PW Launches BookLife | But Who Is Behind The Service Curtain?

Publishers Weekly, the US trade magazine for the publishing industry, will launch BookLife—a new website resource offering self-publishing authors ‘a number of services’—at Book Expo America next week. The BookLife website will go live on May 29th and currently has the tagline: ‘Support for INDIE AUTHORS from Publishers Weekly’From PW today:

BookLife’s editorial will focus on helping writers in three main areas: a book’s creation, including editing and cover design; publishing—the physical making of the book; and book marketing, including distribution, publicity and sales. To help self-published authors in each of these areas, we will offer a number of services. “Through BookLife, PW will provide indie authors access to its knowledge of book publishing and its understanding of the tools and professional standards that contribute to success,” explained Carl Pritzkat, the president of BookLife and v-p of business development for PWxyz LLC, the parent company of PW.~ PW Daily, 20th May, 2014
Charging for a publishing service is not exactly new for Publishers Weekly. The magazine already publishes a quarterly called PW Select, which sells brief book listings (author, title, price, pages, format, ISBN, a short description, and order information) specifically to self-published authors at a cost of $149. The fee includes an author’s book being submitted for a full review, though only about a 25% of submissions actually get reviewed. So, that means three out of every four authors get little more than a brief listing for their $149. If I’m going to pay that much, I sure as hell expect some kind of a review!
I’ve never really seen much value in the PW Select listings service. It’s a bit like settling down on your comfy chair late in the evening to enjoy a good read, and then picking up the local telephone directory. It’s not just because the listing per book is very basic and the fact that there is no guarantee of a book review, but because of PW’s policy of segregating self-published books from industry published book. All this seems to create is a self-serving ghetto and additional subscription and service fees for PW. As of June 2012, PW had a circulation of under 16,000 (figure provided by BPA Worldwide). And that’s PW magazine, not the quarterly supplement! My suspicion is that PW Select is read as much by the authors who pay for this service as it is by trade readers.
Fortunately, with today’s announcement of the BookLife website and services, PW has stated that it is integrating reviews of self-published books into its regular review coverage. It will also not charge self-published authors who submit books for review consideration through BookLife. At least a little progress! PW don’t outline exactly where the integration of all book reviews will take place. The issue of existing segregation can only be addressed if this ‘integration’ takes place in the main PW magazine. After all, BookLife is targeted solely at self-published authors, not readers!
However, like the PW Select quarterly supplement, I’m somewhat suspicious about the services potentially on offer from BookLife—or rather—exactly WHAT services will be on offer and WHO will execute them for PW. The announcement today provides none of that information. If these services turn out to be publishing and marketing services, I’d be surprised if PWxyz LLC (owners of PW magazine) conduct the services in-house. But, hell, I like surprises—so surprise me, PW…please!
Author Solutions Inc.—currently on the wrong end of a $5 million class action suit taken by three of its authors—happily re-sell ad packages through PW, a practice the UK trade magazine, The Bookseller, thankfully put an end to some months ago, including all of Author Solutions’ subsidiary companies. You can see where I am going with this. Author Solutions already operate quite a number of service imprints for trade publishers, as well as an imprint for the Writers’ Digest magazine. Last year Author Solutions struck a deal with Lulu to supply premium-grade (read crazy expensive) services to its authors.
I guess we will have to wait for the launch at BEA next week to discover the WHAT and the WHO behind BookLife. Let’s just hope we are not all as disappointed as Dorothy when she peered behind the curtain to see who was the real Wizard of Oz.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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