Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

August 16 2012

14:00

Why Self-Publishers Should Care That Penguin Bought Author Solutions

Should self-publishers care that Pearson, the corporate parent of Penguin Group, has acquired Author Solutions and its subsidiaries? Maybe. Because among them are Author House, Booktango, Inkubook, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Wordclay, AuthorHive, Pallbrio, and Hollywood Pitch.

Thus, the move marks something significant happening in the world of self-publishing. Here's my take on the acquisition and what it means, along with some pundits' reactions to the merger and a report from my conversation with the senior vice president of marketing for Author Solutions, Keith Ogorek.

Why Author Solutions? Why Now?

Keith Ogorek, Sr VP Marketing, Author Solutions

It's no secret that since traditional publishing houses have been suffering, smart agents and acquisitions editors actively seek successful self-published authors. Publishers like Harlequin, Hay House, and Thomas Nelson partnered with Author Solutions (ASI) to create self-publishing services for them back in 2009, both to expand into a profitable business, and to data mine for successful authors in their genres.

Penguin is no different, of course, and its solution was Book Country, a genre-fiction writing community, which only added self-publishing services in November 2011 -- late to the game.

"Sure they've been watching the trend," Ogorek said. "Penguin has already been acquiring self-published titles. With the [ASI] acquisition they will be able to identify self-published authors earlier in the process, the ones that meet the high standards of Penguin."

Bringing in Community

One big question that arises from the purchase is: Will Pearson's Book Country continue as both a genre fiction writing community and self-publishing service retooled to use Author Solutions technologies and services? Or will Book Country revert to a writing community and retire its self-publishing arm to open a new and improved self-publishing service more obviously branded next to Penguin?

"It's part of the discussion," Ogorek said, "We think there's a bigger opportunity in the online learning center there, and it's possible that Booktango could bring in Book Country as part of that. It's a great site for curating content and community involvement. However," he added, "I'd like to talk to you in about a month. After all, we just got married yesterday, and we haven't figured out where all the furniture is going to go."

(Book Country's self-publishing tools area recently went offline while they "upgrade the site.")

Book Country Self-Publishing Tools Offline

A Booktango and Book Country pairing could be interesting, as community is lacking in most self-publishing platforms.

Scribd comes close, with its document sharing and commenting features, paired with a sales platform. But it doesn't distribute, so popular authors like "My Drop Dead Life" author Hyla Molander have to choose print and e-book platforms that get them into all the stores.

Then there's the WattPad community for the young adult market, where authors like Brittany Geragotelis shared her writing and attracted 13 million readers, before deciding to self-publish using Amazon CreateSpace and KDP for print and e-book sales.

As a side note, WattPad and Smashwords partnered to close the gap between community file-sharing and commenting and getting books out into the stores. The right combination of community and publishing platform could attract authors to Booktango and Book Country.

DIY Services ... or More?

Ogorek uses the home-improvement metaphor to explain that DIY services like their Booktango e-book service, along with Smashwords and Amazon CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and maybe BookBaby, are "for people with skills, who know how to build a deck and want to do it themselves." Then there are the people who don't have the skills, or maybe just don't have the time, "who hire contractors to build the deck." For these authors, they provide add-on services and "assisted self-publishing" tools like iUniverse and Author House, Trafford and Xlibris, for which authors pay into the five figures.

Self-publishers who dream of winning a traditional publishing contract may anticipate that Penguin will notice them if they're popular on Book Country, or Booktango, or whatever it will be called. (Though so obviously impractical, the acquisition dream dies hard, even now, when so many traditionally published authors are jumping to the free services.)

How is an Author to Choose?

Booktango List of Services

Instead of salivating over a possible acquisition by Penguin, self-publishers should be asking how the Penguin/ASI services help them now. Do Booktango and Book Country compete in the current market? Well, yeah. Let's just say that ASI is pulling an Amazon and underselling, giving authors 100% of earnings when they publish with Booktango, without even a signup fee. "It's a business decision on our part," Ogorek said. "We think that authors will purchase services, and we'll have the opportunity down the road to get their books out there and known."

So how is an author to choose? Author Solutions is often criticized for its hard upselling, and Booktango's pages are not exempt. There are "hot deals" on social media consultations, as well as "new" marketing services like Kirkus Indie Review, and blogger review services among the many listed on their site.

Their packaged services (iUniverse, Author House, etc.) are also famous for add-ons, but let's stick to Booktango, whose e-book packages range from free to $189. In comparison, Smashwords is free, giving authors 85% of earnings. BookBaby is closest in structure to Booktango by not taking a percentage, but it makes its money by signing up authors for $99 and in premium services. Amazon KDP gives the author 70% of earnings, and Amazon CreateSpace (print) 80%.

BookBaby, whose premium publishing e-book packages top out at $249, sells add-on services like cover design and advanced formatting, with cover designs topping out at $279. (They can also do web design with their HostBaby product.) Smashwords doesn't sell anything but the authors' e-books, and almost reluctantly passes on an email list of e-book formatters and cover designers liked by its authors.

The Critics Say...

Smashwords founder Mark Coker is a longtime critic of Author Solutions, saying that they make more money from selling services to authors than selling authors' books: "Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the 'V' in vanity.  Author Solutions earns two-thirds or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors' books to readers ... Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?"

Mark Coker, Founder, Smashwords

It's not news that ASI, along with Amazon, is the company that some publishing pundits love to hate. Jane Friedman, in her Writer Unboxed blog, notes that ASI's acquisitions are "appearing more and more like a huge scramble to squeeze a few more profitable dollars out of a service that is no longer needed, that is incredibly overpriced when compared to the new and growing competition, and has less to recommend it with each passing day, as more success stories come from the e-publishing realm where author royalties are in the 70-85% range. (An author typically earns less than half that percentage for royalties on a POD book.)"

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez of Digital Book World was skeptical of Penguin's claim as to the value of the acquisition, posting in his blog that "my own first reaction was pretty cynical." And he finds Penguin Group CEO "John Makinson's claim odd, as reported by Publisher's Lunch, that he expects there will be a 'new and growing category of professional authors who are going to gravitate towards the ASI solution rather than the free model.'"

I always advise authors to be skeptical of add-on services -- marketing especially. It's generally agreed in the industry that unless you've got very deep pockets, you just cannot hire it out to someone else, and that's even if the book is great. I've remarked many times that authors are as much, or more at fault, as the seller, for paying more than they need for services, and for paying for services they don't need. Especially vulnerable are new authors, and authors recently dumped by their publishing companies, as they would like to believe it can be easy to simply throw money at a service to solve their problem, mewing in an almost deliberate naiveté, "I just want to write."

Lest I sound too harsh, I have often found the language on some of ASI's pages to be convincing, easily frightening uneducated authors into paying for a service that can be cheaply and easily done themselves. In fact, it was the language on Booktango's U.S. Copyright Registration service, along with the $150 price tag, that led to me write my previous post on how to easily and cheaply register your copyright electronically for $35 in 35 minutes.

I asked Ogorek to comment, and he responded with the deck analogy. "It's up to the individual to decide whether they want a product. They may have the time and skills to build the deck themselves, or they may not want to learn how, and hire the contractor instead. We provide tools and services to serve both cases."

The Future

Should self-publishers put ASI's Booktango in the running when they're considering Smashwords and BookBaby, Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing? Sure. Just resist the upsell.

Should you consider purchasing ASI's iUniverse, Author House, Xlibris, or another package? Hmmmm. It is very difficult for a committed do-it-yourselfer like myself to be convinced to recommend these options. I've never taken a hands-off approach to publishing, and I like to know who is editing, designing, and formatting my book, instead of throwing it into a mill and seeing which cubicle it lands in. I may get a riffed senior editor from Random House, or a recent college graduate. But the bigger question may be, will Penguin provide a much-needed publisher's touch to organize the confusing array of products and soften ASI's hard-sell approach?

Will the Book Country community prove to be valuable to authors seeking to perfect and sell their books? Is all the acquisition and activity productive and author-friendly, or is it just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Penguin has a chance to reorganize, rebrand, and remarket Author Solutions companies with a level of transparency that regains the trust of authors and critics in the industry.The activity is worth watching closely.

Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website. Her Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors was updated in early 2012 and is available in print and online at the usual resellers.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

July 26 2012

16:21

February 10 2012

15:17

Daily Must Reads, Feb. 10, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung.

1. Rodale, Time and other publishers get hit with privacy lawsuits (Online Media Daily)

2. Penguin cuts ties with e-library distributor OverDrive (paidContent)

3. Nielsen: Number of TV 'cord cutters' increases (Lost Remote)

4. WSJ uses Pinterest, Instagram to cover Fashion Week (Nieman Lab)

5. Can you use Twitter to predict popularity of news stories? (The Atlantic)

6. Study: Most people play nice on social media  (Mashable)

Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday! 


Subscribe to Daily Must Reads newsletter

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl