Founded in 2004, Dog Ear Publishing is part of the surge of Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing companies–many of them now defunct–that entered the market in the early aughts.
Headquartered, like AS, in Indiana, Dog Ear presents itself–with more than a smidge of exaggeration–as “The best of traditional publishing, re-imagined for the modern author”. Its publishing and marketing packages are typical for this type of company, and while they’re not among the most expensive, they aren’t cheap, either.
Unlike the various Author Solutions imprints, Writer Beware never received any complaints about Dog Ear, which appears to have been reasonably trouble-free for most of its existence.
Not so now.
The Watchdog Desk has received multiple reports of problems at Dog Ear Publishing, an Indianapolis-based self-publishing service. After careful investigation, in our opinion there is indeed cause for concern.
We have heard from several authors who allege they have been waiting months for payments on royalties due. Emails and phone calls to the company reportedly go unanswered. In at least two of these cases, the authors sent legal notices via certified mail, demanding immediate payment of overdue royalties and an accurate accounting of sales.
Although receipt of the demands was confirmed by the U.S. Post Office, Dog Ear Publishing has so far failed to respond.
A large number of similar complaints appear at the Better Business Bureau, which revoked Dog Ear’s accreditation in March due to its failure to respond to or resolve the complaints. Other complaints can be found on Yelp, which is not typically a forum for reports about publishing services; and on Complaints Board–where they go back to 2009.
Now the Indianapolis Star has published a detailed story on trouble at Dog Ear, entitled “Dog Ear Publishing Faces Claims It Owes Authors Thousands.”
Actor Michael Kostroff self-published his book Audition Psych 101 in 2017 with Indianapolis-based Dog Ear Publishing.
Kostroff, who played roles on The Wire as well as Law and Order: SVU, said he was happy with the production process and the book sold well.
Then it came time to give the author royalty payments – something Kostroff and nine other authors interviewed by IndyStar allege the company has not done on time, in full or, in some cases, at all for about the past 12 to 18 months.
IndyStar reports that its attempts to contact Dog Ear’s owners have gone unanswered, apart from a vague comment by one of the company’s owners, Ray Robinson:
“We do seem to have crossed a threshold where the challenges have reached a critical mass,” [Robinson] wrote. “The industry has seen this with most self publishers when they accumulate more than about 10,000 authors.”
(It is highly unlikely that Dog Ear has or ever had that number of authors. According to reports by Bowker, it issued a total of 4,926 titles between 2008 and 2017; the most titles it has ever published in a single year is 662 [in 2014], and the least is 282 [in 2008]. Assuming that numbers for 2004-2007 are similar to 2008, and also assuming that every author who ever published with Dog Ear is still publishing with Dog Ear–which obviously is not at all probable–the total clearly doesn’t come anywhere near 10,000.)
Non-response appears to be a pattern for the company. Authors interviewed by IndyStar say they’ve received no or vague answers to their questions and requests for payment, and according to the article, Dog Ear’s owners, Ray Robinson and Alan Harris, have failed to show up in court for multiple lawsuits brought against the company, both by authors trying to get paid and by one of Dog Ear’s founders, Miles Nelson, who left the company in 2016 but alleges he was never compensated for his share of the business. Another recent lawsuit, by Dog Ear’s former leasing company, drew an appearance by Robinson but not by Harris, who was slapped with a $19,000 default judgment.
IndyStar details authors’ speculation that Dog Ear may file for bankruptcy, either to re-organize or to liquidate and pay off creditors. I suspect, though, that this isn’t terribly likely, especially if few assets remain; and in any case, authors are not well-served even when there are specific provisions for bankruptcy in their contracts. A group of authors is hoping to gather enough plaintiffs to launch a class action suit–but even if assets can be found, the cost of litigation could easily exceed them; and if (as is probably much more likely) there are few or no assets, a class action is pointless.
Authors have contacted the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General, where there are 19 open complaints. According to IndyStar, the AG is investigating, although the official quoted by IndyStar doesn’t sound too keen:
Betsy DeNardi, director and chief counsel of consumer protection with the office, said if a company doesn’t respond to inquiries, a complaint case is usually closed. This happened with a case against Dog Ear in fall 2018, though 19 others remain open.
Some cases do result in litigation, if there seems to have been a violation of consumer protection laws. DeNardi said she did not know of any recent legal cases handled by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office against a self-publishing company.
(In fact, there have been at least two. In May of 2008, the Indiana Attorney General filed suit against Airleaf LLC, an assisted self-publishing company founded by an Author Solutions alumnus, for, among other things, violating Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The suit resulted in a Consent Judgment that did not include significant restitution, but did ultimately drive Airleaf out of business. And in October 2010, the AG filed suit against New Century Publishing, an Indiana-based “publisher” that charged enormous fees, also for violations of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, resulting in a default judgment ordering restitution of $81,875.15 to 43 authors. Amazingly, the AG had sued New Century’s owner, David Caswell, twice before for different frauds; each suit resulted in a monetary judgment, but somehow Caswell managed never to pay.)
So is the end near for Dog Ear Publishing? The signs certainly don’t look good. Ultimately, it may never be possible to know exactly what went wrong–but I’m guessing that at least some part was played by the general decline of the Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing business in recent years, under pressure from lower-cost and more straightforward DIY self-publishing platforms like Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and others.
Author Solutions itself has been dwindling for a while: per the Bowker reports referenced above, its title roster for 2017 was less than half of what it was at its high point in 2011. Output for Outskirts Press, another of the early assisted self-pub companies, peaked in 2013 and has dropped by 21% since then. Wheatmark’s titles are down 77% from its 2008 pinnacle, and Xulon Press hit its highest numbers in 2013 but by 2017 had seen a drop of 39%. As for Dog Ear, after a 2014 high point of 662 titles, output fell year by year through 2018, when, according to Amazon, it issued just 378 books–a decline of 43%.
Dog Ear’s website is still open for business, and its Facebook page is active (though its Twitter feed looks a bit neglected). It is also still issuing titles, the most recent of which has a pub date of July 2. Writers be warned.
If you’re a Dog Ear author and have not been paid (or have had other problems), you can file an online complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division here. Where litigation has been undertaken against problem publishers or publishing services, it has usually been the result of a large volume of author complaints.
UPDATE 5/29/20: Dog Ear has finally surrendered to the inevitable, and closed its doors. Some Dog Ear authors received this email last week. Note the flimsy excuse to avoid addressing any financial issues:
Thanks to Angela Hoy at WritersWeekly for the tip.
UPDATE 7/30/20: As sometimes happens with shady operators in the publishing space, the collapse of one author-fleecing business just signals the birth of a new one along the same lines.
Dog Ear owner and debtor Ray Robinson has set up a self-publishing services provider called Bookplate Press. There are no names on the website, of course, but the domain registration info tells the tale. Note the date the domain was created; at the time, Dog Ear was still nominally in business. Writer beware, indeed!
UPDATE 8/30/20: Another Watchdog Advisory from John Doppler at the Alliance of Independent Authors, this time about Bookplate Press: “The Watchdog Desk has credible information about multiple law enforcement agencies investigating the conduct of the company, its owner, Raymond C. Robinson, and his son, Christopher Robinson.”
Defrauded Dog Ear authors have set up a Facebook group, Dog Ear Authors Revolt, to share information and support. Any writer who has been a victim of Dog Ear’s unethical practices is welcome to join.
UPDATE 1/14/23: This message was posted in the Dog Ear Authors Revolt Facebook group. I’m posting it here because it may be of help–although I don’t know who this person is and can’t vouch for their authenticity. If you contact them, be cautious.
UPDATE 1/21/23: The Dog Ear website is live again. That actually happened sometime last summer (between the company’s closure in 2020 and mid-2022, the Dog Ear URL re-directed to a Russian gambling website). The current site is almost identical to the old one, with a few key differences, including the removal of the staff photos and bios that used to be featured on the old site. Most important, there’s no contact information, and no way to sign up or log in (in the older version of the site, you had to create an account in order to be able to choose and purchase services). So the site is online, but non-functional, since no one can buy anything from it (fortunately)
It isn’t clear why Dog Ear has re-animated, or who is behind it. Defrauded authors, who have never received the money they were owed or the files they were promised, are pissed.