Home » David Gaughran, Self-Publishing » Author Solutions: behind the headlines

Author Solutions: behind the headlines

27 February 2016

From The Bookseller:

In January Penguin Random House sold its self-publishing business Author Solutions to US investor Najafi. The sale, PRH said, reaffirmed its “focus on consumer book publishing”, but it also felt like a conscious uncoupling from a relationship that was still awaiting consummation.

Penguin bought AS in July 2012 for $116m (£74m), in an effort to take a stake in the growing self- publishing market. At the time, Penguin’s then-c.e.o. John Makinson said “self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry”. He wanted Penguin to “gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future”.The Bookseller said that it was “the day self-publishing came of age”.

Yet if the acquisition made sense in theory, the reality was somewhat mixed. Circumstance was not on its side from the very beginning. The deal between AS and Penguin came only a few months before Penguin-owner Pearson and Bertelsmann, owner of Random House, went public with their decision to combine the trade publishing units. In retrospect some now interpret the AS deal as a way of adding ballast to Penguin at a time when Random House had its own “self- publishing” business: Fifty Shades.

Meanwhile, AS faced its own internal distractions. In May 2013, c.e.o. Kevin Weiss departed, succeeded by Andrew Phillips, then president of Delhi-based Penguin International. In the same month, both AS and Penguin found themselves the subject of a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York by three authors who claimed to have been misled by AS (Penguin was later dismissed from the claim). The lawsuit added to the suggestions that AS operated at the murkier end of the vanity market, encouraging authors to sign up to “packages” costing thousands of dollars for services that failed to deliver. The lawsuit claimed AS was a “printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them”.

AS contested the suits, but the complaints did not come out of the blue. At the time of the Penguin deal, Kate Pool, deputy secretary-general of the Society of Authors in the UK, called the move by Penguin “absolutely extraordinary” and “worrying”. Others had less polite terms: the writer and blogger David Gaughran, who has written extensively about vanity presses—and in particular Author Solutions—says AS operates a “two-bit internet scam”. The Booksellerstopped taking advertising from AS in 2014.

. . . .

[Author Solutions CEO Andrew] Phillips says that much of what is written about AS online is incorrect: “You shouldn’t believe everything you read, particularly on social media. There are stories that circulate that, when you look at them, are not true.” When asked to give an example, he highlights two online commentators— Japet Villamro and Karen Turner— both of whom claim to have worked for AS and who have left critical comments about the company on author blogs. Phillips says the business has no record of these individuals. He adds “just because someone is posting a comment on social media or claims to be an employee, that is not always the case, and when we can actually make contact with a real author, any concerns they have are usually addressed to their satisfaction”.

Phillips says much of the criticism comes from individual authors or author groups that are opposed to the assisted-publishing route. “We try to remain focused on what we do very well, regardless of that social media noise. Having said that, we have engaged, and if any of those parties wanted to have a reasonable conversation then we would engage again, but it seems that [some of them] don’t want to have a balanced conversation. I do think there is a fairly entrenched position with some parties which is: ‘There is only one route, and you shouldn’t have to pay.’ I don’t believe that. My view is that authors should have a choice.”

. . . .

In addition to its own imprints, AS runs a number of partner imprints with traditional publishers, including: Archway Publishing with Simon & Schuster; Balboa Press, a division of Hay House; LifeRich Publishing, an imprint of Reader’s Digest; and WestBow Press, a division of HarperCollins’ businesses Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.

Internationally, it operates Partridge in India, South Africa and Singapore with Penguin Random House; it runs Megustaescribir with PRH Grupo Editorial in Barcelona, for authors writing in Spanish; in Germany it operates GABAL Global Editions with German publisher GABAL, offering US market exposure for German authors; and in Australia it runs Balboa Press Aus.

Each individual publisher partner is able to tailor the packages. Archway, for example, offers attendance to an author reception at BookExpo America for those packages costing more than $4,999. Phillips does not believe—as for example the SoA does—that the association with a traditional publisher is misleading for authors, rather that it means those publishers can offer authors a positive alternative path to publication.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to David for the tip.

Here are some excerpts from the comments to this post:

From David Gaughran:

Here is the actual quote I gave to Philip Jones:

Author Solutions has had plenty of opportunities over the years to respond to its critics or address the ever-present issues with its service, but it has always refused to acknowledge any problems. Andrew Phillips himself was given the chance, at his own request, to engage with the Alliance of Independent Authors back in 2014. Instead, he repeated blandishments from press releases and, indeed, has taken no action since then on all the issues raised: http://selfpublishingadvice.or…

I don’t believe that Author Solutions or Andrew Phillips have any genuine interest in reform but I’d be delighted if they proved me wrong by immediately taking steps to remedy some of the worst behaviour – such as the relentless high-pressure flogging of over-priced and ineffective marketing packages, or the dishonest methods it uses to ensnare writers. An example: Author Solutions runs a number of faux-comparison sites like FindYourPublisher.co.uk – which purport to give authors independent advice but merely act as funnels to Author Solutions.

There are problems with all aspects of Author Solutions operations but practices surrounded marketing packages are the most egregious. The products are of questionable efficacy to begin with and are then sold at insane mark-ups. Author Solutions charges $859 for a “Hollywood Review” of a book’s potential for film/screen adaptation, and then farms it out to Craigslist freelancers for just $110. The same crazy mark-ups can be seen in the selling of “web optimized” press releases which cost $1,299, book signings for $3,999, or podcast interviews for $10,669. These practices are simply indefensible and could be stopped tomorrow.

From Orna Ross:

I’m afraid ASI’s hard-sales environment and poor customer service is in no way reflected in this article, in which Andrew is given so much room to talk about his company’s plans and, once again, fails to engage with the author community’s widespread concern.

As well as David Gaugran’s tireless investigation of this issue, many other author advocates — notably Jim Giammatteo, Victoria Strauss, Mick Rooney, John Doppler Schiff, Ben Galley, Emily Seuss, Helen Sedwick as well as I, and the Alliance of Independent Authors’s Watchdog Desk — have all spoken out against practices at ASI.

None of these busy authors is motivated by anything other than a wish to see other authors served well by publishing services, not harassed by sales calls and sold a dream dressed up in expensive packages (see below). We continue to get severe complaints about ASI all the time. I — and others — have told Andrew this. He has displayed no interest in changing practices or addressing author community concern.

ALLi is not opposed to author services — on the contrary, we have a partner membership for good services — but we do warn authors away from services that over-promise, over-charge and under-deliver.

Below are some extracts from a long sales email from one of ASI’s UK imprints, reproduced with permission of the 85-year-old author who contacted our Watchdog Desk, upset and confused having been bombarded with calls urging her to take a “Hollywood package”. The email exchange reveals, clearer than anything I can say, the values at play in this company.

I hope that Andrew will make himself available in this comment box for discussion of the issues. They are serious and they need to be addressed.

With thanks
Director, Alliance of Independent Authors

AUTHOR: “At the beginning of this year Author House were trying to persuade me to pay for a screenwrite for xxxxx, a book they had published. I thought it was a scam and said so despite the amazing number of times a consultant tried to persuade me. Now his boss has found and liked xxxx (another of the author’s books) so I was treated to another hour of hard sell. I said..I needed something in writing… so they sent the enclosed e-mail… I am a pensioner and not wealthy, I cannot throw money away on a pipe dream… Is this film suggestion a scam? Should I be tempted? Your knowledge of the publishing industry is invaluable. Could I ask your advice please?”

Extracts from the letter to the Author from Author House (spelling & grammar preserved):

ASI: Good Day!

I trust that this e-mail finds you well. First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the call earlier and it was my pleasure to speak about your book. …I hope you agree with me on this that the book’s potential is not just limited to publishing retail industry but even more to Hollywood movie industry…

I know that this book needs this big push so that we could help you with your book’s success. That is the reason why we are doing this. We have carefully analyzed each marketing avenue and we are confident that this would surely provide your book the best possible way to be noticed not just by ordinary person, not just by highly interested individuals but even for those who are decision makers and major executives in the movie industry.

I am suggesting that we do these to create huge and essential noise for your book. Let us win the attention of the major movie companies… As promised, I am sending you detailed plan of the extensive marketing we are willing to provide you and your book.





With Hollywood Director’s Cut package you can seize the initiative with a compelling bundle of services designed to turn heads and get a few crucial nods from film and TV executives in the highly competitive entertainment industry…

I highly recommend that we give your book this rare opportunity be represented well in the industry. I have seen a lot of good titles failed to thrive in this industry not because it was not good enough but simply because the authors fail to see the potential of the book and this is the one thing that I want to prevent. You, of all people, know the value of your book. And your book deserves this huge marketing exposure. The Books-to Screen Hollywood program is by far the most unique and powerful marketing tool the company has introduced to it’s authors. I suggest you take this campaign.

Timing? Never been better, it is the best time to make them see the true essence of your work. Also, movie companies now is in very much in dire need of new concepts, that is the main reason why they are now turning their focus on self publishing authors.

I know how important this project of yours is to you and I would like to tap in these important people to have the book be taken seriously. Not to mention that it will be our company doing the job of an agent for you and the leg work as well, without asking any cut from it. Thus, you will enjoy full control and registration under your name and 100% revenue going your way.

All for the best,


Senior Marketing Consultant


David Gaughran, Self-Publishing

47 Comments to “Author Solutions: behind the headlines”

  1. It’s a disappointing whitewash, but also not a surprise.

  2. This article just makes me sad. Just like the day I realised why my dad didn’t help me with my physics homework, he always said it was because I needed to do it myself if I was going to learn, then I found out, my dad isn’t any good at physics he didn’t even understand the questions.

    The Bookseller, once a great magazine, is just like my dad, completely at sea in the modern book selling landscape and desperately trying to hide it by producing puff pieces like this.

    This is painful, upsetting and mostly sad to watch.

  3. For some reason they didn’t post my comment:

    Aww, Philip. You had so many opportunities to be a journalist here, rather than simply taking dictation. Are you concerned that asking tough questions would scare away future interviewees?

    Gaughran chided you for many you missed, but here’s a Reporting 101 rudimentary question that a child could have asked: How many copies does the average AS book sell?

    You can imagine the follow-ups. How much does an average AS author earn? How do these numbers improve with AS’s more expensive packages? What percentage earns back the money they spent? Are there any AS bestselling authors or titles? How many copies have your top ten authors sold?

    Rudimentary interview stuff, no?

    Phil, brother, I actually do feel for you. Perhaps, in your younger days, you had true journalistic dreams. Perhaps dreams of being paid for championing the underdog and being a force for good (you know, the kind of stuff Gaughran does for free).

    Well, it isn’t too late for you, Philip. If you pay me just a small fee of $4,999, I’ll introduce you to my contacts at The Huffington Post. Granted, they don’t pay authors. And you can find these contacts on your own with a two minute Google search. But I’m proud to be able to offer you this choice. You can figure it out on your own, for nothing. Or pay me a lot of money to do little more than nothing.

    And if you pay me $14,999, I’ll include my film agent’s phone number. Let’s partner up and make this happen. My mission is to service you and your reporting goals. It doesn’t matter how much money you pay me; my mission won’t change.

    • Now you’ve done it. AS will add a new marketing package. Pay them 15k and they’ll help you get an article in front of the Huffington editorial staff…

    • @ Joe Konrath

      “For some reason they didn’t post my comment…”

      LOL. You bet they didn’t! Are you surprised? 🙂

      (And I bet you’re on more than a few “no comment lists”!)

    • Here’s the thing. Philip Jones actually knows the score. He knows how Author Solutions operates. And he still engages in this BS.

      Anyone reading my posts (as Philip did) will know that I have had multiple internal sources at Penguin Random House leaking me information and documents related to Author Solutions. They will also know that I have spoken to employees of Author Solutions both past and present – some on the record, some off. And I get a never-ending stream of complaints from people who have directly used their services.

      Did Philip care to know about any of that? Of course not. He didn’t speak to a single victim. It’s almost like he decided what the piece would be before he wrote it.


    • ” My mission is to service you…”

      This can be read in multiple ways.

  4. Marketeer: You have such a wonderful book, for just a few thousand dollars we can push it to the movie industry and we’re certain it will make a big splash.

    Author: If you think so, I will make you my exclusive agent for six months at 15 percent commission and you push the book and we’ll both get rich.

    Marketeer: Unfortunately, that is not what we do. We only do fee for service marketing.

    Author: And unfortunately this is not what I do either. It’s a waste of valuable time. Thank you and have a nice day.

  5. Author Solutions boasts 200,000 authors to date on their website.

    Out of curiosity, I took a look at how well books by ASI imprints are selling on Amazon — the largest bookstore in the world.

    In total, including print and digital books, all 200,000 authors put together are selling roughly 614 books a day and making less than $8,000.

    In other words, the daily sales of all 200,000 ASI authors put together don’t add up to the cost of a single ASI “publishing package”.

    Caveat emptor.

    | publisher | book_count | best_salesrank | max_sales | max_dollars | total_sales | total_dollars |
    | Archway Publishing | 2 | 1090440 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | ArchwayPublishing | 1 | 219137 | 1 | 18.50 | 1 | 18.50 |
    | Author Solutions | 1 | 439187 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | AuthorHouse | 291 | 6723 | 18 | 145.64 | 112 | 970.84 |
    | AuthorHouse Pub | 1 | 1574496 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | AuthorHouse Publishing | 2 | 374267 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | AuthorHouse UK | 7 | 637766 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Authorhouse.com | 1 | 500360 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | AuthorHouseUK | 5 | 2146548 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Balboa Press | 30 | 292063 | 1 | 4.99 | 3 | 8.98 |
    | BalboaPress | 44 | 26614 | 5 | 44.95 | 25 | 200.64 |
    | BalboaPressAU | 3 | 187773 | 1 | 28.81 | 1 | 28.81 |
    | Booktango | 6 | 744579 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | iUniverse | 331 | 12906 | 9 | 161.64 | 95 | 1085.03 |
    | iUniverse Publishing | 2 | 3456362 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | iUniverse Star | 5 | 212037 | 1 | 25.76 | 1 | 25.76 |
    | iUniverse, Inc. | 90 | 113275 | 1 | 23.95 | 8 | 122.96 |
    | iUniverse-Indigo | 2 | 1126454 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | iUniverse.com | 1 | 4775017 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | iUniverse.com – Hardbound & Pa | 1 | 549708 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | LifeWay Christian Resources | 2 | 8094 | 14 | 279.72 | 22 | 423.48 |
    | Lifeway Church Resources | 1 | 8565 | 13 | 129.87 | 13 | 129.87 |
    | LifeWay Press | 32 | 1313 | 56 | 1161.44 | 242 | 4160.84 |
    | Palibrio | 71 | 146203 | 1 | 16.95 | 4 | 21.98 |
    | PalibrioSpain | 1 | 6011206 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Partridge Publishing India | 3 | 313020 | 1 | 1.91 | 1 | 1.91 |
    | Partridge Publishing Singapore | 5 | 169012 | 1 | 2.00 | 1 | 2.00 |
    | PartridgeIndia | 2 | 819409 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | PartridgeSingapore | 3 | 2117076 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Trafford | 36 | 44393 | 3 | 25.12 | 14 | 105.61 |
    | Trafford Press | 1 | 2108758 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Trafford Publishing | 83 | 148286 | 1 | 39.95 | 10 | 112.86 |
    | Trafford Publishing P.O.D. | 1 | 4219817 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | TraffordSG | 1 | 4755480 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | WestBow Press | 14 | 131923 | 1 | 4.99 | 2 | 5.48 |
    | WestBowPress | 6 | 202771 | 1 | 1.91 | 1 | 1.91 |
    | Xlibris | 241 | 45041 | 3 | 59.94 | 32 | 261.70 |
    | Xlibris AU | 2 | 199120 | 1 | 4.99 | 1 | 4.99 |
    | Xlibris Corp | 2 | 4737243 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Xlibris Corporation | 7 | 292397 | 1 | 14.01 | 1 | 14.01 |
    | Xlibris NZ | 1 | 56581 | 2 | 7.64 | 2 | 7.64 |
    | Xlibris UK | 1 | 1551784 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    | Xlibris US | 32 | 137681 | 1 | 15.99 | 10 | 46.98 |
    | Xlibris, Corp. | 34 | 28490 | 5 | 107.95 | 11 | 231.85 |
    | XlibrisUS | 1 | 1673384 | 0 | 0.00 | 0 | 0.00 |
    45 rows in set, 1 warning (10.12 sec)

    • I’ve bookmarked this one. It’s hard to dissuade newbies, and persuade them to try either doing things themselves (oh, the horror!) or finding people who will do a lot more for them for the same amount of money.

      Many writers don’t seem to want to learn – they want to be taken care of. They end up getting shorn – and not writing more books.

      It’s an expensive way of culling the writing herds. Expensive to the individuals. They pay for their own haircuts.

    • Scanning that list, I notice the only AS imprints with daily sales greater than the number of titles are the Christian themed imprints. (And Xlibris NZ which sold 2 copies of its 1 title.) Combined, the three Christian themed imprints accounted for 45% of AS imprint daily sales with 2.5% of AS titles.

      • Which is good evidence for modeling genre readership as an acyclic directed graph forming interconnected networks within larger social networks. Or, just word of mouth sells books and the more connected fans are the more sales occur.

      • I’ve seen their ads for their Christian publishing service on tv. They pitch it hard and of course, never mention AS. Of an evening, I might see the ad three or four times.

    • I see that iUniverse has one listing for 331 books sold and another for 90 units. This catches my attention, because the marvelous YA author, Sally Watson, got caught by AS when her stories went out of fashion with traditional publishers.

      I loved Watson’s Lark and Linnet when I was a kid. I’d read them from the library. I remembered them about 7 years ago and went looking for copies to own. Couldn’t find any at first. Then suddenly there were copies on Amazon. And then there were titles of hers I’d never seen! I scooped them up and read them and enjoyed them. But felt heartsick when I saw the iUniverse logo on the books.

      • That’s 331 titles, which sold in total 95 units. The best selling title of the 331 sold 9 units.

        • Ah. I see I wasn’t understanding how Data Guy had presented the data. Thanks for the clarification, Gordon.

          I just did some googling, and I see that Watson now has ebook versions of her books (she didn’t 5 years ago) and a website. Perhaps she has moved on to indie publishing! ::squee!:: I sure hope so!


          • Hmm… Published by Image Cascade Publishing. Never heard of them, but the $5.99 price isn’t exorbitant. Checking their website imagecascade it looks like they republish vintage girls fiction. I don’t see any obvious way to submit to them as an author, which is a good thing. It suggests they aren’t trolling for suckers.

    • So, let’s do some math. Real math, not WhaleMath™:

      $8,000 divided by 200,000 authors equals:

      $0.04 per author.

      Today, that would buy 2 “regular size” gumballs. ASI: The Road To Riches it ain’t!

      • If you add up all the titles it comes to 1407 give or take a number I missed or misread. That would be:

        $8,000 / 1407 titles = $5.69 per title.

        Much better. Almost enough to buy a cup of coffee and a muffin. It does raise the question of why the number of AS titles on Amazon is less than 1% of the number of authors they claim to have. Does it take 142 AS authors to write 1 book? (Atlanta Nights?)

        • It does raise the question of why the number of AS titles on Amazon is less than 1% of the number of authors they claim to have.

          Sorry for any confusion.

          These 1407 are ASI’s top best sellers (despite the fact that most of the 1407 are selling less than a copy a day).

          The remaining 198,000+ were selling too rarely to appear on any Amazon list — most likely never selling at all.

          • That’s hilarious. AS’s top sellers represents less than 0.7% of their titles (it’s only that high if every author only writes one book) and sell at an average rate of less than half a unit per day.

            Maybe hilarious is the wrong word. 🙁

  6. The story of the 85-year-old author is totally shocking (and I thought I knew all about Author Solutiions). Thank goodness she had the sense to get in touch with Orna Ross.

  7. Their senior marketing consultant needs an editor. How can I trust anything of mine to someone who cannot write in proper English, especially when it’s a *literary* business? The grammatical errors alone would have frightened me off had I not already known they were a total rip-off business.

  8. I could go point-by-point on this interview, but it’s the same tired excuses from Author Solutions which have been repeatedly debunked over and over. If Philip Jones had wished to push back on any of the nonsense that he uncritically published, he had all the necessary information to do so. You will have to ask him why he chose not to. But, really, anyone with half a brain can see how tilted this whole article is, how much space is given to Andrew Phillips versus his critics, how little detail is given on the allegations against Author Solutions, how they didn’t even bother interviewing one single victim of the company, and so on.

    But I want to talk about something else.

    Warning: this is lengthy and might only be of interest to some. You have been warned. But there is a funny story behind this interview. And when I say funny, I mean depressing and predictable…

    It all started in 2012 – with the Penguin purchase of Author Solutions and the BS coverage that accompanied same. Along with several others, I did regular battle with Philip Jones in the comment sections of various articles The Bookseller was publishing on Author Solutions. Comments were regularly censored, and my highlighting of same eventually led to an email discussion which continued on-and-off until just recently. (I would link to those comments, but they were all lost when The Bookseller changed its comment system. I’m sure many tears were shed at The Bookseller HQ.)

    Philip Jones didn’t know seem to know very much about Author Solutions to being with. His starting position appeared to be that self-publishers like myself were just cynically using this as a stick to beat publishers with, and that he was very skeptical about the allegations themselves. He said he was deleting comments for libel reasons, and would continue to do so unless everything was backed up. So I referenced all my claims, showed the hard evidence behind what I was saying, and Philip Jones began to learn more about what was really going on at Author Solutions (and allow those comments).

    But he never mentioned that The Bookseller had a relationship with Author Solutions. He must have forgotten. I discovered this link when an author friend showed me a copy of the print edition of The Bookseller, and the Author Solutions ads in same – ads that were being sold at insane mark-ups to Author Solutions customers in Bookseller-branded marketing packages costing over $10,000. (Note: Philips Jones stated that The Bookseller didn’t profit from this arrangement aside from the money made from selling this ad space to Author Solutions at standard rates.) Later on, these exact marketing packages would cause some embarrassment to The Bookseller when mentioned in the class actions, but The Bookseller handily solved that problem by pretending the class actions didn’t exist. Back to 2013: I decided to start putting pressure on The Bookseller publicly and wrote about their advertising relationship with Author Solutions, and pointed out the (related, I felt) imbalance in their coverage: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/penguin-random-house-merger-helps-author-solutions-exploit-writers

    That post led to a somewhat heated discussion by email – a conversation which was off the record at Philip’s request. And while I feel he has been quite duplicitous on this issue, I’ll keep that conversation private for now. What I do feel comfortable sharing is that his views on Author Solutions seemed to be evolving as he digested all this information, but also that he retained significant faith in Penguin’s ability to reform Author Solutions. (I pointed out that Penguin explicitly said that they wouldn’t be doing so, but he remained unmoved at this point in proceedings.)

    I approached Philip Jones again In February 2014, telling him that I was planning to revisit the issue of Author Solutions advertising in The Bookseller, and whether that affects its coverage. Two days later he replied saying that The Bookseller had decided to drop Author Solutions ads. Again, our conversation was off the record at his request, but, as Philip already mentioned this in the above interview, I think it’s okay to share that he decided to hire a new reporter, Sarah Shaffi, and that one of her first assignments would be to investigate Author Solutions. Philip said the story would be published in the run-up to the London Book Fair (2014), and he indicated that it would be a proper investigation, mentioning that Sarah was going to go through the Author Solutions publishing process herself as part of her research.

    That story never appeared.

    I made multiple offers of assistance. While others (e.g. Mick Rooney and Victoria Strauss) had been covering this story for longer than me and had also taken countless hours to deal with complaints and pore over court documents, I was perhaps in the best position to provide that kind of assistance because I also had several original sources for my articles – aside from testimony from innumerable complaining customers, I also had damning information obtained from former employees of Author Solutions, as well as several smoking guns in the form of internal contracts and other documents which had being leaked from Penguin Random House staffers. I offered to assist in any way I could, but I also stated clearly from the outset that I didn’t want anything in return: no mention, no credit, no links, no byline, nothing. I just wanted this story covered by a mainstream source, and I was happy to help in any way possible.

    The Bookseller never took me up on that offer. Which… fine. If they wanted to cover the story their way, I didn’t care as long as they did it right. But the story never appeared.

    I continued to bug Philip Jones by email. In April (2014), he said that Sarah was still working on the story. In June, he said the same, but added that he would be interviewing Andrew Phillips later that month, and that the story would finally run in July (2014!). I continued to send on links to my own articles on Author Solutions, pretty much as they were published, which were passed on to Sarah. I emailed for a status update in September, but got no reply. I sent a more strongly worded email in October, which finally got Philip to admit that he was sitting on the story.

    He told me that Andrew Phillips (Author Solutions CEO) now wouldn’t do the interview because of the class actions, and that The Bookseller would not run Sarah Shaffi’s investigation without a comment on the record responding to the allegations. I explained to Philip Jones that he was effectively handing a veto to Author Solutions as legal proceedings could take years. Philip Jones felt the interview with Andrew Phillips would be worth waiting for as Andrew Phillips had promised a full and frank interview addressing all the allegations raised against Author Solutions. I was unhappy with this but couldn’t do much about it.

    A few weeks later, The Bookseller had a real coup when they managed to bag Tom Weldon, the Penguin Random House UK CEO, for a “fireside chat” at their conference. Needless to say, Philip Jones didn’t ask him anything about Author Solutions.

    Undaunted, I continued to push privately for Sarah Shaffi’s investigative piece to be published but Philip was unwilling to change his mind. Once the class actions were settled, I emailed Philip again (October 2015) asking when Sarah’s article would be published, now that the legal proceedings were finished. When Philip failed to respond, I threatened to go public and write about how he was sitting on the story. He then threatened to kill it permanently if I went public. But, hey, at least I got a response.

    After things calmed down a little over the next couple of months, Philip Jones told me that the reason the piece was delayed was because he wanted to interview Andrew Phillips in person. I thought that was a little strange, but not as strange as the fact that none of the people who had written extensively about Author Solutions had been contacted for any kind of background research. Anyway, I was still holding out some kind of hope that the interview would be at least somewhat balanced – at least, Philip’s privately expressed opinions of Author Solutions had begun to resemble reality. He had also now accepted that Penguin Random House wasn’t going to reform Author Solutions, and that Andrew Phillips and Author Solutions had interest in any kind of reform themselves.

    Plus he asked me for a quote at the last minute. That got my hopes up a bit, I will freely admit.

    And then the interview dropped… using half a line from the three paragraph quote I gave. It was pushed out quietly on a Friday night – which I can tell you is the lowest possible traffic time for a publishing news audience – and, strangely, it didn’t appear on The Bookseller Twitter feed unlike every other article that evening. I would have missed it myself only someone emailed me to tell me about it.

    Needless to say, I was disappointed. I wasn’t expecting the interview to be a real grilling, but I also wasn’t expecting Philip Jones to roll over and have his belly tickled. The most galling part was that Philip had the temerity to refer to Sarah Shaffi’s never-published investigation in the interview:

    “AS is incredibly attentive to its customers: The Bookseller’s Sarah Shaffi, who investigated the business two years ago, says that ‘if there were awards for persistency, Author Solutions would win’.”

    Yes, Sarah did investigate the business two years ago, and then Philip Jones killed the story. Presumably for containing actual journalism.

    • You might as well go public in every way with it, for you know (and probably always knew in your heart) that they never will.

  9. Thanks to all of you who work to expose AS for what it really is, and help protect authors from being scammed.

  10. Nominations for the Pulitzer Prize for achievements in journalism are apparently accepted during December of each year. http://www.pulitzer.org/page/14014

    Let’s mark our calendars and nominate David Gaughran… and shame on us for not having done so in previous years.

    Lord knows traditional and “industry” press aren’t doing the job they claim and are supposed to be doing. Too busy chasing clickbait and favor from the big dogs. So desperate to want to be seen as part of the very thing they disqualify themselves from by their exploitation of and dishonesty about same. So entitled and shameless.

    Heaven forbid that “publishing” should actually be about writers, editors and cover artists. Or that the majority of related money go to them.

  11. Let me add some clarity to this discussion that has been lacking. I’m not going to talk about Author Solutions. (That “Hollywood Package” sales letter above tells you all you need to know; it screams scam. Very scummy and sad that people would be taken in by it, and thanks to diligent work by David Gaughran, and others, newbys can find this info with very little Google work.)

    My interest is The Bookseller. I was Phillip Jones. That is to say, I was the editor of numerous business trade magazines. This is my wheelhouse. I don’t have to look very far to see what’s going on here.

    Basically: IT’S. ALL. ABOUT. THE. MONEY.

    The Internet has not been good to the business/trade press. It has been brutal. Everything that Mr. Jones did was exactly, positively the only way that this was ever going to go down.

    I see The Bookseller as probably doing everything and anything to keep their heads above water. I just took a gander at their Media Kit. It’s from 2015! The single most important thing mag publishers concern themselves with is this damn Media Kit. It should have been finished and available MONTHS ago. Now, there could be “other” reasons it isn’t ready (they, in fact, put a fig leaf on it by saying, “This guide may be called, Media Information 2015 but don’t worry – our prices and specifications are still the same in 2016!” Wow. Just wow. Rates go up year-to-year, they don’t stay the same – and they also definitely don’t go down. Again, a new marketing kit should have been going to advertisers months ago. This, to me, is a sign of internal stress.

    Moreover, nowhere did I see any info on audited circulation numbers. Also, not good. This was always Magazine 101. Without audited numbers, advertisers shy away because, well, EVERYTHING you say will be considered bullshit. To wit, they claim “The Bookseller reaches over 28,000 readers week in — week out.” How much you wanna bet, if pressed, they would say that this number reflects pass-on readers? That is, the actual circ could be way less than about a third of that, but it gets “passed on” to others in the store or wherever.

    Additionally, they sell their front cover. (A publisher can get a cool, “Super Cover Package” for 6,500 pounds) Selling the cover used to be considered bad taste once upon a time. It’s always a sign of desperation. Now, some money may come in from online subscriptions, but it hardly floats the boat. And online advertising will never pay the rent. Click around their site and the same three ads appear over and over. This won’t feed the office cat at 35 pounds per 1000 impressions. Their conferences I’m sure help the bottom line as well as paid subscriptions.

    Of course, the entire point of a business/trade publication is to say to advertisers that they reach decision makers. From the media kit: “The Bookseller puts your books in front of your direct trade buyers – the specialist bookshops, high street chains, Internet bookshops, supermarkets, wholesalers and libraries. Beyond retail, The Bookseller reaches the people who influence your readers’ own book-buying choices.”

    Decision makers. For the publishing industry.

    You simply cannot piss on the leg of the guy paying your bills. The mission statement of this mag, like every other trade mag, is to get as much advertising dollars as possible from their industry. And, so it is extremely unlikely that they would EVER bite the hand that feeds them. Never. In fact, if Mr. Jones actually ripped into Penguin re AS, his publisher – his boss – would very likely fire him. I have no way of knowing, without due diligence, how many dollars in annual advertising contracts Penguin puts into the Bookseller coffers, but whatever it is, in this business you never, never, never, never piss off the advertiser.

    Mr. Jones is not an idiot. He knows that what David is saying is obvious. Despite any protestations he may have indicated in conversations with David. Methinks thou dost protest too much.

    Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is some form of journalism going on here. They may hire actual journalists, or at least competent writers, but these newbys soon realize that the journalistic integrity they learned in journalism school means absolutely nothing. Shit. (Self promotion warning: if you want to read a cynical, deeply biting satire of this entire industry, I have one of those: Office of the Apes. Proudly named in honor of Joe Konrath’s and Barry Eisler’s Be the Monkey. Which I highly recommend, by the way.) Most of what they do is likely rewritten press releases.

    The Bookseller may have cancelled their advertising with AS. But, we don’t know the specifics. They could have already run their contract out. It may only have had one or two left. Maybe they stopped paying – this happens all the time. In fact, it’s one of the very few reasons to ever stop an ad contract. And Mr. Jones kissing Andrew Phillips ass is likely, (okay, maybe I’m cynical here) to burnish his image and see if they can get more ad dollars in the future from AS. It’s a small pain in the ass to have social media rip at The Bookseller relentlessly, but, hey, the money. They’d likely take ad from an erotic publisher’s book about Jesus getting it on with Hitler, if it was a big, fat, four-color, back-cover, 12-time contract at full rates. Don’t shit yourself.


    Joe Konrath, in a response, indicated a number of obvious questions that could have been asked. Yes. Anybody on that staff would obviously ask these questions. I’m sure they had more than enough competence after year one in J school to do so.

    But, IT’S. ALL. ABOUT . . .well, you know.

    • Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look, Nik. That makes it very clear.

    • Hi Nik. I’m not unaware of the practical realities here. I know how the trade press works and often the rest of the press isn’t as different on this score as it would like to imgaine. I probably wasted too much time on this – I’m as susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy as anyone else (or stubborn, if you prefer). However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying. The other option was doing nothing – and we have an oversupply of people doing that at the moment, so I felt it was worth rolling the dice. Even if there was only a 10% chance of a somewhat even-handed article, I don’t exactly have journalists tripping over themselves to cover this story, so I felt it was worth the gamble – not least when failure leads to an opportunity to show people what these guys are really like. The Bookseller in general and Philip Jones in particular like to make their arguments in moral terms.

      And now everyone can see what hypocrites they are.

      • David, don’t fret. It is people like you who make the world a better place. It is somewhat of a tragedy that there isn’t more positive press sent in the direction of Indies and their world. My note above was specifically regarding the smaller business press, magazines in particular. I know the strains they are under. It is the rare beast of a magazine that has the stability to go after one of their own (and even in those cases you need to have your bullcrap detector working overtime; likely, a major advertiser shunned the magazine at some point and they are exacting revenge – life is like a freaking schoolyard.)

        My intention in mentioning all this is because I frequently see, in writers’ blogs, astonishment and loathing at the way the press treats the Indie phenomenon and there needs to be a distinction between small press entities and the major newspapers. Traditionally, newspapers have maintained a fairly significant firewall between advertising and editorial.

        There are outliers that, for whatever indiscernible reason, have a bug up their butt about Indies or Amazon. (For example, for years I’ve been enjoying Joe Konrath’s fisking of the industry, and when he goes after David Streitfeld of the New York Times, it’s astonishing to me that his immediate editors at the Times haven’t picked up on the same things.) But, for the most part, this isn’t a direct economic compulsion. If they don’t cover something, it’s because they have lost some of their innate abilities to identify good stories and cover them properly. Newspapers are a more endangered species than I would prefer, and this makes me very uncomfortable.

        But it applies to all sizes of publishing entities. For example, the story of Data Guy, and the Indie phenomenon he is able to document, should have gotten the attention of lots of major publications. This is an amazing story! Books are a major part of any culture, and the ground has shifted. The gatekeepers have changed to the marketplace and the authors themselves. Why wouldn’t they do this story? (FWIW I send a note to this effect to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic because he once wrote about the ID Triangle method of defeating the TSA No-Fly list and I used this well-documented lapse for my novel’s bad guy to get on an airplane, and I wondered if he might revisit that topic, but I also pointed him to the Author Earnings Report and gave him all the links and the outlines of this whole phenomenon, and I asked him the same question: why wouldn’t The Atlantic want to do this story? I’m not holding my breath.) I mean the fact that Data Guy is coming out at the Digital Book World conference in March is the time to act. I can totally see this in the New Yorker or any major newspaper looking for a good feature. Again, I’m not holding my breath.

        I didn’t mean to pick on The Bookseller. In fact, I have no real way of knowing what the stability of their P and L is. They could just be ossified – doing things the way they always have and still find a way pay the bills. And, having not seen a print version of their book (that’s how people in this world refer to a magazine) I don’t know the ad relation they would have had with Penguin. But, the advertisers are always the main concern (and ASI has roots in numerous “partner imprints” with trad pubs) and this certainly is an embarrassment to Penguin. So, no upside from their perspective.

        Now, some trade books do actual competent journalism; that is how they identify themselves and later sell this aspect (particularly if they won any of the many magazine awards out there). But, it is primarily a sales tool: “See, people want to read and ‘pass-on’ to their co-workers our great industry coverage.” But, I guarantee, that great industry coverage never attacks one of their major advertisers. The point of many of these pubs is to pretend that they are looking “behind the headlines.” Right. But it is an important illusion for many. At least to the degree that they can sell ad space off of it.

        I’m not sure how he couched his position “morally.” But, that’s his job. The better he does it, the better he lives to fight another day. The illusion.

        Despite everything you gave him, he allows Phillips to refer to essentially *you* as “social media noise,” bolstered earlier in the piece by one of few quotes he used from you: ““two-bit internet scam.” This was designed to make you look like one of the chattering bloggers shooting from the hip. But you did great work, you could have been a great investigative reporter.

        It reminds me of that legendary Jessica Mitford take-down of Bennett Cerf of Random House, when, in the 1960s, he was running a similar scam called the Famous Writers School. She had a hell of time getting that published . . . ironically, it appeared in The Atlantic.

        • Speaking of Jessica Mitford, I wrote about her a while back. That story she wrote about the Famous Writers School is a classic piece of muckraking journalism. But the story behind the story is quite something to. She did indeed have a hell of a time getting that published: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/how-jessica-mitford-exposed-a-48m-scam-from-americas-literary-establishment/

          Anyone who thinks that either the publishing establishment scamming authors or the press colluding in taking the ads and covering it up are new phenomena needs to read the above. And then consider how much more powerful Penguin Random House is today, and how much more it spends on advertising, etc.

          On top of that, you have the natural inclination of most reporters towards having a book deal some day. You probably also have a lot of sympathy among reporters, who have seen their own newsrooms decimated by digital, with their brethren in the publishing industry. Also, despite being owned by people like Rupert Murdoch, the publishers have been remarkably successful at pitching themselves as the good guys.

          The “two-bit” quote particularly annoyed me. It was designed, as you said, to make me look like someone trying to lazily smear Author Solutions, someone who throws around accusations without backing them up. It was actually taken from a meticulously researched article. This one: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-case-against-author-solutions-part-1-the-numbers/

          That’s arguably one of the most detailed, evidenced pieces that has been written on Author Solutions, explaining how the whole thing works. It’s backed up with customer testimony, internal documents, court papers, employee reports, quotes from executives, quotes from the papers Author Solutions was circulating when looking for a buyer – the works.

          And he takes that one phrase and just leaves it dangling there. A dick move.

          But Philip Jones isn’t particularly skilled at this. At least David Streitfeld is somewhat good at covering his tracks. Philip’s snow job was pretty obvious.

          • The story by Miss Shaffi just ran on the Bookseller site and the comment left by Nate wins the Internet for today: “Frankly, I have put more work into investigating my stools.”

            Regarding this entire incident, The Booksellers’ best play would have been to just publish a one-paragraph news note saying that X sold Y and the guy running it will be Z. End of story. As for all the rest: Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.

            There is absolutely no upside for them. I really don’t know why they bothered. They could have just pretended that it doesn’t exist. I wish the world was different and they would be allowed to do whatever they wanted and could pursue any story that struck a journalistic nerve. But, as it is, they are essentially a third party advertising entity for the book publishing industry. I feel sorry for them. Magazine publishing is a dying concern and they are just trying to make a living. That’s what it all comes down to.

            In the book mentioned previously, Office of the Apes, there is a sequence that tells you all you need to know about this type of “journalism.” The main character, Mr. Bonkers, is at his rope’s end, his whole life is about to explode into craziness and he stops to assess his field of journalism. Now, there is a magazine for everything; something like 10,000, last I remember. His is a non-descript magazine called American Tractor Times, servicing the farm equipment industry, he is its editor. This tells you everything you need to know about this business:

            “So while our loyal readers may have felt assured that we at American Tractor Times reviewed all products and considered all issues strictly on the basis of merit, well, they were wrong. We practiced what is known as “stroke journalism.” We “stroke” any company who advertises with us. The more frequent the ad placement, the bigger the stroke, the bigger the four-color picture, the better its placement, the more frequent the fawning review of any new products. We were a one-stop stroke factory. And our dreaded readers were never the wiser for it.

            You see, our readers have probably been trained by Consumer Reports, which purports to exhibit total objectivity in its product reviews. We encouraged that belief because it rubbed off on us. If it’s in print, it must be true. Consequently, our hoodwinked readers were happy, the advertisers were happy and when we received our weekly paychecks – we were happy. After all, two bad months and a few IRS irregularities and a small publishing company like ours could shut down.

            I’ve seen it all happen before. Before you can even erase the porn on your computer and steal some inconsequential office supplies, some human bulldog with “Joe’s Locksmith Service” lettered on his shirt, is changing the locks on the doors and a Heinrich Himmler-lookalike-accountant, with a clipboard, is scrutinizing the office assets and making an inventory of said assets, such as your aging fax machine and broken copier.

            And besides, we didn’t give a s***. Nothing mattered except that paycheck. Whatever Woodward and Bernstein fantasies any poor f**k harbors coming out of journalism school, gets squeezed out with the slow, steady drip of publishing reality, like the last drop of life blood spilling out onto the floor, taking with it any last molecule of integrity that has somehow survived. Take your lofty ideals, your unbound ambitions, your wistful dreams and pack them all like stinky sardines in a small tin and run that bastard over with a goddamn 7,000-pound tractor.

            Because if you were as smart as you thought you were, years ago, when you grabbed that sheepskin, it would have “EE” written across its top. You would have really been a f**king engineer. Or a pharmaceutical salesman. Or an organ grinder. Something that isn’t dependent on advertising revenue.”

  12. So they finally posted that investigative report referenced in the above post.

    It’s pretty weak, and doesn’t really say much more than that the investigation happened:

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