In my recent blog post on Pearson’s acquisition of self-publishing giant Author Solutions Inc., I posed several questions that I hope Pearson will consider as it integrates ASI with Penguin Group. One of these was whether ASI will start being more transparent in its advertising and PR. I’d like to go a little bit more into detail on what I mean.
Take ASI’s affiliate programs, which pay a $100 referral fee for each individual the affiliate sends ASI’s way. There are innumerable such programs online (some of them amounting to little more than pyramid schemes) so ASI is not unique in this regard. Still, these programs are an open invitation to deceptive use by others (as, for instance, may have happened in this case).
Then there are the two so-called whitepapers ASI has issued to further its misleading claim that it is an “independent publisher” at the forefront of a publishing revolution. These documents are filled with inaccuracies about the publishing industry, and paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the benefits of ASI’s business model. I won’t debunk them here because I’ve already done so, in previous blog posts.
Far more misleading are the websites ASI maintains to steer writers toward its services without realizing they’re being steered. ChooseYourPublisher.com (Your Book is Your Passion ), FindYourPublisher.com (Your Search is Over), and FindYourPublisher.co.uk (a duplicate) look like independent websites, but the questions they ask (Is your book ready for publication? How much are you willing to spend?) all lead to recommendations for ASI brands. If you scroll down to the bottom of these websites, you’ll see “Powered by Author Solutions Inc.” in tiny print–but who scrolls down to the bottom to check the tiny print? I’ve heard from numerous writers who believed these websites were objective resources, and assumed that the “recommendations” they received were genuine.
Then there’s Poetry-Publishers.com (Enjoy a 100% Hassle-Free Poetry Publishing Experience You’ll Love), Childrens-Book-Publishing.com (Your FREE Children’s Book Publishing Consultation), and E-BooksPublishing.com (E-book Publication is a Right Not a Privilege), all of which appear to offer independent consultations, but all of which will result in a call or email from Author Solutions. Again, you can find “Powered by Author Solutions” or “Powered by Xlibris” somewhere on these websites, but it’s pretty inconspicuous and most people will likely miss it.
Most fake of all, though, has to be the scheme just exposed by Emily Suess, a relentless critic of ASI. Checking new followers on Google+, she noticed that one of them, a Jared Silverstone, hailed from Bloomington, Indiana, home of ASI. Clicking through to his profile, she discovered that he did indeed work for ASI, as one of their “Publishing Consultants” (the people who give you the hard sell over the phone). But then she noticed something else.
Aside from the fact that he’s posted only a handful of ASI-centric posts since March 2012, Jared looks just a little too hipster to be hipster, doesn’t he?
That’s because—surprise!—Jared Silverstone isn’t real. Click through a few pages of istockphoto.com search results for “mustache,” and you’ll find our precious Jared, sans the green filter makeover and the slightly off center crop job. Before Author Solutions paid for his likeness, Jared looked a little something like (okay, maybe EXACTLY like) the watermarked guy on the right.
That’s right. “Jared”–who also has Twitter and Facebook accounts–is fake person created to promote ASI. Or–and I think this may be more likely–ASI just doesn’t want us to know that his accounts are being maintained by some staffer in the Philippines.
(I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but Fake Jared Silverstone is eerily reminiscent of the trolls that have been stalking Writer Beware and other anti-scam activists for the past year and a half. Remember Fake Miriam Silverstein of The Write Agenda–she of the faux Facebook account and stock photo? And her sidekick, Fake Jared Goldstein? And their pal, Fake Jonna Silverman? Even the names are similar. Weird.)
In closing, I can’t say it better than Emily:
This is shitty, hack PR. And not only does this kind of sideways promotion not sit right with real consumers who demand honesty and transparency in business and in social media, but it makes all Author Solutions employees look bad (again). It also makes the company’s new parents, Pearson and Penguin, look bad (again).
GalleyCat has also picked up the Fake Jared story, and added some info of its own.