Big Publishing’s new business plan: Take Money From Authors

Simon & Schuster, what is that I don’t even.

David Gaughran gives us the full write-up of S&S’s new self-publishing imprint, Archway Publishing. For additional context, see David’s post at Indie Reader from July about the acquisition of Author Solutions by Penguin, Emily Suess’s background on the business relationships, and Leslie Kaufman’s summary via NYT.

Short version: Archway is a new imprint of Simon & Schuster that offers self-publishing services to authors, working through Author Solutions, which is owned by Penguin, which recently merged with Random House. Author Solutions already has a well-documented history of predatory, irresponsible treatment of authors.

This is Archway’s idea of self-publishing, via David’s latest post:

Fiction packages start at $1,999 and go up to $14,999. If you have written a business book, prices are saucier again: $2,999 to $24,999.

While the upper end of the pricing spectrum is obviously shocking, some of you might think that $1,999 isn’t too bad if you are getting a proper edit and a decent cover.

Not so fast.

That price tag doesn’t include any real editing, just an assessment which – according to their own website – is “not a replacement” for editorial services but “a preliminary diagnostic tool.”

But what if you need proper editing? Fear not! Simon & Schuster is here to help. For just $0.035 a word, you can have a thorough edit of your book. Which sounds cheap until you realize that a standard 80,000 word novel would cost you $2,800. So, in actual fact, the cheapest package, plus their edit, will set you back $4,799 for a standard length book.

As if that wasn’t enough, Simon & Schuster will also take half of your e-book royalties –after Amazon and the other retailers take their cut – and pay pennies for print sales.

Not looking so reasonable anymore, is it.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Those Simon & Schuster editors might be pretty damn good.” Alas, Simon & Schuster won’t be lending any editorial expertise to this new operation; it will be run and staffed by… Author Solutions – the world famous repository of editorial talent.

For my readers who are unfamiliar with publishing economics: there is no justification for this payment scheme. There are two basic models of publishing, in terms of how the bills get paid.

A company can offer a self-publishing package, in which the writer pays for services up front, such as editing, cover design, formatting, account setup with retailers, basic promotional materials, BUT THEN, once the book is on the market, the writer gets all the money from book sales after the retailers take their cut.

OR

A company can do traditional publishing, in which the company eats the up-front costs, and then takes a cut of the book’s proceeds. There are variations of this model, such as advance against royalties or royalty-only, but the principle remains the same: the money flows toward the author.

There is no Earthly reason for any company to charge authors on both sides of the process. Perhaps I should say: there is no Earthly reason for any self-respecting author to agree to this plan. For the publisher, it’s pretty much the ideal business model. They assume no risk up front, but they still profit from a book’s success.

Something I haven’t seen anyone else mention yet is this: by offering editing as an extra service, rather than a required part of every package, they are giving authors a disincentive to have their books professionally edited. The scheme implies to authors that editing is a luxury, rather than a necessary step for every book before publication. Ergo, Archway will be pumping even more shoddy literature into the market than ever before, which is not good for readers, not good for writers, and not good for the reputation of reading as entertainment. So much for Big Publishing as a bastion of literary quality.

This, however, is possibly my favorite part:

But Adam Rothberg, vice president of corporate communication for Simon & Schuster, said that another attraction of Archway was that Simon & Schuster would be carefully monitoring sales of books completed through the new venture and would use it as a way to spot authors it might want to sign to a contract.

I can see it already: a publishing culture in which the large publishing houses don’t even bother to employ editors who communicate with agents and go through the slush pile. Instead, they get authors to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of competing for a chance to attract the eye of publishing execs by selling their own books.

Here’s what writers need to know: if you can sell your book well enough to impress a guy like Adam Rothberg, you might as well keep on self-publishing. You earn more money per copy, you get more creative control, and you don’t feed the corporate beast. There are much more honest, diligent, competent people offering piecemeal services to self-publishers: editors, cover designers, formatters, publicists. Simon & Schuster has nothing to offer its authors anymore except its name stamped on their books. This venture with Author Solutions shows us that their name no longer deserves our respect.

 

4 thoughts on “Big Publishing’s new business plan: Take Money From Authors

  1. If you ask me, this is nothing more than the traditional publisher’s attempt at cashing in on the rise of the indie writer. Perhaps they see the “movement” as a threat and are trying to take combative measures? They are sneaky, but it’s smart. It’s also insulting.

    • Maybe a little of Column A, some of Column B. As David Gaughran points out, Author Solutions’s strategy is to take advantage of writers who don’t know anything about the industry. If any of them, somehow, manage to sell a respectable number of books, then Simon & Schuster can swoop in and make even more money off them with a publishing contract.

  2. Just when I thought the publishing industry couldn’t get any more screwed up. Wow. This is kind of terrifying.

    Here’s what I don’t understand: If you’re going to offer a self-pubbing platform as part of your publishing house, why make it *so* expensive? They would benefit so much more by offering a cheap package — something competitive with Lightning Source or Createspace — and actually treating authors with at least *some* modicum of respect. Instead, they just prove that apparently, to book publishing at large, authors are a bunch of idiotic cattle.

    • They’ve decided to target people with money to spend but no sense. So much easier than trying to compete with Lightning Source or CreateSpace.

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