July 24, 2012

Pearson buys Author Solutions


Pearson, the London-based parent company of Penguin Books has bought Author Solutions, one of the largest “grassroots” publishers, for $116 million.

According to Vanessa Thorpe in The Guardian,

“The idea is that Pearson will no longer have to rely on spotting ebook hits early; instead, they will own a new author’s work from the first moment it appears on screen. This acquisition comes in the wake of Pearson’s launch last year of Book Country, a website on which fiction authors could publish their work.”

Thorpe attributes the move to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, where a DIY ebook series published by an as yet unknown author turned out to be insanely popular, moving millions of paper and ebook copies.

There were upwards of 211,000 self-published titles out last year, but very few have had the kind of success Fifty Shades of Grey has enjoyed.  Self-publishing is not yet established as a clear money spinner. As Thorpe goes on to highlight, it was only once the publishing industry got involved that the Fifty Shades series blew up.

“Agent and former editor Peter Strauss argues that it is too soon to say the whole industry is in flux. “The acquisition by Penguin of Author Solutions is another way for a trade publisher to source and find product which it will hopefully edit and enhance and thereby find new readers,” he said, going on to argue that although it is now simple to publish a book, publishing houses are still needed to edit and promote raw work, as happened with Fifty Shades of Grey. “The trilogy took off globally when the publishing industry got involved. It was carefully placed and sold by the agent, carefully positioned, edited, publicised, marketed and distributed.”

Nevertheless, Peason’s move may indicate an intention to publish in a variety of avenues going forward, in attempt to maintain profitability. These avenues range from the traditional model of author advances, to a business whereby the author pays to be published, and absorbs most of the risk.

Paul Sonne and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal suggest that Pearson is also after Author Solutions’ reader data.

“Publishing houses once had limited access to their customers’ buying and reading habits. But e-book sales have created a trove of data that–if harvested well–can show publishers how, why and what people are reading. Author Solutions is particularly adept at data analytics, with a valuable trove of information about what authors want to write and what customers want to read. That information is invaluable to publishing houses whose livelihood is determined by staying “on trend.””

The breadth of Pearson’s rumored interests in Author Solutions indicates the number of the directions publishing is heading in, from investing in a variety of publishing methods, to tailoring books in response to reader data. Whether this acquisition indicates that self publishing will lose its aura of “vanity publishing” remains to be seen.

Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.