Before we get into this unintentionally hilarious response from an Author Solutions' rep (via Nate Hoffelder), we'll need a little background on the company itself.
Author Solutions Inc. is a "self-publishing" company currently doing business with several major publishers, while acting more like a severely abusive vanity press than an actual self-publishing service. Acquired by Pearson in 2012, ASI has assembled a stable of "self-publishing" and print-on-demand services, including Author House, xlibris, iUniverse and Trafford. Other publishers have outsourced self-publishing work to ASI under a variety of names.
Like the other self-publishing divisions of trade publishers (LifeWay’s Cross Books, Thomas Nelson’s West Bow Press, Harlequin’s Dell’Arte Press [which, unlike other ventures of this sort, produced a furore upon its introduction and had to change its name], Hay House’s Balboa Press, and Writer’s Digest’sAbbott Press), Archway Publishing is outsourced to Author Solutions Inc. [Simon & Schuster] is the biggest fish ASI has landed so far.
ASI's main business, by far, is selling services (most of them useless) to authors
. Selling books is almost an accidental byproduct.
[I]n 2011, ASI generated about 63% of its revenue from what it calls publishing and marketing services and 37% from distribution services.
Because of this, ASI doesn't do much repeat business.
Since its launch, ASI has published 170,000 titles from 140,000 authors...
Compare those numbers with Smashwords
, a well-respected self-publishing service.
The site, which has published about 127,000 titles by 44,000 writers, is projected to double its revenues this year.
Why doesn't ASI have this sort of repeat business? Because it's basically a scam
. Hopeful authors sign up for the pricey services (the average author spends $5,000 -- and sells only 150 books
), only to realize too late that ASI is only interested in selling stuff to the author, rather than selling books to customers.
Despite the fact that a "starter" package runs about $1,200-$2,000, ASI doesn't even provide copy editing
. This is probably due to the fact that over three-quarters of its workforce is in the Philippines. Not that ASI hasn't tried
to make some corrections. It's just that when it does, it only makes things worse.
Enjoy this quote from a class action lawsuit filed against ASI
“Author Solutions also fails to take diligent care of its authors’ works, making numerous and egregious publisher errors – errors made by the publisher, not the author. These errors include errors on book covers, in addition to various typographical and formatting errors. In fact, Author Solutions profits from its own mistakes. Aggressive sales techniques ensure that these errors are corrected only for a fee of several hundred dollars. Even though, as a matter of policy, Author Solutions promises to correct publisher errors for free, it rarely does.”
On the "plus" side, ASI will charge authors a premium to handle these "impossible" tasks
But with Archway [outsourced to ASI] authors will be saved the strenuous effort of uploading the ebook to various ebookstores, hiring their own cover designer and layout expert, and they will also be saved the grueling efforts needed to create a POD book via CreateSpace or Lightning source.
In exchange for a measly 2 grand, Archway will also provide a novelist with services which are far too difficult for authors to do for themselves, like copyright registration and buying an ISBN, as well as desperately necessary services like registering for a LOC Control Number.
As is noted in the lawsuit, ASI screws around with royalties
The complaint also alleges that Author Solutions's royalty practices are either misleading or not properly paid out, with even some authors listed as bestsellers on Amazon, the complaint states, told they have no reported sales, and, that it is difficult if not impossible to get a correct sales accounting.
ASI also has problems handing out refunds
. Shaming ASI publicly
tends to shake loose the refund, but this often means a company rep will show up at the site of the public shaming to make sad noises about the author's decision to discuss this publicly
. (As though withholding a refund was the path of true gentility...)
Now that you know what ASI is up to, witness this beauty of a response to an author who turned down ASI's (d/b/a iUniverse) unsolicited sales pitch
An author ["Kevin"] received a marketing letter from iUniverse [You can read the whole thing in its self-promoting glory at this link
.] Upon discovering the company behind the pitch, the author sent the following email back.
Ugh, I didn’t realize this was iUniverse under another name. I’ll pass thanks. I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about how little authors get and how you people upsell for next to nothing in return.
In response to his "Thanks, but I'd rather slice my own eyeballs" email, Kevin got this bizarre burst of defensiveness from Eric Emlinger, "Publishing Consultant" for Author Solutions.
Such horror stories are from websites that are being sued for racketeering, their [sic] essentially hiring people to write bad reviews about big companies. I don’t expect you to believe me, all I can tell you is the facts. We’ve been in business for 15 years, published over 91,000 books, we have an A with the Better Business Bureau, we are regulated by the FCC, and our company is a part of the Penguin Random House group. Many of my authors have even returned in recent months to publish their second and third book. I hope we hear from you again.
Take a good look at the terminology tossed about carelessly in this word salad and ask yourself if this is the kind of person you'd trust with a manuscript. To start with, telling someone only the "facts" generally means you've brought a few with you. This response seems awfully light on those.
With all the (linked) background provided above, I can only assume Techdirt has moved into "racketeering" territory, something normally associated with New Jersey sanitation companies and frustrated g-men. ASI isn't suing anyone, least of all for "racketeering." It may be upset that sites like Ripoff Report
and Writer Beware
are loaded with bad reviews of its terrible service but, to date, it hasn't sued anyone or any site over negative reviews. To do so would only make the situation worse.
An "A" with the Better Business Bureau only means ASI's dues are paid up. Consumers would be thrilled to have an independent source for companies' reputations, but the BBB isn't up to the task. As author David Gaughran points out in the comments
, the BBB system is so easily gamed that a consumer interest group managed to secure an "A" rating from the Los Angeles Better Business Bureau for terrorist organization Hamas
As for being regulated by the FCC, I have no idea where Eric is going with this. He presumably means the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
, but even so, thousands of businesses are "regulated" by the Commission and dozens of them routinely abuse their customers.
And finally, ASI (iUniverse) may be part of the "Penguin Random House group," but that indicates nothing more than Emilinger's willingness to throw names around in order to give his company an air of legitimacy. No surprise there, but the real disappointment is so many respected publishers have outsourced their self-publishing efforts to borderline scam artists like ASI who farm out their authors' work to cheap labor in the Philippines.
The large publishing houses should know better
, but they're still treating self-published writers as nothing more than an endless string of benchwarmers
who should be happy to receive bottom of the barrel "service" from a company that makes more money from selling to
authors than selling stuff from
authors. The equation is completely backwards, but it handily reinforces the publishers' view that authors need them
more than they
need authors. And as long as they hold that view, ASI will continue dragging the publishing houses' reputations through the mud.