Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Nocturnal Readers Box saga keeps on going...

I'm back again like the Backstreet Boys (gee, what a dated reference)!

It looks like the whole case of the Nocturnal Readers Box keeps getting more and more messed up. You can see my first blog about this here

Apparently Journalstone has been in touch with six other publishers who claim that Vincent Guerrero/Horror Bees/Nocturnal Readers Box owes them money. He owes Journalstone the most at $31,000, but it looks like ultimately he's in the hole at $100,000.

In the last post I wrote that the amount of money Vincent owes Journalstone is a very large amount of money for a small publisher, as they don't make the profit margin that one of the mainstream publishers does on an average novel. It makes a potential loss like this that much more horrific, especially as small and indie publishers are the ones who are most likely to take a chance on new and undiscovered horror talents - as well as taken on authors whose novel copyrights have reverted back to them because their prior publisher went out of business or their publisher may have decided to drop them. 

Both of these scenarios are pretty likely in the world of horror publishing, as there aren't as many mainstream publishers (or publishers as a whole) who are willing to take on a lot of horror authors because they're afraid of losing money because of this notion that horror novels don't sell unless you're Stephen King. It's why many stores have chosen to merge their horror into science fiction and/or their main literature sections rather than maintain an independent horror section, as there just isn't as much published as there was in decades past. Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell gives a pretty good overview of the horror publishing boom from the 70s through 90s.

The point I'm trying to make here is that while it may seem like horror literature is staging a comeback, it's still an insanely fragile situation and horror seems to have really only truly flourished with small publishers. While I'm not saying that all of this will kill off any chance for horror to come around, it will make it far more difficult for the publishers who are in the hole because of the Nocturnal Readers Box to bounce back. 

Now there is some light at the end of the tunnel in that some of the publishers may be able to get back some of their product. Edward Lorne has posted to Twitter that the company that was packing the Nocturnal Readers Box shipments still has some of the books that Journalstone sent to Vincent. Presumably there are books from other publishers as well that could be sent back as well. At the very least these publishers can get back the books they printed so they can recoup some of their losses aside from whatever they may get if things go to trial and they manage to get money out of Vincent. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A quick return from the grave... Horror Bees and Nocturnal Readers Box

Hi all,

I know that I've been inactive for a few years. What can I say - life gets in the way. I wish I could say that I was returning because of positive news, but it's not. I don't know how many will read this, but if this helps even one person then it's going to be a good thing.

My purpose for this post is to make sure that people do not sign up for the subscription service Horror Bees. What is Horror Bees you may ask? This is a monthly subscription box that is focused on B horror films. It's something that in another scenario I'd have loved, since B movies are amazing. The issue, however, is the company's ties to the Nocturnal Readers Box.

The following is a long story of intellectual copyrights, theft, and fraud that includes not only myself, but also the amazing author Brian Keene. Some of this is based on what I've seen myself, but other material is taken from the excellent reporting by Edward Lorn, who has been following this whole fiasco from the start.

The beginning....

The Nocturnal Readers Box was founded by Vincent and Jessica Guererro, who claim to have come up with the idea for the box when they discovered that there weren't any horror book boxes aimed at adult audience, only YA. Vincent, a military veteran, says that he inherited his love of horror from his parents. (Trust me, this sentence becomes important later.)

People could get subscriptions for 1-3 months at a time, which ran between about $30 to $200, not including shipping. It wasn't cheap, but subscribers justified the expense by saying that it was one of the only ones out there that offered books each month and also filled the box with various horror themed items. People could get books such as Stephen King's Gwendy's Button Box as well as a tote bag for Robert McCammon's They Thirst, artwork, and other cool things.

Stuff like this sounded like a dream come true for horror fans, especially when Nocturnal Readers Box announced that they were doing a special theme box with Stephen King. That's right, THE Stephen King, Master of the Macabre. The box's description was as follows:

We are running 2,000 for this printing which will be a limited edition, it will be a beautiful hardcover with an intricate foil design on the boards. Our artist for the dust jacket is currently working on something for us to preview soon. It is a NRB Special Edition. We are working on the final price still, and once we get the green light we will let you know but expect $60-75 for the box. It will include a t-shirt also designed by the cover artist, and another goody we won’t say just yet. It’s not a full monthly box, but trust me, it will be a hot commodity! It will be limited to one per customer on the initial order, but if there are any left by the time we get to general public, you will be free to checkout with however many. We are still working out the contract, but there is likely going to be a small quantity signed. 
With the signed books, there will be a separate link to purchase a guaranteed signed copy (50% of the total signed), with the rest being randomized in the total run.

Subscribers were led to believe pretty early on that the signed books were as good as guaranteed via emails sent out by Vincent and Jessica.

It starts to unravel...

People had been complaining about the boxes being late for months. Others said that boxes contained broken items, things that are not as described, or not getting the box at all. Some unsubscribed while others gave the Guererros the benefit of the doubt. What gave many serious pause, however, was when the Guererros started backtracking on the promises for the special King box. 

In April 2018 the Guererros reported that the signed books was not going to happen because of a signing tour for The Outsider. This upset a lot of people, many of whom purchased the crate for this signature alone. People who requested refunds or wrote to the Guererros to complain reported that the couple were sending them rude, nasty emails in return. Others said that they were told to file a dispute through their payment providers, claiming that the Guererros refused to issue refunds.

Around this time boxes became later and later, until the boxes were months late. As of this writing, the last box that was sent out was June, which people received around August. Some people say that they haven't received this box at all.

The Guererros had several reasons for why boxes were late. One excuse was that everyone was sick with the flu and couldn't work. Another was that Vincent had been hospitalized because of a mental illness which, if I understood correctly, his military service either caused or made to worsen. Another claim was that their shipping company was holding the boxes because they had not been paid by the Guererros, despite claims from the couple that they were paid up. 

Emails from this time period have been archived by Lorn and can be seen here.

Not so Keene...

In September 2018 multiple award winning horror author Brian Keene posted a blog about his interactions with Vincent Guererro. In this blog he expressed sympathy for the growing number of people who were expressing their not getting refunds, nasty correspondence with Nocturnal Readers Box, and general unhappiness with the service.

The biggest bombshell of the post would prove to be when Keene revealed that Vincent had contacted him in March about creating a pin based on his book The Rising, which had netted him the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel. Keene liked the idea of the pin and also made a suggestion about including one of his books in the box, expecting that this conversation would be followed up with further contact to his publisher over licensing for the pin and book. It wasn't until later that Keene was contacted by a fan, who emailed him a picture of the pin, which was billed as “Based on Brian Keene’s THE RISING”. A print based on his book Dead Sea was also offered in the box as well.

Keene explained that the issue here was that this went beyond fan art, which he absolutely adores and encourages, and became an issue of the Guerreros violating his intellectual property copyright. He also dropped a mention that the box was also doing this to at least one other author, Robert McCammon, and that he doubts that any of the authors whose work was used for the box's themed horror items gave permission for the use of these items.

I should mention that there is a big difference between fan art and what the Nocturnal Readers Box did, as the company was trying to make a profit here. 

This is absolutely not where it ends, by the way. 

What's this charge?!?

On September 15, 2018 people were charged for the next round of subscriptions. This is a noteworthy date indeed, as the Nocturnal Readers Box was two months behind schedule at this point, despite their website claiming that they were only about two to three weeks behind. 

Three days later people received an email officially announcing that the company was closing down. They also went as far as to call Keene a liar, say that the closure was what people wanted, and a whole slew of other things. I'm actually just going to post the email in question: 

Things to specifically note in this is the reserve of cash that they suddenly have and that people could only get refunds by filing a dispute, as the Guererros would not issue them themselves. Remember them charging everyone for a new round of subscriptions?

That's right, dear readers. This money almost certainly came from the people whose accounts they charged. This is about when everything officially hit the fan and people started complaining en masse about the Guererros and Nocturnal Readers Box, especially as filing disputes can be difficult depending on how the person paid. PayPal has marked the company as suspicious and is fully working with people who are reporting them, but some people have reported on the forum that the Guererros seem to be fighting against people who are filing disputes. Bleeding Cool, noticing the train wreck unfolding, wrote a post about the ongoing issues with the company

In the midst of these complaints from not only an author but also angry subscribers, the Nocturnal Readers Box closed their social media accounts, leaving only their website up, which claims that the company is still working on September's box. Attempts by people to contact the Guererros via the Nocturnal Readers Box email address has been met with silence from what I've heard.

But wait... it's still not over! Yesterday, September 25, 2018, people started reporting that the Nocturnal Readers Box was charging their accounts. This wasn't only the people who were subscribed to them up until the end, but also people who had cancelled their accounts about a year prior to the service closing. According to this post on Facebook, people are getting charged anywhere between $7 to $500+.

How it relates to Horror Bees....

So now you're asking "so... how does this relate to Horror Bees?"

There are two answers to this: what Horror Bees will tell you and what largely everyone suspects (and one company claims is the truth).

Horror Bees is claiming to be run by Vincent's parents, the same ones who apparently instilled in him a love of horror. In a now deleted review on the company's Facebook page they reported that he was initially involved but that he is not part of the company. Vincent publicized this service heavily at one point while their social media was up and they were still sending out and responding to emails. 

Now what is largely believed by the subscriber base and people familiar with the saga is that Horror Bees is run by Vincent Guerrero under his parents' names and that he distanced himself so that the company wouldn't be impacted by everything going on with Nocturnal Readers Box. Journalstone, a small publisher, claims to have proof of this and that they're owed $31,000, a princely sum for any publisher and a huge problem for a smaller publishers. 

They don't specify the proof, but I would wager that it's probably something used in the lawsuit they're filing against him. 

If this is all true - and to be honest, I strongly suspect that it is - signing up with a membership with Horror Bees would be incredibly foolish since the troubles that prompted all of the issues with Nocturnal Readers Box will undoubtedly rear their heads with Horror Bees, including the allegations of intellectual property theft. 

I'll try to update this as I discover more, but so far I've been gobsmacked with everything that has happened.