In a super-crowded, hyper-competitive marketplace, one of the main challenges for book authors is to stand out. And where there’s a need, there are always unscrupulous operators waiting to take advantage. The internet is awash in worthless schemes and outright scams designed to profit from authors’ hunger for publicity and exposure.
I’ve written about a number of these–Hollywood book-to-screen packages, the hugely marked-up PR options offered by Author Solutions, the plague of marketing scams originating in the Philippines. Others to watch out for include book fair display packages (publishing industry expert Jane Friedman has a good article on why these are not worth your money), pay-to-play book review services, and what I’m going to talk about in this post: vanity radio.
What’s vanity radio? In the “writer beware” context, it’s radio air time that you, the program guest, have to pay for. Such schemes have been around forever in various forms, aimed at experts and creatives of all kinds, from services that explicitly sell pay-to-play interviews, to show hosts that charge interview fees to defray the fees they themselves have to pay their platforms.
The main selling point is the promise that your interview will be heard by a large and eager audience, giving wide exposure to you and your book (see the pitches that I’ve pasted in below). But vanity radio is primarily online radio, delivered via platforms like Blog Talk Radio and Spreaker, and streaming services like Apple Music, iHeart Radio, and SoundCloud. Online radio listenership is steadily rising, but unless there are subscriber lists (as on YouTube, for instance), there’s usually no way to determine the audience for any given host or show–or to authenticate any listenership claims the show may make. Lots of people may be tuning in…or no one at all.
As a result, the only verifiable benefit authors may receive for their money is an audio or audio-and-video clip that they can post to their websites and social media accounts. Whether that’s worth it when it costs $99 or $150 or $200 is debatable enough. But when the price tag is four figures?
As always in the realm of junk marketing aimed at writers, Author Solutions has been both the pioneer and the primary practitioner. All its imprints sell vanity radio in some form: here’s AuthorHouse’s offering, for instance (just $1,099!). iUniverse’s is identical. Xlibris and Trafford currently sell teasers rather than interviews (for significantly more money), but through 2017 they too hawked interviews.
Recently, however, AS’s leadership in the realm of predatory marketing services has been challenged by a flood of scammy imitators. These copycat ripoff factories have adopted vanity radio in a big way, and they aggressively hawk it to authors, both on its own and as part of costly publishing and marketing packages. Here, for instance, is an offer from Book Vine Press (cost: $1,500):
From Author Reputation Press (cost: £1,500):
From Parchment Global Publishing (cost: $1,499):
For comparison, the interview price Al Cole lists on his own website is $599. You can see the upcharging that’s going on here.
The copycats re-sell the services of a number of show hosts (there’s a list below), but the three personalities noted above–Kate Delaney with America Tonight Radio, Ric Bratton with This Week in America, and Al Cole with People of Distinction–make the most frequent appearances on the copycats’ websites and in their email solicitations. Delaney and Bratton have substantial, legit resumes in TV and radio (although a theft conviction cost Bratton his long-running TV show in 2003). Cole is a bit harder to research, but he too seems to have a sizeable track record as a talk show host.
What, if anything, do they know of the reputation and tactics of the copycats that are re-selling their services? I contacted all three for comment last week. Cole’s assistant responded in email that “Al Cole knew nothing about this….Our office will certainly look into this.” As of this writing, I haven’t heard back from Delaney or Bratton.
Given that the copycats routinely charge an enormous markup on products they re-sell (see, for instance, this warning from the Combined Book Exhibit, whose book fair exhibit packages many of the copycats re-sell for hugely inflated prices; the copycats also seriously jack up the fees for paid book reviews such as Kirkus Indie and BlueInk Reviews), it seems a fair bet that the interviews’ hefty price tags are substantially inflated as well.
Apart from the question of such interviews’ value for book promotion, that seems like reason enough to avoid them.
Author Solutions copycats that sell interviews from the individuals mentioned above:
BookVenture, ReadersMagnet, Maple Leaf Publishing, Parchment Global Publishing, Rustic Haws, Branding Nemo, Creative Titles Media, Paradigm Print, Stampa Global, Books Scribe, Matchstick Literary, PageTurner Press, Optage Publishing, EC Publishing, WestPoint Print and Media: Ric Bratton
BookTrail Agency: David Serero
UPDATE 1/9/19: Parchment Global has added the disclaimer in red to its solicitations for Al Cole interviews (it might want to do some proofreading):
I don’t know if this was at Mr. Cole’s behest (remember, he’s the only vanity radio host who responded–if not very expansively–to my request for comment) or is just CYA by Parchment Global itself, but hey–it lets me know that the scammers are still reading my blog.
Do I believe Parchment Global has stopped taking a cut? What do you think?
Also note the admission that Cole’s People of Distinction show is adjacent to, rather than on, CBS Radio: Cole’s show is broadcast on Apple Music (Apple’s iTunes Radio shuttered in 2016), which also carries CBS Radio and others. Not quite the same thing.
UPDATE 3/9/21: This post seems to have struck a particular nerve with the scamsters. Here’s a comment one of them left:
At least it’s a change from accusing me of running my own publishing company.
UPDATE 9/22/22: In the time since I wrote this post, the hosts named above are being sold on even more scam platforms, and other radio/TV hosts have been added, including Bishop OC Pringle (Inkstart Media, Clever Publication, and BookTrail Agency) and Dr. Larry Carnes (Authors Tranquility Press, Writers Branding).
Most if not all of the Al Cole interviews now appear to be conducted by his son, Benji Cole. Solicitations for the Cole interviews tout a supposed relationship with Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive Global Network”–however, Huffington’s Thrive Global is a healthcare platform, not a on- or offline broadcast network.