With Friends Like These… The #AllRomance Debacle

So the news is now out that All Romance Ebooks, a beloved specialist retailer adored by many an m/m reader and author alike, is closing its doors for good. The new hit yesterday afternoon, to shock and disappointment across our genre. Sentiments that quickly turned to anger when we read the email we received (or, in my case, the email others posted on social media; mine seems to have got lost in the post).

To Whom It May Concern:
It is with great sadness I announce that we are winding down the operations of All Romance eBooks, LLC. For the first year since opening in 2006, we will be posting a loss. The financial forecast for 2017 isn’t hopeful and we’ve accepted that there is not a viable path forward.
We are grateful for the opportunity to have worked with you. On midnight, December 31, our sites will go dark and your content will cease to be available for sale through our platforms. This includes any content you are having us distribute to Apple. If you wish to inactivate your content sooner, you can do so by logging into your publisher portal.
We will be unable to remit Q4 2016 commissions in full and are proposing a settlement of 10 cents on the dollar (USD) for payments received through 27 December 2016. We also request the following conditions:
1. That you consider this negotiated settlement to be “paid in full”.
2. That no further legal action be taken with regards to the above referenced commissions owed.
If you are willing to accept the offered amount and the terms proposed, please hit the reply on this email keeping the history intact. Change the subject to “Publisher Settlement Acceptance” and copy/paste the acceptance statement below into your email, filling in the fields.
Upon receipt of the signed agreement, I will authorize payment of the settlement amount in full by 28 February 2016 [sic] via the method stipulated in your publisher account.
It is my sincere hope that we will be able to settle this account and avoid filing for bankruptcy, which would undoubtedly be a prolonged and costly process.
I appreciate that you may have questions. Unfortunately, we will be operating with limited staff as we prepare for closure. We will do our best to respond to the extent possible and will do so in the order received. Our priority over the next few weeks will be processing settlement requests. At this time, there is no additional information to share.
I thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
Sincerely,
Lori James
All Romance Ebooks, LLC

There are many things wrong with this missive. Asking authors to settle for a tenth of what they’re owed on sales from the last quarter is unconscionable—I hear authors signed to ARe’s imprint aren’t even getting that much. To expect us to accept nothing, not a single red cent on sales still being made is outright theft. They want our product until Dec 31st, but they’ve decided to stop paying anything after Dec 27th. They inform us of this, of course, on Dec 28th, when it’s already too late for us to urge our fans to rush on over to the site and spent their rebate dollars and store vouchers on something we might see a tenth of 60% from. Those “ebook bucks” today might or might not work, different people reported different results when they made the attempt.

 

Then there’s this. Everyone, reader and author alike, was thrown into a moral quandary because ARe essentially made its readers, those people who kept them in business for the last decade, complicit in the theft if they did anything to recoup money they’d already spent with the site (if they even still could). I had $2 in my account and immediately wrote it off, but several people on my Facebook timeline had considerably more accrued.

I haven’t even started on the really big money that’s gone walkabout: the advertising fees for spots through 2017 which, in an email sent to publishers only five days ago, ARe claimed were mostly sold out. As someone who considered advertising with ARe in the past, I can tell you for nothing that shit ain’t cheap.

 

ARe has asked for our cooperation in order for them to avoid filing for bankruptcy. Frankly, they ran a business that can’t afford to pay its suppliers so bankruptcy is exactly what’s happened and why should we, the injured parties, be concerned about their hardships? More to the point, why can’t they afford to pay us? Where the hell did the money go?

Many moons ago, I sold books through another supplier that closed its doors: Rainbow Ebooks. They were a small outfit and my sales through them were never mega, although they were there. (I think through the 8 months I was with them I made about $200.) When the time came for them to close up shop, they did so in a timely and dignified manner. As a publisher I was informed with plenty of notice of when and how they’d close, and I received all monies owed in a timely manner. I was happy with my involvement with that supplier.

If you’d asked me yesterday morning, I’d have told you I was happy with ARe as well. I’ve waxed lyrical often enough about the need for diversity of book suppliers and the danger a monopoly will do to the market—and, basically, the viability of my career. I am all for spreading my books far and wide, and was happy to support and be part of a supplier I’ve watched grow in leaps and bounds since I first published with them in 2011. I’ve made thousands of dollars through ARe over the last 5 years but even if I hadn’t enjoyed success there, I’d still have been proud to have been part of their story, however insignificantly, and sad to see them go.

What galls the most, as the dust settles, is the bitter taste this shafting leaves behind. Yes, publishing is a business, buying and selling books are transactions, but in a world dominated by the unfeeling, unrelenting force that is Amazon, ARe felt like family, goddammit. If they’d told me a month ago they were closing at the end of the year, royalties would be paid and we’d go our separate ways, I’d have left my books there until the end and encouraged people to give the site a final hurrah. It doesn’t surprise me ARe fell to the unprecedented pressure Amazon’s putting on all ebook retailers, but the way they’ve thrown us under the bus like this hurts.

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By today, I suspect ARe’s shelves will be pretty bare. I pulled my books with immediate effect, although if you purchased my titles through ARe you still have until Dec 31st to download copies. I know I wasn’t alone in jumping ship, although I urge readers who have credit in their ARe accounts to spend it if they can. We don’t all have to get screwed.

Yesterday the site was painfully slow, no doubt inundated with authors removing their titles and readers rushing to back up their libraries. If you’ve made purchases there, ensure you do this because come the end of the year, your library will vanish. Authors, don’t forget to download your tax statements and get screenshots of your sales reports. Even if you’ve already washed your hands of it and accepted ARe’s terms, get evidence of what you were owed. You never know when it might come in useful. Bloggers, ditto with your affiliate reports. Screenshot all your sales data, because the taxman will still want to see some numbers.

If you pre-ordered titles that haven’t been released yet, chances are your money’s gone, although Dreamspinner, Less Than Three, and NineStar Press are honouring ARe sales through their own sites. If you paid through Paypal try filing a ticket for non-receipt of goods.

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Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware would also like to speak to affected authors, email beware[at]sfwa.org

 

I suspect we’ll hear more about this situation before it’s over. I’m not personally out enough money to lose sleep over (thankfully) although I know plenty of authors weren’t so lucky. Regardless of how much we have lost personally, collectively we’ve suffered a much greater blow: the loss of one of the last great independent online ebook retailers, that chose to throw integrity to the wind and take us all down with it.


With the demise of ARe, you can now buy my books at Amazon (Blowing It and Puddledown Mysteries books are Amazon-exclusive), iTunes, B&N, and Smashwords.

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