On February 9, while doing research on something else, I noticed that Harlequin’s Author Solutions, Inc.-run self-publishing imprint, Dellarte Press, had closed its doors. Dellarte’s website is now a placeholder, with a “we’re sorry” message.
Some of you may remember the outcry that greeted Dellarte (originally named Harlequin Horizons) when ASI and Harlequin rolled it out in November 2009. (By contrast, the earlier launch of WestBow Press for Thomas Nelson caused barely a ripple). Writers flipped out. A slew of pro writers’ groups either issued statements condemning the move or de-listing Harlequin. Ultimately, the bad press forced Harlequin to change the service’s name and also to distance itself from Dellarte. Of the several self-pub divisions run by ASI for traditional publishers, Dellarte was the only one that didn’t prominently tout the connection with its parent publisher.
Why such an abrupt, unannounced closure for Dellarte? Harlequin hasn’t talked, and neither has ASI. But maybe it was because Dellarte did almost no business.
Mick Rooney, writing about the closure in The Independent Publishing Magazine, discovered that over the past 5 years, Dellarte published just 16 titles. This is a shockingly small number, and understandably, some people were skeptical, including Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader*. However, it’s been confirmed for me by an independent source (and also by the report I discuss below).
The question that immediately occurred to me: is Dellarte an exception? Or are other ASI imprints also doing tiny business?
The answer is “not really.” A report by Bowker, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2008-2013, includes a special section on total print and ebook ISBN output at ASI**, which indicates that production at most ASI imprints is in the four-figure range. However, only Xlibris and AuthorHouse crack five figures. And the statistics show something even more interesting: production at ASI is in decline.
There’s an up-and-down pattern for individual imprints, but overall, ASI production increased steadily between 2008 and 2011, when output hit a high of 52,648. (Though compare that to CreateSpace’s 2011 ISBN output of 58,862.)
In 2012, things started to slip. Numbers rose at Trafford, WestBow, and Palibrio, but fell at other imprints (Xlibris and AuthorHouse by around 3,000 ISBNs each); as a result, overall output declined to 49,885. (For the same period, CreateSpace output more than doubled, to 131,460.)
The slide accelerated in 2013. With the exception of Balboa Press and Partridge India (which Bowker only started tracking that year), every single ASI imprint lost ground. Total output fell to 44,574, a decrease of 5,311. Meanwhile, CreateSpace continued its meteoric rise, leaping to 186,926.
We’ll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran’s The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model–print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling–is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.***
** Archway Press is not included because Bowker did not start tracking it until 2014. Many thanks to David Gaughran for sharing this report with me.
*** Other companies featured on this blog that lost ground in 2013: PublishAmerica, Dorrance, and, surprisingly, Smashwords (though overall, Smashwords’ output is second only to CreateSpace’s; the decline could also reflect fewer authors choosing to use ISBNs).