Proving that consolidation isn't just an issue for commercial publishing, POD self-publishing service AuthorHouse has just acquired rival service iUniverse. The merger was announced on Thursday, September 6 by AuthorHouse's parent company, Author Solutions Inc. (which was itself acquired by Bertram Capital, a private equity investment firm, in January 2007).
According to AuthorHouse's official press release,
“At AuthorHouse, we have built our brand by making service to the author our first priority,” said Bryan Smith, president and CEO of Author Solutions and AuthorHouse, “and iUniverse has done a great job leveraging their traditional publishing experience to make authors successful. By bringing the two biggest forces in self-publishing together, we will draw on the unique strengths of both brands and offer an even better suite of publishing services for authors.”
iUniverse CEO Susan Driscoll put an equally positive spin on things in her email to iUniverse authors:
Quite simply, the strengths and the capabilities of AuthorHouse and iUniverse complement one another, and by building on our individual strengths we can expand the range and enhance the quality of the services that each company offers. Under the Author Solutions umbrella, we are dedicated to becoming the preeminent provider of publishing services to authors.
In addition to AuthorHouse/iUniverse, Author Solutions owns AuthorHouse UK, which is basically, a clone of AuthorHouse USA; brand-new Wordclay, which follows the Lulu model of DIY self-publishing; and Rooftop Publishing, which describes itself as "the trade publishing operation of Author Solutions, Inc." Spot-checking the books listed at Rooftop reveals that many were previously published by AuthorHouse, suggesting that, like iUniverse's Publisher's Choice Program, Rooftop is at least in part an outlet for AuthorHouse books and authors that rise to the top of the POD heap. (Last year Ann investigated the Publisher's Choice program, which promises to make books that meet certain sales and editorial criteria eligible for limited bookstore placement.)
Like some iUniverse authors I've heard from, I'm not thrilled by news of the merger. iUniverse is usually the company I name when writers ask me which POD self-pub service I prefer; in my opinion, it offers an excellent combination of price, quality, reliability, and service. Currently, iUniverse's publishing packages cost as much as $1,299 for the Premier Pro program (or $1,399 if you order it by mail rather than online), or as little as $399 for the Fast Track program (these costs, of course, may be increased if you buy any of the many extras iUniverse offers).
By contrast, AuthorHouse's cheapest publication option costs $698, and because it offers a la carte many of the services that are included in iUniverse's higher-priced packages, expenses can really mount up. The AuthorHouse equivalent of iUniverse's Premier Pro program would cost more than $2,000. AuthorHouse also charges an annual Distribution Channel Access Fee of $20 (waived for the first two years), and a nonrefundable processing fee with submissions of $30. According to reports I've received, there can also be steep charges for changes made in proof.
And speaking of reports...In the late 1990's, when POD self-publishing was a brand-new business, Writer Beware got regular complaints about nearly all the major POD companies. Some of these complaints reflected problems along the road to a viable business model, others resulted from authors' unrealistic expectations--but many involved real screwups on the companies' part. As time went by, though, the companies worked out the glitches and writers gained a better understanding of POD self-publishing and what it could and couldn't accomplish, and the complaints dwindled down to nothing. Or almost. AuthorHouse is the one large POD self-publishing service about which we still get a steady trickle of complaints. Most frequently cited are production delays, disappointing physical quality of books, and aggressive phone sales tactics. Given the huge number of books AuthorHouse publishes, these complaints represent a very, very tiny fraction of the whole. Nevertheless, we think it's significant--and disturbing--that we still receive them.
Will iUniverse maintain its separate focus and identity within the larger company? Susan Driscoll's email claims it will: "...we are committed to retaining separate iUniverse and AuthorHouse brands, and to maintaining all of our current operating locations." Or will it gradually vanish into the AuthorHouse juggernaut? I know which alternative I'm betting on, but it'll be interesting to see what happens.