Cory Doctorow says all complex ecosystems have parasites. The growing ease of epublishing, combined with the ongoing difficulties of the traditional publishing industry, are certainly creating an increase in the number of parasites in that ecosystem.
One of those parasites is James Frey (yes, the same James Frey who wrote a fabricated "memoir" and got spanked by Oprah). Now he's started a publishing company called Full Fathom Five which is basically a YA novel assembly line. Despite the fact that professional authors are weighing in to point out that Frey's contract is rapacious and predatory, evidently he's had no trouble reeling in desperate suckers with freshly-minted MFAs in creative writing and dreams of Hollywood lucre.
You come up with a pitch Frey likes, you write the book, you get paid... wait for it.... $250. Yes, that's three measly digits before the decimal point. And a 30%-40% share in any revenues generated by it, which means in theory you get 40% of the take if your $250 idea becomes the next Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or Hunger Games. Which is, you know, kind of unlikely, because if you can do that, what the fuck do you need James Frey for? Oh, right, his name and industry connections will give you an edge in putting your work in front of editors and producers. Unfortunately, what it won't do is put your name in front of them, since one of the terms of the contract is that you don't control the use of your name and can't even admit your involvement in the project.
Not only is this exploiting authors, it's an insulting and cynical exploitation of the YA market. Frey is as much as saying "These dumb kids will read assembly line product if it's packaged nicely enough."
(Okay, actually, he's right. But every genre is full of extruded product -- YA just happens to be the most profitable right now so the crap ratio is even higher.)
With this in mind, I was not happy to go to Borders.com and find this.
Basically, it's Borders putting their name on a Smashwords-type venture, except BookBrewer charges more than Smashwords, takes a larger cut, and is less up-front about how publishing works. You pay $80 for them to turn whatever you fling online into an auto-formatted ebook which they then put on Borders, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc. But those big names might lead you to believe that you're actually being published by Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc., and that your books will appear alongside those of real authors.
It's kind of interesting watching these ecosystems develop. Just like when the web started to really take off (circa late 90s), the parasites are swarming and finding their niches. I'll really be kind of interested to see what publishing looks like in ten or twenty years.