Mark my words: the summer of 2012 will go down in history as a watershed season for indie authors. A number of developments in the publishing business have given us a boost.
In June, three authors under contract to PublishAmerica filed suit against the vanity publisher. In their suit, the plaintiffs charge PublishAmerica with misrepresenting itself as a legitimate publisher, and with fraudulently charging its authors for services that real publishers provide to their authors for free.
This is not the first time anybody has ever complained about this outfit. Just google “PublishAmerica complaints” and you’ll see what I mean. PublishAmerica authors complain about being charged for making more than a certain number of edits to their galleys – even if the company itself introduced the errors. Others say the company doesn’t follow through on its promises to help them market their work – or charges them an extra, hefty fee for minimal marketing help.
To be fair, PublishAmerica isn’t the only company running this type of operation. Another big name in the vanity publishing business is Author Solutions, which owns several imprints, including AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Xlibris. Basically, all of these companies are in business not to make you a published author, but to part you from your money.
Which makes another bit of publishing news seem a little surreal: Pearson plc, which owns the Penguin Group, is buying Author Solutions. Why would a legitimate publisher like Penguin want to dirty its hands with a company like Author Solutions? I speculated on my blog that it might be because traditional publishers can’t tell the difference between vanity presses and indie authors. I suspect they lump vanity presses in with KDP, Smashwords, Lulu, and all the other companies that publish authors’ work for free. To those big guys in New York and London, we’re all just one great big slush pile. So if “indie” publishing is undermining the traditional business model – and it is – then it makes sense to buy a company like Author Solutions that’s already in the business. Right?
Interestingly, Penguin is among the publishers that did not reach a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in the Apple price-fixing case. The DoJ originally charged five publishers and Apple with colluding on a pricing model that prohibited retailers from discounting e-books. Three of the publishers opted to settle. Of the 868 people and organizations that commented on the proposed settlement, most were involved somehow in traditional publishing. Many of them defended the publishers’ actions as their only hope of leveling the playing field with Amazon, which they portrayed as a juggernaut set to ruin the publishing industry and put everybody else out of business. In its response, the DoJ reminded them that antitrust laws are designed to protect consumers, who benefit from lower prices – and not to prop up an aging industry threatened by a younger, more nimble competitor.
Some indies are worried that lower prices on e-books from trad publishers will hurt them. But I don’t think it will matter all that much. Most readers have no idea who publishes the books they read, nor do they care. If we give them good, well-edited stories with professional-looking artwork on the cover, we should be able to go toe-to-toe with the big guys on price – and win.
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