July 24, 2013

Penguin debuts Book Country e-bookstore for self-published authors


Book Country’s new Genre Map.

Authors who want to self-publish just got a new way to sell their books, in an interesting little turn of the screw this week. Since 2011, Penguin has run Book Country, an online community where writers could post their work, get critiques, and, for a sliding scale of fees, publish. But, whereas in the past, books published through Book Country would be available for sale on amazon.com, bn.com, the iBookstore, and other retail sites for ebooks, authors will now be able to sell directly from Book Country—with a sizeable advantage in royalty splits.

Authors who sell their books through the new Book Country bookstore will receive an 85% royalty, which, as Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent points out, is “higher than the 70 percent they get in the Amazon Kindle Store and the 65 percent they get at Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press.”

What makes this intriguing is that Penguin is already in the self-publishing game: in 2012, its parent company Pearson bought the very profitable Author Solutions, Inc., which operates a number of self-publishing and print-on-demand services, and also runs the self-publishing “imprints” of other publishing houses. So it seems possible that Penguin is testing out the Book Country bookstore as a venue for selling self-published work, meaning they’d be making money coming and going: from authors paying for the services of Author Solutions, et al, and from book sales that they don’t have to split with retailers.

For the most part, the amount they might make from such sales is very limited: it’s still far more profitable to charge authors for publishing their books than to actually try to sell those books. But the occasional self-published success, like Fifty Shades of Gray, might make the 85/15 split worth it, and an e-bookstore with a large and established self-publishing ecosystem behind it could give other retailers a run for their money.

But it’s not a totally rosy picture for the Behemoth-Formerly-Known-As-Penguin-and-Random-House. The din of author grievances against Author Solutions gets ever louder, and the latest installment was described in all its gory detail over on Techdirt recently. Essentially, an author was approached by iUniverse (part of Author Solutions) and turned them down, because of the problems he’d heard other authors having with the company: problems like not actually getting the services paid for, charging for fixing the errors they’d introduced, not paying out royalties, and generally being misleading and untrustworthy on the money front.

In return, he got an email from an Author Solutions rep who claimed that sites that criticize Author Solutions are being sued for racketeering, though the last time I looked conducting a racket pretty much describes Author Solutions’ entire business model. You can read the letter in full here, if you feel like being covered in defensive corporate slime.

If for some reason you don’t feel like being covered in defensive corporate slime, there’s always Book Country’s new and delightful Genre Map, which is intended to help authors figure out what genre their book might fit in and what other books in the genre are worth reading. As a book recommendation site organized solely through funny shapes (pointy hat? You’re Middle Grade!), it’s not half bad.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.