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Publishing News: Traditional publisher tests self-publishing waters

Simon & Schuster launches Archway Publishing, BitTorrent wants to reinvent itself, and publishers can't win playing against Amazon's wallet.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Simon & Schuster ventures into self-publishing

The headline news this week was Simon & Schuster’s deal with self-publishing company Author Solutions to launch Archway Publishing, a new self-publishing house. Leslie Kaufman reports at the New York Times that the company is looking to distinguish itself by offering premium services that go beyond what other self-publishing options offer — such as access to a speaker’s bureau that will assist with speaking engagements, and video production and distribution services for book trailers — in addition to editorial, design and distribution services.

The premium services come at a premium price as well — Kaufman reports that packages range “from $1,599 for the least expensive children’s package, to $24,999 for the most expensive business book package.” She also points out that Simon & Schuster personnel will not be involved in the new company, nor will Simon & Schuster attach their name to any of the final products. They will, however, mine the self-publishing author pool for talent. Kaufmann writes: “Adam Rothberg, vice president of corporate communication for Simon & Schuster, said that another attraction of Archway was that Simon & Schuster would be carefully monitoring sales of books completed through the new venture and would use it as a way to spot authors it might want to sign to a contract.”

Over at PaidContent, Laura Hazard Owen notes another differentiating factor: whereas most self-publishing houses like Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP focus on ebooks, Archway will focus on print and retail distribution. This includes ebook distribution, but authors won’t have an ebook-only option for now, Owen says. Owen reports that the ebook royalty for authors will be 50% of net sales, noting that this means for a book distributed through Amazon’s Kindle would net the author a 20% royalty — 50% minus Amazon’s 30% fee.

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BitTorrent as marketing partner?

ReadWrite’s John Paul Titlow took a look this week at Tim Ferriss’ partnership with BitTorrent to help market and distribute exclusive bonus content for his new book, The 4-Hour Chef, and how this sort of marketing practice could become the norm. Though BitTorrent’s technology is used to fuel “rampant piracy,” Titlow points out the platform also has 160 million users as a target audience.

Titlow reports that early numbers for Ferriss’ experiment “aren’t bad” — BitTorrent told Titlow that Ferriss’ file had been downloaded (at that point) 211,000 times, 85,000 people had clicked through to his book’s page on Amazon, and 27,000 people watched the YouTube book trailer.

BitTorrent’s executive director of marketing Matt Mason told Titlow they’re experimenting in this fashion “to figure out what to build next.” Jenna Worthman reports at the New York Times that BitTorrent’s 2013 New Year’s resolution is to “to align itself with the entertainment industry and legally distribute movies, music and books online.” Mason told Wortham they’re looking to change their image and get the entertainment industry to view BitTorrent as a partner. He points out that of their 160-million-strong user base, 40 million are daily users, noting that’s “more than Hulu, Spotify, Netflix combined and doubled.”

Perhaps leaving the battle is the way to win the war

The Random House merger with Penguin has sparked much commentary since its announcement, much of which has focused on how the merger might help create a big enough publisher to go to battle with Amazon. PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy writes this week that this thinking is all wrong — the Big Six could merge into the Big One and still lose the battle with Amazon.

Lacy writes that all the publishers could band together and still not have deep enough pockets to outspend Bezos. “He can lose money on every big book deal; the publishers cannot,” she writes. “You think he’s not crazy enough to keep losing money until he dominates an industry? Try him.”

Lacy says that unlike many other industries that are competing with Amazon selling the exact same products, publishers have an alternative playing field to turn to — leave behind the celebrity-book bidding wars and return to the model that made them successful to begin with: “discovering, developing, and painstakingly promoting young talent.”

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