Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Publishers Weekly Moves Into Self-Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A couple of years ago, I blogged about the launch of PW Select, an online supplement to the regular PW magazine. PW Select, which is published quarterly, allows self-published writers to buy brief listings (author, title, subtitle, price, pagination and format, ISBN, a brief description, and ordering information) for $149. With every issue of the supplement, a limited number of books--around 25%--are chosen for review.

This would certainly seem to be a moneymaking proposition for PW, but what it does for self-pubbed authors is less apparent. $149 is a lot to pay for a listing, on the off chance of receiving a review (especially since the reviews appear to pull no punches). As for promoting to PW's readership--agents, booksellers, publishers, librarians--here's one librarian's reaction. And here's one author's experience, which points up a known risk of using any sort of listing service: unwanted solicitations.

Now PW is venturing even deeper into self-pub territory, partnering with Vook to offer its very own self-publishing option, PW Select Plus. (The service actually rolled out in April, but this solicitation only came across my desk last week.) Here's how PW describes the service:
Under PW Select+, authors will receive all the benefits of PW Select as well as a host of options for using Vook’s e-book creation and publishing platform. Those benefits include conversion of authors’ manuscripts to an e-book format acceptable to B&N.com, Apple iBooks, and Amazon.com; automatic distribution within those three sales channels including full reporting; a distribution-ready EPub file for the author’s use in his or her own channels; an ISBN number (if needed); and seamless registration and integration into both PW Select and Vook.
The cost? $199.

The predictable reaction will be that PW is--again--trying to make money by exploiting authors. But I wonder about that--the moneymaking part, at any rate.

Vook charges subscription fees ranging from $9.99 per month to $199 per month. So getting the Vook service for a flat $40 (the dollar difference between PW Select and PW Select Plus) would appear to be a bargain for authors, and a money-loser for either Vook (if it doesn't expect PW to make up the difference) or for PW (if it has to pick up the shortfall or some portion of it).

Which raises a couple of questions. Is self-publishing via PW Select Plus indefinite--i.e., are authors free to use the Vook service for as long as they like? Or is there some sort of time-limit, beyond which they'll be expected to pay subscription fees? And are there any additional or hidden fees? For instance, per Vook's Terms of Service, "There are additional fees for use of the VOOK distribution partners and other value-added services." Will PW Select Plus authors be subject to those?

PW Select's literature doesn't address these issues--or even say which of Vook's three plans authors receive--and there are no Terms and Conditions on the PW Select/Select Plus registration form to provide further information (including about important things like payment plans). Autors can certainly find out more about Vook's services by visiting Vook's website--but will they bother, much less read Vook's Terms of Service? Even if they do, they won't find answers to the questions I've raised above.

Surely there should be fuller disclosure of these and other specifics at PW. As it is, authors who choose PW Select Plus are signing up--and paying--for a service based only on a very broad description, which lacks many of the specifics authors should carefully evaluate before signing up for any self-publishing option.

EDITED 5/31/12/ TO ADD: Cevin Bryerman, Publisher of PW, has responded to the questions I raise above. I've published his email in the comments thread.

11 comments:

Dennis Latham said...

And how does this change the view of PW as always being kind of snobbish toward independent publishers, and a hater of self-publishing? Seems to me they are selling out and could possibly fade into obscurity as the first word on major reviews. I'm amazed how fast all of this has happened.

Anonymous said...

From one of the linked pages: "I would’ve been happy with something like, 'Down at the Golden Coin is a fast and witty read that could have been so much better without Strickland’s ham-fisted dialogue.' Because of course I would quote only the first part of the sentence! But reading the PW reviews in the supplement, every one of them is suspiciously crafted so as to not string together a single sentence like the above."

Some authors really have the expectation that reviews are written so that positive but potentially misleading phrases can easily be cherry-picked from them? Wow.

Stijn Hommes said...

I don't understand why anyone would want to pay such a ridiculous amount of money to Vook every month when you can publish pretty much for free with Smashwords or Lulu when it comes to e-books.

My opinion of Publishers Weekly just took a very substantial nose-dive. I could just about understand offering self-published authors reviews. It's a service that wouldn't be available to them otherwise, but this is just plain money-grabbing.

Anonymous said...

This whole concept appears as a way for PW and Vook to take advantage of the less computer literate authors out there.

I'm with you in not quite getting the angle for PW. It is business, so they have to come out ahead somewhere. The question remains: What does this cost the author (other than the obvious $199)?

As far as Vook goes. Wow. They offer nothing that I can't do myself at no cost. Then there is the claim of 100% royalties, where on thier own website they discredit that statement. They may need a little Writer Beware attention themselves.

I suppose for the computer illiterate it could be a good deal. Otherwise Vook is a waste of cash.

And do I really want to pay PW for an opportunity to maybe, possibly get a review for my book and then find out they hated it.

Think I'll go buy a lottery ticket...

Lillian Archer said...

On the surface, without all the details, it certainly seems like a conflict of interest.

Victoria Strauss said...

Cevin Bryerman, Publisher of PW, has contacted me to answer some of the points I raised in my post. His email (by permission) appears below.

-----------------

Hi, Victoria,

Cevin here, from Publishers Weekly. Thanks for your interest in PW's new PW Select Plus program, and for raising some important questions about it in on the Writer Beware blog. Some of these questions are answered on our FAQ page. But, to directly answer the questions you asked in your blog post:

-Is self-publishing via PW Select Plus indefinite?

Yes, it is. There is no time limit, and no subscription fee to pay.

-Are there any hidden fees?

No, there are not. E-book creation, an ISBN, and distribution are included in the $199 price. E-book retailers — Amazon, B&N, iBooks — will take a percentage of any book they sell, but that, as you know, is standard practice. More info on the revenue share for reach outlet can be found at http://vook.com/distribution.

We'd appreciate it if you would share this information with your readers. And, should you have any more questions about PW Select or PW Select Plus, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Kind regards,

Cevin

Cevin Bryerman
Publisher
Publishers Weekly
71 West 23rd St.
Suite 1608
New York NY 10010

David Gaughran said...

Hi Victoria,

I don't really have anything to say about the PW side of the package, other than I can't really see the point of it.

Regarding Vook, I just took a quick look at the page Cevin Bryerman linked to above, and there seems to be a misleading claim on that page. The second bullet point says:

"Get 100% of your royalties - Sell your eBook through Vook and have access to royalties not available anywhere else"

However, if you scroll down to view the exact percentages, for Amazon they say:

"You keep 43.2% of royalties, Amazon takes 56.8%"

And for Barnes & Noble they say:

"You keep 50% of royalties, Barnes & Noble takes 50%"

Can you (or anyone else) shed some light on these curious royalty splits. Going direct with both companies gives an author a 70/30 split, and going with a distributor like Smashwords gives a 60/40 split.

Anyone know how they arrived at the above percentages and how that tallies with their above claim that authors will get "100% of their royalties" and that authors will have "access to royalties not available anywhere else"?

Dave

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm as mystified by those splits as you are, Dave. (And not for nothing, but since royalties are by definition the author's payment, authors ALWAYS keep 100% of their royalties. It's a meaningless claim.)

ChulaSlim said...

It's amazing how many sites on the Web want to rip-off self-published authors. If you have a a few skills and you're willing to do the work, it doesn't cost one dime to publish on Smashwords or Amazon KDP.
I personally farm out the editing, because I don't trust myself to find all the flaws, but I'd have to do that anyway with something like PW select, almost doubling my costs. What do they take us for, some kind of idiots?
As for reviews, the readers take care of that problem and they're much more honest than the literary wannabes on PW. They'll be the first to let an author know when he has failed to make the mark. Just take a gander at the reviews on Amazon for George R.R. Martin's last two books in the Game of Thrones series and you'll see what I mean.

Shawn James said...

It's official: Publisher's Weekly has sold out.
Ten years too late.
charging for self-publishing is SO 2000.

Have these guys heard of KDP, Pubit!,Snashwords or Lulu? You can publish eBooks for FREE.

Or you can publish a paperback on Lightning Source for $260 or just go to CreateSpace and publish for $35. (ISBN+Distribution plan)

But I guess times are tough now without those big publishing houses submitting books to them

TheGirl said...

I guess Vook's statement to the royalties, meant you get to keep 100% of whatever Amazon and Barnes and Noble leaves you with.