“We are thrilled that Penguin made the decision to embrace us because we believe we are now a significant part of the publishing industry.” — Kevin Weiss
Once upon a time, the power of an author was not solely dependent on the strength of her words to inspire the human spirit. A conflict which made her talent powerless was the likelihood of discoverability. Then along came a knight in shining armor called technology. Technology innovated the way her words were written, produced, marketed and even enjoyed. Perhaps most important of all, technology handed the author the power (should she choose) to control the destiny of her words.
Penguin (owned by the global media company, Pearson plc) is part of one the world’s big six traditional publishers. Author Solutions Inc. is the world’s leading provider of self-publishing services (the company has published 190,000 books by 150,000 authors). When Penguin embraced self-publishing by acquiring ASI this July, publishing industry experts scrambled to their technology platforms to debate what it all meant. I asked Kevin Weiss, President and CEO of Author Solutions, to discuss the Penguin union and in particular, what it might mean for the power of an author.
“We build platforms for authors and we can build them at a lightning pace compared to the pace of a traditional publishing company. I think Penguin saw those services as important.” — Kevin Weiss
What brought Penguin and Author Solutions together? What synergies were seen?
Traditional publishers have been watching the fast changing developments in the publishing landscape. Four or five years ago self-publishing was a very dirty word. I tell my staff that I could pick a fight on any street corner because of where I worked. Today I can’t do that because self-publishing has gone mainstream.
The time was right for us to look for a new parent. We are thrilled that Penguin made the decision to embrace us because we believe we are now a significant part of the publishing industry. We don’t do what Penguin does in terms of curation and aggressive distribution of content. However, we do things that they do not do. We build platforms for authors and we can build them at a lightning pace compared to the pace of a traditional publishing company. I think Penguin saw those services as important in terms of how their business model will transform moving forward.
Author Solutions sees the Penguin process as one we can continue to learn from. For example, three years ago we made the decision to take our business model to traditional publishers such as Harlequin and Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson embraced our model (in WestBow Press — a Christian self-publishing imprint) and it has been a very successful imprint for them. Compared to our own self-publishing imprints such as AuthorHouse and iUniverse, partner imprints like Westbow Press give authors unique access to services not available on other imprints and the parent watches the titles for potential pick up. In fact, Westbow Press has had five titles picked up by traditional publishers and only three of them have been by Thomas Nelson. Based on that example and other successful imprint models, we believe that traditional publishing will continue to be a part of what we are doing.
“I think in the future the traditional publishers are going to become far more transparent with authors about what they can and cannot do.” — Kevin Weiss
The number of manuscript submissions to Penguin must run into 5 figures each year. Only a small percentage of those submissions ever get published. Did you see an opportunity to convert rejected authors into self-published authors?
We are very careful not to redirect unsolicited manuscripts. Over time we may have to think about whether there is a way to help authors with rejected manuscripts find another route to develop them. Penguin has been trying to do something like that with Book Country (on-line writing community owned by Penguin). At Author Solutions, we are developing an early warning system for self-published authors that are doing well so that we can share that information with our parent. We will only do this for authors published by our owned and operated imprints. Our partner imprints will be off-limits to our parent.
Recently an author in the WestBow Press imprint got picked up by another traditional publisher — not Thomas Nelson. Regardless of who issues the contract, I think it’s a good thing for indie authors when they are discovered.
Author Solutions has a global network of POD printers and distributors. You also have a great deal of expertise and resources in the digitization of books. Did you see operational synergies here?
I think Penguin is moving into the POD business strategically with their backlist titles. I think our experience in this area will be beneficial to them. We are currently one of the largest global companies in POD in terms of the number of books we handle. We also have published more than 100,000 e-book titles so we believe our experience in digital will also be an asset. One other thing that is exciting to me is that we will have access to great in house designers at Penguin. Our team is looking forward to learning from them.
When will print on demand reach cost parity with offset printing?
It is getting there. HP just came out with some incredible new printers. Costs are coming down dramatically. I’m not sure if or when POD will reach cost parity with the bigger offset runs, but with shorter runs, we are not far away from being comparable to offset.
“I’m not sure if or when POD will reach cost parity with the bigger offset runs, but with shorter runs, we are not far away from being comparable to offset.” — Kevin Weiss
Would you say five years time?
I’d say maybe even less.
Once that happens would you agree the risk would be significantly lowered for authors who want to take the plunge and self-publish?
Yes, but of course there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into making a successful book such as editing, cover and interior designs, and marketing and promotion. I think in the future the traditional publishers are going to become far more transparent with authors about what they can and cannot do. At that point it will be time for authors (especially up and coming authors) to understand how things work. Instead of thinking they have a publishing contract so they don’t have to do anything, they will understand that from an economic standpoint, that just isn’t the case.
Author Solutions hopes to work with Penguin in the same way we work with our other traditional publishers. We do a tremendous amount of data analytics in our business. This enables us to see where books are being sold so that we can explore new opportunities for authors. We hope we’ll be able to assist authors in terms of building their platforms through the services we offer. Once an author has built a large following, the publisher is able to make a greater investment in terms of marketing the author’s book.
Any new predictions on market share for physical books versus e-books going forward?
ASI has not seen a decline in our physical books in the retail channel. We’ve seen a rapid growth in the units we have that are digital. I know that traditional publishing has seen a lot of pressure on hard cover but at the same time e-books have grown. What’s interesting to me is that although e-books are still growing, they now appear to be growing at a slower rate. This is despite the fact that tablets continue to grow. I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t tell you at this point if e-books are going to be 30%, 40% or 50% of the market.
“We are developing an early warning system for self-published authors that are doing well so that we can share that information with our parent.” — Kevin Weiss
Why should an author publish for a fee when he/she can publish for free?
There are a lot of free services in the marketplace. ASI has a free service (Booktango) and I think we’ve got one of the best platforms in free publishing. The tools are fairly good in the marketplace for free publishing because they’re easy, the process is fast, it’s online, and so why would somebody spend $1500 to publish their book when they can do it for free? The primary reason is our focus on quality. We work with authors to make each book the best that it can be. We are there for authors 24x7x365. We are a one-stop shop for all of the services needed to make your book successful in the marketplace. In the free publishing space, there is still work to be done to increase the depth and quality of the offerings. We have years of book publishing experience and we are working to embed that experience in our Booktango offering, but one thing that we do offer are the highest royalties in the industry with the broadest distribution network of any of our competitors. As I’ve said before, it’s the best time ever to be an author. Authors are able to do a tremendous amount of research on the publishing process and make choices depending on the goals they want to achieve.
Will ASI be developing partnerships with other traditional publishers going forward?
During our discussions with Penguin, it was important to us that we were able to continue to expand our partnerships with other publishers. Penguin was emphatic that we do this. I was an IBM sales rep when IBM announced the PC in 1981. At that time, many believed that PC’s had no future as business tools. We know now that not only did PC’s have a future, but the innovation and adjacent product lines that followed were unbelievable. In five years time, when people look back on what we’ve done with Penguin, I believe they’ll see this as a watershed moment - this will be the moment traditional publishers and Penguin in particular recognized that self-publishing is a real and a vital part of the industry.
Kevin Weiss and C. M. Rubin
Photos courtesy of Penguin Group (a division of Pearson plc) and Author Solutions Inc.
C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld
“We are at a very early stage in imagining the future of the book.” — David “Skip” Prichard
The publisher delivers a single file. With that file, Ingram Content Group will deliver the content globally in a variety of ways, whether as a printed book or as a digital file which will ultimately create books for every digital platform around the world. They have the industry’s largest active book inventory (access to 7.5 million titles) and the markets they serve include bookstores, libraries, schools, and specialty retailers.
What do the book makers believe about the future of reading? I had the pleasure of speaking with the charismatic President and CEO of Ingram Content Group, David “Skip” Prichard.
How do you see the growth prospects for books in all forms over the next five to ten years?
I’m bullish on the growth prospects for books. First, the demographics are favorable. We have an aging baby boomer population that should fuel reading. Demand for English-language books is also a positive long-term trend. Second, technology is increasing demand for books whether on digital devices or through the ease of buying books online. Enhanced e-books are only in their infancy, allowing authors to add alternative endings or interviews. Down the road, who knows what’s possible? Maybe we will have biometric devices that can sense your pulse and body temperature and change the plot based on your feelings — and you think Stephen King is scary now. Third, the very definition of a book is evolving. The information in books is fast becoming linked to other content in various forms, blending into articles, research, and other media. As books become part of the larger information landscape, they become both more relevant and more important.
Are there enhanced books available this holiday season that have already changed the definition of a book?
Yes, for example, a biography can to come to life in many ways. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy has all of the interview audios, videos, photographs, text, and transcripts available. Even classics — Penguin has updated Pride & Prejudice with clips from the movie and even instructions on dancing. For the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit, HarperCollins released an e-version with exclusives including J.R.R Tolkien’s book illustrations and recently discovered Tolkien recordings. Publishers are still learning what added value readers will or won’t pay for. I expect we’ll continue to see lots of experimentation in this arena.
Does this mean authors will require different skill sets to create books?
Yes, there is definitely a demand for new and emerging skill sets. Publishing is full of creative types, including talent that is savvy about the new tools becoming available. The challenge is less about talent and more about the need to find the right business model. For example, you don’t want to create a book that’s very cool but too expensive for the average reader. There’s no limit to what can be done, but there is a limit to what consumers will pay for.
“We are able to print a book on demand within hours and deliver it the next day.” - Skip Prichard
How do you see the playing field for books evolving in the next five to ten years?
Three powerful trends in the last few years have been the growth of online retail, the rise of the e-book, and the explosion in the number of titles available. These will continue for some time. It doesn’t mean that all bookstores will close. And it doesn’t mean that the printed book is dead. What it does mean is that traditional bookstores will need to continue to be creative — change inventory, add more events, and make the local experience unique. Large print runs will diminish as e-book sales increase. Today, many printed books are created through the technology of print-on-demand, arriving in stores, libraries, or at home the day after printing. Finally, authors are finding new ways to reach markets directly. All of these potentially threaten players not adept at staying ahead of the changes. Fortunately, many publishers are ahead of the curve and already anticipating the next phase of growth. We are at a very early stage in imagining the future of the book.
What will be the effect on brick and mortar outlets? What recommendations do you have for these outlets?
Physical stores are redefining their role for the future by finding unique and compelling ways to differentiate the experience from online. Just as print and digital will find a balance, so too, will online and physical retail. My recommendation is, “Find your niche, your unique value proposition, and lock in your customer relationship experience.” The challenges ahead for brick and mortar outlets are not unique to bookstores. Almost all physical retailers are confronting these same challenges.
What will be the effect on publishing companies and what opportunities will this provide to authors for self-publishing?
Publishers are making changes and developing new models for the future. The publishing house of yesterday is being replaced as visionary publishers adapt to new ways to reach readers. Content creation will extend past the current definition of the book. With the explosive growth of books in recent years, the role of the publisher to select, edit and promote content is more valuable than ever. And the prestige of getting published remains for all authors and potential authors.
There are also more opportunities than ever for self-published authors as the barriers to publishing are lower than ever. Self-published titles are increasing in both print and digital formats. We’ve seen some self-published authors break into the bestseller lists. Interestingly, these same authors generally end up accepting lucrative publishing deals when they are approached.
“Three powerful trends in the last few years have been the growth of online retail, the rise of the e-book, and the explosion in the number of titles available.” - Skip Prichard
How can the book industry protect itself from piracy?
Piracy isn’t a new issue. In fact, the majority of pirated copies are from print books being photocopied and distributed rather than from the distribution of digital copies. Keep in mind that what separates books from other forms of entertainment: for those who can’t or don’t want to pay for books, they’ve always been available for free from libraries. The key is to continue to make books not only an engaging experience but also an affordable and easy-to-access experience. We need to make it easy for consumers to find and purchase books legally, meaning publishers must package and share e-content with consumers in formats they want to read without unreasonable restrictions.
Why should a book be your number one gift purchase this holiday season and what are your recommendations?
Books educate, inform and inspire. They cultivate curiosity, nurture the imagination, and promote a sense of wonder. Books are also terrific conversation starters. In addition, books keep on giving well beyond the day they are received whether to the original recipient or to someone else.
How is Ingram changing its culture to embrace the digital age?
We have been early adopters of a number of different technologies. Our print on demand business, Lightning Source, started fifteen years ago. As more books go digital, publishers will have to cut print runs. We are able to print a book on demand within hours and deliver it the next day. Last year we expanded to France. This year we expanded to Australia.
Ingram was an early investor in digital. We’ve had experience in digital for many years and expanded these services to include things like CoreSource, a digital warehouse for publishers. We can send an e-book to all the sources for digital devices, so a publisher does not have to worry about the logistics of file conversions, the bibliographic data about the book, and the security of delivery to consumer channels.
Ingram also purchased VitalSource, an electronic textbook platform that is our fastest growing business. We now have 2 million students using the platform worldwide. It’s transforming the way students interact with educational material. Textbooks come alive using video, audio, and text, and allow students to share notes. It has technology that allows us to tell a publisher: “Nobody is reading Chapter 8.” Or, “People like these three chapters best so you might want to expand them.” It helps the students learn better by engaging with the material in the way that they learn best.
We are watching the digital space carefully. We’re an active participant behind the scenes in this transformation. We embrace it and will continue to be a central part of it. Ingram sits as the center hub between the publisher and libraries and retailers. We get a wide view of what’s happening in the marketplace.
C. M. Rubin and David “Skip” Prichard
Photos courtesy of Ingram Content Group, Inc.
Visit Skip Prichard’s blog: www.skipprichard.com
C. M. Rubin is the author of the widely read online series, The Global Search for Education, and is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld
Response to Huffington Post Blog about Book Publishing
CM Rubin is the author of two best–selling, award-winning books. Her third book, The Real Alice in Wonderland, is currently available in retail bookstores nationally.
I found your article interesting, although a little long and perhaps in need of a little editing, but certainly well written enough for your arguments to be understood and debated by your readers. I do not believe that you adequately understand what is happening in publishing today or the pros and cons of self-publishing today, possibly because you didn’t have enough time to research it before writing your article. As an author with 20 years of experience in virtually every publishing medium, and who is both traditionally published and self-published, I would like to give you an update on what is happening. Traditional publishing is in decline and fewer books are being produced. Self-publishing is booming and has come a long way from where it used to be. There are both traditionally published authors and talented newcomers making use of self-publishing. The best authors are getting their work edited by publishing professionals. The editors used by these writers are either freelancers who are out of work due to the enormous cut-backs in traditional publishing, or professionals provided by the better self-publishing companies. Most of the development staff I know in the good self-publishing companies came from executive positions in the publishing world. Authors of self-published books are also getting their work reviewed by respected trade and consumer book reviewers because these publications are realizing that there are increasing numbers of great books being self-published. Authors of self-published books are also getting their books promoted at independent bookstores, online retailers and at national retailers such as Barnes and Noble and Borders, because store buyers are realizing that there are great books being offered to them that their customers want to read. As regards promotion, authors can get guidance from their self-publishing companies on marketing and promotion, and in many cases, the authors have managed to do a better job themselves than if the traditional publisher had managed the project. In fairness to the traditional publisher, they don’t have the staff or budget to do effective promotion in every case. An example is my book, The Real Alice in Wonderland, the true story of my relative Alice Liddell’s life. My book has achieved all the things I have just described but had to be self published because the traditional publisher couldn’t turn it around fast enough for the release of Tim Burton’s film. I agree that writers should certainly seek perfection in their work. The focus of the struggle to be published or to self-publish should be about creating the best book that it is within you to write. Progress and technology in the publishing world now make it possible to self-publish when you have your masterpiece so perhaps the most important difference is that no one can ever stop you from having your voice heard again.
Yours most sincerely,