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Replacing Pronoun


How Pronoun Users Can Distribute Their Books
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.
Despite those early misgivings, Pronoun earned the approval of indie authors, including myself and fellow ALLi Watchdog Giacomo “Jim” Giammatteo, and ALLi decided to give the service the benefit of the doubt and observe closely what unfolded.So Monday’s sudden announcement of the closure of Pronoun was a shock and a disappointing end for a service that held such promise.

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-categories

pronoun-categories-replacement

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?

Yes.

Will it be a hell of a lot of work to switch them?

Yes.

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.

Overview

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.

Service Provider
Pronoun
Smashwords
Draft2Digital
StreetLib
XinXii
PublishDrive
eBook Partnership
Setup Fees None None None None None None $99
Royalties
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
Payments Monthly Monthly Monthly Monthly3 Request6 Monthly Monthly
Free ISBN5 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Conversion Yes Yes Yes $90 Yes $0.50/pg $249
User Experience Excellent Good Excellent Excellent Fair Good Excellent
Author Page Yes Yes No No Yes No No

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

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

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

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).

PublishDrive

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

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.

eBook Partnership

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

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28 Responses to Replacing Pronoun

  1. Matthew Bennett November 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

    Thanks for the amazing resource John! Quick question. Pronoun worked great for me because in my niche I could charge $29.99 for my highly technical e-book and get 65% royalties. Are there any services that provide this type of royalties for higher priced books? Thanks Again.

  2. Kari Trenten November 17, 2017 at 8:12 am #

    I’ve noticed IngramSpark isn’t being mentioned, which worries me. (wry grin)

  3. Ricardo Fayet November 13, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    Are you sure XinXii distributes to Biblioteca? I haven’t found anything any library distributor on their partners page: http://www.xinxii.com/gd_cms.php?page=distribution_en

    • John Doppler November 16, 2017 at 5:19 am #

      Good catch, thank you! That’s outdated information and I will update it immediately.

  4. Sarah Dahl November 11, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    Thanks a lot for what I’ve seen so far is the best summary yet. I have a question though: If my book is on preorder at Pronoun atm, to be released in Dec., can retailers still deliver it to the customers who preordered if I move it to another platform before release? Or do I have to wait with moving until after release and then have to change all the urls and buy links (which I wanted to avoid of course, by moving prior to release). Thanks for an answer, maybe I’m overthinking?

    • John Doppler November 11, 2017 at 9:16 pm #

      Hi Sarah,
      If you change distributors, your preorders will be canceled. For that reason, it might be better to wait until December, especially if you have a large number of preorders who might not submit orders again after cancellation.

      Although it doesn’t apply in your case, authors with preorders scheduled *after* January 15 are eligible for compensation from Pronoun, if they withdraw their book from the service before November 30.

      Books scheduled for release prior to January 15 should ride it out to avoid losing those sales.

      • Sarah Dahl November 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

        Thank you for the help. It’s all a lot to consider and think about… Happy week to you all <3

  5. Joleene Naylor November 10, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    But do any of them allow free books on Amazon? I use KDP for all my pay books and only used Pronoun for freebies on Amazon and Google. I see you mentioned about the free settings earlier in the article but find no mention of it in the breakdowns, though I may have missed something because I’m on my phone and it keeps reloading so I have to try to find where I left off and start over. Love technology, lol!

    • John Doppler November 11, 2017 at 12:40 am #

      Unfortunately, that’s a Pronoun feature that’s hard to equal. Their special arrangement with Amazon was unique, and I’m not aware of any distributors that have been able to duplicate it.

      • Joleene Naylor November 11, 2017 at 11:47 pm #

        Thanks! That’s what I was afraid of. This is a great breakdown article, BTW! Thanks for all the work!

    • Carla King November 15, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

      Both StreetLib and PublishDrive allow you to set Amazon Kindle book distribution only and free books on Amazon.

  6. Amy Shojai, CABC November 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    Great roundup! I’m already direct to amazon, and using D2D for other venues. Only recently had I used Pronoun (early Sept/Oct) specifically for GooglePlay, so I’m not impacted to the degree others are. After reading many discussions, I opted for PublishDrive. Anxious to see how this shakes out.

    • John Doppler November 11, 2017 at 12:41 am #

      Thanks, Amy!

      I’ve been hearing very good feedback about PublishDrive this year. Please let us know how it goes!

  7. Matthew November 10, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    You did not mention Bookbaby.com. $249 qualtity conversion the largest distribution network, 100% of what the retailers gives in royalties, a site to sell thru where you get 85%, trending reports for ibooks and kindle, can pay as often as weekly, easily manage your own metadata, you can still do kdp, self publishing specialists based in the US ready to help you, industry thought leaders (blog, massive surveys/whitepaper, and we just had a conference with 400 people there). Not to mention we can edit, design, and have the best POD program. Don’t believe me? Give us a call.

    • John Doppler November 11, 2017 at 1:04 am #

      Hi Matthew,
      Bookbaby is a great service (and an ALLi Partner Member!), but we felt it wasn’t competitive in this *very* narrow context of free Pronoun service replacements.

      However, for authors looking for high-quality ebook conversion with distribution and other bundled services, Bookbaby is definitely an option to consider.

  8. Zsofia November 10, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    Hi Harsha,

    Just to confirm:
    PublishDrive has better royalties for GP (as John correctly showcases it in the table above) 🙂

  9. Harsha November 10, 2017 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks John for the wonderful and timely article. Specifically for Google play distribution, what would reccomend between streetlib and publishdrive?

    • John Doppler November 10, 2017 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Harsha,
      For Google Play, it comes down to a choice between StreetLib and PublishDrive, and PublishDrive has the better royalty rate. (We’ve just corrected an error in the table.)

  10. Zsofia November 10, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    Thank you for the mention John! I understand you have rated the user experience ‘good’. We are working hard to make it ‘excellent’: if there is anything you think we should do to improve, we’d be happy to implement it.

    Would you please be so kind as to correct the number you have for us at Amazon? The calculation on our website shows 45-60% of the suggested retail price (60% for a book priced 2.99). I find it a bit hard to understand your way of calculation, however: what does it mean that ‘after retailers have taken their cut’? I know that calculating royalties can be a bit of a nightmare. This is how we do it: http://publishdrive.com/pricing
    And see our stores list with percentages here: https://admin.publishdrive.com/stores

    Thank you!

    • John Doppler November 10, 2017 at 10:53 am #

      Thank you! I’ve corrected the figure for Amazon, and I’ll be in touch shortly.

    • John Doppler November 10, 2017 at 11:30 am #

      Royalties are generally calculated as a percentage of the list price, or a percentage of the net paid by the retailer.

      For example, let’s say a book has a list price of $6.99, and Amazon pays 70% royalties on ebooks at that price.

      Ignoring VAT and delivery fees for the moment, if the distributor pays 60% of the list price, the author receives $4.19 ($6.99 * .60). This is the clearest way of presenting the author’s share.

      If the distributor pays 60% of the net, the author receives $2.94. The net (the amount after the retailer takes their share) is $6.99 * .70, or $4.89. The distributor would then pay 60% of that, or $2.94.

      Calculating percentage of net requires the author to know what the net is — e.g., the royalties paid by the retailer for the given list price — and then to do the math to calculate their final share.

      It is vital for service providers to indicate whether percentages are of net or of list price: “60%” is meaningless when you don’t know what the 60% is from.

      • Zsofia November 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

        Thank you for your comment John, you are right, we’ll update the “stores” page with this vital information.

  11. Karl Drinkwater November 9, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

    My comment seems to have disappeared, but in brief: many thanks for this, John and Jim! A very useful summary. I’m curious as to how Ingram Spark’s e-book distribution details compare, but I imagine they don’t stack up as well as these companies.

    I think the next question Pronoun authors will have will be how best to manage the transfer and make sure Amazon reviews transfer across too!

  12. May McGoldrick November 9, 2017 at 6:19 pm #

    Like you John, I can only say nice things about Pronoun while they were doing business. Have been trying to move the books one at the time out of there and I am getting wait and no response to bring them alive from Amazon. It’s like they are punishing the authors who left their distribution and went to Pronoun. I’ll see what the next week brings. No problem with D2D and Kobo direct and BN direct.

    • John Doppler November 9, 2017 at 6:50 pm #

      The sluggish response from Amazon may be due to a rush of Pronoun authors transfering their titles over.

      Good luck, May! Let us know how it turns out.

  13. Karl Drinkwater November 9, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

    Many thanks John and Jim, this is very useful to those in our position! It’s such a shame that all the work done on the Pronoun interfaces and tools will just disappear, but I am also excited to look into new options. I love the idea of Draft2Digital’s management of generic endmatter; I also like the idea of the Ebook Partnership finance model. I’ll look into all these with interest.

    I can also foresee that an article on best practice for keeping Amazon reviews during transfer would be popular. 🙂

  14. Jane Steen November 9, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

    I think there’s a strong case for going direct with at least Amazon and Kobo–Amazon because of its almost-real-time reporting (which allows you to gauge the effect of promos and price changes) and Kobo because of its in-house promotions. I could make a case for being direct with Nook, too, as their reporting may lag 2 days but it’s a nice convenient spreadsheet. If only D2D would do that instead of those infuriating graphs. I distribute with them because they seem more effective than selling my books on iBooks than Apple is.

    I was going to try out Pronoun with my new series. Timing is everything.

    • John Doppler November 9, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

      I agree, Jane. The advantages of going direct to Amazon outweigh the convenience of a distributor as far as I’m concerned.

      Looks like you missed the bus with regards to Pronoun, but since that bus subsequently crashed, congratulations. =)

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