What will the $116 million acquisition of Author Solutions by Pearson the parent company of Penguin, one of the “Big Six” publishing houses mean for writers?
“Penguin’s [CEO John] Makinson said that Penguin’s partnership with ASI ‘will fall somewhere between self-publishing as presently defined, and Penguin publishing as presently defined,’” reported Laura Hazard Owen on Paid Content. “He mentioned “curated self-publishing” and imprints drawing on self-published content.”
Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss said, “That means more opportunity for authors and more choice for readers.”
Author Solutions, which offers a variety of self publishing packages under imprints including AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and Wordclay, has had a less that sterling reputation for providing opportunities to authors. That begins with their business model. PBS MediaShift in an article titled The Pitfalls of Using Self-Publishing Book Packages explains, “It's important to realize author services companies do not make their money from selling books -- they make money from convincing authors to buy their services.”
The result has not been a good one for writers.
The users of services like those provided by Author Solutions are often uninformed about their options in the sometimes confusing world of self publishing, says Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest. They, “…end up writing a big check to someone to make the headache go away. (And by doing so, they’ve assured their sales will be exactly the number of family and friends they can convince to buy their poorly edited, poorly designed book via Facebook wall postings.)”
Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self Publishing,which analyzes the contracts of companies offering self publishing packages, is even more unequivocal listing the Author Solutions companies among “Publishers to Avoid.” Levine says, “…these publishers will make the process of self-publishing frustrating and unviable.”
Will that change with the Penguin acquisition? As Friedman said,”… it seems unlikely that Pearson would meaningfully change any business practices that made ASI profitable in the first place.”
True self publishing means authors maintaining control of each step of the process themselves. If they need editing, or book design, or even marketing services they can contract with free lancers who will be working for them. They will own not only the copyright to their book but the right to have anyone they choose print it.
This is not the case with many dismayed customers at companies like AuthorHouse or Xlibris whose contract includes a clause which says, “You retain the rights to the book, but the files remain ours because we created them.”
The consequence explains Mark Levine is, “If an author leaves to seek a more affordable and profitable self-publishing alternative, then the author will have to pay to have everything recreated even though he or she has already paid AuthorHouse to create these files.”
The best advice for self publishers is still to take the time to understand your options. Self publishing should be a DIY process where you as an author maintain control of every step of the process. The Penguin – Author Solutions deal doesn’t change that.