Most of this is from my blog, but I wanted your opinion on the ethics of such a thing. Some things are my comments on the idea, obviously.
This past weekend, my mother and I stopped by Barnes & noble. Mom wanted another book by her favorite author. I was looking for Ann Rassios's Godquake, which they didn't have. At the checkout counter, Mom asked the checker how a new author goes about getting noticed: we had just spent over an hour looking through the sci-fi/fantasy section and I was less than chipper.
The clerk talked about book signings, advance copies, and such, and then handed Mom a slick flyer with the announcement "Get published now" blazoned across the front. She passed it onto me; I glanced at the iUniverse label at the bottom and resisted blurting out, "This is a vanity publisher or something. This isn't my idea of publishing." (At this point, I'm sure someone will come out the woodwork announcing that THEY published through a vanity publisher and everything is peachy, but hey.) I didn't want to cause a scene--I'm not good at real life scenes, only fictional ones.
On the inside of the brochure, a double spread says that , "Barnes and Noble is opening its doors to the very best iUniverse authors." Open it again and there are testimonials from Natasha Munson, Sharon Boorstin and Gary Marino along with the steps needed to publish your book now. (tempting so far, isn't it?)
Step one: Publish your book for an introductory rate of only $999 Now, I can't be certain, but I pretty sure that I haven't spent $1000 worth of paper, stamps or time on sending queries yet, so I'll stick to what I'm doing.
Step two: When you earn Publisher's Choice, iUniverse will present your book and marketing plan to the appropriate B&N buyer. So how is this better than getting an agent, getting an editor and having the publishing house market it to the best B&N buyer? I was watching publishers very carefully in the store, and I didn't see iUniverse on anything
Step three: You book will appear on the Trade Paperback New Release table in the high traffic area at the front of B&N for a minimum of 60 days. Appear, like magic,huh? Good thing I write fantasy.
The rest is up to you the brochure proclaims.
The only thing left is the small print on the back. Publishing packages range from $299 to $1099. Some include cover design, or even a cover design evaluation and a "tune-up" of the promotional text on the back cover. "A great choice for authors who want their book to be a serious contender in today's competitive publishing environment."
They also offer editorial services "at an affordable price" and claim to "offer the most comprehensive range of marketing and publicity products available from any publishing services provider."
I need to go lie down. I'm feeling faint. It could have been the nachos, but I doubt it.
This is not unethical. iUniverse paid BN to hand out those brochures. In fact, the staff person at BN might actually think s/he is doing the customers a favor by giving them this info. You surely have noticed a few other areas where ad copy might be a tad suspect (Are you reading this by the memoir section? or by the diet book section? or by the "Get Rich in 30 Days without Breaking a Nail section?")
Snake oil salespeople are the second oldest profession. iUniverse and Barnes and Noble only count dollars on their bottom line. They don't get points for helping people, or worse, giving most people the very very discouraging news that probably they are never good enough to be commercially published. Why would they? It doesn't increase their bottom line.
However, just because this isn't unethical doesn't make it a practice I would want to support. Depending on how far you want to go with this, you can give the community relations person at the local BN a call or write her a letter and say "yanno, this really is a scam cause paying someone to get published is called vanity publishing, not trade publishing and making people think that's all they have to do to get into BN is a corporate policy I'm not very comfy supporting with my dollars". Then have your other local writer friends do the same.
Then shop at the indie store.
If you don't have one, shop at Powells.com.
You'd be surprised what voting with your dollars can do to a corporation that only values the bottom line.