Suvudu Universe, a community generated content site, was recently unveiled by Random House in conjunction with their existing blog, known simply as Suvudu. I applaud publishers engaging in the online community. Random House has dabbled in this space for years with Suvudu, but have always been irregular and infrequent with their attempts. Suvudu Universe is designed to change that, but does so on the backs of content creators who are in no way compensated for their work. It’s a deplorable effort for one if the largest publisher in the world, one that deserves to be universally condemned by the same community Random House is trying to reach.
Here’s how Suvudu Universe works. The content creator signs up to be a part of the program, ‘subscribing’ their RSS feed to Suvudu Universe. If the content creator wants to share it with Suvudu Universe there merely tag the post “Suvudu”. The “editors” review that content and assuming it meets their criteria they repost it to the Suvudu Universe feed. It’s my understanding that the editors can also “request” content from the creator even if it’s not offered and the creator can accept or reject that request. Furthermore, some creators are given “automatic” approval after a period of time. The editor’s criteria is nebulous at best, but here’s some offered advice.
There’s not one formula for creating a post that will get published and each community is different, but all editors are looking for engaging, insightful and all-around high-quality blog entries with pictures.
Make sure your post falls in line with the theme and style of the network. If you’re having trouble getting posts approved, check out some of the more popular ones on the network and you’ll quickly get a feel for what works best. Each one is a little different.
We don’t publish promotional posts, giveaways or anything that isn’t your own content. All photos used should be your own or you should have permission to use them, including a link to where they originally came from. (Avoid grainy cell phone pics, too.)
The posts should be in English and there’s (obviously) no room for lewd or inappropriate language or nudity. Check your confirmation emails for more details and the specifics for each community.
Notice, that nothing in there says Suvudu Universe. There’s a reason for that. Random House has contracted the ‘community’ out to a company called Tidal. However, the ‘editors’ belong to Random House. Tidal is merely the middle man. But, as middle man they have quite a bit of control over the rights to the content creators’ work.
. . .posting messages, uploading text, graphics, photographs, images, video or audio files, inputting data, submitting any content or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication (including your identity and information about you) in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.
By posting your content on the Sites, you expressly grant Random House a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid-up worldwide, fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, transmit, perform and display such content and your name, voice, and/or likeness as contained in your User Submission, in whole or in part, and in any form throughout the world in any media or technology, whether now known or hereafter discovered, including all promotion, advertising, marketing, merchandising, publicity and any other ancillary uses thereof, and including the unfettered right to sublicense such rights, in perpetuity throughout the universe.
Well, isn’t that something. Furthermore, Random House reserves the right to, “exclude or reject your blog from the service at any time for any reason without liability” and maintains that,
advertising within our service is solely our responsibility, and we may accept advertising in all categories. We may place advertising of third parties and/or other material on the page(s) containing your blog in our sole discretion, with no responsibility or accounting to you for the content or proceeds thereof.
To top it all off, “contributors will not receive any financial payment in connection with their participation in the project.”
Let’s use some plain speak, ok?
Nonexclusive means the content creator can sell their content to someone else (of course, who would buy it? I’ll get to that in a minute), but the content that Suvudu Universe (vis-a-vis Tidal) acquires gives them unlimited authority to do with whatever they like. In fact, it expressly permits them to profit off something they refuse to pay to acquire. And it gives them the right to do whatever they want with that content forever, and on any planet. I suppose I’m slightly hopeful that with the discovery of inter-dimensional travel the rights may revert.
As a writer for Tor.com, I grant very similar rights to Macmillan when I write an article. The difference is I get paid. Additionally, I am a writer for Tor.com. My name goes on their site. They recognize my association with them and reinforce it with a contract that has my signature on it. I submit invoices to them. They send me a check. This is the relationship between a content distributor and a content provider that respects both sides.
Another site that might come to mind is SF Signal. SF Signal does not pay its contributors. It is entirely amateur. Its owner, John DeNardo, does collect some revenue to support the site, but does not profit from it beyond a silver rocket on his mantle (aka: a Hugo). Not surprisingly, SF Signal does not hold rights to anything it publishes other than the authors implicit permission to post when they log in to SF Signal’s dashboard to do so. It is a profitless enterprise, making the lack of payment to its content creators perfectly appropriate.
Despite that, SF Signal still offers something Suvudu Universe refuses to. . . it recognizes its content creators as SF Signal writers. They are curated. Because of that, writing for SF Signal is something for a content creator to hang a hat on. It can be a stepping stone to something else or an end in and of itself. Suvudu Universe refuses to pay its content creators just as it refuses to offer them the cache of Random House and the Suvudu brand.
Can I pause for a moment just to reflect on the absurdity of comparing the billion dollar Random House enterprise to John DeNardo’s personal fiefdom at SF Signal?
Rather than creating a platform to compete with Tor.com, or even Locus, Suvudu Universe is a glorified Tumblr [edit: Brought to my attention this casts a negative dispersion on the reblog culture of Tumblr. Not my intent. It is an inaccurate comparison and I apologize.] for genre content creators. I grant that Random House rights are non-exclusive, but the reality is non-fiction content does not have a reprint market. it doesn’t exist. Even if I put aside the notion that they can exploit what I wrote forever, the reality is that by giving it to them in the first place I’ve lost the ability to offer it elsewhere.
In the end, Suvudu Universe gets to generate a volume of content entirely on the backs of bloggers desperate for a platform. I was there once. Generating readers is long process. It can take years. The allure is no different than self-publishing fiction, or selling a manuscript to a backyard press. Suvudu Universe offers the illusion of a short cut. The illusion of success. I promise it is not. Posting to Suvudu Universe will not increase a blog’s traffic in a meaningful way despite their claims. I can count on two hands the number of link backs I get from my author byline on Tor.com or SF Signal. The traffic to this site, that has my name on it, has been generated over the years through hard work and dedication to my craft.
What Suvudu Universe is offering is no different than the underhanded rights grab Random House attempted as part of their eBook only imprints. John Scalzi and others excoriated that attempt this past Spring. I don’t have Scalzi’s standing, but I hope this article doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Suvudu Universe is blatant exploitation of content creators and I would urge everyone in the science fiction and fantasy community to reject it outright.
We may be mere bloggers, but that doesn’t give someone permission to exploit the content we create. If Random House wants to profit off us, they can pay us or they can get lost.