PublishAmerica is a company that prints books. They claim to be a "traditional publishing company"; critics insist they are a vanity press in disguise.
How can they be a vanity press if they don't charge money to publish a book?
Because the intended audience for the books is not the general public. Instead, it is the authors themselves and their nearest and dearest. If that's all you want, then there isn't anything wrong with it. If, however, you wanted your book to actually be read by people outside if your immediate circle, PA is probably not the way to go.
Because PA books are not stocked in bookstores. They can be gotten in bookstores through the special order process, but they never come in with the regular shipments. PA claims that most books printed are not stocked in bookstores, but this is a bit of sleight of word--this statement is only true if you include things like encyclopedias, academic textbooks, dissertations, volumes from The International Library of Poetry, and so on. These are, indeed, books, and they are not found in bookstores, but this is because they are not intended to be sold in bookstores. In the same way, PA books are not intended to be sold in bookstores either.
But how do they make money? Surely it's in their interest to sell as many books as possible!
Of course it is. They just go about it a different way. They sell as many books as possible by signing as many authors as possible. The more authors they have to sell books to, the more money they make.
But the authors don't have to buy their own books, do they?
Not at all. However, PA only supplies the author with two copies (sometimes as many as five, but usually two) and if that author has more than one friend or relative who would like one, it's time to pony up. Authors also buy books for resale, either on consignment or out of the proverbial car trunk, since bookstores won't stock them.
Why won't bookstores stock them?
PA books can, technically, be ordered by a bookstore, (thus allowing PA to say their books are "available" in bookstores) but PA puts a number of roadblocks in the way of stores actually carrying them:
What about the quality control?
There is no quality control. PA claims to reject 80% of manuscripts (no other publishing house known to man bothers to quantify and publicize its rejection rate) but it seems to be a safer bet that they'll take anybody with a pulse and a checkbook and/or credit card. One person submitted a manuscript that was the same thirty pages repeated unto book length, and it was accepted. And, of course, there is the infamous Atlanta Nights, a novel written to be as bad as humanly possible. It was also offered a contract by PA.
Didn't PA say that they rejected Atlanta Nights?
PA sent an acceptance and a contract and had the book for a few months before rescinding their offer. Interestingly, the email from PA regarding said backtrack was sent within a few hours of the ringleader publicly exposing the prank on a message board. PA proclaimed that, upon preparing the novel for publication, they realized it had one chapter written entirely in nonsense and was probably not ready for print. In other words, they as much as admitted that they had not read the manuscript all the way through before sending an acceptance for it.
Why was Atlanta Nights written?
To prove that PA will accept anything, no matter how wretched, as long as it's book length. Some say it might also have to do with some dismissive comments PA made about the science fiction and fantasy genre on one of their websites. (Never, ever, annoy a science fiction writer. It's asking for trouble.)
But why should it matter to them what PA does?
Many of the people involved in that project make a point of helping new writers. One of the ways they help new writers is to steer them clear of scammers who would prey on their dreams and in many cases to bring those scammers to justice.
Aren't you just a disgruntled PA author who's mad because you didn't instantly become rich and famous?
Nope. I'm just a casual observer who loves to watch scams fall down and go boom. Thanks for reading.