Author Services In The Light Of Penguin’s Purchase

I started this post back in April, I REALLY wish I’d published it then! Following Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions (DBW, The Bookseller) I’ve reworked it somewhat and added a few ideas around that move.

It all started at the London Book Fair this year, an event which brought to the fore for me questions over what will happen to publishers during this radical digital shift? A number of times, either as part of a conversation or in response to questions about the publisher role in the future, I spoke about Author Services or as I prefer to think of it, changing the editorial department from a cost centre to a profit and revenue centre.

But what does that really mean? Well it turns out that in the background several companies have been thinking about exactly that. Some companies have been busy creating product suites that cater to the diverse needs of authors.

A really good example of someone who is moving into the space in a measured and clever way is Bloomsbury through their  Writers & Artists Yearbook site. What was once  a staid old handbook of contacts has, over the last number of years, been recast as something entirely different, something very impressive.

The property was acquired as part of the A&C Black acquisition is also home to a number of other print products that have since transitioned fairly nicely to digital or represent an impressive list for future transition (the company has a fascinating history, worth reading, here).

What they offer ranges according to what you think you need from the very beginning of the process (you can get a book idea assessed for only £119.99) to the end of it (a meet the agent, beat the rejection pile meeting for £199). The one thing they don’t yet offer is actual help with self publishing, but that is a fairly simple step beyond what they currently offer.

The big opportunity is not so much to draw in new content from those who might otherwise self publish, but rather to create viable and real businesses from the editorial (and I suppose the production) departments that currently cost so much money.

Offerings like that at Writers & Artists Yearbook and their existing and future competitors will, I suggest, probably form the front end of the editorial departments of many publishers when the transition is complete. It is entirely possible that they will be independent entities or only loosely aligned with publishers, but it is equally possible that at some point, a vast transfer of staff will happen that sees the editorial department of a publisher shifting towards the newly created services units.

Imagine how it would be if Penguin was to reshape its business so that Author Solutions (or whatever it is renamed) provided the editorial resources (staffed no doubt by Penguin editors) to Penguin as one client among many (perhaps with privileges the others don’t have) it would change the way the company thinks of editorial services.

If all publishers decided to take that radical step (and I admit right now it IS radical), it would enable publishers to subsidize new titles by generating revenue on what have been traditionally expensive services to provide. Of course it would certainly change the way everyone thinks of that department and would probably lead to some resentment both within those departments and between the authors who were made to pay for them and the lucky authors who publishers felt were safe enough bets to invest in themselves.

I think we are only at the beginning of this re-shaping of publishers but the first big change we are seeing is in how we think about the editorial department (though some changes are hitting home hard in sales and marketing too).

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7 comments

  1. That’s interesting but it might be the reverse of how you’re seeing it. Publisher acquires an idea and AS and other likewise services have to *bid* to do the editorial/production work.

  2. Great for freelancers, in that publishers may outsource all their editorial work. Not so great for inhouse editorial staff (who will no longer be entitled to holiday pay, maternity leave, sick pay, pensions, etc.), although they may still get the work from their old employers.

    1. Yes,
      I think it will be great for freelancers, especially as books become more and more project based. it may or may not be good for the staff, that remains to be seen.

      Eoin

  3. During the briefing call, Kevin Weiss from Author Solutions compared Penguin’s purchase to IBM’s decision to enter the PC market in the 1980s, claiming that IBM legitimized the desktop. If the analogy holds, though, what happened to IBM after that might be more instructive: a near-death experience and a reinvention as a services company. That’s a change very few publishers are ready to make.

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