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.