On May 10, the R.R. Bowker Company, the main source in the United States for ISBN numbers and other services, said it plans to ally with two other publishing-related companies, FastPencil and Infinity Publishing, to offer a suite of services to help authors “write, edit, collaborate, format & publish your book.” It also indicated “distribution partners” would include Barnes & Noble, Amazon and others. Bowker said “this solution makes it easier to go from concept to manuscript to market.”
It’s the most recent example of many agreements, mergers, acquisitions and other connections in the book publishing environment. Headlines in the last few decades have pointed out the swallowing of one major national book publisher by another, but those are only the most visible instances. Indie publishers would be well served by maintaining awareness of other connections between companies with which they work. Sometimes these can help their interests—and sometimes not so much.
The Bowker-FastPencil-Infinity agreement is a relatively light linkage, with the former offering visibility to the latter two when publishers arrive looking for ISBN numbers. Many other connections less immediately obvious to customers involve ownership changes or more intensive relationships. Bowker itself, for example, has had several owners over the years, including the Xerox Corporation, Reed International, and currently ProQuest LLC, each of which has had several connections in publishing-related fields.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Many of the large companies an indie author might work with in book marketing have lesser-known but important divisions. Twitter and Facebook over the years each have had more than 50 mergers and acquisitions, Apple more than 70, Yahoo more than 1000, and Google almost 200.
Amazon.com owns a long list of companies still doing business under their own names, a minority of them book-related, but several of those well-known to the public before their purchase. AbeBooks, which sells rare books and textbooks, was a well-known online bookseller for a dozen years before Amazon bought it in 2008. Goodreads was well established under that name as a reader and author gathering-spot before its 2013 acquisition. In 2005 Amazon bought a growing print on demand company called BookSurge, and renamed it for a DVD-on-demand company which it also bought: CreateSpace. It also owns ACX (audio book publishing), Alexa (website traffic data), and ComiXology (digital comics), all formerly free-standing companies.
The largest eBook sales alternative to Amazon is the independent Smashwords, which has succeeded in part through developing strong relationships with companies such as Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony. It has large-scale relationships with the document provider Scribd and the 3M Cloud Library, which “puts the eBook distributor’s titles in the catalog for libraries to choose from.”
Printing and More on Demand
Through CreateSpace, Amazon is a leader in print on demand, and its major competitor is Ingram Industries, which is best known as the largest print book distributor in the United States. It operates IngramSpark and Lightning Source, both major print on demand providers. The two competing examples demonstrate the pros and cons of these corporate alliances for indie authors: among other considerations, with CreateSpace you get big advantages in book placement at Amazon, and with IngramSpark you get help with bookstore distribution through Ingram.
One of Ingram’s divisions, Ingram Content Group, last December acquired Aer.io, described as “a service that allows publishers, retailers and authors to sell and fulfill print and digital books directly to readers via their websites, blogs and social networks.” (Aer.io was profiled in the BookWorks blog earlier this year.)
Another well-known print on demand company, Lulu, has reached out in other ways. In January 2014 it reported acquiring a sports photography company called Replay Photos. Months later it started Lulu Jr., aimed at turning children into self-publishers, and followed that with a partnership with Crayola, the company that produces crayons (and which is a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards). Lulu expanded into art photo books the next year.
Many companies in other sectors of book publishing are closely linked too.
Services for Authors
Advanced Social Media Services LTD, based in Dublin, Ireland, is probably less well known to authors than some of its components, which include web sites such as BooksGoSocial.com (which now evidently incorporates Services4Authors.com), TheBookPromoter.com, and others.
Author Solutions, which was founded in 2007 and built through a series of acquisitions of self-publishing companies, is a large producer of books and eBooks. It may be better known on the indie author level for divisions such as iUniverse, Xlibris, Wordclay, and AuthorHouse. But Author Solutions’ cooperative connections also run deep with traditional publishers, including major names like Simon & Schuster (with which it operates Archway Publishing), Thomas Nelson (WestBow Press), and Reader’s Digest (LifeRich Publishing). In 2011 it launched a partnership with Writer’s Digest in the form of the publishing company Abbott Press.
Does all of this have relevance for the average indie author? It can and does on a regular basis, as the CreateSpace and IngramSpark case shows.
Here’s another example of how ownership and other linkages can change the book picture for authors. Pubslush (formerly, pubslush.com) was started independently in September 2011 with the idea that samples of new writing could be posted and promoted on that site, which authors would use to launch a Kickstarter-style campaign. Somewhat like Kickstarter, the proposed book would rise or fall depending on whether the audience chose to help fund it. If it gained traction, Pubslush would publish the book.
The effort drew interest from authors. The following summer, Pubslush revised its rules, making its structure more like Kickstarter’s and apparently scaling back on its own publishing. In August 2015, Colborne Communications of Toronto said that it would acquire Pubslush. Two months after that, it said, “unfortunately, the deal did not come to fruition and Pubslush has announced that it will be closing its doors after a three-year run as the only crowdfunding site of its kind.”
Colborne did, however, remain interested in the field. It announced “the start of a new venture called PubLaunch, kicking off on February 1, 2016. PubLaunch is a web-based company that connects trusted industry professionals with writers while providing the crowdfunding services they need to get their projects published.”
The rules change as the business and the publishing environment changes. That’s an indicator of a vibrant marketplace, but it’s also another challenge for authors making their way forward. As we always advise, due diligence is essential. Many options and many players are vying for your self-publishing budget. We hope this helps you become more aware of all the interconnections between those players (which may not always be apparent) so you can make informed choices in your best interest.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.
Get major discounts on book reviews, advertising rates, subscriptions and all kinds of author services! Sign up now for these exclusive offers HERE.