a publisher called Europe Books (EB). It's part of a complex of "brands" under the umbrella of Gruppo Editoriale Europa, including Europa Edizioni (Italy), Europa Ediciones (Spain), and Europa Verlagsgruppe (Germany)*

EB's motto: "Our Books Travel the World." 
We live in a time of great political and social changes, of liquid boundaries and cultural contaminations. This context makes it inevitable that literatures rapidly lose their national connotation and gain a more extended European trait. Over the past 15 years, we have established our leadership by reaching a wider audience which is not confined to the Italian borders. We opened branch offices in the main European capitals. Both our bestselling writers and emerging authors are published simultaneously in Italy, Spain, Germany and, from now on, in England as well. France and the United States are our next goals.
Despite the slightly shaky English on display in the paragraph above, EB looks--at least to the casual glance--like a traditional publisher, boasting important-seeming titles in Italian editions by Barack Obama and Pope Francis, along with bestsellers by Adam Kay, Melvyn Bragg, and more.

On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of those titles have not been published by EB at all, but by other imprints of EB's parent company, Gruppo Albatros Il Filo (more on that below). There's also a distinct promoting-to-authors vibe on EB's website, with much mention of "emerging authors" and touting of the publicity EB says it provides. There's also this: a "submit your unpublished manuscript" page offering "evaluation" of a laundry list of markets and genres, from fiction to non-fiction to children's books to "degree theses" (not generally a category in which reputable publishers are actively seeking submissions). An equivalent page appears on each of the company's websites. There's even a standalone URL

Some caution is always in order when a publisher focuses recruitment efforts on unpublished authors; not infrequently, what the publisher is really after is inexperienced writers who'll be less likely to recognize a bad deal when they're offered one. And indeed:


"Co-production" equals pay-to-play. "May or may not" usually equals pretty much always.

Writers who submit to Europe Books, or are solicited to submit (EB seems to be active in that regard) are told that they must buy 200 copies of their own books--not at discount, but at cover price, with amounts running into four figures. Publication happens only upon payment in full. The order form is part of the contract:

Self-purchase requirements are a common way for vanity publishers to dodge the vanity label. It's not an upfront fee, it's just you buying your own books! But whether you pay upfront or after the fact, the bottom line is that you must give your publisher cash in order to be published. 

Far from being "co-productions"--which imply that the publisher is investing something of value--pay-to-play publishing offers are usually carefully calculated to cover not just the entire expense of publishing your book, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well. And a publisher that has made a profit before the book is even released is unlikely to be highly motivated to cut into that by providing high-quality editing, design (you can judge the quality of EB's book covers here), distribution, or marketing (EB's promised marketing, detailed in its contract, focuses on cheap and not-very-useful methods like website listings, press releases, and email blasts).

Note also the promise of a refund if 500 copies sell (those sales, of course, exclude ebooks and any copies bought by the author). Where fee-based publishers promise refunds, the benchmark has been set where it is because it's almost never reached. 

Other EB contract lowlights: 10% net royalties on electronic editions, sales reports just once a year and only on request, a two-year contract term with no possibility of renewal, and the ability of the author to cancel at any time. While that might sound good, the latter two provisions emphasize that it's all about the (upfront) money: once the writer has paid in full, EB has received its profit, and any sales are gravy. It thus has no need for an extended claim on the books themselves. 

As mentioned above, EB and the other Europa imprints under the Gruppo Editoriale Europa umbrella are just one branch of a larger group, Italian publisher Gruppo Albatros Il Filo. Albatros owns two additional imprints, Vertigo Edizioni and Lastaria Edizioni--which are the actual publishers of most of the recognizable authors and titles claimed on the websites of EB and its Europa cousins. 

Clearly, Albatros does at least some traditional publishing through Vertigo and Lastaria; it's not very likely that Barack Obama and Pope Francis--not to mention successful writers like Adam Kay (This Is Going To Hurt) and Jean Teule (Le Magasin des Suicides)--agreed to buy their own books in order to be published by these imprints. 

However, both Albatros and Vertigo have recruitment pages similar to those on the websites of the Europa brands; and writers' own experiences confirm pay-to-play offers from both. They've been doing it for a long time, too. In a 2012 expose, Italian author and journalist Alessandro Cascio describes sending Albatros a trunk manuscript, and receiving an offer requiring him to buy 300 copies of his book for around 3,000 euros. The reward? If sales (excluding his own buys, of course) reached 300 copies, he could publish a subsequent book and not have to purchase anything.

Of all the imprints, the only one that doesn't seem to be recruiting is Lastaria--but given the consistency of the business model across the rest of this company, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it plays the same game. 

Always remember: reputable traditional publishers don't require authors to pay anything or buy anything as a condition of publication. 

* Not to be confused with Europa Editions, a well-regarded New York-based independent publisher.

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