Friday, 20 July 2012

Penguin joins the self-publishing Kindle revolution | $116 million ASI deal

Write a book, make a million
This week, Penguin became the latest literary icon joined the self-publishing revolution.

Which sounds like the kind of mildly humorous non sequitur an overpaid Radio Four satirist might make up. But hold on to your manuscripts, people, this one is true.

Arguably the world’s best-known publisher, which last year enjoyed a turnover of $1 billion, Penguin has splashed $116 million (about £70 million) buying a company called ASI, which stands for Author Solutions Inc.

The oddity is that ASI specialise in what used to be called vanity publishing. If you’ve written a book and want to see it in print, you give them a call/email/whatever and they’ll turn your purple prose into a paperback.

With the recent rise of digital books, ASI has mined a rich seam helping authors prepare a manuscript, designing the cover and marketing it.

Once upon a time, self-publishing was a joke. A last resort for the desperately-seeking-fame, the place memoirs went to die.

The Kindle changed all that
But Amazon, its Kindle, and the e-reading revolution have changed all that. Authors like Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath have become millionaires without the help of a traditional publisher by flogging their books at 99 cents each. No editor required. No agent either. And certainly no Waterstones or Borders.

Others, most notably Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James, have won lucrative deals after publishing their books digitally.

Suddenly publishers, famous for their long literary lunches, are no longer the gatekeepers to the Lucrative Land of Literature. Their margins are getting squeezed because these days anyone with a laptop and wi-fi access can beat them at their own game.

The result is a massive online market place made up of free, or extremely cheap titles. And it is totally random. Vampire detectives at 99 cents, Booker Prize winners for a pound, mommy porn £1.99.

Penguin’s purchase of ASI suggests a company fearing that its current business model is about to fall off a cliff. It suggests a company wanting to cover all the possible bases. After all, if people will no longer pay £20 to read a new hardback, perhaps they’ll spend £100 to write one instead.

Like I said, it’s the sort of non sequitur you might hear on Radio 4.

1 comment:

  1. Amazon made a significant announcement last spring that more ebooks were sold on their eBook reading device, Kindle, than physical copies ordered. This may have been the tipping point for physical books. It makes sense as with a Kindle, people can carry around their whole library to read at their leisure, or download a brand new book over a wireless connection.