Today I’m highlighting a post by author and self-publishing expert David Gaughran. Like Writer Beware, David has been following Author Solutions Inc. closely over the past few years, and has written a number of important, in-depth articles about ASI and its operations.
Penguin Random House is speeding up the international expansion of its vanity press operations, while also seeking to integrate them more closely with the traditional side of the business – hoping to counteract flat growth for Author Solutions at a time when self-publishing is booming.
The expansion is MeGustaEscribir, which ASI will launch next Tuesday. ASI’s press release describes MeGustaEscribir as “the supported self-publishing platform of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial” (Grupo Editorial is PRH’s Spanish-language trade subsidiary).
ASI has created other pay-to-play imprints for major publishers–WestBow Press for Thomas Nelson and Archway Publishing for Simon & Schuster, among others–but this is the first time it has created one for its parent company (as most of you probably know, ASI is owned by PRH).
David observes that MeGustaEscribir offers the “mix of crappy publishing packages and ineffective, overpriced marketing services” that’s characteristic of all ASI imprints. It also charges a form of reading fee:
Heavily touted on the MeGustaEscribir site is the Recognition Program – where customers will be recommended for review by an editor from Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial (that link is in Spanish, but Google Translate does a mostly reasonable job of getting the gist across).
Here’s the really shocking part. Consideration by a Penguin Random House editor is contingent on writers undergoing an Editorial Evaluation Report by MeGustaEscribir. The only publishing packages which contain this Evaluation Report are priced at 2,899 Euro (approx $3,600) and 3,999 Euro (approx $4,970).
(This actually reminds me of the “Publisher’s Choice” program that iUniverse used to offer before it was acquired by ASI. Publisher’s Choice promised participants the possibility–though not the certainty–of placement on Barnes and Noble store shelves, but only if they first bought a “Premier Plus” package, including an editorial evaluation, for over $1,000. See Writer Beware co-founder Ann Crispin’s 2006 post about this program.)
David goes on to discuss the importance of international expansion for ASI, which appears to be facing flattening sales (that’s sales of services to writers, not book sales) in the USA:
Out of the 211,269 self-published titles tracked by Bowker in 2011, Author Solutions imprints accounted for 41,605 books while a (reputable) competitor like CreateSpace registered 57,602 titles.
Fast forward to 2013, and the self-publishing boom has taken full effect – for everyone except Author Solutions. Bowker tracked 458,564 self-published titles which had been assigned ISBNs. Virtually none of that growth went to Author Solutions, despite launching several new imprints, including a high profile vanity press partnership with Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing).
Author Solutions’ total for 2013, despite the staggering growth in self-publishing during that two year period, was just 45,574 – a barely noticeable increase on 2011’s numbers. For comparison CreateSpace registered 186,926 ISBNs that year, and Smashwords came out of nowhere to register 85,000.
Why has ASI’s growth in the USA, long its primary market, slowed down so much? David feels that “a years-long campaign by writers is starting to take effect”, and I agree. The number of online complaints and exposes has been mounting; just Google ASI or any of its imprints to see examples.
But more significant, I think, is the huge success of free electronic self-publishing platforms and distributors like KDP, Kobo, and Smashwords, which allow authors to launch themselves into a space where the perennial handicaps of print self-publishing–distribution and price–don’t exist. ASI’s business model, on the other hand, is inextricably linked to POD. For savvy self-publishers, ASI’s services have come to seem not only questionable or costly, but old-fashioned as well.
No wonder ASI is reaching out into new markets. Via its Partridge imprint, ASI is already doing business in India, Africa, and Singapore. MeGustaEscribir expands its presence to Spain. What’s next? Japan? China? Stay tuned.