Yesterday, venerable trade publisher (and one of the Big 5) Simon & Schuster announced the launch of Archway Publishing, a self-publishing services provider.
"Through Archway Publishing, Simon & Schuster is pleased to be part of the rapidly expanding self-publishing segment of our industry," said Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster. "Self-publishing has become a viable and popular route to publication for many authors, and increasingly a source of content for traditional publishers, including Simon & Schuster. We're excited that we'll be able to help more authors find their own path to publication and at the same time create a more direct connection to those self-published authors ready to make the leap to traditional publishing."Like the other self-publishing divisions of trade publishers (LifeWay's Cross Books, Thomas Nelson's West Bow Press, Harlequin's Dell'Arte Press [which, unlike other ventures of this sort, produced a furore upon its introduction and had to change its name], Hay House's Balboa Press, and Writer's Digest's Abbott Press), Archway Publishing is outsourced to Author Solutions Inc. S&S is the biggest fish ASI has landed so far.
S&S seems to be hoping to differentiate Archway by presenting it as a "premium" service. According to the Archway (God, I have to stop thinking about those cookies) Free Publishing Guide--which you can't access without giving Archway your name, email, and phone number, even though it's present on the website behind a hidden URL--the familiar ASI basics are joined by such "unique" extras as inclusion in Edelweiss (a national bookseller catalog), a Speaker's Bureau, an author reception at BEA (cue eyeroll), and various video services (some of which are already available from ASI a la carte).
There's also a concierge service, where you work with just one person to coordinate all aspects of publication. Unlike the other extras, this doesn't appear to be included in any of the packages; nor could I find an a la carte price. Instead, Archway invites authors to call to learn more. Hmmm.
As you might expect, with premium services go premium prices. Even by the standards of ASI--which is generally pricier than similar self-publishing service providers--the cost of Archway's packages is eye-popping. For fiction and nonfiction, prices start at $2,000 and rise to $15,000. Children's books are slightly more economical, beginning at $1,500 and topping out at $8,500. For the business package, you can't get in the door for less than $2,200, and if you go for the whole shebang you'll be on the hook for a cool $25Gs.
Plus, as with all the ASI "brands," there's a whole range of additional--and often highly dubious--"marketing" services you can drop big bucks on.
Archway Publishing has the S&S name in its logo. However, unlike West Bow Press, which prominently touts its connection with Thomas Nelson--or Dell'Arte Press, which doesn't mention Harlequin at all, anywhere--Archway is at some pains to make clear that while S&S has provided "guidance," it's ASI that's running the show. There's still the carrot, though.
Additionally, [ASI] will alert Simon & Schuster to Archway Publishing titles that perform well in the market. Simon & Schuster is always on the lookout for fresh, new voices and they recognize a wealth of talent in Archway authors.Um, yeah. But that's not actually what Archway Publishing--or any of the pay-to-play subsidiaries of traditional publishers--is all about. What it's about is the money--publishers' desire to cash in on the boom in self-publishing services, and capture a piece of a lucrative revenue stream.
How lucrative, though? The action in self-publishing right now is in the ebook realm, where publishing services are available free. Beside Smashwords, Amazon's KDP program, PubIt! from Nook, etc., expensive POD-centric ASI-style services seem clunky and old-fashioned. Why invest in a costly publishing package when you can ebook for nothing on Smashwords, POD for nothing on CreateSpace, find reasonably-priced cover design services on DeviantArt, and so on?
Of course, there are people who don't want to DIY, and there's no shame in that. Even so, there's no reason to pay an arm and a leg for a publishing package. There are many service providers that are far more cost-effective than ASI.
Crucially, there are also many self-pub service providers that have far better reputations. It's not an exaggeration to say that, right now, ASI is the most hated name in the self-publishing services world. For why, do a search on "Author Solutions" on this blog, or take a look at Emily Suess's many posts about the company. Emily breaks it down:
The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breech of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories, and calling at least one customer a ‘fucking asshole.’These are all very similar to reports Writer Beware has received over the years. ASI is the only self-pub service provider about which we get regular complaints.
Look, I understand why traditional publishers want to get involved with self-publishing. It's a business decision--a way for publishers to bring in money to help support their core operations. As long as the publisher doesn't misrepresent the benefits of paid self-publishing services, or mislead authors into thinking that using its service is a back door to a traditional book deal, or attempt to monetize its slush pile by steering rejected writers toward its service (see below), I can live with that.
(I can't help but roll my eyes when self-publishing advocates condemn traditional publishers for an outdated business model, yet get morally outraged when they actually change the model. But I digress.)
My problem is with how S&S and others have chosen to dabble in self-publishing--by choosing to work with a company that exploits authors through deceptive PR tactics, misleading rhetoric, and terrible customer service. ASI's poor reputation is not a secret--it's all over the Internet. Could S&S and others not have chosen a more complaint-free service provider--or, even, created the service themselves? You've got to at least give the much-reviled Book Country props for that.
There's also this disturbing tidbit in PW's coverage of the launch: "S&S will refer authors who submit unsolicited manuscripts to the Archway program." I didn't find this in other news coverage, and I'm hoping it's not true--or if it is true, that S&S will re-think it. Such referrals are seriously questionable, since authors who receive them are likely to give them more weight because they come from a respected publisher.
It's been pointed out by journalists and others covering the Archway launch that there's a weird twist to the story: ASI is part of S&S's competitor, Penguin Random House. When Penguin's parent company bought ASI and folded it into Penguin, I expressed the hope that Penguin would start to clean up the problems at ASI, make it more customer-friendly and transparent, as Amazon did years ago when it purchased the then-very-troubled BookSurge. I still hope that will happen--but I know better than to hold my breath.