Big Publishing

Author Solutions’ Deceptive Practices

28 March 2015

The law firm that previously had filed a class-action suit against Penguin Random House subsidiary, Author Solutions, has announced that it has just filed a second class-action suit.

From Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart:

Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart has filed a class action suit against Author Solutions, a major self-publishing house owned by Penguin Random House. Unlike every other traditional publisher, Author Solutions seeks to make money FROM authors not FOR them.

Author Solutions preys upon the dreams of authors by selling them expensive services that sound exciting but do not actually sell any books. Their defense: They aren’t being deceptive because they aren’t trying to sell books. Of course, for nearly 200,000 authors who have paid thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars to buy expensive services that promised to promote their books, Author Solutions’s indifference to book sales comes as more than a bit of a surprise.

. . . .

Author Solutions also contracts with several traditional publishers (or “partners”) to create additional imprints, as listed below. This gives authors inflated hopes of being discovered by a traditional publisher, even though the services offered are the very same useless services performed by Author Solutions, only at a higher price. Many of the partners do not disclose Author Solutions’s participation in the partnership.

. . . .

Author Solutions deceptively markets its service in a number of ways. For instance, Authors Solutions has never analyzed whether these expensive “marketing services” help an author’s book sales. Second, it calls its team of telemarketers, largely based at a call center in the Philippines, “Publishing Consultants,” “Marketing Consultants,” or “Book Consultants” to give the impression that these employees have publishing or marketing experience and will guide the author through the process. In reality, these “consultants” are simply commissioned salespeople. None of this is disclosed to authors.

. . . .

To understand the actual value of these services it might be wise to look at the experience of someone who knows the system well. Author Solutions’s own Editorial Services Manager has published seven books with Author Solutions. Although he was certainly interested in book sales, he did not purchase a single marketing service from AS. Not a single one.

Link to the rest at Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart and thanks to Randall and many others for the tip.

Following is a copy of the Complaint filed in the second suit:


As Complaint (Text)

Amazon’s dominance ‘damages’ progress

27 March 2015

From The Bookseller:

Amazon’s position in the market is damaging progress in the book trade, according to the president of the Booksellers Association, Tim Walker.

Speaking on a panel about publishing and technology at the Nielsen BookInsights conference yesterday (25th March), Walker said that Amazon’s dominance of the e-book market was having a negative impact on bookselling.

“I do a have a concern that Amazon’s dominance is causing problems”, he said. “We estimate Kindle has a 95% market share of e-book sales in the UK and this is having a damaging effect… Consider the struggles of Barnes & Noble and the Nook platform, the problems of the established Txtr in Germany, and the decision here of Tesco to pull out of Blinkbox Books.”

Walker also spoke of concerns about free library e-lending, which he said “has to be done right, or it will do harm to the book trade”.

However, he said that publishing on the whole “embraced” new technology. “I think publishing can come in for quite a bit of stick but we’ve done a lot to embrace technology.”

. . . .

Gavin McLauchlan, consultant at Nielsen Media Services said publishers did not put enough money into advertising. “Only 0.67% of book revenue is put back into advertising,” he said. “It is very low, even compared with the fast moving consumer goods category.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Starter thoughts for publishers to develop new author marketing policies

26 March 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

In a prior post, we suggested that the time has come for publishers to have clear policies around what they should require from author web presences for an effective publishing partnership. This is a really complex and multi-faceted challenge for every publisher.

. . . .

1. The first step is for a publisher to articulate their minimum standard for an author’s online presence. We have found that the role of web presences an author controls in helping Google and other search engines understand an author’s importance in context is routinely underappreciated. In addition to a properly-SEOd web site, publishers will want to make sure authors fill out their Amazon author page, their Google Plus profile, and their Goodreads page as well. All of this verbal metadata — along with images including photos and book covers — builds a strong foundation for discovery.

Obviously, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, Instagram, and Pinterest (among others) could also be a constructive part of the web presence for many authors.

. . . .

2. Although many, if not most, authors will have a website or the intention to create one, many others don’t. In that case, the publisher will want to have a fast, inexpensive, and effective way to put one up on the author’s behalf. (The non-website components of the foundation don’t lend themselves as readily to publisher assistance.)

For authors who either don’t have the skills to put up their own WordPress site or the budget to pay for a unique one to be designed and built for them, the publisher should provide a templated interactive process to create a site inexpensively. They also will have to do the research into key words, topics, and phrases to inform the SEO. We believe that for a publisher who will operate at scale, building dozens and perhaps hundreds of these sites per year, the cost should come down to $2,000 or less per site, perhaps $1,000 or less for first-time author sites that have minimal needs for unique book pages.

. . . .

4. Of course, in more cases than not, the author will already have a site. In that case, the publisher won’t be building one but does need to assure itself that the existing site meets the SEO standard.

. . . .

5. The publisher should also be giving authors advice about maximizing other opportunities. If the author might blog, suggestions about length, frequency, and topics are worthwhile as are very specific ideas about maximizing the other platforms like Facebook. The publishers should be giving authors a Wish List, making absolutely certain that no opportunity for author-based promotion is ignored because of a lack of awareness on the author’s part.

. . . .

8. What should be clear is that the author is being given a choice: they can build their own website (or do the tweaking necessary to one they already have to bring it up to standards) or they can have one built for them by the publisher from the templated choices the publisher offers.

9. This leaves two very large commercial questions for the publisher and author to negotiate, both of which should rise to the level of being covered in the contract. The first one revolves around the investment in and “ownership” of the author’s website and, perhaps the investments needed for ongoing marketing on the author’s behalf. Of course, there is nothing to discuss if the author builds and maintains her own site and social presences. The publisher should still provide all the help they can — SEO research at the beginning and analytics help all along — but there would be no reason for any compensation or publisher ownership.

However, if the publisher invests the dollars to build the author’s site or pays for any of the ongoing efforts by freelancers, there is definitely a negotiation to take place and there are a few moving parts to that negotiation. One way to address this might be for the publisher to advance the money for this work but have the opportunity to recoup it out of proceeds, as though it were part of the advance. Or the publisher could just render the author a bill for the site creation cost (remember, we’re positing $2,000 or less) which the author could simply pay. Another possibility is that the publisher might “own” the author’s website. That is not an end result we would recommend and, if it is necessary, there should be a “buy back” clause that enables the author to recover that ownership if, for example, they move on to another house.

. . . .

10. The other knotty element that should be negotiated is around the use of email lists that these optimized author sites will generate. It is self-destructive for either the author or the publisher to simply say “they’re mine!”

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Bay Area Book Festival Defends Author Solutions Sponsorship

21 March 2015

From David Gaughran:

I discovered yesterday that Author Solutions was sponsoring the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival – something at odds with the breathless verbiage on the event’s site:

A new kind of book fair… the largest, most innovative, and most inclusive… [we will] create the nation’s leading book festival.

The event doesn’t take place until June, so I thought it was a good time to try and stage an intervention.

After I sent that tweet I felt a little bad.

Maybe the organizers didn’t know the full history of Author Solutions. Maybe they weren’t aware of the specific scam that Author Solutions runs at events like this. Deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt, I emailed the Executive Director of the festival, Cherilyn Parsons.

. . . .

I sent Parsons an email giving her the full background. I explained how Author Solutions was universally reviled in the writing community, why every major writers’ organization and watchdog group warned authors against using the company, and that Author Solutions was facing a class action for deceptive practices.

I also detailed the way Author Solutions uses its presence at events like this to ensnare new customers and milk existing ones – a common ploy being to sell off one-hour book signing slots for prices up to $4,000 (or up to $10,000 via Archway).

And it was a complete waste of my time.

In their response, The Bay Area Book Festival explained the “logic” behind accepting Author Solutions as a sponsor.

. . . .

  1. Everyone else has their nose in the trough.

Cherilyn Parsons admitted that whether to accept Author Solutions’ money was a “thorny question” but she decided to take the lead of several other festivals:

…such as the Miami Book Fair International, the LA Times Festival of Books and the Tucson Festival of Books. All have been very generous in sharing their expertise. All of them accept Author Solutions as an exhibitor.

How curious that Parsons would only seek guidance from these three festivals – which are very much in the minority when it comes to accepting dirty money from Author Solutions.

. . . .

  1. We didn’t want to make Penguin Random House mad.

This was a real doozy.

Cherilyn Parsons’ exact words:

Author Solutions is part of Penguin Random House, which has been very supportive of the Bay Area Book Festival in sending authors, [and this] led to my decision to accept Author Solutions at the Bay Area Book Festival.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to TPV for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

No author website rules of the road in publishing contracts is a big fail for the industry

20 March 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The topic of author websites and what the relationship between publishers and authors around them should be is a big “fail” for the publishing industry at the moment. Nobody seems to have thought this through. Publisher policies are all over the lot, even within houses, and that demonstrates that agents haven’t figured out what policies and publisher support an author should require. When they do, there will be much greater uniformity across publishers. (Note to conspiracy theorists about often-alleged Big Five “collusion”: that’s how it actuallyhappens. They’re bullied into it by agents or accounts.)

. . . .

On one hand, we have supplied an agent who asked for one with a proposal to build a website for a key author. The agent is talking to the publishers on both sides of the Atlantic (different divisions of the same big house), trying to get some financial support from them for what the author wants to build and own. Each of the two imprints is lobbying to build the site themselves. We’re not privy to the details of that conversation, so we’re not sure exactly why they want to build it themselves or what other considerations — like domain name ownership, list ownership and management, outbound links, and day-to-day attention to the site — might be motivating the publisher side of this conversation (in addition, we’d assume, to legitimate concerns about the quality of the site and its SEO).

Last week we did a seminar at another house. As we usually do in those sessions, we gave the house the benefit of some of our research into digital footprints for some of their own books and authors. What we found, as usual, is that the author website deficiencies were handicapping their sales and discovery efforts, sometimes by their total absence. That is, on occasion we found no author website at all.

. . . .

From where we sit, not having contractual policy around a host of questions that involve an author’s web presence is as big an omission as it would be not to have clearly-defined subsidiary rights splits. In fact, we’d argue that, for most authors, the commercial value of the assets around the web presence are more valuable than subsidiary rights are! No publisher or agent would accept a contract that didn’t cover subsidiary rights. It is a sign that the industry is not keeping up with the new realities that the website policy is so far from being worked out.

This is a big challenge on both sides: for agents and for big houses. Most agents don’t operate at a scale that would enable them to gather the expertise and the knowledge to set their authors up properly or to inform what the demands on the houses should be. But the biggest publishers have a hard challenge too. They’ve all structured themselves around clear delineations between what’s big, requires scale, and should be handled centrally (warehousing, sales, IT) and what’s small, requires an intimate relationship with the author, and should be handled in decentralized imprints (title acquisitions, creative decisions, individual title marketing and publicity). This is a really tricky balance to strike from an organizational perspective. It is reflected in job descriptions and in each staff member’s bonus structure. That is, it is really complicated stuff to mess with and requires attention from the very top of enor

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG did some arithmetic on his fingers and discovered he built his first website over 20 years ago.

Big Publishing is a slow-lane kind of business. One where the turn signal never gets shut off.

PG’s second thought was that’s all publishing contracts with authors need: a binding provision requiring that an author have a website. On a contract that will last perhaps 100 years.

Atria Halts Publication of ‘The Whole Pantry’

19 March 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

After Penguin Books Australia announced that it would be pulling Melbourne-based Belle Gibson’s debut cookbook, The Whole Pantry, Gibson’s U.S. publisher, Atria, has confirmed it will not not be proceeding with its own publication. Penguin scrapped the book once doubts were raised about the veracity of Gibson’s story—that she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and healthy living and natural therapies helped her treat the disease.

“Our decision was made upon the failure of the author to provide clarification for numerous allegations concerning her biography and charitable endeavors,” wrote Atria in a statement.

. . . .

Gibson’s scandal is not the first, or only, cookbook-related one to make headlines in Australia this month. On March 11, Pan Macmillan announced that it would be putting the publication of celebrity chef Pete Evans’s Paleo cookbook for babies, Bubba Yum Yum, on hold after experts raised concerns that the book included recipes that might be harmful, or fatal, to babies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Authors Get BookScan – Sort Of

18 March 2015

From Off on a Tangent:

Already the veritable avalanche of nerdgasmic comments are piling up on Twitter and elsewhere now that Amazon is making available four weeks of free Nielsen BookScan data to authors signed up through the company’s Author Central program. And yes, this is a big deal – authors empowered! Data is gold! – but like any new and shiny announcements, there are a whole host of caveats and issues that must be discussed.

Four weeks of free data. That’s it. Granted, that’s a lot more than what was customarily available to authors before. In fact, it was frustratingly difficult for anyone outside of a publishing house to get data until Publishers Marketplace started selling annual Bookscan subscriptions to agents at $2000/yr a few weeks ago. But unless they ask nicely (i.e. pay) authors won’t even have instant access to what media people normally obtain by request: year-to-date and release-to-date data.

Knowledge isn’t power without context. So let’s say an author looks up his or her opening-week BookScan data and has a heart attack because the number is a lot lower than anticipated. Well, Nielsen may say they have 75% of reported data (and indeed, there are quite a lot of outlets listed!) but Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are not included, and those can be very gaping holes for some commercially-minded writers. E-book sales aren’t included, though that data may be more easily obtainable, especially since Amazon still remains the dominant digital market leader. BookScan only accounts for U.S. sales.

And if there was some “Factor X” situation – a catastrophe at the printer, books not shipped out in time, surprise under-ordering from a major retailer like B&N or Borders – that will be reflected in the numbers. And of course, not all BookScan numbers are created equal, even if they may be exactly the same for two authors. But if one sold 1,000 copies (per BookScan) in week one off a print run of 2K, that’s phenomenal. Off a print run of 30K, not so much.

. . . .

As @russmarshalek said, “BookScan available to authors is like basically giving the bull a pair of tap shoes and presenting your finest china.” And if there’s no time to reflect and to put the numbers in proper context(either on their own or with the help of trusted advocates like agents, editors, etc.) then the emails and phone calls wondering what’s up (to put it mildly) will rise as high as a monster surf wave.

Link to the rest at From Off on a Tangent and thanks to SMH for the tip.

Asking whether Amazon is friend or foe is a simple question that is complicated to answer

17 March 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

I’ve been invited to join a discussion entitled “Amazon: Friend or Foe” (meaning “for publishers”) sponsored by the Digital Media Group of the Worshipful Company of Stationers (only in England!) and taking place in London next month.

. . . .

The first thoughts the question triggers for me are three ways I think Amazon has profoundly changed the industry.

Although just about every publisher has headaches dealing with Amazon, very few could deny that Amazon is their most profitable account, if they take sales volume, returns, and the cost of servicing into consideration. This fact is almost never acknowledged and therefore qualifies as one of the industry’s dirty little secrets. Because they’ve consolidated the book-buying audience online and deliver to it with extraordinary efficiency, Amazon must feel totally justified in clawing back margin; it wasn’t their idea to be every publisher’s most profitable account! But since they are effectively replacing so many other robust accounts, the profitability they add comes at a big price in the stability and reliability of a publisher’s business, which feels much more comfortable coming from a spread of accounts.

. . . .

It took the combination that only Amazon could put together to make an ebook marketplace really happen. They made an ereading device with built-in connectivity for direct downloading (which, in that pre-wifi time, required taking the real risk that connection charges would be a margin-killer). They had the clout to persuade publishers to make more books, particularly new titles, available as ebooks. And they had the attention and loyalty of a significant percentage of book readers to make the pitch for ebooks. With all those assets and the willingness to invest in a market that didn’t exist, Amazon created something out of nothing.

. . . .

The other big change in the industry that is significant but might not have been without Amazon is self-publishing. The success of the Kindle spawned it by making it easy and cheap to reach a significant portion of the book-buying audience with low prices and high margins. Amazon added its skill at creating an easy-to-use interface and efficient self-service. Again, others have followed, including Smashwords. But almost all the self-publishers achieving commercial success have primarily Amazon to thank. It appears that, in the ebook space at least, self-publishers among them move as many units as a Big Five house and, in fiction, they punch even above that weight. Without Amazon, this might not have happened yet.

. . . .

The second big heading for this Amazon discussion is around the asymmetry between what Amazon knows about the industry and what the industry knows about Amazon. Data about the publishing industry is notoriously scattered and because of the large number of audiences and commercial models in the “book business”, very hard to interpret intelligently. Amazon, on the other hand, has its own way of making things opaque by not sharing information.

The first indication of this is that Amazon doesn’t employ the industry’s standard ISBN number; they have their own number called an ASIN. So whereas the industry had a total title count through ISBN agencies that required its own degree of interpretation, the titles published exclusively by Amazon, which only have ASINs and not ISBNs, are a total “black hole”. Nobody except Amazon knows how many there are or into what categories they fall.

Another piece of Amazon’s business that has critical relevance to the rest of the industry but is totally concealed from view is their used book business. There is an argument to be made that the used book marketplace Amazon fosters actually helps publishers sell their new books at higher prices by giving consumers a way to get some of their money back. But it is also pretty certain that people are buying used copies of books they otherwise would have bought new, with the cheaper used choice being offered to them from about the first moment a book comes out.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

Hachette Sales Down Nearly 5% in 2014

12 March 2015

From Digital Book World:

Full-year revenue dropped 4.9% in 2014, a year marked by Hachette Book Group’s bruising standoff with Amazon over ebook profit margins, which ended in November with a new distribution contract restoring a version of agency ebook pricing to the publisher.

Digital sales shrunk to 30%, down 3% since 2013, when ebooks and digital audiobooks together made up a third of Hachette’s overall revenue.

Hachette Livre, the division of parent company Lagardère that includes the U.S.-based Hachette Book Group, saw profits decline 11.7%, which the company attributes in part to an unfavorable comparison to an “unusually high number of major best-sellers” in 2013.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Authors ‘more committed to agent than publisher’

10 March 2015

From The Bookseller:

Authors are more committed to their agent than to their publisher, according to early results from a survey of traditionally published writers. However, when asked about the possibility of self-publishing, only a minority of authors were excited at the prospect, with the majority (75%), either neutral or horrified at the thought of taking control.

The “Do You Love Your Publisher?” survey was launched last week.

. . . .

[T]he survey has so far showed that authors are broadly satisfied with their publisher with 80% happy with their cover design, and 70% happy with the copyediting received. But some authors felt let down by the marketing and levels of communication. When asked if they would switch publisher if a similar house came along with the same deal, 39% said they would move, with 31% indicating that they would stay. When asked the same question about their agents, 45% of the surveyed writers said they would stay.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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