Until very recently, www.Poetry.com was the Internet home of the infamous International Library of Poetry (ILP), the nation’s premier (and I use that adjective with irony) vanity poetry anthologizer. But in early March, the Poetry.com domain was purchased by self-publishing service Lulu.
Why was the domain for sale? According to Wikipedia, “Publish Today and Noble House Books, the branches of Poetry.com that managed the publishing and printing of their books, have gone out of business.” Wikipedia is never the most reliable resource, but Lulu appears to confirm this report on the new Lulu Poetry website: “Lulu.com, an award winning Internet company, recently purchased the URL ‘www.poetry.com’ from the previous failed business that owned it.”
I covered the vanity anthology scheme recently in a post on brand-new vanity anthologizer Eber & Wein, but briefly, here’s how it works. The anthology company places ads in various high-visibility publications announcing a free poetry contest, with cash prizes for the finalists and guaranteed publication for finalists and semi-finalists. Everyone who submits is declared a semi-finalist, no matter the quality of their poem. The company then hits them up for money: $40 or $50 to buy the anthology, plus, often, substantial fees for “extras”–adding a biography to the anthology, having the poem mounted on a plaque, attending a big bash poetry convention…the list goes on. It’s not exactly a scam, since if you buy something you do receive it–but the anthologies never see the inside of a bookstore (despite the companies’ claims), and because there’s no editorial gatekeeping, they are not regarded as a legitimate publishing credit.
So should we be rejoicing at the demise of a major deceptive scheme that for decades has been relieving inexperienced writers of their cash? Will Lulu use that bad old domain to turn over a new poetic leaf? Or will it be vanity anthology business as usual?
Lulu’s press release claims that it is completely overhauling and rebuilding the domain. Granted, it’s early days, but the new Lulu Poetry website doesn’t so far show much sign of overhauling. It’s got a new template, but otherwise is very similar to the old Poetry.com (courtesy of the Internet Archive), with many of the same categories (Greatest Love Poems, Need Help Rhyming?, Test Your Poetry IQ, etc.) and much of the same content. The 9/11 Poetry sections differ only in the number of posted poems. The Poetic Techniques section of the old website is identical to that of the new–including several articles by Len Roberts, who was Educational Director for the ILP, in charge of its fake poetry association/convention division, the International Society of Poets.
The free contest has changed, however. The annual prize amount has dropped from $10,000 to $5,000, and a daily prize of $25 has been added. And while much of the verbiage of the contest rules remains unchanged from the old website to the new, a community ratings element has been added to the judging, with (unnamed) judges selecting winners “from among the top 10% of poems with the highest daily, monthly and yearly ratings by the community.”
Most significant, Lulu has removed the following language from the contest guidelines: “Additionally, various promotions are conducted from time to time.” This innocuous-sounding sentence covered the ILP’s shilling of anthologies and other products to contest “semifinalists.” And compare the old Poetry.com FAQ, which includes an entire section on anthologies, to the new Lulu version, in which there’s no mention of anthologies at all. A response from a Lulu staff member in the Lulu forums makes this explicit: “For the record, the ‘crap poetry anthologies’ have already ended and we have no interest in starting them again.”
So it would appear that Lulu plans to discontinue the vanity anthology portion of the business (it does offer publishing services to poets–but it’s a self-publishing service, after all, and there’s no linkage to the contests). Nor could I find any evidence that Lulu plans to retain any of the ILP’s associated vanity-style activities–the International Society of Poets convention website, for instance, now defaults to Lulu Poetry.
This is good news–although we shouldn’t get too comfortable. Any gap that might be left by the demise of the ILP will easily be filled by any of the many other vanity anthologizers still in business–or by the new ones, such as Eber & Wein. There’s also the question of whether Lulu can transcend the toxic associations of the notorious URL it has acquired. There’s some bitter discussion of this in the Lulu forums, and Lulu is clearly aware of the problem–a followup article in PW quotes Lulu’s PR Director, Gail Jordan, who notes that “people have been contacting Lulu with questions about its association with Poetry.com’s former incarnation and that the company is ‘trying to be very transparent and be very up-front’ about the difference.” Given the shortness of the public attention span, my guess is that the bad memories will soon fade. But only time will tell.
A final note: though this doesn’t seem to have been officially announced, Whois records indicate that Lulu has also taken ownership of several other domains associated with the ILP: www.Poets.com (the ILP’s social networking website, which remains unchanged); www.Picture.com, a.k.a. the International Library of Photography (the ILP’s vanity photography counterpart, whose website is still active but which is currently closed to contest entries and claims to be “revamping the contest in an attempt to improve the entire system”); and www.ArtsandKids.com (the ILP’s vanity arts contest for kids, which targets educators and is still soliciting entries).