Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is This Ethical?

A well-known publisher of public relations information that includes a monthly magazine is requesting submissions for a book on nonprofit communications. Contributors will not be paid for submissions, which will average 1,000 words and must not have appeared anywhere else. And yet, the book will probably sell for the same price as this company's other books: $399. That's right. $399.

Some publishing model, eh? Gather up the free content, format it, print it, and sell it at a price that is 16 times the cover price of a "traditional" book like mine, Publicity for Nonprofits. I don't take issue with the price -- if they can get it from a nonprofit, more power to them. But selling it for that much and not paying contributors a cent for their submissions? That's offensive.

But is it unethical? It is by my standards, but is it unethical by the standards of others, especially those targeted by the publisher? I realize that people won't know how this publisher does business, but if they did, would they think it's wrong? Do you think it's wrong? In my opinion, if you're going to sell a book for $399, the least you can do is pay your contributors a token amount for their intellectual capital -- even $100 each would help eliminate the greedy image I now have of this publisher.

And how ironic is that: A company that makes its living helping companies shape, control, and manage their images is acquiring an image for being greedy. Nice.

So what's your opinion? Is this approach ethical?


Marcia Layton Turner said...

I'm not sure their actions fall into the category of being unethical, since they're being honest about how they'll use submissions provided, but it certainly is greedy. I hope no PR professional is willing to spend their time writing a 1,000 submission, for which they will receive $0!

Chris Forbes said...

I had an experience of similar nature from a well-known social media marketer. I decided not to submit the material.

I think it is unethical if the writers are not aware of the how the material will be distributed and if the publisher wants to own the rights to the content entirely.

At the very least, it lacks class.

Jonathan Bernstein said...

I think they're gonna get what they're paying for! It's not so much unethical as bad business. For their series on Crisis Communications I allowed the publisher -- PR News, by the way -- to reprint one of my articles. I wouldn't have agreed to write one on "spec," my time's too important for the relatively low amount of marketing value I'd get being included in a vastly overpriced publication. In fact, I wrote a review of the "Crisis Communications" volume 3 in my ezine, to include printing what PR News editor Diane Schwartz had to say about a price that was, in my opinion, at least 4x too high. She said:

"We compare our guidebooks to PR counsel where the hourly rate far exceeds our "rate" for providing a wide range of expert opinion on the topic. If you compare our guidebook to a book you'd find in Barnes & Noble, then it is true that this guidebook (is) more expensive."

If she can't tell the difference between a collection of articles and PR counseling, then she has no business doing what she does.

Jonathan Bernstein
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.

Joan Price said...

As an author, I consider it unethical.

It's not as unethical as stealing the work without asking or putting their own name on someone else's work (both of which have happened to me), but in my mind, ethics includes respect and doing business with a high standard of integrity. This is just plain sleazy.

Sandra Beckwith said...

These comments echo my feelings and Joan summarizes it well. I don't feel like I'm being "ethical" if I don't treat others the way I want to be treated, and that's why this seems so wrong to me. Thanks for sharing your views!