The news that Author House and iUniverse.com were merging was not entirely unexpected, but it is interesting to me that the publishing community basically ignored the event. While it was reported in Publisher’s Lunch and Publisher’s Weekly, the report in PW focused on the question of job cuts which may reflect a limited interest in the strategic ramifications this segment poses to mainstream publishers. Led by Lulu.com, this publishing segment is exploding and the last thing being considered will be job cuts. Just look at the capabilities on offer at Lulu. Author House and iUniverse complement each other: A number of years ago, iUniverse.com made the strategic choice to add an extensive selection of professional editorial services to their suite of services, which surpass the service offered by Author House (and others in the market). Tactically, I think the two companies will slot together like jigsaw pieces.
Random House has a relationship with Xlibris and is alone among the major publishing houses in building formal relationships with the self-publishing marketplace. I would expect other major publishers to jump into this space, in the short-term, through acquisition. The leverage these companies achieve over their technology, employees and fixed expenses, the processes they have established and the market they have built make these companies appealing. Ironically, there is a ‘democratization of access’ underway in publishing, which to date, most “publishers” have not participated in; but, this will change as traditional publishers look to the self-publisher market as a natural product extension.
In the case of Author House and iUniverse.com, they each produce over 5,000 titles per year with total staff of approximately 100. In terms of titles per month and titles per employee, they shame a traditional large publisher. Everyone will argue that the quality of the content produced by self-publishers is poor, but this is no more true than the statement that all content produced by traditional publishers is exemplary. How often has a traditional publisher invested significantly in a title’s success only to watch it sell 300 copies? For the self-publisher—with an author pays model, no inventory and no promotion expense—there is only upside if a title takes off unexpectedly (and sells 300 copies).
I am not suggesting that the self-publishing business model will be adopted anytime soon by a major publishing house, but there are lessons to be learned from the success that the self-publishing industry has built in the last 10 years. Enabling technology has produced this ‘democratization of access’ and, while it is hard to imagine that there is that much content to produce, the numbers prove the case. Lulu is producing 4,000 new titles per week for a total of 300,000 newly released titles, Author House has over 30,000 authors and 40,000 titles, and iUniverse says they have sold over 5mm books.
Amazon has invested in this area (B&N is getting out via iUniverse.com) and I see some convergence between the traditional publishing model and self-publishing. The content quality issue is irrelevant: Firstly because good content will always find its market and Secondly, because quality in the self-publishing segment depends not on the content but the service the author received. Get ready to see traditional publishers adopt some of the practices of the self-publishing industry.