Makinson: 'no reputational damage' from Author Solutions buy

Makinson: 'no reputational damage' from Author Solutions buy

Penguin c.e.o. John Makinson has said there is a "natural convergence" between traditional and self-publishing businesses, brushing off concerns that its acquisition today (19th July) of self-publishing company Author Services Inc will muddy Penguin's brand image.

But authors' bodies have given starkly polarised reactions to the news, with Kate Pool, deputy secretary general of the Society of Authors, calling the move "absolutely extraordinary" and "worrying".

Speaking at a press conference alongside ASI c.e.o. Kevin Weiss from ASI's headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana, this afternoon (19th July), Makinson said Penguin did not have a "concern about reputational damage" over the buy, but added: "The issue to which we are very sensitive is that the Penguin brand is associated with the idea of editorial selection. But that's not to say the work we will be working on with ASI . . . isn't valid, and shouldn't find a market. It's just applying different filters."

He said: "We will be careful about using the brand in the early days so that we don't mislead anyone into thinking they are getting something from Penguin when they are not."

Makinson said Weiss will be on the Penguin Group board, and will report into him, with plans for Penguin NY's editorial team to travel to ASI's offices to "brainstorm" on how each company can make the most of the new set-up. Weiss said he will consider whether to create a physical presence for ASI in the UK again, perhaps even at the Strand offices.

Makinson said the understanding of consumer data and analytics was "increasingly important" to Penguin, and described ASI's strength in this area as giving Penguin "a big lift", as well as in online marketing, though he stressed it was only part of the value of the acquisition.

Makinson said: "We at Penguin have been looking at the growth of the self-publishing industry for the last three years at least with respect and admiration—it has gained much more profile as more value has been added to the services for authors. It is entering the mainstream and growing rapidly, but it converges with the traditional publishing model, so we at Penguin have been moving quite cautiously into the area . . .

"There is a natural convergence. We are very excited by the growth opportunity. We feel it has broadened the base of publishing at Penguin—it has created more opportunity for authors, and created more to offer readers."

Weiss said the perception of self-publishing companies had turned over the past few years as publishers had set up their own self-publishing imprints. He said: "Self-publishing is no longer out in the left-field—it is part of the mainstream now. This connection with Penguin gives us the broadest set of offerings of any publisher in the world."

Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, said: "I welcome the news of any partnership that further breaks down the phoney war between trade and self-publishing. As you know, our definition of an indie author is one who recognises that the writer is the primary driver of the book, not just in getting it written but also in getting it published and getting it read. A successful indie author meets other players in the publishing process—distributors, publishers, agents, marketeers, booksellers—as
partners who support their efforts."

She predicted: "We will see many more of these partnerships going forward as indie authors take up their rightful place at the heart of the publishing industry."

But the SoA's Pool said she considered the buy "absolutely extraordinary". Pool said Author Solutions was "not remotely a self-publishing company, it's far closer to what is traditionally called vanity publishing", because the author pays for a service from the company, and the company then has exclusive license to the work in return for royalties.

"I'd say to an author dealing with a company like that that they have to be sure they are dealing with people able to give them value for money. We think that 99% of the time the author is better off self-publishing than licensing," she said.

"A lot of authors are disappointed because they don't know much about publishing [in advance] and what they get is not what they think they are going to get. To give it the added lustre of the name of Penguin I find worrying, unless they are going to up its game massively," Pool said. "The name of Penguin sells books because people go to shops and think 'Someone at Penguin has chosen this book'. If Penguin is going to spend £70m on trying to boost its list, it is far better spending it on advances to proper authors they've chosen and competed for, and nurturing them."