Borders Security Breach and Book Country

Borders is once more in the news, this time because of a security breach that revealed the names and email addresses of some of their reward program customers.  Somehow, a marketing company created a searchable database that included information from the reward program.  Hopefully, Borders is right and “only” 150 or so customers were affected by this breach.  However, with their track record, I’m not sure I’m confident more customers weren’t exposed.  I guess what really concerns me is the fact that the first I heard of this was from this link, not from Borders itself.  As a reward customer, I’d expect the company to let me know of any possible exposure of my private data.  So far, I’ve seen nothing in my inbox from them– except, of course, for ads.

The same article by the Detroit News also notes that Borders needs an additional $50 million in financing to keep operating because some of its suppliers are demanding payment before delivery.  Without the additional funding, it only has enough capital to operate for another few months.  This from the company that keeps saying it plans to exit bankruptcy by August, even though it has yet to file an operating plan with the bankruptcy court.

I really do hope they can turn the company around and make a go of it.  But, unfortunately, I’m not seeing any real indication that they will be able to.  Hopefully, I’m wrong.

The big news in the publishing world came with the announcement that Penguin has a new venture — Book Country.  On the surface, this looks like a potentially very good thing for genre writers.  It is being billed as an online community where authors can post some or all of their work and get feed back.  In order to get feedback, you also have to give feedback.

I don’t have any real problem with that part of it.  That is pretty much standard for most legitimate online crit groups.  It’s also fair.  If an author wants critiques of his work, he should have to critique the work of others in the group in return.  No biggie and no surprise.

I even like the genre map.  I don’t love it simply because it is incomplete and I don’t necessarily agree with the placement of some of the genres.  But, as a visual aid, it is a good tool to help refine in your own mind where you own work falls.  I know that sometimes I have a hard time, especially when starting a new story or novel, figuring out exactly how to classify it.

However, I do have several concerns about this new venture.  The first is an old concern.  There are publishers who feel that posting a work-in-progress to a blog or even an online critique group constitutes publication.  It doesn’t matter how much of it you do.  Other publishers feel that if you post more than 1/4 – 1/3 of your work online to a group, that is publication.  The fact that Book Country will show up to 5,000 words (iirc) of any title posted without the reader having to register can cause trouble.  Are there procedures in place that might mitigate this concern?  Sure…but it is still a concern and something every author should keep in mind.

This is when I remind you that editors and agents do google authors’ names and titles when a submission comes across their desks.  I guarantee you, Book Country will be joined and checked as well.  So bear that in mind.

There was a time not too long ago when Harlequin was smacked, and smacked hard, by authors and professional groups alike for offering what was seen as a vanity press option for those unable to get their foot in the door at HQ.  Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America even delisted HQ for a time.  That vanity press option evolved into Carina Press.

So, when I read that Book Country “will offer a suite of self-publishing services that will offer e-book and print publication for a fee.,” my alarm bells went off.  Penguin, in the guise of Book Country, will let the author pay them to publish digitally or in print their book.  Stop right there.  The money should flow to the author, not away from him.  You can already publish your e-books for free at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, just to name a few.  Using Smashwords alone, if you invest in an ISBN and meet a few minimal requirements, you can be listed in more than half a dozen major e-book retailer sites.  Other than the $10 or so that the ISBN costs, you have as much exposure as you need — if you are willing to bust your butt on promotion.

For print books, CreateSpace works with and through Amazon to allow authors and small publishers to put out dead tree versions of their books — again, only for the cost of the ISBN.  Okay, for wider distribution, you can pay an additional $40.  But again, that is minimal.

According to the Publishers Weekly article, “Book Country offers writers a place to upload new works and receive feedback and criticism from a community of writers and readers; a place for agents and editors to look for new talent”.  (I have to say right now, I don’t know many agents or editors who have enough free time to spend it going through sites like this looking for “new talent”.)  Now contrast the above with this statement from Book Country’s Terms of UseYou understand that this Website is not an official or unofficial channel for the submission of unsolicited manuscripts for publishing consideration by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Not quite the same thing, is it?

But keep reading the terms of use.  Now, boilerplate is just that, boilerplate.  Its sole purpose is to protect the person or entity offering it.  But some are more imaginative than others.  Some aren’t as blatant as others either when it comes to calling attention to the so-called limitation of liability.  But not Penguin.  Oh no…they call your attention to it by putting that entire paragraph in all caps.  And, what it all boils down to is they don’t warrant or promise anything…you may receive emails from them loaded with viruses — too bad.  Basically, you aren’t happy or you don’t like the services or anything else that might happen, well, all you can do is stop using the site.

I hope Penguin decides to simply leave Book Country as an online community when it comes out of beta testing.  I’m all for anything that helps writers network with one another, especially genre writers.  But I do have concerns if they offer the pay to publish bit because, folks, that sounds an awful lot like vanity publishing to me.  Only time will tell…well, time and a full disclosure of their terms for the publishing end of the community.

–Amanda

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Borders Security Breach and Book Country

  1. Now that I can reveal that I was a part of the private beta, I can say that Book Country is a very interesting and helpful place to network with other writers. I have made sure only to post the first chapter or two of each of my pieces and definitely not in their final forms, but it has been nice to get other peoples impressions. I was skeptical at first that there would just be divas looking to tear down other writers (and there are one or two) but for the most part it’s been a very supportive community. While the feedback on work is great, the best part is probably the forum section where writers can talk about different problems their having and get help on everything from plotting problems to query critiques.

    They didn’t ever mention any sort of self-publishing in any of the info to the betas, so I can’t really comment on that, but it would seem to sort of negate the site (at least to me).

    • Taylor, that’s another issue I have. I’ve read posts from other betas in the program who are now scratching their heads and saying they’d never heard a word about the publishing aspect of it either. If this has been part of the plan all along, why not let the betas know? Wouldn’t it be an enticement? Or did Penguin realize how controversial it would be and was afraid the cat would be let out of the bag before they were ready?

      • Being optimistic, I would say it is probably a recent development. I’ve been a beta for nearly two months now, so it could have been added in since then. It sounds more like a long-term idea rather than a right now idea. There are still some obvious kinks to the system that have to be worked out before the site is officially live this summer. If they do go through with it, I probably won’t participate in the site anymore, because there are several people on the site who don’t know enough about publishing not to be drawn in by the ability to self-publish and I’m sure they know that. It’s one thing to help new writers figure out the business, it’s another to take advantage of them.

  2. Oh! And there is going to be a Q&A session on Twitter today at 4 est with Colleen Lindsey and Danille Poiesz who have been the faces of Book Country on twitter. Hastag #bookcountry. They’ll be answering general questions about the site.

  3. I’ll try to be on for the QA session. As for the self-publishing bit, if that was what it was, I’d just say they are following the trend, although it does seem counter-productive for a publishing house to facilitate self-publishing. No, it’s the you pay us for the privilege of publishing your work that gets me. And, while it might be a recent development, I doubt it. This is more than likely something they just didn’t put out there for fear that the news of it might break before they were ready for it to. But then, I’m a cynic ;-)

  4. Colleen Lindsay

    Just to clarify -

    All the private beta users were sent an email that clearly explained what Book Country is, and that it would offer self-publishing services in the future. They had to read this document to get the instructions for choosing their Display Names on the website, which we had to set up for them. It’s possible that some of them didn’t read the email as carefully as others did, but we absolutely were up front about everything when we asked them to be beta users.

    Best,

    Colleen Lindsay
    Book Country Community Manager

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