The Future of Publishing 2020: Control, Coker and ASI

This is a pretty thought-provoking post by SmashwordsMark Coker. There are a number of strong arguments he makes for the control and advantage indie authors may hold over traditionally published authors in regards to ebook pricing.

“One surprise, however, was that we found $2.99 books, on average, netted the authors more earnings (profit per unit, multiplied by units sold) than books priced at $6.99 and above.  When we look at the $2.99 price point compared to $9.99, $2.99 earns the author slightly more, yet gains the author about four times as many readers.  $2.99 ebooks earned the authors six times as many readers than books priced over $10.”

…and Coker goes on to suggest…

“The picture painted augurs well for indie ebook authors, but indicates that authors who continue to publish with traditional publishers might actually be damaging their careers.  Look no further than the bestseller lists at Apple, Amazon or Barnes & Noble to see that indie ebook authors are taking eyeballs from the authors of NY publishers.  As I write this, seven of the top 30 bestsellers in the Apple iBookstore are distributed there by Smashwords.”

It may seem to some as a radical statement – that traditional authors may be damaging their long term careers – but it is also predicated on publishers continuing their current agent agreements and I’m not convinced that strategy is going to hold over the coming years as digital continues to eat into print sales. However, here is the piece from Coker which really interested me as to where he takes the argument.

“How will Pearson prevent Author Solutions from tarnishing the Penguin brand?  Seems to me Lulu or Blurb would have been a smarter acquisition if Pearson wanted a reputable print self-publishing firm.”
“So, will someone please tell me, if print isn’t the future, and vanity isn’t the future, then why did Pearson pay $116 million for Author Solutions?  Do they think Author Solutions offers authors a more compelling print solution than Amazon’s CreateSpace, or Lulu?  Does Penguin think the imprimatur of the Author Solutions brand will help it retain its most precious authors?”


I think part of the answer lies in the fact that self-publishing providers like Lulu and CreateSpace are not created from the same mold as the ASI imprints. But critically, neither Lulu nor CreateSpace have developed partnerships with large publishers in the way ASI has developed an engine room to power self-publishing imprints for Hay House, Thomas Nelson and Harlequin. There is no way Pearson could have snatched CreateSpace from Amazon’s clutches because it remains too much a part of Amazon’s integral on-demand strategy beyond printed content. Either way, Pearson would never have managed to purchase Lulu or CreateSpace for a snip of $116 million it spent acquiring ASI. Over the past few years, the ASI strategy has shifted subtly from print-driven imprints like AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford and Xlibris. I’m not for a minute suggesting it is all over for the POD-centric self-publishing providers, rather, it is no longer a primary long term strategy to pin your coat on. ASI’s launch of the digital platform, Booktango, was a sure sign the company needed to improve brand image, move from a print-centric focus, and occupy some of the ground competitors like Smashwords were holding.
It remains to be seen how Pearson will fully integrate ASI’s engine and resources into Penguin Digital and where Book Country (Penguin’s self-publishing imprint) will fit into all this. I do sometimes wonder (more so since the Pearson acquisition was announced last week) if the penny hasn’t already dropped for Pearson and someone at executive level declared, ‘Why the hell are we spending millions developing digital and self-publishing services when a ready-made solution already exists that we can implement faster?’ It is the same strategy Amazon has employed for the past five years. If you want to develop a new product, app or service – you go out and find the most innovative start-up company in silicon valley that has what you need and buy them out. I think the real question here is how much Pearson will be prepared to bite the bullet and integrate ASI fully into Penguin over the coming years. Right now, Pearson need to address the ASI branding issue and what it means to the self-publishing community before it can even contemplate full integration.
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