Why PRH Sold Author Solutions: Business Dropped by a Quarter in 2015

8 September 2016

From The Digital Reader:

Penguin Random House bought the vanity press Author Solutions (ASI) in 2012, they made sure everyone knew about it. but when Author Solutions was sold in January, PRH didn’t announce the deal publicly nor have they revealed the terms of the deal.

And now we know why.

Bowker released a report on Wednesday which covers the number of ISBNs sold in 2015 in the US to indie authors, ebook distributors like Smashwords, vanity presses like ASI, and ebook service companies like Blurb.

What the report claims is that it tracks the growth of indie publishing, but as we all know ISBNs are just is not a valid way to count the number of self-published titles released each year (but bless Bowker’s heart for trying).

. . . .

So we can’t say anything today about self-publishing in general, but this report does offer a unique insight into Author Solutions. That vanity press includes an ISBN with each of the publishing packages it offers to the unsuspecting, and that gives us a clue how many authors are fleeced by ASI each year – or at the very least, it tells us the number of transactions.

There’s even a chart just for ASI and its multitude of publishing imprints. The chart is not complete (it’s missing Archway and a few other minor imprints) but what it tells us is that Author Solutions has been in decline for the past four years.

. . . .

By the time PRH sold it in January 2016, Author Solutions was buying less than half as many ISBNs in a year as it did in 2011, the year before the acquisition. The ISBN count declined in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, falling 29% in 2015 alone.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

The Star Trek Writing Contest Was a Feeder Pool for Vanity Press Author Solutions

7 May 2016

From The Digital Reader:

When Simon & Schuster revived the Star Trek: Strange New World Writing Contest last October, I was dismayed to learn that S&S was letting its vanity press business partner, Author Solutions, run the contest.

This gave the impression that S&S was less interested in recruiting new authors to publish than in finding new victims for Author Solutions’ high-pressure sales tactics, and that impression was reinforced last month by the form email sent to contest participants.

Everyone who signed up for the contest received the following email:

Thank you for your recent submission in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Writing Contest. We were honored to consider your short story. We received many imaginative tales that took us on different journeys through the Star Trek universe. After diligently considering each and every entry, we have selected the winners. Unfortunately, your submission was not included in the final group of stories.

If you enjoy writing, Archway Publishing can still help you share your personal or other sci-fi stories as a published book. And because you participated in this contest, you can save 20% on select packages.*

Authors would be wise not to take Archway up on its offer; they will regret it.

. . . .

ASI partners include Barnes & Noble, Lulu, Penguin Random House Spain, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hay House, Penguin India, Penguin Singapore, and Penguin Africa.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Fifty ways to screw the writer.

Author Solutions: my experience

1 March 2016

From The Bookseller:

In 2014 I was asked by my editor to sign up for Author Solutions so The Bookseller could independently verify some of the many claims made about the service – most importantly whether it used duplicitous means to secure a signature and how far it pushed prospective customers into deals.

The intention was to use the piece either as a separate article, or as past of a wider interview the newly appointed chief executive Andrew Phillips. Both were delayed, as result of the court cases Author Solutions faced in the US. Phillips had agreed to the interview, with no-preconditions, but not until the court cases were ended. While Author Solutions was owned by Penguin Random House it made sense to wait: the bigger story here is not that Author Solutions has a bad reputation (that is plain from sites such as WriterBeware and The Passive Voice), but what an internationally respected trade publishing group (owned by the equally high profile German mega-corp Bertelsmann) would do about it.

. . . .

The initial sales pitch from Author Solutions is no worse, and no better, than any other company trying to sell you something, and that’s where the problem perhaps lies. It felt like my book was simply a business transaction for Author Solutions, whereas for most authors it’s a part of their heart and soul – there was little probing about what my book was about before it was straight into a sales pitch for Author Solutions’ services.

. . . .

The company does like to sell, sell, sell. My first conversation with them lasted an hour, and consisted of a quick trip through the various packages on offer, with each one getting gradually cheaper as I said no. There was a push to get me to sign up during a discount period in that initial phone call, and during subsequent emails (one of which urged me to take advantage of a “50% offer for the first two weeks” of a particular month).

Details aren’t particularly forthcoming. I wanted to know specifics about the editorial process – would I be able to pick an editor, would I see who editors had worked with before to ensure they were the best fit for me? Despite pushing for this information on a phone and in emails, I was told that “the details of our editors are kept confidential but you wouldn’t have to worry about this because by the time you submit your manuscript it will be assigned to an editor who specialises on the topic or genre that your book will be about”.

. . . .

I eventually got hold of a PDF titled “About our editors and evaluators”, which started by emphasising how Author Solutions outsourced editing to freelancers, in the way that publishers “typically” did. The document went on to emphasise how the editors and evaluators were experienced book-publishing professionals, who were “well informed about what’s needed to be successful in a competitive marketplace”, hinting that Author Solutions is aware that there are authors who come to it for commercial success. The PDF was accompanied by a note from my “senior publishing consultant”, who had not seen my book, but who recommended “we do content editing wherein the editor would not only look into the spelling, grammar and syntax of your book but would also look into the consistency of your book to make sure that the idea of the book is smoothly relayed to your readers”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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
Orna
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.

-COMPLETE MARKETING SET-UP FOR YOUR BOOK TARGETING HOLLYWOOD DECISION MAKERS

-TRANSFORMATION OF THE BOOK TO A COMPLETE MOVIE/MARKET READY PROJECT

-PROFESSIONAL REPRESENTATION TO A+ HOLLYWOOD COMPANIES

-PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION TO HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVES AND DECISION MAKERS

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,

RONALD REESE

Senior Marketing Consultant

AuthorHouseUK

PRH sells Author Solutions

5 January 2016

From The Bookseller:

Penguin Random House has sold its controversial self-publishing division Author Solutions.

Author Solutions, acquired by Pearson in 2012 for $116m (£74m), for integration into Penguin, was sold to an affiliate of Najafi Companies, an Arizona-based private investment firm, on 31st December. Financial terms were not disclosed.

In a note to staff, PRH c.e.o. Markus Dohle said: “We thank the entire Author Solutions team for their hard work and dedication during their time as part of Penguin Random House, and we wish them all the best and much success under the new ownership. With this sale, we reaffirm our focus on consumer book publishing through our 250 imprints worldwide, and our commitment to connecting our authors and their works to readers everywhere.”

The acquisition of Author Solutions by Pearson/Penguin was always controversial, with then Penguin c.e.o. John Makinson having to defend the company against accusations that the buy would muddy its brand image.

Makinson said at the time: “This acquisition will allow Penguin to participate fully in perhaps the fastest-growing area of the publishing economy and gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As PG and many others have observed, the decision to acquire Author Solutions in the first place disclosed a lot about Big Publishing and its attitude toward authors.

After Lawsuit Dismissal, Author Solutions Looks Forward

14 November 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Andrew Phillips officially took over as president and CEO of Author Solutions (AS) on July 1, 2013, just a few weeks after the company was hit by a lawsuit brought by three authors charging AS with fraud. Although Phillips said the lawsuit was not a major distraction during his first two years at the helm of AS, he is nonetheless happy to be able to focus entirely on growing the company’s business, following the dismissal of the original lawsuit and a related case in September.

The self-publishing industry has changed a great deal since the go-go years when AS was created in the merger of AuthorHouse and iUniverse in 2007. The company was bought by Pearson in July 2012 and became part of Penguin Random House when Penguin and Random House merged a year later.

Phillips said AS estimates that the self-publishing market will grow at about a 15%–20% clip going forward, and though that may not be as fast as years past, it still gives the company lots of opportunities to expand the business. AS has worked with more than 200,000 authors, helping them publish more than 250,000 titles. In Phillips’s view, since self-publishing became a major part of the publishing industry, the market has divided into two camps—supported self-publishing services like AS, and what Phillips terms do-it-yourself companies that provide authors the tools to create and publish a book but little support. According to Phillips, in today’s crowded self-publishing market, AS’s greatest value lies in offering authors a range of services, including cover design, editing, and marketing and publicity. Author Solutions’ marketing offerings were at the heart of the lawsuits, but Phillips said the company has increased its efforts to ensure that authors understand what they are signing up for. “We work with all our authors to set realistic expectations,” Phillips said in an interview at PW’s offices. “And we deliver the services we promise.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Author Solutions and German Publisher GABAL Establish GABAL Global Editions

30 October 2015

From Author Solutions:

Author Solutions, LLC, a Penguin Random House company and the world’s leading supported self-publishing services provider, and GABAL, a German publisher dedicated to publishing books for readers seeking knowledge about current issues in business and education, announced Monday the launch of GABAL Global Editions.

Offered through Author Solutions’ iUniverse imprint, GABAL Global Editions enables GABAL authors to publish their books in English for English-speaking readers worldwide. The service is an exclusive package offering available only to GABAL authors.

“Our authors are highly professional trainers, motivational speakers and outstanding leaders in their fields. Helping them expand their purview in a global market by engaging in English books as a strategic tool is part of our philosophy and our self-understanding as our authors’ partner,” commented GABAL publisher Andre Juenger. “We are proud to be one of the first German publishers who offer this kind of service to authors. And we are delighted to have iUniverse on board as our partner.”

Link to the rest at Author Solutions

Lest there be any doubt, PG advises against any association with Author Solutions.

Author Solutions and Alliant International University Partner to Launch Alliant Press

24 September 2015

From Businesswire:

Author Solutions, LLC, a Penguin Random House company and the world’s leading supported self-publishing services provider, and Alliant International University announced Wednesday the launch of Alliant Press—the first-ever university press to utilize the supported self-publishing model.

“Launching a university press requires considerable fixed costs, making it prohibitive for most colleges and universities,” commented Andrew Phillips, Author Solutions president and CEO. “For some time, we’ve believed that bringing the efficiencies of supported self-publishing to the university-press model could dramatically reduce barriers of entry, ultimately resulting in learning institutions disseminating scholarship for the greater good.”

Operated by Author Solutions’ iUniverse imprint, Alliant Press will exclusively publish the academic works of AIU students, scholars, alumni, staff and other select authors. Authors will be chosen by an editorial board of scholarly experts, with AIU funding the works. Authors publishing their research, dissertations and other scholarly works through Alliant Press will maintain all copyrights and receive book royalties.

“We are very excited to be working with Author Solutions to create a new model of academic publishing,” said Geoffrey Cox, president of Alliant International University. He added, “We have the best of both worlds—curated content produced in a highly efficient way. We believe this opens publishing opportunities that otherwise would not exist for members of our academic community.”

Link to the rest at Businesswire

Second Case against Author Solutions Is Dismissed

15 September 2015

From Publishers Weekly.

A second class action lawsuit accusing Author Solutions of fraud was dismissed yesterday, ending the litigation against the self-publishing service provider after more than two years of legal wrangling. A brief notice filed September 14 showed the case against Author Solutions in Indiana was voluntarily dismissed, with prejudice, with the parties agreeing to end litigation and to pay their own costs and attorney fees.

The dismissal in Indiana comes after Judge Denise Cote dealt the original case against Author Solutions (first filed in New York in April, 2013) a fatal blow by denying class action status in late June. Weeks later, on August 12, Cote ordered the New York case discontinued, following notice of a private settlement involving the case’s final two author plaintiffs.

The class action lawsuit in Indiana (which included a handful of consolidated cases) was filed this past spring as the case in New York faltered (Indiana, where Author Solutions is based, is the state specified as the venue for disputes in Author Solutions contracts).

Cote denied class action status in New York, citing no evidence of any “centrally-orchestrated scheme.”

See the full announcement here.

Posted by Vacation-Helper Karen Myers, who says badly run companies often seem to lack centrally-orchestrated anythings.

Penguin’s Author Solutions Inks First-Look Deal With Paulist Productions

9 September 2015

From Deadline Hollywood:

Author Solutions, a Penguin Random House self-publishing services company, has closed a first-look deal with faith-based Paulist Productions (Insight). Under the pact, Paulist will review Author Solutions titles for possible film and TV adaptations.

. . . .

“We’re excited to be working with such an established and respected producer who shares the values of many of our authors,” said Author Solutions Director of Media Services Caroline Weiss. “Faith-based stories have always had an audience, and this partnership is a new opportunity to expose the incredible amount of faith-based content within the Author Solutions library to interested producers.”

. . . .

“If you start with great ideas and great writers, the possibilities are endless, which is why we think this is an ideal collaboration for Paulist Productions,” added Chris Donahue, President of Paulist Productions. “Access to Author Solutions’ self-published titles will enable us to diversify our development as well as bring projects with a built-in audience to our studio and network partners.”

Link to the rest at Deadline Hollywood and thanks to Robert for the tip.

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