Why is the BBC promoting scam merchants?

Alex Hern covers the questionable business model of Unbound, a company which has got huge amounts of free publicity from Sky and the BBC.

If you watched BBC Breakfast or Sky News this morning, you can’t have missed the promotion of “new” (it actually opened way back in July) website Unbound.

Both channels devoted copious amounts of time to the the company, including an interview with Terry Jones, and a hyped-up explanation of the business model of the company, which bills itself as a new kind of publisher.

Unbound’s statement on its website says:

We think authors and readers should decide which books get published. On the Unbound site, authors pitch their ideas directly to you. If you like what you read, you can pledge your support to help make the book happen.

Everyone who supports an author before they reach 100% of the funding target gets their name printed in every edition of that book.

All levels include a digital version and immediate access to the author’s shed while they write the book, and supporters of projects that don’t reach their target receive a full refund.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve ever used massively popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter it should, since the two have almost identical models – except when you look at the details:

Instead of having a clear fundraising goal (e.g. £20,000), Unbound only has a target number of supporters (e.g. 2,000). Since 2,000 people pledging £10 each raises much less than 2,000 people pledging £250 each, this has caused some confusion. It later emerged that only a quarter of people would be allowed to pledge at the lowest £10 level and that fundraising targets could be ‘adjusted’ at any time.

Unbound writes project descriptions for their authors. They’re slick, but they’re also soulless (which is odd, since if anyone ought to be able to write well, it’s authors) and distancing.

This leads to another issue: do successful authors like Terry Jones even need the money? After all, they’re asking for a lot – £10,000 at a minimum, and much, much higher in most cases – so you want to be sure it’s being used wisely.

In fact, Terry Jones has already written a big chunk of his book and Tibor Fischer’s Possibly Forty Ships (on Amazon) is already published. I wonder whether these books would be published one way or another even if they don’t meet their targets.

All of this pales in comparison to the biggest difference between the two. At Kickstarter, if you raise £10,000, you get £10,000 (minus a 5% success fee). At Unbound, your reward for raising the thousands of pounds required to print the first run of your book? They will give you 50 per cent of the royalties.

You do all the work, and get half the rewards: why are the BBC promoting what sounds remarkably like a scam?

See also:

Farage should check his own funds before accusing others of being in it for the moneyAlex Hern, October 24th 2011

The problem of ‘blagging’ goes well beyond hackgateShamik Das, July 21st 2011

Lib Dem candidate accused of scamming studentsChris Tarquini, January 12th 2011

Euro fraud police turn up heat on UKIPShamik Das, November 10th 2009

Dowsing rod scam exposedMarcus Roberts, November 5th 2009

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