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January 18, 2017

The Continuing Decline of "Assisted-Self-Publishing" Giant Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A little less than two years ago, I wrote a blog post that focused, in part, on Author Solutions' declining share of the so-called assisted self-publishing market.

According to a report by Bowker on ISBN output in the self-publishing market between 2008 and 2013, the number of ISBNs issued by AS dropped 15% between 2011 and 2013, from an all-time high 52,648, to 44,574.

(ISBN output is not a meaningful method for assessing the self-publishing market as a whole, because so many self-publishers don't bother with ISBNs. But it is an effective way of tracking Author Solutions' activity, because all AS publishing packages, even the ebook-only ones, include ISBN assignment.)

At the time, I speculated:

We'll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran's The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model--print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling--is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.

Well, Bowker recently issued another report, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2010-2015*--and boy, was I right. Here's a screenshot of part of the special section devoted to Author Solutions (Archway Publishing, which AS runs for Simon & Schuster, is missing from the list, but is included in the bigger listing of self-pub platforms):


Total Author Solutions ISBN output for 2015, including 657 Archway ISBNs not shown in this section: 24,587.

2015 output did grow slightly at WestBow, by 275, and at Archway, by 37. And Wordclay, defunct for years, inexplicably popped up again in 2015 with 14. But for all other AS brands, including its very first "imprint," AuthorHouse, issued ISBNs fell by hundreds or thousands. Overall, AS's 2015 ISBN output was less than half its 2011 high point, and represents a 45% drop over 2013.

Even allowing for some inconsistencies in the data, that is a really precipitous decline. Pearson, which bought AS in 2012 for the surprisingly low price of  $116 million (surprising because then, as now, AS was the largest of the assisted self-pub providers, and by all appearances was still growing), unloaded it in December 2015 to a private equity firm. Looks like that was a good decision.

Meanwhile, DIY platform Createspace--where authors don't have to use ISBNs or can provide their own--continues to be king, with 423,728 ISBNs issued in 2015, an increase of 131,545 over the previous year.

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* Thanks to Jane Friedman for alerting me to this report, via her excellent article Looking Back at 2016: Important Publishing Developments Authors Should Know.

9 comments :

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Yep. I noticed this back in September 2016.

It is a good development, isn't it?

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

(subscribing to the comments)

Victoria Strauss said...

Yes, I think it's a good development. Slowly, this publishing paradigm is dying.

It's interesting that AS's new owner doesn't seem to have done anything at all with the company, in terms of changes or re-organization--not that we can see, anyway.

Pat Dilloway said...

I wonder if CreateSpace will get a boost now that Amazon is integrating it into their KDP platform. As for Author Solutions, good riddance.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

@Pat: Probably.

There are millions of ebooks out there with no print counterpart, so if each of those titles comes out in print then it means millions more ISBNs registered by Createspace.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Good news indeed. I suspect Author Solutions is bolstering its bottom line by associating itself with better-regarded names in self-publishing and providing high-priced "assistance" to their clients. Look at Lulu's packages, and Nook Publishing's. And Books a Million recently got in the game - they're charging for everything, and their package prices are very similar to the ones I just mentioned. Keeping up with these guys is like playing whack-a-mole.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Lynne, that was what ASI was trying to do, yes, but the precipitous drop in ISBN registrations tells us it didn't work.

BTW, Books-a-Million partnered with Fastpencil, not ASI.

And Nook Press no longer sells services provided by ASI (this ended last fall).

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Anonymous said...

well, the new owner of ASI- Najafi only cares about Author Learning Center.
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