Uncertainty, but optimism too
The incursion of Big 5 publishers into the realm of self-publishing has rarely benefited indie authors. The long, ugly history of traditional publishers partnering with predatory companies casts a pall over this acquisition.
Despite that history, I'm optimistic about this development for several reasons:
- Macmillan's deep pockets offer the resources Pronoun needs to survive and innovate
- Pronoun's services remain free, and all rights still remain with the author
- Pronoun continues to roll out new features and free benefits for indie authors
- Macmillan's acquisition of the company underscores their confidence in Pronoun's potential
- Macmillan has steered clear of vanity press partnerships, and their parent company, Holtzbrinck, operates well-regarded German platforms ePubli and Neobooks
- Pronoun's core leadership and pro-indie philosophy remain intact
Straight from the source
We brought our questions and concerns to Allison Horton, Author Advocacy and Marketing representative for Pronoun.
Q1. In our previous interview, you mentioned that Pronoun had no plans to offer editing, cover design, and hands-on marketing services. Has that changed under the new arrangement?
AH: This has not changed. We'll still list author-recommended, vetted freelancers in a directory, but Pronoun is not selling these services to authors, nor are we taking any transaction fees (since it's not technically a marketplace).
As is currently the case, imprints and partnerships do use both internal resources and outside freelancers for cover design, editing, etc. And this will be the case moving forward. Services are provided in revenue-share partnership or imprint deals.
Q2. Big 5 publishers have repeatedly partnered with high-pressure, predatory vanity presses like Author Solutions, to the detriment of indie authors. What assurances do authors have that the new paid tiers will be mutually beneficial?
AH: We succeed when our authors succeed, and we don't see any other model that's sustainable in the long run. This means that we're not going to push services on authors that likely won't help them meet their goals. As you mention, there are (sadly) plenty of companies doing that already.
The core publishing platform is free. Authors who are already succeeding, want additional support, and are a good fit for any next-level offering can sign on for more. Our plan has not changed for what we've told you and authors before – we are still making our free platform the best we can, then figuring out what services will be worth a revenue share with authors. We don't plan to offer any “paid” services like the other companies you mentioned.
Rather, when we say “paid tiers,” we mean higher levels of service for a percentage of your sales. Services like Smashwords, Bookbaby, and Draft2digital charge a share of revenue or fee for their baseline service. We want to provide that level of service for free, and only charge similar percentages to what they do when we can offer far greater value.
And big picture: our mission is still to transform the publishing industry with a model that puts authors first. Doing anything detrimental to authors works against that goal; it's not how we'll grow the company, and it's not how we'll move the industry forward.
Q3. If authors are offered a “traditional publishing contract,” would that contract be with Pronoun's imprints like Studio or Byliner, with one of Macmillan's existing imprints, or with an entirely new imprint?
AH: First, I want to talk about two of the directions you mentioned: Pronoun's current imprints and Pronoun's future imprints. We've always been excited to use our publishing platform to spot undiscovered, high-potential voices who could be a good fit for current and future imprints. These are revenue-share deals (with no intention to offer advances at this time).
Now we get to extend that strategy to Macmillan imprints in a way that's mutually beneficial to authors and the business. There are tremendously talented indie authors out there who might desire and excel with a traditional publishing deal. Now, connecting these authors with a traditional publisher will be far easier for us.
Pronoun wants to give authors the agency to succeed, with or without a traditional publishing deal.
Q4. Would those authors be offered Macmillan's standard contract?
AH: Contracts and terms will depend on many factors, including whether or not an imprint is operated by Pronoun. But we never intend to offer predatory contracts, or make our authors a second class in any way. Our mission and entire reason for existing is to change the publishing industry to be better for authors, not worse!
Q5: Macmillan has had a rocky relationship with Amazon in the past, most notably over agency pricing. Given that Amazon has removed Macmillan titles from its stores during tense negotiations, should this be a concern for Pronoun authors?
AH: Knowing what we do about Macmillan, and given that those issues were 6 years ago and long past, we've seen nothing that gives us any reason to think Pronoun authors should be concerned.
We concluded our initial review of Pronoun with a blend of enthusiasm and caution. Pronoun's services are tremendously helpful to indie authors looking for an assisted self-publishing platform, and the absence of fees and contractual hooks make it all but irresistable. As before, ALLi will continue to monitor the company for any signs of a shift in their practices.
However, at the present, I remain impressed by Pronoun's offerings and philosophy, and look forward to their continuing development with great interest. The addition of Macmillan into the equation hasn't changed that outlook.
Ultimately, this acquisition is an opportunity for Macmillan to distinguish itself from the predatory behavior of its Big 5 siblings. If Macmillan grants Pronoun's leadership the autonomy to continue on its current path, I anticipate the company becoming a more powerful asset for indie and hybrid authors.Macmillan/Pronoun deal creates optimism, concern for the #indieauthor - by @JohnDoppler Click To Tweet