Pronoun’s Crazy-As-F*** No-Cost Distribution Service is Shutting Down

Pronoun's Crazy-As-F*** No-Cost Distribution Service is Shutting Down Self-Pub

For the past couple years one of the more confounding questions in publishing was how Pronoun could afford to keep distributing ebooks without taking a commission or charging fees.

It turns out that it cannot.

Pronoun just informed users via email that the service is shutting down.

Two years ago Pronoun set out to create a one-of-a-kind publishing tool that truly put authors first. We believed that the power of data could be harnessed for smarter book publishing, leveling the playing field for indie authors.

We are proud of the product we built, but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.

Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.

While many challenges in indie publishing remain unsolved, Macmillan is unable to continue Pronoun’s operation in its current form. Every option was considered before making the very difficult decision to end the business.

As of today, it is no longer possible to create a new account or publish a new book. Pronoun will be winding down its distribution, with an anticipated end date of January 15, 2018. Authors will still be able to log into their accounts and manage distributed books until that time.

For the next two months, our goal is to support your publishing needs through the holiday season and enable you to transition your books to other services. For more detail on how this will affect your books and payments, please refer to our FAQ.

Pronoun was a singularly unique startup in that it encapsulated almost every way you can't make money in the book industry.

It launched in 2009 as Vook, a publisher of enhanced ebook apps. When that market proved unpopular with consumers, Vook expanded into making enhanced ebooks for Kindle and iBooks (after the platforms gained support in 2010). When that didn't work out,  Vook pivoted to making enhanced ebooks as a service.

And when that didn't pan out, Vook pivoted to being a distributor of ebooks.

Then Vook rebranded and relaunched in 2015 as Pronoun, picking up new capital in the process as well as a new model: no-cost distribution. That sounded crazy, yes, but Pronoun insisted they were making their money from building platforms. "In addition to offering free services to thousands of authors, Pronoun also powers the publishing programs of large media companies like The New York Times, Forbes, and Fast Company, who are paying partners," I was told.

Apparently that worked well enough for Macmillan to acquire Pronoun in May 2016, but not well enough for Pronoun to continue operating.

And so after 18 months of finding out it can't survive as a subsidiary to a Big Five publisher, Pronoun is shutting down for good.

Thus ends one of the more unusual publishing startups.

I'm going to miss Pronoun. For one thing, it was nice to have someone in the room that was crazier than me, but more importantly I am going to miss Pronoun's formatting service.

They had a free automated conversion tool that made absolutely beautiful ebooks. They were nicer-looking than most ebooks made by people.

One can only hope this tech will show up somewhere, at some point.

 

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

75 Comments

  1. Maria (BearMountainBooks)6 November, 2017

    Wow. Authors that had their books distributed via pronoun are going to lose all their reviews, sales data,…ugh.

    Reply
    1. Dale Cameron Lowry6 November, 2017

      It doesn’t mean losing your reviews. On Amazon, for example, if you republish a new edition of a title, you just send a request asking Amazon to link the old reviews to the new ISBN. As for other sites … well, I don’t get very many reviews on other retailers, so I’m not worried about them. But I imagine at least a few have similar functionality. And of course the Goodreads reviews will stay up—even the ones we don’t like, muahahaha …

      Reply
    2. Harvey Stanbrough7 November, 2017

      That is simply not true. Instead of spreading fear, go to the Pronoun site and read the FAQs.

      I considered several times using Pronoun. Each time, their condescending interface stopped me. I just couldn’t get past their annoying attempts at hand-holding.

      Reply
  2. Cheryl Wright6 November, 2017

    As Dale said, reviews will not be lost. Often Amazon will automatically pull in reviews from your previous ASIN, but if not, just ask and they’ll do it manually.

    Reply
  3. Maria (BearMountainBooks)6 November, 2017

    Ah, I didn’t know this. I had a short story published with a magazine that reverted back to me (it was on Amazon via the publisher). I republished it, but lost all the reviews. Hopefully it will go as smoothly as you describe!

    Reply
  4. Cheryl Wright6 November, 2017

    Provided the title is exactly the same, it shouldn’t be an issue. It’s when you change the title you can’t get your reviews.

    I hope that helps.

    Reply
    1. Maria (BearMountainBooks)8 November, 2017

      Thanks Cheryl! I contacted Amazon and they moved the reviews over for Year of the Mountain Lion within ONE day! And I’d had the rights and republished it a couple of years ago, but they managed to figure it out within just a few hours. Nice to have those reviews back so thanks!

      Reply
  5. Mike D6 November, 2017

    @Cheryl Wright

    At least one author reissued with a different title and the same ASIN.

    They later reissued with a different ASIN.

    I only noticed because the warnings “you have already bought this book” stopped.

    Reply
  6. The reviews will transfer on Amazon subject to other identifying factors being the same.

    Not so for Kobo and other outlets.

    Reply
  7. Thomas8 November, 2017

    I’m just really disappointed. Everything about the Pronoun was great. The page is so intuitive, has a great design, really user friendly. Process of publishing is really simple, you also get advice on keywords and categories to connect with your book. Support was great (Elissa, hope this gets to you :D). Payments were on agreed time on our account, not a day of delay. Just really sad that someone who was doing their job like it should be done couldn’t make it through. Wish all of you guys from Pronoun luck in the future!

    Does anyone has some alternative publisher?. Going directly through Amazon KDP is not really good for us since our books cost more than $9,99??

    Reply
    1. Zsofia Macho21 December, 2017

      Hi Thomas,

      I’m afraid I do not know of a publisher who could meet these percentages: Pronoun was really unique in this regard. However, if you are looking for a new distributor with an easy transition, you might try PublishDrive: https://publishdrive.com/import-books-pronoun/

      Reply
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  56. Rob Siders10 November, 2017

    Not sure how I missed this news. Not a shocker if I’m honest. The publishing tools were well-made, to be sure, but nothing else about their model ever seemed to work. Unless, of course, their model was getting and spending a lot of investment and acquisition cash … in which case they were excellent at it.

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