UPDATED 5th MARCH 2013… and it seems The Bookseller has arrived late to the party. In something of a non-story to try and create an updated story, The Bookseller reports that ASI has stated to them that there is ‘no legal action’ against the company at the moment. Eh, hasn’t every previous report on this story over the past few days, here, on Writer Beware and Shelf Awareness stated exactly that? The Bookseller also inaccurately states that ‘Lawyers Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP posted a message on its website yesterday (5th March).’ Maybe that’s when The Bookseller’s staff noticed it or heard about it, but the notice has been there several days! And what part of the word ‘investigates’ doesn’t The Bookseller get even when it is stated by a law firm?
The office of US attorneys, Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP, have been carrying out an investigation into practices of the publishing industry’s largest self-publishing service, Author Solutions Inc. based in Bloomington, Indiana. Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP represent employees in employment and civil rights matters, consumers and small businesses in class actions, individuals and small businesses in commercial litigation, and individuals in white collar criminal defence matters.
While TIPM, as of today, is not aware of any class action lawsuit filed in the US courts by Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP on behalf of any of their clients, all the indications are that the firm intend pursuing a class action lawsuit against Author Solutions. In the past few days the office of the law firm has been requesting interested parties to contact them with details of any grievances against the self-publishing service provider or any of its many brands and imprints. In a communication on the website of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP, the company states the following:
“Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP is currently investigating the practices of Author Solutions and all of its brands (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Inkubook, and Wordclay). Authors using Author Solutions have complained of deceptive practices, including enticing authors to purchase promotional services that are not provided or are worthless, failing to pay royalties, and spamming authors and publishing blogs/sites with promotional material.
“If you have self-published with Author Solutions or any of its brands and have been the victim of deceptive practices, please fill out the form below.”
Significantly, Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP operate many client cases taken on a contingency fee basis where the law permits. Many authors who experience disputes with self-publishing providers avoid pursuing a legal route due to the large fees charged up front by law firms. It is possible Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP contingency fee arrangement might entice more aggrieved authors to contact the firm. The firm discusses contingency fees on their website:
“We don’t want to make money from our clients. We want to make money for our clients. For that reason, whenever possible, we enter into contingency fee arrangements. A contingency fee agreement, where our fee is based on how much we obtain for our client, reduces the downside for our clients and places a premium on achieving an optimal result quickly and efficiently. We will not accept a case unless we believe in it and believe that we can obtain a result that is worthwhile for both our clients and our firm.”
A Google of complaints on Author Solutions Inc. and many of its self-publishing brands will quickly reveal an extensive disenchantment with the company’s aggressive and misleading marketing and overpriced author services. TIPM regularly field negative comments and complaints about Author Solutions’ brands every week and Pearson’s purchase of the company last summer has not resulted in a let-up in those complaints.
Author Solutions recently entered into a partnership to run a self-publishing imprint for Simon & Schuster. The company already run similar imprints for Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, Hay House and Writers Digest. I suggested recently that Author Solutions also played a significant backend role in the redesign and restructuring of Penguin’s own self-publishing imprint, Book Country, and Penguin India’s launch of Partridge Publishing. Author Solutions own and run quite a number of their own self-publishing imprints, including AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Booktango (an e-publishing only platform), Xlibris and Trafford, as well as a host of e-book and print self-publishing brands for large and medium-sized traditional publishers.
Just last month, David Gaughran, an independent author and blogger who follows the developments in the publishing industry chronicled the deceptive self-publishing behemoth that is Author Solutions:
“The deceit starts with the web of brands they’ve established. With so many imprints, Author Solutions has tricked authors into thinking they have dozens of choices. In reality, however, the parent company is just slapping up half a dozen different logos, renaming packages, and selling the same grossly overpriced services to all of their customers no matter which brand ends up on the cover.
“On top of that, AS has been accused of launching supposedly unbiased, purely informational comparison websites to help customers pick the self-publishing company that’s right for them, except all clicks lead back to Author Solutions brands.
“With AS overbearing sales reps are the norms. They’ve talked writers into purchasing publishing packages over the phone without so much as a written explanation of charges, let alone a formal publishing contract. And they’re all too eager to offer instalment payments and accept credit card information over the phone.
They’ve pulled the ol’ price switcheroo on writers too. Jean Rikhoff, published Earth, Air, Fire and Water with iUniverse and was told by a sales rep that copyediting charges for her manuscript would run around $400. When she received her credit card bill, however, her charges totalled nearly $4,000.
Once you’ve signed on with one of their brands, it’s time for the upselling. They’ll sell review services marked up by nearly 160%, worthless book-to-screen marketing packages that cost over $15,000, and shoddy editing services that create more errors than they correct. They’ll even let customers buy their own recognition awards like Editor’s Choice (but they’ll tell them the money is to pay for the company’s superior editors to evaluate the work and ensure its worthy).”
Publishing industry watchdog and author, Victoria Strauss, has also followed the expanding story of Author Solutions and the experiences of authors using their services. She posed some questions when Pearson bought Author Solutions last year for $116 million like:
Will ASI manage to improve its customer service?
Will the payment glitches that currently seem to be plaguing the ASI “brands” be addressed?
Will ASI begin to advertise itself more transparently?
Will ASI continue to offer–and to aggressively promote–all those overpriced, dubiously useful marketing services and incentives?
Is this really a good investment for Pearson?
In short, like Victoria Strauss, after the Pearson acquisition, I also hoped things might improve with the Author Solutions’ brands, but, ultimately, Pearson didn’t buy ASI to clean up their practices or improve the image of self-publishing, and that’s where I believe so many people expressing a wish or an opinion are missing the point. Here is what I said about the Pearson acquisition last July:
“Wherever you personally place ASI and their stable of self-publishing imprints like iUniverse, AuthorHouse and Xlibris in the scheme of publishing – be it as vanity house in disguise or a slick corporate marketer with promises of self-publishing dreams made true – ASI has developed an engine room efficient and quick to turn manuscripts into print and ebook products for authors, whatever arguments you make about the literary quality of many of the books published. I’ve heard far too many within and outside of the industry take an easy swipe at ASI over the years – just as so many are quick to take easy pot-shots at Amazon – but both companies got where they are by seizing opportunity, providing services to customers willing to part with cash, and, crucially, had the resources to develop and deliver their services to a global market. In today’s world – salesmen aren’t paid to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They are paid to sell services and products. The buyer often says yay or nay dependent on how informed he or she is about what is needed. Both companies have also developed their fair share of innovative tools and services – Amazon with it’s most recent move to deliver some products on the same day of ordering, and ASI has turned a lot of heads with it’s ebook platform, Booktango, and even more recently, with BookStub, a loyalty card complete with a QR code for gifting books. But the real jewel in the crown for Penguin today is immediate access to the ASI production engine.
“Everyone directly connect with this decision will be happy. Bertram Capital has shifted a marque they needed to and trousered $116 million, ASI CEO, Kevin Weiss, makes the board of Penguin Group, and Penguin gets the keys to the ASI engine room and the resource of 1600 employees. That will help nicely with digitizing a lot more of the Penguin back catalogue, provide a further financial revenue stream, and who knows, maybe provide a very few new authors to the mothership which hitherto went under the radar of Penguin. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that self-publishing is enjoying something of a vogue status however many stuffies we still hear throwing their toys out of the established publishing cot over the perceived watering down of traditional publishing brands. If anything, this purchase by Pearson is proof that even Penguin is not the brand it once represented and the average book buyer won’t give an iota about this deal and future implications for the industry – that’s if most will even be aware of it.”
The Pearson acquisition is and has always been about gaining access to that powerful resource called The ASI Engine Room. It is not about new publishing world reformation and the adoption and integration of the worst of self-publishing, but, rather, about harnessing a publishing system of the future built on content services and business to business partnerships. Monetising the slush pile is just one of the adopted and added perks of the game plan.
Though we have had a significant shift to DIY publishing and the rise of services and platforms like Amazon KDP, CreateSpace, Smashwords, Blurb and the like, thousands of authors are still attracted to Author Solutions’ brands with its ‘self-publishing is indie and easy’ and slick marketing. The rise of the e-book might soon challenge ASI’s print-centric approach, but the launch of Booktango already suggests this self-publishing behemoth might be preparing for the transition to e–centric publishing. Many of the core questions asked by Victoria Strauss remain unanswered and maybe even unaddressed by ASI, and even in light of any potential class action lawsuit taken by Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP on behalf of its clients, I suspect Pearson won’t be losing any more sleep than ASI over the coming months.