The beauty of print-on-demand (from the publisher’s perspective) used to be that they had limited liability when it came to content. Sure they’d scan for hate material and other stuff that could definitely get them sued but aside from that, if you had a bone to pick with an ex-boyfriend and wanted to kill him off in a novel, have at it! Well now that might be changing. Author House just lost a case in Kansas courtroom citing that the publisher published a book of libelous nature. This from the Publisher’s Weekly article which came out yesterday: According to court documents, AuthorHouse published Paperback Poison: the Romance Writer and the Hit Man by Gary D. Brock, with his current wife, Debbie Brock, in November, 2003. Some of the more incendiary claims in Paperback Poison include allegations that Brandewyne broke laws, committed adultery, plagiarized several of her books, and hired a hit man to kill her ex-husband, the book’s author.
So when does it become an effective use of a publisher’s time to vet every manuscript they get? With the mountain of work that’s submitted to any of these publishers on a given day my sense is: it’s not. Despite this case I suspect that changes won’t be afoot (although a few nervous publishers are no doubt meeting with their attorneys as I write this to have their contracts rewritten).
Most of the time the “hold harmless” clause in POD contracts protects the publisher from such cases, in this situation it did not. Still, let’s look at this rationally. With all the thousands of books that have been published since the inception of POD this is the first such libel case that made it into court, that’s pretty good in my view. The idea behind POD and the reason it works is the minimal involvement by the publisher, that’s the idea it was built on and if you remove that, these publishers will be limited in what they can publish just by the sheer volume or work that’s submitted and the extensive vetting process it may have to go through.
The idea is that POD is a do-it-yourself form of publishing and despite the industries rumblings about the quality of work that’s published, etc. if this model changes then it’s only one step removed from traditional publishing and at the end of the day, that’s never what POD’s been about.