Traditional Publishers Knee-Deep in Publishing Services: 2009-2014 | Infographic

The following is a snapshot of how self-publishing services have become a part of the greater publishing industry over the past five years, complete with article and infographic. Feel free to link to the article and download the graphic.

A little over five years ago the suggestion that any large, trade publishing house—let alone even one of the big five powerhouses—involving itself in the business of selling self-publishing services directly to authors would have been soundly laughed at. The idea was becoming a common theme at writers’ workshops when I discussed the prevailing attitudes of mainstream publishers to it. Back then the consensus was that such a move by any large and established publishing house was out of the question, and this coming from groups of writers that included self-published authors. My own conviction was that it was simply a question of when not if before a significant publishing house would take the plunge into the murky and choppy seas of self-publishing services.

Shortly after the London Book Fair of 2009, two US-based colleagues reported to me that the industry grapevine was awash in whispers of a certain large publishing solutions provider knocking on establishment doors and keen to show off its workflow engine to any takers. We didn’t have to wait too much longer. In October of that year US independent trade publisher Thomas Nelson announced a deal with Author Solutions Inc. (ASI) which would see the Bloomington, Indiana provider supply the publishing engine for WestBow Press. While it wasn’t exactly a deal struck by one of the big six publishing fish in New York, Thomas Nelson was nevertheless a sizeable catch—at the time it was the sixth largest American trade publisher and the world’s largest Christian publisher.
Although broadly welcomed by some authors in the self-publishing community, the irony of this new traditional/self-publishing marriage wasn’t lost on those of us familiar with the questionable services and marketing practices of many ASI self-publishing imprints. While ASI had—and still has—one of the largest global operations of any publishing services provider, it was a shaky step forward in an effort to have self-publishing taken seriously by the mainstream publishing industry. This was a case of your only daughter coming home and announcing that she’d starting dating the biggest ‘problem kid’ in the neighbourhood.
Like a set of dominoes tipping over to create repeated patterns, it wasn’t long before (just weeks) before Harlequin announced a similar deal with ASI for the launch of its self-publishing imprint—Harlequin Horizons. I’ve never quite understood why Harlequin came in for such vociferous criticism from its own traditionally published authors. Perhaps Thomas Nelson authors were gentlefolk back then, but the Harlequin deal with the devil saw much gnashing of teeth, toys hurled with venom from strollers, and their spanking new Horizons imprint was subjected to the kind of scrutiny last seen when the US Bill of Rights was drawn up. With the threat of publishing privileges being permanently removed by the Romance Writers’ of America (RWA), and after a chaotic launch of the imprint, Harlequin relented and changed the name to Dell Arte Press. Apart from the vanity press connotations of a publisher with a globally recognised brand owning a self-publishing imprint, using that brand name directly was the ultimate sin for some.
In May 2010, the third domino toppled when Hay House Publishing announced their self-publishing imprint, Balboa Press. This was another false dawn and another ASI-run imprint. Let’s drop the domino analogy. This was three ducks lined carefully up in a row. To be fair, I’ve had limited negative feedback from WestBow and Dell Arte authors. I can’t say that about Balboa Press. You can read one author’s experience of Balboa Press here. In 2010 I also wrote a brief post summary about the all three imprints. This wasn’t long after Balboa Press had launched and below is a quote from that post.

I suspect the Hay House Publishing partnership with ASI is going to pass under the radar of the industry and we are not going to see the kind of outcry and resistance from author guilds and associations so prevalent during the launch of Harlequin’s DellArte Press. This may be in part due to Hay House Publishing not having the same global profile as Harlequin, but I also believe it is because much of the backlash was unfairly directed at Harlequin, while Thomas Nelson, who had been the first to enter the paid-publishing field of play, went about their business with little or no negative press. […] One thing that also strikes me as significant is the way all the publishers who have launched paid-publishing divisions are allowing ASI to not just run their new imprints and revenue sources, but the manner in which they have conceded much of the public relations work.~ Subtlety, Hay House Publishing and The Arrival of Balboa Press – TIPM, May, 2010

We didn’t witness the same kind of fervour and Balboa’s launch passed pretty unspectacularly. I felt that the mood was set. ASI’s vacuum-cleaning exploits of sweeping up every large competitor (iUniverse, Trafford and Xlibris) in the self-publishing arena had been accomplished, and now it had simply moved on to the established publishing trade. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe all those writers and publishing professionals—who had insisted over the years that a big, big New York player would never get into self-publishing services—were spot on.
Never gonna happen, Mick. Far too much at risk.

It was time to turn out the lights, bid goodnight, with the strict instructions that I shouldn’t be woken until it actually did.
In April 2011, Penguin Book Group—one of the Big Six (5 as it is now)—launched Book Country in beta mode. A quasi mix of Wattpad-style community, and publishing platforms like Kindle and CreateSpace. After nearly twelve months in the planning and development, and driven by Penguin’s Director of Business Development, Molly Barton; this looked—for all intents and purposes—the real deal. A proper attempt by a big publisher to develop an in-house self-publishing imprint. Barton also shrewdly chose to develop the reading and author community first before launching the self-publishing services at the end of 2011. This was a brave initiative and Barton seemed the right person to deliver it.
Book Country stuttered and stumbled into life over the following two years. This was at least a self-publishing imprint from any publisher that didn’t seem to have ASI involved and an author didn’t need to re-mortgage his/her home or hope for a very lucky night at the casino to afford the service fees.
But along came a spider.
By July 2012, Pearson PLC bought Author Solutions Inc. (ASI) lock, stock and barrel from Bertram Capital for $116 million and promptly decided to place it into the Penguin Book Group. I noted at the time of the acquisition the following:

Everyone directly connected with this decision will be happy. Bertram Capital has shifted a marque they needed to and trousered $116 million, ASI CEO, Kevin Weiss, makes the board of Penguin Group, and Penguin gets the keys to the ASI engine room and the resource of 1600 employees. That will help nicely with digitizing a lot more of the Penguin back catalogue, provide a further financial revenue stream, and who knows, maybe provide a very few new authors to the mothership which hitherto went under the radar of Penguin.~ Opinion: Pearson Acquisition of Author Solutions – Change, What Change? – TIPM, July, 2012

Your only daughter is still dating ‘problem child’ and now she’s moving him into the spare bedroom as well! So Penguin had to decide how best to deal with ASI. Try and get ‘problem child’ to clean up his act and see how best to use his job skills. By mid-2013, Andrew Phillips of Penguin won the bone (or drew the short straw, depending on your take!) and became the new CEO of ASI. Everyone in the industry had asked the question—what is Penguin going to do with ASI and what will happen Book Country? The answer was to set the ASI technical boffins loose on Penguin’s Book Country. The ASI boffins didn’t disappoint, and in early 2013 Book Country was relaunched as a reader and author community and e-book only publishing platform. ASI had its own e-book publishing platform in the shape of Booktango. To be fair, Booktango is actually one of ASI’s better self-publishing efforts in a sea of abysmal self-publishing imprints. However, the result of tinkering by ASI boffins resulted in Molly Barton’s original plan for Book Country changing. Ladies and gentlemen—I present to you, the new Book Countryson of Booktango!
Barton departed Penguin at the beginning of this year to take up a role as a consultant for publishing start-ups. She will be much in demand.
The merger of Random House and the Penguin Book Group last year reduced the big six publishers to the big five. Since ASI came under the Penguin umbrella, there have been few new direct ASI partnerships with outside publishers. Penguin has gone on to launch Partridge Publishing—specifically for the self-publishing market in India—and also using the ASI workflow engine, True Directions, a self-publishing imprint for Penguin’s Tarcher imprint.
Just before ASI’s acquisition by Pearson/Penguin, the company agreed a deal to run Simon & Schuster’s self-publishing imprint, Archway Publishing, adding to a partnership portfolio of self-publishing imprints operated for Writers Digest (Abbott Press), Berrett-Koehler (Open Book Editions), Guideposts (Inspiring Voices) and LifeRich Publishing.
Fortunately the publishing landscape has dramatically changed over the past two years and both major publishing houses and independent publishers have realised that creating a self-publishing imprint does not have to mean the involvement of ASI as a partner.
Mind-body-spirit trade publisher Hampton Roads Publishing created an in-house self-publishing imprint with the launch of Turning Stone Press; the massive German publishing group, Holtzbrinck, operate ePubli; and HarperCollins’ acquisition of Zondervan, Thomas Nelson and Harlequin in the past two years means that there is only one of the big five publishers without some representation in the self-publishing arena.
Who would have thought in 2009 that four of the top five publishers in the world would be so knee-deep?
Please enjoy our infographic included in this article. It’s titled: Traditional Publishers Knee-Deep in Publishing Services: 2009-2014. It is by no means an absolute conclusive graphic on just how self-publishing has become a part of the industry! the industry! Feel free to share and download.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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