By JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERGThe Wall Street Journal
October 13, 2009
A leading independent publisher, searching for new revenue as the book industry continues to struggle, is entering the self-publishing business.
Thomas Nelson Inc., a closely held religious publisher in Nashville, Tenn., is launching West Bow Press, an imprint whose books will be designed, published and distributed by Author Solutions Inc., the country's largest self-publisher and a unit of San Mateo, Calif., private-equity firm Bertram Capital Management LLC.
Thomas Nelson editors won't edit the self-published manuscripts, but they will monitor sales to identify potential big sellers. Specific terms of the arrangement weren't disclosed.
The alliance underlines how quickly the book business is changing. With the economy weak and the implications of digital technology, such as e-books, still being sorted out, publishers and retailers are scrambling to ring up fresh sales.
"There's no question we think this will generate revenue," said Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson's chief executive.
Self-publishing clients often pay $1,000 or more to have their works printed, edited and marketed. iUniverse, a self-publisher owned by Author Solutions, offers five separate packages, ranging in price from $599 to $2,099, depending on how many services an author wants. In addition to iUniverse, Author Solutions operates Xlibris, Trafford Publishing and AuthorHouse.
The partnership with Thomas Nelson means some authors who might have gone to Author Solutions' own imprints will now seek out West Bow; that revenue will be shared. Kevin Weiss, CEO of Author Solutions, said the potential gains outweigh the risks.
"What this will do is to put the stamp of approval on self-publishing," he said. "There are still folks who say if you aren't picked up by the trade publishers, you aren't real."
Mr. Weiss said Author Solutions is negotiating similar deals with other publishers. "This doesn't threaten their traditional model," he said. "Right now, they're content buyers. We sell services and help authors build platforms."
Reviewers typically ignore self-published titles, and only a handful of such titles are acquired by mainstream houses. Exceptions include such writers as Christopher Paolini, Zane and the late E. Lynn Harris, each building successful careers after publishing their own books. Their successes have bolstered the hopes of other unpublished writers.
Although exact numbers can't be determined, it is estimated that new print-on-demand titles in the U.S. increased from 22,000 in 2006 to about 285,000 in 2008. That is still a fraction of the book business, and the growth partly reflects print-on-demand titles published by mainstream houses that enable them to keep their own books in print without associated warehousing costs.
But "the largest increase comes from people who wrote a novel that they can't get published who decide to print it themselves," saidAlbert N. Greco, a professor at the Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration. "Hope springs eternal. Everybody has a book."