Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Authonomy, Blurb And Book Army

As I've discussed before, HarperCollins' manuscript display site, Authonomy, contacted a proportion of its members earlier this year to announce that it was adding a new service to its site: it had teamed up with Blurb.com, an American-based POD printer, in order to enable Authonomy members to download their books to Blurb directly from the Authonomy site and (the implication was) start selling copies of their book straight away.

Is this a good idea? Some people think not, and seem convinced that it's just a cynical ploy by HarperCollins to make money out of writers they have no intention of publishing. And when you link this idea to the worries I have about HarperCollins’ Book Army site you might begin to see the potential for problems here.

It is going to be easy for Authonomy authors to download their books to Blurb; hop over to Book Army and link their books to all sorts of other titles; and sit back and wait for sales to roll in (and your notice, here, more than a little touch of irony to my tone). Authonomy will, I'll bet, earn a commission on those sales, so what we have here is a grab at the Holy Grail of publishing: a way for a publisher to make money out of its slush pile. Funnily enough that doesn't outrage me as much as it does some: HarperCollins is a business, after all, and I have no problem with it making money in this way. What does trouble me is its choice of partner (because, as I've discussed elsewhere, Blurb isn't necessarily the best option for Authonomy authors planning to go POD), and its apparent endorsement of self-publishing as a realistic route into mainstream success. Because despite all the hype, sales of self-published books are notoriously low and very few ever make that leap into mainstream publication, let alone widespread mainstream success.


Anonymous said...

I've just sashayed over to check out Book Army where I clicked on Go but forgot to put a book title in. I received this message:

"We can't find your book - sorry. Please try again and check your speling"

I suspect my speling is probably two good to coap with Book Army

(Word verification: dumingly - nuff said)

Anonymous said...

A quick look at Blurb's pricing suggests it is the most expensive self-publishing site around.

But that said, I have been wondering when HC would ramp up its attempts to profit from its community. My guess is that the sales from the first wave were so pathetic they lost enthusiasm for promoting it to everyone else.

writtenwyrdd said...

What bothers me most is that some people may end up innocently purchasing something in the belief that it's a full-on product of a publishing company when it's really just a self-published piece--which may be junk, need serious edits, or even pretty darned good. But they will be shooting craps on the buy.

And I have a question re the process: Isn't it possible that some of the stuff in that 'slush' of Authonomy potentially a liability? As in, the sort of thing that might get them sued because of slander or plagiarism? Not sure the legal connection to HC is strong enough; but this made me wonder...

Jane Smith said...

Gerald, I'm glad you chequed your speling, as I'd hate to have ileterates here. Ruins the whole atmosfear.

Anon, Blurb is very expensive compared to other POD providers--its main focus is full colour coffee table books, not text-based ones like novels, which explains that (I think I've covered this in a previous post here--click on the Authonomy label to read more). Like you, I wondered what had happened with Authonomy's POD scheme: it's gone awfully quiet. Perhaps they've shelved it. (Ha!)

WW, you're right about people being at risk of buying rubbish--that's always the case with books where there's no quality control. As for liability: I'm not sure that Authonomy is at risk as it's not publishing anything: but Blurb could be. There was a story about this some time ago: a vanity press was sued--successfully--for libel. If you Google Rebecca Brandewyne (sp?) you should find more, or even try searching this blog because I'm sure there's something about it, somewhere, in the comments.

Mockingbird said...

I was one of the guinea pigs who received a cunningly worded invitation to join in the Blurb fun and games. Followed swiftly by a small apology containing all the pertinent information that they had some how missed out of the original invitation. Which, in my opinion, said all I really needed to know about the deal. Blurb does not offer any ISBN or proper cataloguing of the work, editing would need to be done (extra expense), and Blurb's speciality appears to be coffee table books.

With regard to buying rubbish. Well, I'm afraid that's the chance you take. As to the quality of some of the stuff that has made it through to mainstream publication, I would have to say that some of that is very debatable. A couple of years ago, I bought a book which I saw heavily promoted and advertised in the Underground. It was dreadful junk. I spent quite a lot of money on it, and the best thing I can say about it, is it is so weighty it comes in handy as my doorstop.

I don't know anyone who plans to get involved with Authonomy's offer with Blurb. Self publishing is done much better elsewhere.

Book Army doesn't make a whole heap of sense either. Is it supposed to be a rival to Amazon?

Anonymous said...

Good grief. Why doesn't HC just stick to pubbing books? This has a slightly distasteful YouWriteOn feel to it. Great post, Jane.

catdownunder said...

Mockingbird's comments made me prowl back to the Fidra Bookshop blog. The inimitable Vanessa recently wrote an excellent piece about something that made the best seller list, reputable publisher etc. Now how did Ms Meyer make it to the best seller list? Are writers buying marketing power?

none said...

Ms Meyer made it to the bestseller lists because her books, crap though they are, speak to young women. The total lack of any sexual content leaves a nice space for them to insert their own fantasies.

Just my opinion, of course.

Mockingbird said...

My point is that so called professionals buy stuff like Ms Meyer's work, and punt it out there because they can smell sales. Nothing more, nothing less. Ms Meyer's captured the imagination of the teen market. For the professionals to then set themselves up as arbiters of taste and quality is a trifle disingenuous.

Writtenwyrdd, trust me on this; if you enter any book shop and pick up a book, particularly if your choice is based on "marketing", you are shooting craps on the buy. POD/self publishing is therefore no better and no worse than something you might purchase due to advertising.

I don't quote statistics. I'm no mathematician, and having been a student of politics I know that statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to say. It's called interpretation.

I therefore actively choose the POD/independent self-published system.


I worked in publishing a while back, for a mainstream publisher, owned by an infamous media baron. I was unimpressed then, and after my Authonomy experience and HC's approach to Authonomy, actively convinced that I want nothing to do with mainstream publishing.