Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

January 5, 2016

Author Solutions Sold to Private Equity Firm

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I was working on my usual year-end roundup post, when I spotted this, in PW:
Penguin Random House has sold its Author Solutions division to an affiliate of the Najafi Companies, a private investment firm that at one point owned Bookspan and made an offer to buy several hundred Borders outlets after the chain filed for Chapter 11. 
The terms of the deal, which closed on December 31, have not been disclosed.

Quoted in PW, AS's CEO, Andrew Phillips, promises that "day-to-day operations will not change following the sale." Phillips also says that he's "excited to be part of a company where Author Solutions will be more of a focus," which I find interesting: has PRH been letting AS languish, or will the sale simply make AS a bigger cog in a smaller wheel?

The sale isn't as random as it might appear. The Najafi Companies have been involved in book- and publishing-related ventures before; also, Najafi CEO Jahm Najafi, along with several family members, apparently used AS services to publish their own books. Plus, in 2013 AS's former CEO Kevin Weiss became CEO of (now-bankrupt) SkyMall, which at the time was owned by Najafi.

Andrew Phillips alludes to AS's future plans for growth, which include international expansion and partnerships with publishers. Although AS was expanding vigorously via these avenues prior to its 2012 sale to Penguin's then-parent company, Pearson, since the sale it has done little beyond cloning its Partridge service and launching a self-pub division of PRH's Spanish-language trade subsidiary.

Elsewhere, it has lost ground. In 2014 it closed two imprints--Harlequin's DellArte Press, which at the time of its demise had published just 16 titles, and LifeWay's Crossbooks--and lost its partnership with Writer's Digest and F&W Media, for which it had created Abbott Press. In 2015, it lost another long-standing partnership with the Authors Guild. And its market share began to shrink--at least through 2013, when a report by Bowker showed major production declines across all AS imprints.

At the time of AS's acquisition by Pearson--for what I thought was a surprisingly low price, given AS's then-dominant position in the self-publishing services world--I wondered whether AS was really a good investment, with its old-fashioned POD-centric production model, not to mention its large fees and dreadful reputation. Just over three years later, AS finds itself with a new owner. You do the math.

As for AS's reputation, it's as bad as ever, and problems still plague its many imprints: poor customer service, problems with payment, deceptive advertising, high-priced services (particularly marketing services). Will the Najafi Companies take steps to address all of this? Or will they, like PRH, simply reap the profits and look the other way?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, AS needs to change its logo...

UPDATE: More coverage of the sale, from Mick Rooney at The Independent Publishing Magazine. "In a sense Author Solutions has now come full circle, back under private ownership, but with nothing like the foothold it once had in the self-publishing sector."

UPDATE: Frequent AS critic David Gaughran weighs in, pointing out that though PRH no longer owns AS, AS still runs four imprints for it: the three Partridges and MeGustaEscribir. Also, David says, "we must remember that Author Solutions isn’t closing down; it will continue to operate under a new owner – one which has announced no plans to reform the worst abuses, and which instead signaled its intent to continue the aggressive international expansion that was the hallmark of Penguin Random House’s ownership."

10 comments :

Jennifer R. Povey said...

I saw an ad today saying that Author Solutions is hiring people to do "coverage" - to read self-published books and decide if they're suitable for movie conversion.

Not sure what's going on with that. They're offering readers $110, which is comparable to script coverage, but in my experience it takes longer to read a book...

Victoria Strauss said...

They sell various services of this kind, for a lot more than $110. Can you send me a link to that ad? beware [at] sfwa.org . Or post it here? Thanks!

Helen Sedwick said...

It will be interesting to see if and how Najafi changes ASI. Despite the decline in the number of books with ASI ISBNs hitting the market, ASI still signs on thousands of writers a year, maybe tens of thousands. Will Najafi try to expand that market reach by improving services and image, or will they try to squeeze more out of each unsuspecting writer regardless of the effect of the ASI reputation?

Japet Villamwro said...

I work for ASI and it's not actually the company who is putting the reputation at risk but it's the people working behind it. I have colleagues who sugarcoat things which are very pleasing to the ears but will only provide false hopes.

Judith Briles said...

It is stunning to me as to the mega thousands of naïve authors who have been roped in by Author Solutions and its various step-children. It's aggressive upsell tactics--pushing those to buy what they offer that they have no business buying in the first place; highly inconsistent quality of product that comes out the door; and frankly, the level of untruths that get dished in procuring new customers is unbelievable. I suspect there is more behind the separation of Penguin and ASI then in public ... maybe the negative hits on a once very reputable publisher became a reality check?

Jordan said...

Interesting case here. Hopefully cases like this will bring attention to scams like these and help new authors keep the rights to their work. Thanks for sharing this.

Jennifer R. Povey said...

$110 is what they were offering readers. I'm sure they're marking it up to ridiculousness. Let me find the ad.

This is their very professional ad:

http://losangeles.craigslist.org/lac/cwg/5387920272.html

Yes.

Craigslist.

(I was sent this by somebody who should have known better).

Victoria Strauss said...

Thank you, Jennifer.

Craigslist. Sigh.

David Henderson said...

Thanks for the article, authors have to know about the bad people of the industry.

Anonymous said...

I used to work with ASI,and FYI authors don't lose rights to their book/work. They retain it, that's why its called self publishing...

 
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