In November 2014 TIPM reported that Barnes & Noble was adding a print-on-demand (POD) service to its self-publishing platform Nook Press, a part of Nook Media. Nook Press Print Service allows self-published authors to load up completed PDF files of their books in various trim sizes and formats (paperback and hardback) for private printing purposes. While the print options look far better than those available from CreateSpace, distribution is not provided into any sales channels, not even Barnes & Noble’s own online bookstore. I commented back then:
It’s a little like Bookbaby’s print service, but with more restrictions. On the plus side, Nook Press offers very thorough formatting guidelines, helpful for any author putting together their own print book file, even if you don’t intend using Nook Press!
Nook Press also launched service packages for authors who want pre-publication assistance when using the their print service. Barnes & Noble also plan to extend the services available from Nook Press. News of the venture garnered plenty of coverage in the publishing media — no real surprise in that. But as always I felt not enough questions were being asked about these new Nook Press services. Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader indulged in some speculation about whether the new Nook Press services were provided in-house or through a third-party company. He’d noticed ‘a worrisome resemblance to the packages offered by Author Solutions under its various guises.’ I wasn’t entirely won over that this was evidence of Author Solutions’ involvement with Nook Press. Hoffelder rightly warned that his own observations should be taken ‘with a grain of salt.’ The next time Nate Hoffelder reaches for the salt, I want him to pass it on to me!
On April 26th 2014, US law firm Giskan SolotaroffAnderson & Stewart filed a class action complaint on behalf of three authors in the Southern District Court of New York. The plaintiffs were named as Penguin Group (USA) and Author Solutions (ASI) of Bloomington, Indiana (Penguin has since had all actions against it dismissed). The class action complaint lodged with the New York court in 2014 alleges that ASI misrepresented its company and services with the intention of luring authors in with claims that its books can compete with “traditional publishers,” offering “greater speed, higher royalties, and more control for its authors.” The suit also alleged that ASI profited from “fraudulent” practices, failed to pay royalties due, and engaged in activities like “delaying publication, publishing manuscripts with errors to generate fees, and selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.” Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart cited that these practices were violations of the California Business and Professions Code, and also violations of New York General Business Law.
As with all legal cases, it can go on and on for months, sometimes years, and there are various stages of legal preparation. This case is not due to be fully heard for several months. During January of this year the legal process of discovery concluded and a number of depositions provided to the court by potential witnesses (who may or may not be called during the actual trial) were lodged as court documents. One of the important things about depositions in a case is that the depositions are sworn statements and it allows all parties to be privy to testimony or evidence which may be introduced during a trial.
As a result of documents lodged with the courts in January, it’s now crystal clear that Barnes & Noble’s Nook Media is indeed a partnership imprint with Author Solutions.
AS also increased revenue by forming partnerships with traditional publishing companies to create new imprints, or “partner imprints.” For instance, in 2009, AS formed a partnership with Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher at the time, called Westbow Press. (Id. Ex. 9, Seitz Dep. 11.) AS has continued the expansion of its partner programs, including a partnership with Nook Press, by Barnes & Noble. (Id. Ex. 9, Seitz Dep. 49.) The role of the partner, to whom AS pays a royalty, is to “contribute and assist in lead generation.” (Id. Ex. 9, Seitz Dep. 11.) In other words, they would generate a potential pool of Authors to whom AS’s “consultants” could sell the same services, except for a higher price so that the partners could share in the profits. (Id. Ex. 9, Seitz Dep. 21; id. Ex. 7, Ogorek Dep. 116.)
Let me thank David Gaughran of Let’s Get Digital for his exhaustive work and being the first to share two important court documents today as part of the court’s disclosure process in his post — Barnes & Noble’s Dirty Little Secret: Author Solutions and Nook Press. You can find a substantial court document on the depositions here (PDF). Gaughran also cites some terms and conditions from Barnes & Noble, suggesting the company is exonerating itself from potential future class action suits by authors. He doesn’t directly link to the terms and I have to say that checking both the Barnes & Noble website terms and Nook Press author services, I couldn’t find the term he referenced.
That aside, I’m not sure what is worse; Barnes & Noble going into partnership with Author Solutions or simply playing the fool and not disclosing the fact that Author Solutions is powering many of the Nook Press services. It reflects a reality that despite all the negative press about Author Solutions, some publishers and organisations are still prepared to just into bed with the most reviled publishing service in the author community. It’s a marked contrast from five years ago when big publishers and Author Solutions were happy to trumpet new partnerships from high on the rooftops.
I will refer back to what I said about Nook Press last November:
Overall, and regardless of whether Author Solutions is involved in this or not, I agree with the general consensus over the past couple of days on Nook Press. The new print services are about as useful as a chocolate fireguard to authors. It looks like a deliberate effort to direct authors towards the expensive packages and individual services. But like all business initiatives, somewhere buried in here was the germ of a good idea. Self-published authors are focussing on e-books and digital marketing, but print copies still remain a necessity when it comes to some promotional events for authors.
I’d advise anyone traversing the web of self-publishing services to take the time to read the two court documents linked above. You may need a cup of coffee, even a stiff drink. It’s an insight into the murky world of sleazy self-publishing services and just how they operate based on the sworn testimony of the people who work on the dark side.
The wizard behind the curtain spoke today. And he doesn’t have authors’ interests first and foremost when it comes to publishing services. You can be silent some of the time, run other times, but you can never hide.