The Authors Guild – which bills itself as America’s leading writers" organization – has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.
The Authors Guild joins companies like Bowker, Writers’ Digest, and Crossbooks in cutting links to Author Solutions – a company which has faced a sustained campaign from writers targeting its deceptive and exploitative practices, as well as multiple class actions which are still working their way through the courts.
Burying the Lede
The announcement was made yesterday at Book Expo America, but the Authors Guild decided to bury its own lede. No mention is made of Author Solutions, just a brief mention of the subsidiary which the Authors Guild was partnered with: iUniverse. If I hadn’t been waiting for this announcement, I would have missed it.
It’s almost as if the Authors Guild is trying to airbrush its partnership with Author Solutions from the history books. As if it was all just a bad dream.
Not so fast.
A Long Time Coming
While this move is welcome, it is way past overdue. And it’s important to note what happened here before we all move on. The Authors Guild has had a partnership with iUniverse since 1999. To be fair, iUniverse wasn’t the scammy, disreputable provider back then that it is today.
Like many of the companies under the Author Solutions umbrella, service levels didn’t truly degrade to their current, awful standards until iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions in 2007 – a trend clearly visible when Author Solutions purchased other competitors like Trafford and Xlibris. Watchdogs like Writer Beware saw a huge uptick in complaints as each company was purchased by Author Solutions and the respective service levels plummeted.
None of this stopped the Authors Guild renewing its partnership with Author Solutions in 2008, and again in 2011. As an organization purporting to represent its members best interests, surely it would have been aware of the terrible reputation of Author Solutions companies, and how much service levels at iUniverse had deteriorated. Was there another reason why the Authors Guild was so reluctant to terminate this partnership?
Everybody Loves Royalties
Typically, Authors Solutions’ publishing partners receive a royalty for each publishing package or marketing package that is sold to customers – understood to be 25%. Author Solutions also has an affiliate program which rewards entities for delivering it customers – which Author Solutions refers to as “a bounty.”
It’s unknown whether these arrangements were in place with the Authors Guild. However, it is clear that the Authors Guild had arranged some form of ongoing payment from iUniverse when they formed the BackInPrint.com program.
A Good Tithing
In the standard contract between Authors Guild members and BackInPrint.com a specific clause notes: “Ten percent of gross receipts of sales made through the BackInPrint.com website will be paid to the Guild.”
If you want to verify any of this information, it has all now been wiped from the Authors Guild’s BackInPrint.com website… but the internet never forgets. Using the Wayback Machine, you can see what the BackInPrint.com looked like last week. The respective terms and conditions are visible, as well as links to the boilerplate agreement between Guild members and iUniverse – which you can also download here (PDF, but relevant section below).
But, hey, maybe it wasn"t such a big deal. Maybe no one ever bought books from the BackInPrint.com website. A current Alexa ranking north of 27,000,000 (the worst I"ve ever seen!) would seem to indicate that this was the case, and I think it"s fair to wonder whether the members" money – the 10% cut was supposed to fund promoting and maintaining the site/service – was well spent.
Let Me Google That For You
Things get more bizarre the more you look around. BackInPrint.com had a humorous eligibility requirement. It would only publish work by Authors" Guild members (understandable), and
Only books that have been previously published by an established U.S. publishing house (no vanity presses or self-published) are eligible.
Wut? That makes no sense at all! It"s like an Irish pub with a “No Irish” sign in the window.
When The Rain Starts To Fall
Looking at the old BackInPrint.com website also gives you an idea just how tech-savvy this operation was. Members had to submit their books in physical form, by snail mail only, and, if they wanted a specific image used on their crappy generic cover template (choose one of three colors!), then they had to submit it by CD.
The level of knowledge on display is hilarious. Members are urged to submit their “Key Words” by writing them, by hand, into a box on the form, and posting them off to the Authors Guild. Presumably the Guild then sent them by pigeon to Author Solutions.
The only thing that could make the whole operation more 90s is if it came with an instructional VHS tape starring Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston. And I’m really not being unfair here. This was the website as of last week. I guess we"re just lucky that nothing has changed in publishing in the last decade-and-a-half.
I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions" sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members" books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.
One Way Or The Other
The Authors Guild didn’t provide any information on using far superior options like Createspace, Smashwords, KDP, Draft2Digital, Kobo, Nook Press, or Apple – all of which are free.
Instead the Authors Guild picked one of the worst possible providers, with a litany of ongoing complaints against them (as well as lawsuits), a provider which was paying royalty rates less than half what its members would have received with the alternatives above.
The saddest part of all this is that many writers out there are scared to publicly express criticism of Author Solutions due to it now being owned by the largest trade publisher in the world: Penguin Random House. This is exactly the kind of situation where writers’ organizations are supposed to step in and be their voice – not deliver its members into the clutches of such a company.
The Real Victims
It gets worse before it gets better. Under the leadership of Scott Turow, the Authors Guild didn’t just oppose the price-fixing settlement, but called on the DoJ to drop its investigation before it was even concluded. The Authors Guild literally didn’t want to know if price-fixing was occurring.
In its submission to the Department of Justice, the Authors Guild really jumped the shark – wheeling out PublishAmerica and iUniverse as parties which had been “injured” by Amazon’s dominance. Yes, that PublishAmerica. And despite all the lawyers at the helm of the Authors Guild, not one of them seemed to think it prudent to disclose the Guild’s financial relationship with iUniverse.
It Was A Good Day
Having said all that, today is a good day: the Authors Guild dumped Author Solutions. The the terms with the new provider – Open Road – have yet to be disclosed, but will be “available soon” according the Authors Guild.
It must be said that Open Road has a very good reputation, but those terms are important and ingesting all these titles is a non-trivial operation. However, I can say that Open Road knows a million times more about selling books to readers than Author Solutions.
And another partner bites the dust. Who’s next?