Home » Big Publishing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Self-Publishing » Macmillan’s Pronoun Self-Publishing Platform Signs Off

Macmillan’s Pronoun Self-Publishing Platform Signs Off

7 November 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

Some eyebrows were raised in the spring of 2016 when Macmillan bought Pronoun. And today (November 6), the trade publisher has announced that it’s closing the self-publishing platform.

“We are proud of the product we built,” the publishing house says in an “Epilogue” posted on the home page of the Pronoun.com site, “but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.”

The statement doesn’t elaborate on how Pronoun is deemed to have “changed the way authors connect with readers.” And its message is sobering: “Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.”

The statement avoids any clear explanation of why the Pronoun is being shut down.

. . . .

Pronoun was assessed by many in the self-publishing community (as by Doppler in an earlier ALLi review) as a fairly simple interface for ebook creation by comparison to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system.

And yet, there was at times a community-wide hesitation around the platform because it charged nothing. Authors retained their rights and 100 percent of a retailer’s net payment–no cut to Pronoun. Doppler wrote in that earlier review that Pronoun’s services were free to authors because the company had $3.5 million in venture capital funding from Avalon Ventures and revenue from “its not-insubstantial legacy business.” Future revenue, he wrote, would come from “voluntary partnerships with high-performing authors. These authors may be invited to publish through Pronoun’s traditional imprints, giving up a share of royalties for enhanced services.”

. . . .

Pronoun spokeswoman Allison Horton was quoted by Doppler last year saying an ambitious thing for a company about to be bought by a Big Five trade publisher: “Pronoun’s goal is to make indie publishing so successful that it becomes the predominant way great books are published.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

PG says large and established corporations sometimes purchase tech startups to move into new markets and inject new thinking and dynamism into the parent organization.

It never works.

The employees in the mothership sense an alien presence and organizational antibodies attack. Various and sundry corporate practices are imposed on the acquisition and its people. The startup (now a “division” or “department”) must adopt corporate budgeting processes and conduct quarterly performance reviews for all its employees. Company-wide “best practices” will, of course, be best practices for the new acquisition.

Within a couple of months, the most talented of the startup employees who have not been required to sign employment agreements start thinking about new jobs.

Headhunters swarm to any new source for good tech/internet marketing/programming/etc. talent. People who are valuable to the acquired startup are also valuable to other innovative companies who aren’t under attack from corporate antibodies and where nobody has to sit through mandatory lectures from HR.

The people who have signed employment agreements suffer from constantly declining morale as the most talented members of their team leave for greener pastures. They discover that attracting equivalent talent from outside the mothership is almost impossible and have no choice but to use not-so-talented tech people from elsewhere in the larger organization.

Development of the product slows down, then it slows down some more. Product release schedules are revised. Planned new features are dropped because they’re taking too long to develop. Upper management requires much more frequent updates on progress and hard commitments for new product releases. The new product features list is cut down even further. People start talking about how to get the minimum acceptable product out the door by the scheduled deadline. Nobody even remembers why the new product seemed like a good idea several months ago.

The during his/her regular meetings with the big boss and the quarterly meetings of the board, the CFO of the mothership brings more and more discouraging reports about the acquired company. Nobody can project when it might become profitable.

Managers in other parts of the company that are profitable increase the intensity of their criticisms of the CEO’s formerly pet project.

The OP indicates that it took about 18 months for Pronoun to morph from a sexy investment in Macmillan’s future to an unacceptable boat anchor that was never going to meet revenue and profit standards for the company.

Big Publishing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Self-Publishing

46 Comments to “Macmillan’s Pronoun Self-Publishing Platform Signs Off”

  1. So Pronoun goes from “Too good to be true” to “Too good to last”

    • It always was.
      As Nate pointed out in his obit, those folks pivoted from one business plan to another faster and more often than a cheap politician changes positions.
      They existed primarily (dolely?) to spend other people’s (venture capital) money. Danny deBit would be proud of them.

  2. I doubt Macmillan’s corporate culture killed Pronoun. Their business model was crazy to begin with.

  3. Ah, the Microsoft way.

    Embrace (to keep them under control.)
    Extend (if they actually wanted it to work.)
    Extinguish (no matter how good/useful it might have been.)

  4. Oh dear. Stories like this give me combat-lite flashbacks to corporate existence. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror.

  5. PG, you summed up my government working life. I just want to add one more step in the process, which is so accurate I believe you must have lived that HR experience.

    When the minimum acceptable product talk has happened, then they rush the tidy up for the short deadline release, so they do not test! At all! Even with pretend data on the upper and lower limits. So they roll out the new product which does not work in real life. 🙂

    In fact, the “new” Health system overpaid some nurses and doctors, and underpaid the rest. The state government tried to blame IBM who provided the skeleton accounting program, but IBM won that court case.

    Ah! The “good” old days. 🙂

  6. Nailed it, PG.

    I’ve watched energetic and innovative companies die after acquisition many times.

  7. This was a bid by MacMillan to gather data on how indies do business so they could try and compete in a market they once owned. Less we forget their price fixing scheme or their bribery in the Sudan. I don’t know how much they paid for pronoun but I’m sure it cost then less than creating a data science division. Not to mention they get data from the people who are eating their lunch. And as an added bonus they got to royally screw hundreds of indie authors in the process. I feel really bad for all those poor authors who now lose their rankings, reviews, and pre orders.

    • “This was a bid by MacMillan to gather data on how indies do business so they could try and compete in a market they once owned.”

      The silly fools should have sent an intern to Kboards instead of buying and destroying a company, then.

      • Actually, Pronoun was essentially worthless when Macmillan bought them.
        indications are they simply burned through investor money just keeping the doors open and never made money.
        This was a common scenario during the dot-com boom of the 90’s: companies offering product or services free to build a customer base, with no hope of ever monetizing that customer base other than hoping to be acquired by a deep pockets company.
        It is less common these days because the subsequent dit-com bust “educated” both venture capitalists and the deep pockets about the real value of those kinds of operations.


    • Jeff H.,

      “And as an added bonus they got to royally screw hundreds of indie authors in the process.”

      Given Macmillan, through Pronoun, was paying indie authors MORE than Amazon was paying – 70% for sub-$2.99 sales – and paying the full 70%, the same as Amazon pays, for other sales, in what way were authors being “royally screwed”?

      • Because they are going to depublish hundreds of books costing the authors pre-orders, ranking, and reviews. And worst of all, the time it will take to restore some of those.

        • They’re not going to lose reviews on Amazon. All that takes is an email to Customer service, and they relink it. And as far as the rankings, that’s what happens anytime you let an aggregator handle your amazon account, then decide to go KDP. Or vice versa.

        • From what I can tell, most people who used Pronoun weren’t actually listing on Amazon through them, for that very reason. And those who did probably aren’t ranked high enough for losing the ranking to really matter.

  8. The guys from the acquired company who have employment contracts all have a short-timers calendar in their top drawer, next to the plans for their new start-up and the list of employees from the acquiring company they want to poach.

  9. What a pity. I’ve heard many good things about Pronoun, but it dies before I had a chance to use it. I really, truly hate corporations. Nothing good comes out of them. They don’t promote diversity; they kill it to keep themselves on top. Shame!

    • Corporations aren’t so horrible when you become one. Then you get all sorts of protections that an ordinary debt-serf doesn’t have.

    • I really, truly hate corporations. Nothing good comes out of them.

      The computers we are all using to communicate here came out of corporations. So did the software, networks, and electricity that powers them. Artificial heart valves, MRI machines, knee replacements, cars, literary fiction books, light bulbs, and #2 yellow pencils.

      And millions of independent authors’ eBooks come out and go to people all over the world.

  10. Pronoun was hands-down the best platform available for getting your ebook into all the major retailers. The website was attractive and easy to use; the book landing page was perfect for sharing the link; the author page was nice; the sales data clear; and the royalties were the best in the business. Better than KDP. Yes, through Pronoun you could make your ebook free anytime you wanted. Through Pronoun you could price your ebook at $1.99 and earn 70% royalties even on amazon.

    Even as I used and loved this platform, I figured it was too good to last. As far as I could tell there was no way for them to make money. So I was not surprised to get the notice today. Only disappointed.

    Pronoun was so good I would have gladly paid a subscription fee to continue using it as it was.

    P.S. to @JeffH: Although I will have to move my files, I don’t expect to lose my books’ rankings or reviews because those are tied to the ISBN, not the wholesaler. It doesn’t matter which service I use to get my ebook in the marketplace as long as I own my ISBN. At least, that’s my expectation.

    • According to their faq they will be depublishing them. Whole your loss of taking and reviews aren’t pennate it could take days to restore them. It will not be seemless.

    • “Through Pronoun you could price your ebook at $1.99 and earn 70% royalties even on amazon.”

      I wonder how that worked for authors through Pronoun but not through amzon for non-pronoun authors? I had thought amz offered the same split for everyone, for books under 2.99, amz taking 70?

      • They got them because that is the deal Macmillan has. Those same Amazon payment terms also applied to Kobo, Apple, Google Play, and B&N. Yes, the big companies get benefits that indies do not. I was also published through Pronoun, and agree with Amy – it was a good service too good to last.

        • thanks Bardic, I didnt realize that. It sounds oddly like when the big houses were selling to chains at huge % discounts they didnt offer indies. Like just different deals for volume…

          Im sorry Pronoun is gone. It sounded interesting.

          • but wait, do you suppose mcM bought pronoun just to put them out of biz. like bertalsmann bought the pirate site and then dumped it, to keep it from completing with bmi music?

            That seems the coy deal lots of biggies use; buy out some wideeyed entrepreneur, use their software, store, design, for a bit, then dump them bevause they dont want it to compete with another schtick they have going

            • Macmillan clearly wanted Booklr’s data mining tech and historical data, but they had little incentive to nurture indie competition.

              Perhaps we’ll hear something more definitive in the coming weeks, but from the outside, it sure looks like Macmillan pillaged Pronoun, then put it to the torch.

              Disappointing, but not in the least bit surprising.

              • Agreed completely, John. The other problem is that Pronoun failed to draw any big indie names, so they likely weren’t able to mine the data they really wanted.

    • You’ll lose your Amazon ranking. That is tied to ASIN, not ISBN, and you’ll get a new ASIN number when you create your book on KDP, or another aggregator. There is no way to port your old ASIN number when you create the book on Amazon. Amazon’s system looks at it as a brand new product.

  11. PG, you just described why I took early retirement.

  12. Smart Debut Author

    Cue asinine industry “news” articles attributing Pronoun’s failure to a decline in ebook sales and self-publishing in 3… 2… 1…


    • LOL

    • Smart Debut Author

      And 0… there it is.

      “Of course, the heady success of some self-publishing authors in the early days of the Kindle ecosystem has been less frequently seen in recent years. If Pronoun was anticipating partnerships with “indie bestsellers” as some of the best known outliers were known (Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, Jasinda Wilder, Hugh Howey, Holly Ward, and others), it may have found that fewer of those high-earning chart-toppers were being generated in an increasingly competitive market.”


      Concern-trolling dimwit loves namedropping indie authors that were big back in 2013.

      Guess he’s never heard of Bella Forrest, A.G. Riddle, Lauren Blakely, Douglas E. Richards, or any of the newer indies also making millions. 😀

      • Smart Debut Author

        On a more serious note, what Porter fails to understand is that many of those “first-generation” indie superstars saw themselves as evangelists for self-publishing. Indie publishing was brand new back then, and the unprecedented freedom and control it gave authors over their careers was such a heady and unfamiliar thing that the first super-successful indies went around shouting it from the rooftops. And doing constant interviews about it. And blogging about it incessantly.

        Fast forward to 2017.

        Indie publishing has become–dare I say it?–boring now.

        Indie publishing just another publishing option for authors, and the preferred route for many. And no less renumerative for the top players than it used to be, its just that many of those top names aren’t the same folks running around singing self-publishing’s praises in 2013. But you don’t hear as much about the newer generation of superstars, because 2016 & 2017’s top indies don’t feel the same compelling need to constantly evangelize to other authors anymore — they are content simply writing their books, cashing checks, and attending to their readers and fans. And trying to ride out the ongoing changes required to *stay* successful, because nothing remains static in this industry. 🙂

        • As a corrolary: less time evangelizing is more time writing and one of the elements that goes into being a big success down the Indie road is feeding the beast.
          That shows little sign of change.

          • Smart Debut Author

            Commonly cited wisdom that many swear by, but there are also plenty of counterexamples. Especially outside of Romance.

            A. G. Riddle, one of the top 2 indie earners period, has a molasses-slow release schedule and a total of 6 titles out. Doesn’t stop him from making millions of dollars a year.

            And Fantasy author Kel Kade, with only 3 books out, is killing it, too. As is Jonathan Renshaw, with just 1.

            And the “Bobiverse” guy in SF, another 3-book big earner— can’t recall his name.

            Bottom line: there’s no single generalization you can make about successful indies, other than the fact that their audiences seem to love their books. 🙂

            • Bella Forest, who is exclusive to Amazon routinely outsells Martin, King, and Rowling. But, she’s exclusive to Amazon and wouldn’t need Pronoun, or anyone else considering the twenty or so million dollars she makes a year.

            • Wouldn’t slow writers be the ones best served by more writing time and less evangelizing? 😉

          • We often hear that if writers stopped Activity-X, they could spend more time writing. That may be the case, but an incremental increase in writing time doesn’t mean there will be an incremental increase in published work. Nor does it mean there will be an incremental increase in revenue.

            The writer may do just as well stopping Activity-X and going to the gym.

  13. It’s a real shame – acquiring Pronoun was the one time a traditional publisher could stand accused of doing something right. They were a real competitor against Draft 2 Digital and Smashwords. I really don’t get why old business continues to refuse to embrace new business markets and practices.

    • Smart Debut Author

      Any “competition” provided by Pronoun was always more theoretical than actual, because Pronoun never really managed to gain traction with indie authors.

      In an entire year of operation, Pronoun managed to sign up fewer than 2,500 titles from roughly 950 authors, and none of those titles sold particularly well. Their highest-selling author, Sandra A. Brown (whose books sold mainly because readers mistook her for her more famous namesake, if you believe the myriad 1-star reviews they left) barely cracked five figures in dollar sales over the past year. And she stood head and shoulders above the rest of their authors.

      By contrast, D2D and Smashwords have between them hundreds of thousands of titles from over 100K authors, some of whom are individually outearning all of Pronoun’s 950 authors put together.

      With a lack of a business model (as Nate has pointed out), Pronoun was basically doomed from the start. But their inability to attract a critical mass of authors or help those authors to sell books didn’t help them any.

      • They had no user base to monetize. They also probably ran out of business plans to pivot to.

      • Pronoun has 3400 titles in the Kindle Store right now:

        Back in April I was writing a story on Pronoun and asked Data Guy about sales of Pronoun titles. Pronoun had 1700 titles in the Kindle Store back then, but only 3 had made it into his data set. That means only 31 were selling more than a single copy each day.

        • This sounds about right. My own sales were pretty dismal, though that was likely my own fault more than anything. (Lack of time for marketing was a huge thing for me.) However, I’m looking at it as a chance to start fresh. I’ll do a bit of re-writing, redesign the cover and change the name, and try again.

          That said, they really did try to help us authors where they could. Any time I emailed them, they replied within 24 hours, and were always pleasant and helpful. I’m sad to see them go, and wish the employees the best of luck.

        • “only 3 had made it into his data set”

          that should read thirty-one, not three

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