John Scalzi doesn't make a major point of discussing big publishers messing over writers, so when he does, you know it's bad. He looks over a deal sheet Random House's new electronic imprint Hydra is offering, and points out a few red flags.
* No advance.
* The author is charged "set-up costs" for editing, artwork, sale, marketing, publicity — i.e., all the costs a publisher is has been expected to bear. The "good news" is that the author is not charged up front for these; they're taken out of the backend. If the book is ever published in paper, costs are deducted for those, too. [Note from Angie: there's also a permanent 10% of net charge for the on-going sales and marketing that Hydra most likely won't be doing.]
* The contract asks for primary and subsidiary rights for the term of copyright.
Click through for more detail and some commentary I found pretty entertaining. It's clear, though, that Random House is looking to squeeze as much money from ignorant baby writers as it can, while hoping to pay out little or nothing.
Also recall that "term of copyright" these days means your lifetime plus seventy years. Your grandkids will still be getting royalty statements from Hydra saying, "Nope, haven't made up those costs yet."
This reminds me of the electronic "imprints" set up by some of the other big publishers through AuthorHouse, which were clearly meant to be cash cows for the sponsoring publishers. It looks like someone at Random House figured they could rip off writers just as well on their own, without having to hire another company to do it. Eliminate the middle-man and make more money, right? And hey, some bright RH executive thought of taking the rights for the duration of copyright, which even AuthorHouse, as horrible as its rep might be, doesn't do. Go you, Random House! Way to be eviller than a notoriously deceptive vanity press!
Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, SFWA has issued a statement declaring that Hydra is not a qualifying market. [cough]