From David Gaughran:
The more you study an operation like Author Solutions, the more it resembles a two-bit internet scam, except on a colossal scale.
Internet scammers work on percentages. They know that only a tiny fraction of people will get hoodwinked so they flood the world’s inboxes with spammy junk.
While reputable self-publishing services can rely on author referrals and word-of-mouth, Author Solutions is forced to take a different approach. According to figures released by Author Solutions itself when it was looking for a buyer in 2012, it spent a whopping $11.9m on customer acquisition in 2011 alone.
This money is spent on:
- Paying bloggers, websites, and companies a “bounty” based on how many writers they can deliver to Author Solutions.
- Buying a huge presence at writers’ events such as the Toronto Word on the Street Festival the Miami Book Fair International, and the LA Times Festival of Books.
- Setting up a whole string of misleading websites which purport to offer independent self-publishing advice, but which actually only recommend Author Solutions companies (such as iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and Trafford).
- Lots and lots of advertising, particularly Google AdWords ads, to drive inexperienced writers towards these deceptive websites, as well as SEO to push down critical voices.
- Setting up fake social media profiles of people claiming to be independent publishing consultants… who only recommend Author Solutions companies.
- Spambots – because the world needed more of them.
. . . .
Some complain that prospective customers of Author Solutions should do more research –caveat emptor and all that. This is a little unfair for three reasons.
- The deceptive practices outlined above.
- Author Solutions keeps launching new brands (20 at last count) with similar prices and practices, but without the internet baggage. This makes a mockery of Author Solutions CEO Andrew Phillips’ recent claim that “we are not trying to deliberately confuse anybody”.
- Finally, it appears that most prospective customers do actually research the company thoroughly and step away. Out of the 475,000 leads, Author Solutions only converted approximately 5% into customers.
. . . .
Author Solutions also needs to aggressively pursue new business because its existing customers don’t come back for more. According to figures released by CEO Andrew Phillips, Author Solutions and its subsidiaries have published 225,000 titles by 180,000 authors – an average of 1.25 titles per author. The lack of repeat business is in stark contrast to someone like Smashwords which has 310,168 titles from approximately 80,000 authors – an average of around 3.88 per author.
. . . .
Author Solutions sold 27,500 publishing packages in 2011 and, in the information sent out to attract a buyer in 2012, Author Solutions forecasted that the number of publishing packages sold to authors would increase to 30,700 in 2012, and to a staggering 49,015 in 2015.
These packages are widely considered to be massively overpriced compared to competing services but where Author Solutions really makes its money is in aggressively upselling a range of additional services to authors – not included in those expensive packages they first purchase. Most packages don’t even include editing, and this is the first area where sales consultants try and hit their internal targets (claimed in the class action to be $5,000 per customer).
When these sales consultants contact authors, they invariably claim they are calling from Bloomington, Indiana. I should note however that approximately 78% of its staff is actually based in Cebu, Philippines – including the sales and marketing departments. The actual location of Author Solutions staff is important for a number of reasons, not least ascertaining the English ability and editing qualifications of staff working on these books.
. . . .
Penguin [decided] to purchase the company for $116m in July 2012. At the time, the writing community expressed shock at that move, given Author Solutions’ well-known history, and the long-standing warnings from watchdog bodies like Writer Beware.
Some expressed hope that Penguin would clean house, but all it has done is aggressively expand Author Solutions’ operations, with new imprints targeting Spain, Malaysia, India, and South Africa, as well as new white-label self-publishing services for huge companies like Simon & Schuster.
It was clear that Penguin knew exactly what it was purchasing. Companies don’t splash out $116m without doing a thorough check. John Makinson (Chairman and CEO of Penguin at the time), when announcing the purchase said, “We’re looking to upsize not downsize. There are no plans for layoffs, this is an opportunity for growth.”
Penguin’s name also lends credibility to Author Solutions, and its sales consultants have dangled the prospect of Penguin picking up customers’ books. One writer who published with Xlibris (an Author Solutions company) relayed the following:
They told me that with Penguin buying them they could, basically, guarantee that Penguin would look at my book and because it was so good (she’d read the first couple of pages) they would definitely pick it up.
Needless to say, Penguin did no such thing.
Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible