Over the past few days I have refined my opinions on the paid-publishing model offered by mainstream publishers in light of its newest entity, Balboa Press from Hay House Publishing. So far, three of the paid-publishing imprints we have looked at in the past year had one common denominator—Author Solutions (ASI). I do not believe any of the three ASI-powered paid-publishing imprints will prove successes—and certainly not generate the kind of revenue that AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford or iUniverse generate for ASI.
There are two other publishers we have looked at operating paid-publishing models—AmazonEncore and Troubador Publishing. A third one, Cold Tree Publishing went out of business last year. A fourth one, Checkpoint Press, remains in a tentative and early stage of development. I am sure there are other publishers out there operating transitional models of publishing that have yet to pass through our radar.
I do believe a combined model of both mainstream and paid-publishing model can work – we are just not seeing it deployed by the right companies. Simply put, the ASI-driven model means you have always got two separate companies looking at the venture as—for the most part—an additional revenue resource. This approach cannot work as far as long-term investment is concerned. It is a little like taking on a second job to ease the pressure of paying the day-to-day bills. Ultimately, just like an individual, a company will always protect its primary business interest, and if the centre starts to creek, any ancillary imprints through partnerships or perceived outright indulgences will quickly get prised away from the core business if they are simply commercial dressing or sucking resources away from what keeps the mother ship afloat.
I now believe if paid-publishing is to succeed in mainstream publishing, then the impetus must come from the world of mainstream publishing itself. If you like, while Harlequin, Thomas Nelson and Hay House Publishing may have been tempted to try their hands at paid-publishing services, they needed the invisible hand of ASI to cleanse the room of any remaining stigmas of self-publishing—happy in the knowledge that if all blew up in their faces—well, at least they were wearing the gloves ASI provided. Somehow, if a publishing crime was committed, no-one could finger them in the terrible deed. A case of O.J. Publishing glaring at the jury and saying, ‘See, the gloves really didn’t fit.’
O.J. may have been guilty, but he was right about one thing. The current partnership of mainstream publisher to ASI does not fit. Pursuing this flawed logic of profit over business development results in referred slush piles becoming dollar trails, and presenting writers with a path to easy-street publishing without the apprenticeship that makes a writer an author.
Let me be pedantic and digress for a moment. I think this next clarification is important.
a person who writes
a person whose work or occupation is writing; now, specif., an author, journalist, or the like
a person who makes or originates something; creator; originator: ‘author of liberty’
a writer of a book, article, etc.; often specif., a person whose profession is writing books
For me, a writer writes, and continues to write – the action of writing is open-ended – we all write. It is a part of communication.
For me, an author writes to complete and present – the action of perfecting what has been written. It is not just about communicating, but presenting a story or defined set of ideas.
A publisher takes what an author has produced, refines it, and reproduces it in the best form they can, and on the broadest platform they can—whether the author is paying for it or not.
What is really needed is for a large mainstream publisher over the coming months to look at the three current ventures (Westbow, DellArte and Balboa) and conclude they can create a paid-publishing venture internally and without ASI involvement. Hay House could have been ideal for that. For all we know, such a venture is already being planned. I am certain that if ASI has managed to woo three publishers, the likelihood is there are dozens more who have turned them down. Publishers like HarperStudio and The Friday Project have been quick to adopt alternative models of publishing without looking for financial investment from their authors. Publishers like Troubador and Cold Tree Publishing, while setting up paid-publishing and partnership models of publishing that require money from authors, understand distribution is king, and without it, their new models of publishing are pointless.
Self-publishing is now a part of the publishing industry. It beholds them to deal with it and incorporate it properly into their industry and stop hoping that entities like ASI will somehow deal with it on the peripheral edge while still allowing mainstream publishers to siphon off some of its profits. If they ignore the elephant in the room long enough, one day, they may wake up and be consumed by it. No-one wants that.