Babelcube is a platform that matches publishers and self-publishing authors with freelance translators to produce foreign-language versions of their books. Authors and publishers can post descriptions of their books for translators to bid on; the author can then select the offer they prefer. Translators can peruse book descriptions and bid on books they’re interested in. Payment for both author and translator is a revenue share of sales income, with Babelcube taking an administrative fee of 20%.
I’ve long been a bit skeptical of Babelcube. Book translation is much more than simply rendering words in a different language; both skill and artistry are needed to capture the author’s voice and style. Running the text through Google Translate or another translation program won’t do that, even with some by-hand tweaking. Also, authors are able to cancel projects if they don’t like the quality of the translation–but how do you vet quality in a language you don’t speak?
I don’t doubt there are honest translators at Babelcube, and satisfied authors too. But the potentially very low pay (revenue-share arrangements are always highly speculative) would seem to attract a lot of non-professionals, with all the quality issues that implies–not to mention the potential for scammers looking to make money with a large volume of quick, shoddy translations. (One example, shared with me by a translator: an English-language book whose title included the word “rake”–as in philanderer–and was translated into Italian using the word for the garden tool.)
More recently, I’ve been hearing from both authors and translators who report several issues: royalties not paid on time (some authors told me they’ve been waiting for months), royalty reports and tax documents not received, rights not reverted as requested, and no response from Babelcube to questions about these problems.
It’s not a huge volume of complaints, especially compared with what a large platform Babelcube is; but it does suggest that caution is in order. See also this article from a translator on the risks of working with Babelcube.
Barnes & Noble Book Order Scams
There are two of these going around.
The first is a continuation of this scam, which is impersonating several different bookstores. Authors receive a solicitation informing them that B&N wants to stock 3,000 copies of their book. B&N will “shoulder for” printing and production costs; all the author has to do is pay $1,000 for “shipping and handling for the distribution”.
The scammer claims this arrangement is “the most common term bookstores around the world are following”, which of course is completely false. Bookstore orders are transactions between bookstores and publishers; there is never a cost to the author. Nor do bookstores fund the production of the books they stock, or pay royalties. Both are the publisher’s job.
The second B&N order scam is courtesy of the generically-named Book Publishing Company, whose website ticks most of the boxes of a ghostwriting scam. Authors who engage the services of the Book Publishing Company quickly receive an email announcing AMAZING NEWS: Barnes & Noble has sent a “letter of acceptance”! Here’s the (extremely fake) letter:
Once again, not how book ordering works: authors aren’t involved in these transactions, nor do bookstores set royalty rates. Nor do bookstores (reputable ones, at any rate; there are other kinds) charge “shelf space rent”.
Note that no fees are mentioned. Instead, the author is directed to contact Book Publishing Company, aka the scammer, to “consent” to the order. When they do, they’re informed that this incredible opportunity will cost them $4,500–a substantial chunk of change, sure, but a mere trifle compared to the $25,500 they’ll make on 1,500 sales!
I haven’t heard (yet) from any authors who’ve fallen for either of these scams–just from writers who encountered them and were suspicious enough to check with me. But I would guess that authors who pay never hear from the scammers again.
Audiobook Order Scam (Featuring a Fake Non-Profit)
Its latest gambit: an audiobook order scam.
The author is contacted by one of 20/Twenty’s imaginary agents with an offer to re-publish the author’s book–for a fee, naturally. Shortly afterward…surprise! The author gets a call from a Jennifer Lim, who claims to represent a society for the blind. Jennifer wants to order 5,000 audiobooks to be distributed to the society’s members! Naturally, 20/Twenty can oblige. The cost is steep–but oh, those royalties!
Yes, it’s a total ripoff. But that’s just the start.
See the reference to BVI? That’s the initials of the society for the blind on whose behalf Jennifer Lim placed the order: the Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Would a real non-profit organization contact an unknown author out of the blue to order thousands of audiobooks that the author didn’t even have? Seems a bit improbable. BVI’s website looks legit enough–at least, to a casual inspection, but you know I never give anything potentially scam-related a casual inspection. Closer scrutiny reveals some oddities: getting the foundation’s name wrong in a couple of places, a November 2022 domain registration that doesn’t match BVI’s claim to have been founded a decade ago, and a Baltimore address that’s the same as that of a different organization for visually impaired people, the National Federation of the Blind.
What’s the likelihood of two major non-profits serving the same constituency cohabiting in the same space? I would say small.
So I did some content comparisons. Sure enough, almost the entirety of the BVI website has been plagiarized from NFB’s. There’s been a lot of re-wording, but it’s recognizably the same content. From NFB and BVI home pages:
Their eerily matching Advocacy pages:
I could go on…and on…but you get the picture. The “Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired” is a fake–nothing more, apparently, than an adjunct to an audiobook order scam.
It kind of astonishes me that the 20/Twenty people went to this much trouble–it’s not the first time scammers have created fake organizations that mimic real ones to fool their victims, but BVI is definitely the most elaborate (and certainly the most cynical).
I contacted the NFB to let them know about this theft of their content and mission. As usually happens when I try to alert people or groups that they’re being impersonated or otherwise targeted, I got no response.