Kleptocracy Comes to Publishing: the All Romance eBooks Swindle

Last night I was busy attempting to meet an upcoming deadline (and, okay, procrastinating off social media), so I learned the bad news a little bit late.

All Romance eBooks is closing after a decade in business. They claim that, since they’ve posted a loss for the first time ever in 2016, they can’t afford to stay open – or pay royalties to authors and commissions to publishers for all the orders they’ve already received in the fourth quarter.

Yes, they’ve decided they’re just not going to pay people. And they’ve decided this after all the money was already in their accounts.

They’re also closing much too fast to allow all their customers time to back up their libraries – or download the books in the first place, if they haven’t already. I checked my own ARe library and everything in it apparently disappeared between 8 and 9 this evening US Eastern time. Fortunately, I think I have it all, though I’m not sure about a few things I haven’t been able to find in my poorly organized electronic storage. Sadly, a lot of people aren’t as lucky.

Furthermore, they were soliciting 2017 ads just last week, for prices ranging from $50 to $2000.

ARe made the insulting offer to authors and publishers of ten cents on the dollar for fourth-quarter royalties and commissions through December 27, and nothing for purchases after that and before the 31st. Authors who publish with ARe itself are being given a nasty choice: forfeit Q4 royalties entirely and get their rights back, or end up with their intellectual property tied up in a long, slow bankruptcy case.

Celina Summers at Blogcritics has the full story, in detail – including how Lori James, owner of ARe, maintains two (likely expensive) California residences, one in San Diego and one in a resort town. Courtney Milan and Sara Ramsey have observed on this Twitter thread how suspicious and out of step with normal business practices the sudden closure is – and Donna J. Herren (half of the Kit Rocha duo) noted that it’s consistent with someone “borrowing” company funds and ending up unable to pay them back, which is a common way for embezzlement to start. Probably Lori James herself is absconding with the money.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before – recently, in the case of Ellora’s Cave and its owner’s failure to pay authors royalties they were owed. Tina Engler, owner of Ellora’s Cave, then went on to sue Dear Author blogger Jane Litte for libel over the article linked above, and posted photo after photo of the luxurious things she’d bought with money stolen from authors and of herself giving the finger to anyone who dared criticize her. There are plenty of other cases of publishers and other businesses cheating authors – that’s just the first one that came to mind.

But most striking to me is the resemblance to how far too many executives and owners act in the greater business world: stick everyone else with the bill and run away with the cash. It’s done on a small scale; I grew up in western Massachusetts, where in 2007 the employees of 13 Wendy’s fast-food restaurants showed up to work one day to find the doors locked and themselves unpaid. It’s done on a vast scale; since the 1990s, many companies have been doing this with employees’ pensions – converting them into company profits or even funneling money straight to executives.

(Don’t even get me started on the widespread problem of wage theft encouraged by the low likelihood that companies that cheat workers will face any consequences. I’ve personally experienced it at some of my day jobs, and I’m a US-born white person with an upper-middle-class background and a college degree; it’s far worse for people who lack my privilege and citizen status. The Salon article I just linked specifically mentions that many businesses close in order to avoid paying – they hide and move their assets and disappear. This may also be what’s going on in ARe’s case.)

Most notably, we’re going to end up with someone who operates this way in the White House. Donald Trump has stiffed contractor after contractor for decades. He’s failed to pay glass and carpet companies, many painters, waiters, and bartenders, and even law firms that have defended him from the resulting lawsuits.

(See also this disturbing little piece on how little incentive there is in US law NOT to stiff contractors. Basically, a business owner who’s never going to deal with a particular supplier again – or who’s closing up shop – has nothing stopping them but conscience and concern for their reputation. Obviously neither Trump nor Lori James possesses either.)

The election has confirmed this and demonstrated it for the world, just as it’s confirmed a lot of other horrible things: you can and will get rich cheating people less powerful than yourself, and you’ll get away with it. Just look at where it got Trump!

Most of us have heard the old joke:

Q: Where does the 800-pound gorilla sit at the movie theater?

A: Anywhere it wants to!

Business owners like Trump and Lori James are the 800-pound gorillas. They’re well aware that they can sit wherever they want to, shoving anyone they like out of their way, and they’ll probably never suffer any consequences. Authors, small presses, just plain readers – we’re the little people, and who the hell cares about people who aren’t Very Important?

(One last note: Lori James writes as Samantha Sommersby and SJ Parker. DON’T BUY HER BOOKS.)

 

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