Self-publishing comes of age?

The news and social media have been buzzing lately with updates on how self-publishing is turning over the literary industry.

The Alliance of Independent Authors (AIA) is making huge ground in self-publishing, having given Goodreads.com a full endorsement as the site of self-published authors to advertise, and engaging the help of the literary agency AM Heath — the agency that represents Hilary Mantel — to establish translation and international rights for independent authors. This agreement between AM Heath and the AIA is the first of its kind, and marks a turning-point in the path of self-publishing. Why is this so significant? The AIA’s blog is the perfect place to find out.

Only a few days ago, there was another huge move forward for self-publishing when Pearson, a global education and learning company, announced its acquisition of Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), a leading provider of self-publishing services. ASI works in tandem with Penguin, which contributes, “design, editorial and sales skills, and its strong international presence”. This essentially means that independent authors will have the opportunity to market their work under Penguin’s banner, with the support of two global companies. The CEO of Penguin, John Makinson, released a statement to coincide with Pearson’s announcement, in which he outlined that this acquisition will allow Penguin, “to participate fully in perhaps the fastest-growing area of the publishing economy.”

He also said, “Self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry over the past three years. It has provided new outlets for professional writers, a huge increase in the range of books available to readers and an exciting source of content for publishers such as Penguin. No-one has captured this opportunity as successfully as Author Solutions, which has rapidly built a position of world leadership on a platform of outstanding customer support and tailor-made publishing services.”

Neill Denny, Editor-in-Chief of the Bookseller Magazine, outlined that this announcement marked the day self-publishing came of age.

However, some people were less enthusiastic at the prospect of Pearson, ASI and Penguin joining together, as one commenter on the Bookseller article protested that, “Author Solutions (owners of Author House, Trafford, Xlibris, and iUniverse) is one of the worst self-publishing ‘service’ companies out there. […] [They] continually over-charge for their services (both in the form of huge up-front fees AND taking a huge chunk of authors’ royalties), have an awful service record, and industry watchdogs such as Writer Beware have received a litany of complaints over the years. What is Penguin thinking?”

The Print-on-demand publishing site, podpublishing.org, wrote a controversial article when ASI took over Xlibris  in 2009, and outlined the pros and cons of Xlibris under its new parent company. Glassdoor.com, the website dedicated to analysing how well jobs and companies work, gives ASI quite a negative review, with only 18% of employees recommending the job to a friend.

*Edit*: Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, criticised the acquisition in a recent essay. Carla King also wrote out against the move on PBS.

While the ambiguity surrounding ASI seems to differ from person to person, what can absolutely be said is that this move has heightened awareness of self-publishing in the industry, and with the support of Penguin, Pearson may herald a new momentum of success for independent authors.

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