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Why PRH Sold Author Solutions: Business Dropped by a Quarter in 2015

44514845_572eb5d38a_oPenguin Random House bought the vanity press Author Solutions (ASI) in 2012, they made sure everyone knew about it, but when Author Solutions was sold in January, PRH didn’t announce the deal publicly nor have they revealed the terms of the deal.

And now we know why.

Bowker released a report on Wednesday which covers the number of ISBNs sold in 2015 in the US to indie authors, ebook distributors like Smashwords, vanity presses like ASI, and ebook service companies like Blurb.

What the report claims is that it tracks the growth of indie publishing, but as we all know ISBNs are just is not a valid way to count the number of self-published titles released each year (but bless Bowker’s heart for trying).

Sidenote: An ISBN is effectively a serial number for a book. It defines the book so it can be tracked by industry analysts, but as many indie authors will tell you an ISBN is not required to publish an ebook. This is why many authors don’t get an ISBN for their ebooks.

So we can’t say anything today about self-publishing in general, but this report does offer a unique insight into Author Solutions. That vanity press includes an ISBN with each of the publishing packages it offers to the unsuspecting, and that gives us a clue how many authors are fleeced by ASI each year – or at the very least, it tells us the number of transactions.

There’s even a chart just for ASI and its multitude of publishing imprints. The chart is not complete (it’s missing Archway and a few other minor imprints) but what it tells us is that Author Solutions has been in decline for the past four years.

author solutions ISBNs

The chart is embedded above as an image, and can be found on page seven of the report (PDF). It shows that ASI’s business peaked in 2011, and declined ever since.

By the time PRH sold it in January 2016, Author Solutions was buying less than half as many ISBNs in a year as it did in 2011, the year before the acquisition. The ISBN count declined in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, falling 29% in 2015 alone.

The number of ISBN purchased fell every year even though PRH integrated Author Solutions into several of its subsidiaries around the word (Spain, India, BookCountry, and even a university) and convinced other companies like Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and Simon & Schuster to launch front companies for ASI to run.

In retrospect, the cause of the decline is fairly obvious; authors were smart enough to figure out that there were better options than being fleeced by Author Solutions. It’s not that hard to DIY, and there are also alternative to ASI which are run by ethical companies.

In conclusion, PRH set out to fleece authors, and were instead tricked into buying a pig in a poke. And to make matters even more deliciously ironic, it took PRH four years to figure out they had been had and to sell off Author Solutions for whatever they could get.

Today is a good day.

image by born1945

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Meryl Yourish September 7, 2016 um 11:06 pm

That is fantastic. Thanks for the laugh, Nate!

Smart Debut Author September 8, 2016 um 12:42 am

Karma. 🙂

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William Ockham September 8, 2016 um 3:10 pm

There’s a real story in those numbers, though. Look at print, where the ISBN is much more of a requirement. Now, take CreateSpace out of the mix. The rest of Bowker’s field just about doubled (78K to 150K). CreateSpace’s numbers have soared to nearly 12 times as much over the same time period. The difference between Amazon and the big publishing is neatly summed up by the fact that Amazon acquired CreateSpace and the publishers threw their lot with ASI. CreateSpace was a distributor of on-demand DVDs in 2005 when they were acquired.

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