Publishers Weekly Whores Itself

Publisher's Weekly has become so desperate in the face of declining advertising and an eroding subscriber base that it has decided to whore itself, and its good name, for a few extra bucks.

The magazine is launching PW Select, a quarterly "special issue" devoted to reviewing self-published authors, which would be a great and laudable thing… except that they are charging aspiring authors a $150 "processing fee" to be included. So it's just another vanity press scam, an advertising supplement pretending to be a review publication, aimed squarely at deceiving aspiring writers out of whatever money iUniverse hasn't already shaken out of them.

But it gets  even worse, my friends.

PW has also decided to piss all over their journalistic integrity, and the minimum basic standards of ethical journalistic conduct, by drafting their staff of reporters and critics to participate.  This creates a terrible and untenable conflict-of-interest for PW writers, who are now reviewing, and reporting on, authors who have paid for the opportunity.

The entire PW editorial staff will participate in a review of the titles being considered for review, and we'll likely invite a few agent friends and distributors to have a look at what we've chosen. No promises there, just letting some publishing friends take advantage of the opportunity to see the collection.[…] We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy. The processing fee that guarantees a listing and the chance to be reviewed accomplishes what we want: to inform the trade of what is happening in self-publishing and to present a PW selection of what has the most merit.

Do they really think that charging a $150 processing fee is any different than directly charging for reviews? Do they really think they are fooling anyone?

It's sad that PW,  once a fine and reputable publication, has decided to follow the example set by the disgraced, and widely derided, Kirkus Discoveries, and prey on the desperation of aspiring authors…sullying PW's good name in the process. But they have waded one step further into the sewer by dangling the enticement of possible agent representation or contract from a publisher as an incentive to submit to "PW Select." This puts them solidly in the ranks of vanity press scammers.

If  PW wanted to honestly and informatively report on the self-publishing field, and give worthy self-published titles the attention they deserve, while still maintaining journalistic integrity, objectivity, and good name, they would have done their special issue without charging authors to have their books included and reviewed. Or dangling the possibility of agent representation and a publishing contract to self-published authors for their participation.

This is a money grab, a blatant attempt to exploit self-published authors to improve their sagging bottom line. It's PW pissing on their own good name.

It's pitiful, disgraceful…and very sad. PW and its staff should be deeply ashamed.

14 thoughts on “Publishers Weekly Whores Itself”

  1. Thank you for saying this. I absolutely and completely agree. I’m going to look at any PW review with a very jaundiced eye from now on. At least they used the label self-published instead of “Indie”.

  2. Lee, thank you for writing this post, which, in my opinion, is spot on. This is a horrible development, so wrong in so many ways–not the least of which is that it exposes PW’s baldface contempt for authors. As if I didn’t already question the integrity of these publications… And so out of touch with reality. There are many places where a self-published author can get a proper, thoughtful and respectful review these days. (From a Los Angeles self-published novelist.)

  3. Per Karen’s comment, I agree that “self-published” has more truth to it than “indie”. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of those “indies” myself but I think the term is nothing but PC rubbish designed to make said writers feel good. I’ll take the other label–for now.

  4. As much as I agree with this PW gambit, I also understand the economic reality many of these publications live in today.
    Death of 1,000 cuts comes to mind.
    The death of literacy and the tiber is foaming

  5. And note how they bait self-published authors by telling them their “friends” from the publishing world might be present when reviewers discuss the books in question (more likely than not, reading passages out loud and laughing at the crap they have to review even though they won’t see a penny of the $150 “processing fee”).

  6. I have to say it’s a pity that yet another group is ready to take money from authors.
    The price isn’t bad for advertising, but is it reaching the right audience? For $150 I can buy online marketing that could reach my reader rather than advertise in a publication that may not.

  7. Sorry, what a stupid typo!
    What I meant to say –
    As much as I DIS-agree with this PW gambit
    But PW like a lot of folks are fighting for survival, in this e-death by 1,000 cuts

  8. Publishers are starting to realize there are a lot of suckers, er, I mean “potential clients,” willing to fork over THEIR money — thus obviating that whole “money flows to the writer” thingy.
    Seriously. Why would publishers turn down this windfall? Hell, it’s damn near free money for PW. Especially in this case as there is no guarantee for a review.
    Sadly, as more people pay publishers in the vain belief this will jump start their career, then that will become the norm. “Money flows to the writer” could one day become an antiquated idea like whalebone corsets and rotary dial telephones.

  9. I have to look at this from the perspective of a company. If you are loosing money your time becomes more valuable…you have to find some way to make the numbers work or start laying off people. Either the employer finds a way to expand and employees take on more projects or the company downsizes.
    Plus a company shouldn’t have to work on the behalf of an author for free. An employee’s time is money and someone has to pay them for their work. Reviews are work and an author does get a cash benefit from having their books get positive reviews. Should the review company not get their fair share of the profits?
    I’m sorry to say I’ve never understood why some author’s thing they shouldn’t have to pay for what the rest of us have to pay for…promotion. Reviews are promotion!
    I own a company that has to pay for marketing, be it a link, graphic, or print ad. I think the times of getting a free ride review are coming to a close.

  10. Good grief.
    But thanks for posting anyway, Lee. We don’t hate the messenger, just the message.
    Going back to my book revisions now although I am not sure there will be a publishing industry left by the time I turn them in.

  11. Beth,
    The point is that everyone knows an ad is paid for by the publisher. Reviews and other articles are paid for by the readers’ subscriptions and by ad sales. A review is supposed to be an objective opinion. Reviews are published because readers like to read them. The magazine publishes them for the same reasons it publishes all its other articles.
    In other words, no one is objecting to the purchase of ads in Publisher’s Weekly, Foreward, or Kirkus. They are objecting because these publications are selling ads and calling them reviews.
    Furthermore, these publications are only charging micropresses and self-publishers for reviews. The large and midsize publishers get all their reviews free. If there is “pay to play,” everyone should pay equally. Micropresses and self-publishers should not be forced to pay for reviews to support the provision of free reviews to large publishers.


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