ALLi initially covered Pronoun's launch and subsequent acquisition by Macmillan with a mix of optimism and skepticism. ALLi founder, Orna Ross, and Author Enterprise Advisor, Joanna Penn, expressed concern about the (lack of a) visible business model.
It seems that early sense of “it's too good to be true” was justified.
Here's a quick look at some of the perks indie authors are losing with Pronoun's demise:
- no setup fees or royalty sharing
- a polished and friendly interface
- category-specific pricing suggestions and market research
- 70% royalties on Amazon titles under $2.99.
- ability to set your Amazon titles to permafree at will
- Amazon ebook delivery fees waived
- access to Google Play
- no arbitrary discount of Google Play titles
- free ISBNs (for use through Smashword only)
- free ebook conversion (usable anywhere)
- integrated reporting
- monthly payment cycle
- attractive author pages linking to each of Pronoun's retailers
As we bid farewell to Pronoun, we hereby look at each of these features, in turn, to tell you which ones can be replaced, and where, so that you can decide how to transition your Pronoun titles to new services.
(Be sure to review Pronoun's FAQ to learn how to download your ebook files and other steps in the migration process; this must be done before Pronoun ceases operation in January 2018.)
We start off with a note from Jim Giammatteo. Jim has been an outspoken advocate for the service. With a whopping 37 titles distributed through the service, few people are as knowledgeable about the pros and cons of Pronoun.
Thoughts from Jim Giammateo
Pronoun, who John Doppler thoroughly reviewed, was a bright star for indie authors. In a world where far too many companies try to take advantage of authors, Pronoun seemed to be the reverse. It's sad, but the ride is over. Pronoun announced it was closing its doors in January 2018.
I say it's sad because of the unique and beneficial things Pronoun offered to indies. When people think of the benefits of distributors, sometimes all they focus on is the monetary part, but Pronoun was so much more than that.
They had an easy upload process, great ways to compare your bookcover with other published books, easy sales reporting, and fantastic category suggestions, not to mention reports on category rankings with an easy-to-change process (far easier than Amazon).
Aside from the above, there were a few other reasons why Pronoun was invaluable.
They put to bed an annoying practice that Google has of arbitrarily discounting books. In the past, whether you went direct or through other distributors, Google would discount your books on a whim, causing major problems with Amazon because of their price-matching policy. Pronoun stopped that with an agreement that Google would keep the price you set without discounting.
There was a time, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, when Amazon dictated the pricing of your books. Not completely, but enough so that they exerted undue influence. They told you that you couldn't offer your book for a lower price anywhere else and, amazingly, that you could not offer it for free-unless, of course, you were exclusive to Amazon. If you were exclusive, you could offer it free, but only once every ninety days.
With Pronoun's announcement in January 2017, you could set your book's price to free at any time and with any of the retailers, including Amazon.
Authors used to have to go through a convoluted process of feigning price matching and other nonsense to try to accomplish this, and even then, there was no guarantee.
Pronoun had drastically changed the royalties paid in the US and CA from 35 percent (what Amazon paid for less than $2.99) to 70 percent regardless of the book's price (books priced over $9.99 were paid 65 percent.) International sales were not as generous, but they were still better for the “under $2.99 crowd”.
Pronoun also paid 70 percent for all the other retailers in the US and CA (for books priced between 99c and $9.99).
One of my favorites was Pronoun eliminating the almost-criminal fees that Amazon charges for downloads (based on file size).
Amazon's policy has always prevented authors from being able to use pictures, as pictures take up a lot of space. The only way to avoid the Amazon charge was to accept their 35 percent royalty plan. (Apple, by the way, does. not charge download fees. You can have a file as large as two gigabytes. I believe the other retailers are 20 and 50 megabytes.)
Categories-I already mentioned categories, but it's worth going into more detail. In the past, I had to struggle to determine which categories to use, as they do make a big difference. But it was difficult to know which ones were the best to list my books in.
With Pronoun, all I had to do was make a decision when I published. Pronoun would then send updates, via email, informing me of which categories my books would rank higher in based on sales. Here is a screenshot below of a suggestion for No Mistakes Grammar, Volume III.
Pronoun also provided a fantastic author page which was easy to set up, and it looked good.
I've already heard a lot of people saying uncomplimentary things about Pronoun. No matter what people say, know this-Pronoun conducted its business in a professional manner the entire time it was operational. I had 37 books there. Will I be sorry to have to switch them?
Will it be a hell of a lot of work to switch them?
But I'm not sorry I tried them out.
Transitioning from Pronoun
As Jim points out, Pronoun had a number of unique features that are, at the present, irreplaceable. There are currently no distributors or aggregators that offer the following Pronoun features:
- 70% royalties on Amazon titles under $2.99
- Amazon ebook delivery fees waived
- no arbitrary discounting of Google Play titles
Other than those unique features, which distributor offers the closest match to Pronoun's offerings?
We've profiled six of the most popular distributors and aggregators below. Each of these services receives a Recommended or better rating in ALLi's Self-Publishing Service Reviews. Which service you choose to distribute your ebooks will depend largely on your priorities.
In the summary below, we evaluate the key Pronoun features as implemented on other distributors: fees and royalties; user experience — the relative difficulty of uploading and publishing a book; author pages; and the distribution channels formerly offered by Pronoun (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, and the two library distributors, Overdrive and Bibliotheca).
For those looking for more detailed information on each distributor, we'll have a comprehensive update and comparison of distributors and aggregators available in early 2018. However, this article is geared primarily towards Pronoun users who must migrate their books to other services, and so we've focused on the similarities to Pronoun's features. This may not reflect the unique strengths of the distributors, but will give you a good idea of which services compare favorably.
Please note that royalties take one of two forms: a percentage of the list price or a percentage of the net. The net is the amount paid after the retailer takes their share, and the distributor will take a portion of that amount. You will need to know the net payment from each retailer to determine how much the distributor ultimately charges.
|Amazon1||70% list2||60% list3||85% net||40% list||85% net||60% list||100% net|
|Apple iTunes1||70% list||60% list3||85% net||60% list||85% net||60% list||100% net|
|Barnes & Noble1||70% list2||60% list4||85% net||60% list||85% net||60% list||100% net|
|Google Play1||70% list||N/A||N/A||42% list||85% net||60% list||100% net|
|Kobo1||70% list||60% list1||85% net||60% list||N/A||60% list||100% net|
|Overdrive1||70% list||45% list||85% net||60% list||N/A||60% list||100% net|
|Bibliotheca1||70% list||45% list||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
1 Royalties shown are typical rates for ebooks $2.99 and up. Actual royalties may vary by list price, retailer, venue, and country. See the distributors' and retailers' website for detailed royalty schedules and restrictions.
2 Sales outside of North America may receive lower royalties, typically 41–50% of list.
3 Distribution available to selected Premium users only.
4 Users outside the US, UK, CA, or NZ are paid quarterly via PayPal, with a €30 minimum.
5 ISBNs are registered to the distributor and are not transferable to other services. The ALLi Watchdog Desk recommends that authors purchase and register their own ISBNs.
6 Payments made on request with a minimum balance of 20 EUR.
Smashwords was a pioneer in the industry, the first distributor of its kind. Smashwords' strength lies in its massive array of distribution channels, including some obscure outlets unavailable through other distributors. Smashwords also has a robust library distribution network, including Gardners, OverDrive, Odilo, and Library Direct. Its distribution to Amazon is limited, however, and it does not have a distribution agreement with Google Play.
To ensure compatibility with its wide range of distribution channels, the Smashwords “meatgrinder” — the process by which an ebook is converted for distribution — is more demanding than most services. Although the setup interface is clear and straightforward, some ALLi members have expressed frustration with the conversion process. This can usually be remedied by following the site's extraordinarily detailed Smashwords Style Guide.
Smashwords' author pages are simple and clean, but feel somewhat sparse.
The service provides monthly payments via PayPal, or US authors may request paper checks ($75 USD minimum).
Smashwords is well suited to experienced authors, but the conversion process may prove daunting for the novice.
Draft2Digital (or D2D for short) is a popular and well-established ebook distributor. They distribute to the most common sales venues, but not to Google Play or Bibliotheca.
The D2D website is sleek, polished, and intuitive. Uploading a book was simple and the process easy to navigate. Although its conversion process produces a particularly clean ebook, it can occasionally present issues with complex formats. Aside from these rare complications, the quality of the converted ebook is excellent. The conversion process is free.
D2D offers an intriguing feature called Automated End-Matter. It allows an author to enter an author bio, publisher bio, copyright information, book teasers, and Also By sections, then add those sections automatically to any of their books on D2D. It's a great option for authors with extensive catalogs.
D2D has an outstanding reputation for customer support. Many of the authors we've heard from on D2D specifically commented on their timely and courteous support.
Monthly payments are made via direct deposit, PayPal, Payoneer, or check.
The service does not provide author pages, but that's a small sacrifice for the convenience and quality of service.
XinXii (pronounced “shin she”), a German distributor with a Chinese name, has a robust network of international retail partners.
The upload process is relatively uncomplicated, with a clean, professional interface. Support is lacking, however. ALLi has received several reports of slow response from XinXii, particularly when asked to take down books from the site. One author reported having removed his books from XinXii, only to find them on sale from distribution partners over a year later.
Ebook conversion is free, and the output is of good quality, although trouble-prone features such as drop caps and certain images may cause issues.
Author pages are clean, but suffer from the blocky, cookie-cutter feel that plagues most templated author pages.
XinXii pays a minimum of €20 via PayPal. Payment can be in GBP, USD, or EUR. For authors in Europe, bank transfer is available (in Euro only).
Hungarian distributor PublishDrive is the new kid on the block, having arrived on the scene in 2015. The company has an international focus, and correspondingly, its distribution network offers a broad range of sales channels in countries around the world.
PublishDrive charges for ebook conversion: typical rates are $0.50 per page, with higher fees for complex layouts. Turnaround time is generally 3 days, and the quality is professional. PublishDrive does not provide ISBNs.
In its early days, PublishDrive required a one-year contract, but that requirement has been removed and their distribution is non-exclusive.
PublishDrive may be a good choice for experienced authors looking to expand into lesser-known international markets.
UPDATE Nov. 10, 2017: PublishDrive has launched an import tool to facilitate moving your books from Pronoun.
StreetLib launched in 2006, and while it hasn't gained the market share of its aggregator brethren, it nonetheless remains a strong player in the field. StreetLib offers access to the most common sales channels (including Google Play), but really shines in its distribution to Italian- and Spanish-language outlets.
StreetLib offers a number of innovative options, such as watermarking and batch uploads of your books (a handy feature for those migrating a large number of titles from Pronoun). And in the wake of Pronoun's closure, they have introduced a Pronoun import tool to simplify the transition to StreetLib.
Free ISBNs (listing StreetLib as publisher) are provided. Conversion is available for a $90 fee, and the quality of the EPUB is very good.
StreetLib pays US, UK, CA, and NZ authors monthly. Other countries are paid quarterly via PayPal with a minimum threshold of €30.
Launched in 2009, eBook Partnership provides a variety of publishing services, including distribution to popular channels. This distributor stands out for its fee-based model; while the other distributors in this lineup charge a share of royalties over the lifetime of the book, eBook Partnership has a one-off $99 fee per title and does not collect commissions on royalties. Authors will collect the same royalties as if they had gone direct to the retailer.
Conversion to EPUB and MOBI is not free; there is a $249 charge per title. Fixed-format conversion is also available at that same price. The quality of the conversion is superb, and compatible with all of the top sales channels. The service allows up to six free metadata or file updates per title per year; additional updates incur a $10 fee. ISBNs are provided at no charge.
eBook Partnership has earned a reputation for outstanding customer service and responsiveness.
The up-front fee, full pass-through of royalties, separate conversion fees, and limited metadata updates make eBook Partnership a more attractive option for experienced and high-selling authors, and less so for the novice author.
OVER TO YOU
We'll revisit distributors and aggregators in 2018 with a tremendously expanded comparison of the key players. And if a service looks too good to be true in future, we'll all be more cautious.
In the meantime, as the market continues to shake down, how are you planning to distribute your books? Let us know in the comments below!Pronoun is dead. Where can #IndieAuthors can go next? — by @JohnDoppler Click To Tweet