Thomas Nelson – Publishing Intrigue & Afterthoughts

The decision this week by American trade publisher Thomas Nelson to launch their own imprint offering authors self-publishing packages has certainly captured the blogosphere, if not the whole of the publishing industry. Add to this the intriguing caveat that Author Solutions will run the design, print and distribution end of WestBow Press for Thomas Nelson. It has raised a number of questions beyond just the business strategy of a reputable trade publisher working with one of the world’s largest self-publishing services, Author Solutions Inc.
It was an odd move by Thomas Nelson to choose to use an already existing imprint of theirs. WestBow Press, let us not forget, had been operating happily and successfully as a fiction imprint of Thomas Nelson for a few years until 2006. Then, for some reason, WestBow Press was parked up in a lay-by for more than three and a half years until its latest reincarnation. However, CEO of Thomas Nelson, Michael Hyatt, has pointed out on Rachelle Gardner’s blog this week that the last WestBow Press title published by a traditionally contracted author was back in early 2006, and since then, most of the authors still contracted have been moved across to Thomas Nelson Publishing itself. Subsequently, some of those authors still contracted have had reprinted editions published by TN.

“Just one correction to Rachelle’s post: we haven’t used the WestBow name since April, 2006—three-and-a-half years. Those books that were originally published under that imprint and are still selling have long been converted to the Thomas Nelson imprint.”

I still believe WestBow was chosen as the vehicle for all this primarily because it was once a traditional press and imprint of a large reputable trade publisher. I think Michael Hyatt described a need for starting out with something that already had a sense of ‘history’. For me, this goes to the very heart of the perceptions and stigmas of self-publishing, or vanity presses if you stand on the other side of the wall with an ardent opinion on any paid for author services for publication. Isn’t it strange that any publishing house engaged in the business model of mainstream publishing and decides to offer self-publishing services or even associates themselves with the business of self-publishing (through affiliate programs) feels the immediate need to undergo some form of identity cleansing in the industry’s confessional box.
This reminds me a little of the now defunct Cold Tree Press. We took a close look at Cold Tree Publishing about two months ago in an article entitled, Cold Tree Publishing R.I.P. (Reflection & Celebration). In 2008, Cold Tree Press changed their name to Cold Tree Publishing to group their three distinct imprints. Under Cold Tree Press, they had trade paperbacks, Hooded Friar for literary fiction, and Moorsgate became their new home for the author solutions service. Here was a company who started out offering self-publishing services – made the decision to adopt a traditional model of publishing – yet, chose to move the self-publishing end of the business out to a new identity imprint called Moorsgate. In some ways it was the opposite of what Thomas Nelson have done. WestBow Press had a history of traditional publishing as an imprint of TN – now it’s become a self-publishing service.
If we look at Author Solutions, the company Thomas Nelson have afforded the strategic partnership to run the nuts and bolts of WestBow Press, we have, in effect, a self-publishing service using the identity of a reputable publisher. Nice if you can get the gig, and kudos to Author Solutions, they just did! I’m not sure which of the two here is going to be the happiest. Thomas Nelson, knowing they will have an additional resource of cash income from whatever financial arrangement they have agreed with Author Solutions, together with fee referrals from third parties sending perspective authors in their direction (Victoria Strauss deals with this in far more detail today on WritersBeware.) Author Solutions have the equal benefit of looking forward to increased profits with another publishing imprint to add as a colourful feather to their hat – a hat already carrying the feathers of Xlibris, Trafford, Wordclay, AuthorHouse and iUniverse.
It has been a fascinating week following the many nuances and threads of this news story and it has quintessentially for me summed up so many of the challenges and changes we are on the cusp of in publishing. Publishing, and all its peripheral models of business are all showing signs of merging in the center. If you like, we might describe this as the first signs that two distinct models of publishing, who once cast steely eyes, aspersions, cries of elitism, cries of scam merchants, and a general attitude of disdain for each other, may be about to concede that they both have their own inherent weaknesses, but combined, they can provide a greater more creative and dynamic service to all authors.

Here is another excellent follow-up on this news story from Chip MacGregor’s blog where he tackles the ethical issues arrising when mainstream publishers offer self-publishing services.

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