by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
The big news in publishing this week is that Penguin, a major traditional publisher, bought Author Solutions, a major vanity publisher. There are so many things wrong with this deal that I struggled to organize this post.
Author Solutions (iUniverse, etc.) earns two-thirds of its revenue from charging writers for editorial services, such as copyediting and cover design. (It earns the rest from selling books to the friends and relatives of its authors.) The company supposedly offers marketing services as well, but charging writers $1900 for putting out a press release is about as fraudulent as it gets. A press release takes thirty minutes to write, format, and send—and is practically worthless as a marketing effort.
So what is Penguin saying to writers and readers with this acquisition? We can’t make enough money publishing talented authors, so we’ll squeeze lots of hard-earned cash out of mostly-untalented authors to save our bottom line… rather than implement a business model that supports authors and earns a profit.
I wonder how Penguin authors feel about this. I wonder what this will do to the Penguin brand. Not that readers care about publisher brands.
Penguin is not the first to make this leap. A while back Harlequin partnered with Author Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity publishing company. The Romance Writers Association promptly dropped Harlequin from its list of acceptable publishers, and regardless of how it turned out, the publisher suffered from bad PR.
Penguin probably will experience a similar reaction from other author associations. That will be a blow to new Penguin authors who find themselves unable to join. But author associations have so little value in today’s interconnected world that joining or not joining will make little difference.
But long term, if Penguin and Harlequin are fine with charging some authors for their editorial services, how long will it be before they start charging everyone a reading fee? Then stop paying advances? Then simply move to being an author-funded service provider?
The lines between traditional publishing, self-publishing, and vanity publishing get blurrier every day. I believe that eventually, it will just called publishing, because all authors will be entrepreneurs who finance their book releases, either through individual contracts for editorial services or from one-stop service providers.
But hopefully writers won’t choose an overpriced shop like Author Solutions, which by then will probably be called Penguin Solutions.
What do you think this means for the future of publishing?