Random House, one of the ‘big six’ English language publishers, has launched a set of new digital-only imprints. Hydra will publish science fiction, fantasy and horror; Alibi will publish mystery fiction; Loveswept will publish romantic fiction; and Flirt will focus on “New Adult” work.

The terms of the contracts offered by the imprints have, however, been criticised by author groups and industry experts. Sample contracts indicate that the new imprints will not pay authors advances and, while offering a larger share of profits – fifty per cent – than others usually do, royalties will only be calculated after fees for cover design and marketing are subtracted. These costs are normally fully covered by traditional publishers. The imprints also ask for all worldwide rights for the length of a work’s copyright. This means that authors will be unable to re-sell their manuscripts and that they lose control over any potential foreign language translations and adaptations to other mediums – such as film.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) organisation has removed Hydra from its list of accredited publishers since it breaches its requirement of offering advances. Writing on his blog SFWA president John Scalzi advised writers: “This is ahorrendously bad deal and if you are ever offered something like it, you should run away as fast as your legs or other conveyances will carry you”.

Random House rejected the criticisms, sending a letter to SFWA members claiming that “Hydra offers a different – but potentially lucrative – publishing model for authors: a profit share”. It went on to say that: “Profits are generated once … costs are subtracted from the sales revenue. Hydra and the author split those profits equally from the very first sale.”

The SFWA responded to the letter by saying that it considers Hydra’s “attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher [to be], simply, outrageous and egregious”. It went on to accuse Hydra of acting in an “exploitative” and “predatory manner towards authors”.