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Underground Reading: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Suvudu Universe Wants You(r Work)

BAD RATJustin Landon blogged about Suvudu Universe yesterday over at Staffer's Book Review. Take a moment to read it, especially if you're a blogger. 

The Del Rey / Random House powers have come up with brand new scheme. They're calling it "Suvudu Universe": it is a community-generated platform site, and also a problem. The site is powered by a service called Tid.al, a sleek-looking aggregator tool that's already used by a few other big brands. 

If you sign up as a Suvudu Universe blogger, you send them content through your RSS feed. The process is simple: you tag 2 to 15 posts a month "suvudu" and they'll scoop it up automatically. Their editors then pick out the stories they like and then republish them on the Universe site. The result is a big ol' pile of geeky blog content, curated by Suvudu editors.

Superficially, this is kind of neat. I mean, Random House is now the biggest publisher in the world, right? Why wouldn't you want to be a part of it?

The main problems are "rights" and "money". Suvudu's taking all of the former and offering none of the latter.

Here's how it breaks down in the details:

  1. The licensing. Justin's flagged this up already, but Suvudu take a "royalty-free, perpetual, unrestricted, worldwide" right to everything you send them. There's a rather disingenuous "You still own your own content" on this page, but that's dancing around the issue. You still own it, but, now, so do they. You even sign over the right for them to license other people to use your content. Or to sell it. Or to rewrite it. This applies to anything you submit to them, which is especially back-handed, as, in turn, they do not have "the obligation" to run those pieces. 
  2. Creepy. That license, by the way? It also applies to "your identity and information about you". 
  3. No money. “Contributors will not receive any financial payment in connection with their participation in the project.” Again, Justin flagged this up. It is owned by these guys - "the biggest publisher in the world by revenue" (FT). (... and they're taking advertising on the site. It exists to make money. Just not for you.) 
  4. Licensed piracy. They're also taking your search mojo. Suvudu Universe is taking the entire article and putting it on their site. This doesn't mean more traffic for you, it means more traffic for them. A search engine doesn't know (or care) who the original author was. In fact, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more content on Suvudu, the more impressive Suvudu is to search engines. This is what blog "scraper" sites do, but, in this case, you're signing up for the privilege.
  5. Link-building.  The "search credibility" snaffling continues - the Suvudu "badge" (the one "perk" of being a contributor) is a link to Suvudu. Search engines see that too - they spot that hundreds of bloggers say that Suvudu is worth linking to, which gives it even more credibility. This is bloggers sending bullets to Suvudu and then collectively holding the gun. (All those annoying emails you get from SEO companies asking to put a link on your website? You're doing that for Suvudu, but they phrase it like they're doing you a favor.)
You're sending your content to Suvudu. They then make money off it when readers visit them and not you. You get little or nothing for the privilege.

The best deals are those where both sides wind up happy. Most publisher-blogger 'contracts' are pretty simple: Angry Robot's Robot Army, Gollancz, Netgalley, Hodderscape - they give you books and you write reviews. There's some variation within that (How early do you get the book? Does the review have to be positive? Do they post the review, or do you?), but, fundamentally, that's the deal  - and everyone gets something they want out of it. 

Suvudu Universe is a different model. On Suvudu Universe, the review as such doesn't matter. The fact that Suvudu copies the review and runs it as their own (as far as readers - real and Search Engine robots concerned) does. Suvudu is taking your traffic and your credibility (in an SEO sense), and, according to the legalese, if they want, they can walk off with a whole lot more. I suppose you're getting readers for your work... just not on your own site, so you can't measure (or retain) (or profit) from them. The Universe site is structured so that if someone likes your review, they can read more from you... on Universe. 

What I also don't like? The only reason Suvudu aren't paying is because they can get away with it:

  1. They've got money. This is Penguin Random House (here's a list of countries whose GDP is smaller than PRH's annual revenue).
  2. And we're not even talking vast sums of the stuff. Payment doesn't even need to be money. See above - other publishers and platforms trade: books, tickets, t-shirts, author access, a token amount of cash, even a share of the advertising revenue, etc. etc. The more, better content they get, the more, better they'll perform in search and the more, better ad revenue they'll have - etc. 
  3. They're already paying for a Tid.al license. No idea how much this is, but it means there's been an investment already.
  4. It ain't like they haven't tried before. Random House recently got slapped by the SFWA and the trade press for trying to take advantage of the growing e- publishing market, offering authors exploitative deals for perpetual rights to their books.

To a certain degree, who can blame them? The publishing landscape is brutal right now, experimentation is a great idea and, hey, Suvudu's just trying to do things as cheaply as possible. But there's a ruthlessness to this that I find brutally unpleasant. This is shameless site-scraping for the monetary benefit of one of the world's largest companies, and they've disguised it as mutual benefit.

We all blog because we're driven to talk about books and genre and that's awesome. But, just because we're doing it for fun doesn't mean that our work is meaningless. Suvudu knows what we do has value - that's why they're trying to get it off us. But they're taking our labor of love and turning it into a source of their ad revenue, and they're not even bothering to offer a token payment.

[Editor's note: It look like Avon Romance also uses Tid.al - a mixed community of bloggers and authors. It'd be interesting to hear from one of those bloggers on what the terms are, and how it is working out for them? I'm less offended by this one because it is a mixed community - their big offer to bloggers is the increased interaction and access between the two groups. Also, there's no advertising on the site. They're still stealing SEO credibility, but at least they're not exploiting it so flagrantly.]