Death by POD

Disquieting rumours bouncing around the literary web. Apparently, Authonomy has announced it is going to start a self-publishing option. From top Authonomy author Alexander:

Yesterday, HC sent me a note offering me the chance to put my books up as POD (Print on Demand or Publish on Demand) books on authonomy. Soon, according to the email, all books on authonomy will be available as POD books but for now only ‘a few early adopters’ have been offered the opportunity – and a ‘gift’ of the first 10 books free.

Working with blurb.com, authonomy will add a button to each book’s page, which currently allows you to read the book, watchlist the book or back the book. They’ll add ‘buy the book’.

Which potentially means that the whole exercise was purely about populating a new POD site with a community of unpublished authors who can now upload their books to sell them, at an unusually expensive cost to the author per book (limiting the profitability for the writer), to people who come clicking to the site.

Like I’ve said, I think Authonomy works. There are three people who’ve received book deals from it, agents do use it and, even if it is just a social networking site for writers, you can get some good critiques and read some very good fiction. And remember that HarperCollins doesn’t have, and shouldn’t have, an obligation to publish anyone on that site.

But Authonomy is like Wikipedia: you need to be aware of its limitations, nicely ennumerated at the ‘How Publishing Really Works’ blog. These are: the best don’t necessarily rise to the top because ranking depends on networking, not on talent; that this can make for an atmosphere of mutual backslapping that stifles criticism; and that time spent networking on Authonomy is time that you haven’t spent writing.

But like I say, if you’re aware of these issues Authonomy is a great site. But this new development alarms me. Alexander goes on to say this:

This was arguably never about publishing contracts or talent spotting. It was never about ‘Beating the Slushpile’, as authonomy claims in its graphics and claimed in its original ‘blurb’. It was about creating a POD site so that Harper Collins could hedge its bets against the ‘new revolution’ of Internet based publishing and digital publishing.

The fact is that POD and self publishing is nothing more than twenty-first century vanity publishing – a complete dead end. I suppose it has its uses – like if you want to produce an edition of Valentine’s poems for your girlfriend – but for distributing fiction it is not worth considering. As the HPRW blog author says:

Authonomy’s implication that self-publishing could be a stepping-stone to commercial success was seen by some as misleading because, while it’s true that some writers have done well by self-publishing, the majority of self-published authors flounder in relative obscurity and fail to make any significant sales.

Basically: I don’t like the way the wind’s blowing, I don’t like the apparent absence of any formal statement by HarperCollins about this move and I’m not going to associate with a site that even has self publishing as an option. So I’m going to take down my book from Authonomy and delete my profile. It was great while it lasted, but: caveat scriptor.

caveat-emptor

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15 Responses to “Death by POD”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    oh no i hadn’t finished reading it!

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    I can always send chapters by email if people are that desperate to read it.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The information you have posted here is totally incorrect.

    The original blog post from Alexander is full of misinformation.

    He obviously didn’t read the email from hc properly and jumped to conclusions.

    Please see the official response from hc for further info

    http://www.authonomy.com/Forum/Posts.aspx?forumId=2&threadId=12409&pageNumber=29#anchorpostid251924

  4. Jane Smith Says:

    Max, thanks for quoting me: I’m glad to be of use! Just one point: you wrote,

    “There are three people who’ve received book deals from it”

    This isn’t quite the case: one of the writers which Authonomy has signed was submitted to HarperCollins by her agent and bought in December: it was subsequently placed on Authonomy; and another of the three had self-published his book through Matador, and came to HC’s attention at least partly because of his success at promoting it.

    I’ve also posted, now, on the oddness of Authonomy choosing Blurb as its POD provider: let’s just say that I don’t think Blurb is the most obvious choice, for several reasons.

    I shall now go and read a bit more of your blog. Thanks again for linking to me: I hope to see you commenting over at my place soon.

  5. maxdunbar Says:

    Anonymous

    Thanks for posting here.

    1) I have read the HC response. I still don’t want to have my fiction displayed on a self publishing site.

    2) I don’t work in publishing, but correct me if I’m wrong: people who self publish give up their first rights to the book and commercial publishers prefer to buy the first rights to a book. Am I wrong? If so, why are HC encouraging people to give up their first rights to POD?

    3) Has there been an official announcement anywhere apart from that forum post?

    4) If Alex is wrong then why are his comments full of people whose names I recognise from authonomy claiming to have received similar emails and expressing similar reactions?

    Jane

    I had no idea about the book deals. Thanks for this.

    I’ve discovered your blog today and it is fantastic – currently reading through the archives.

  6. Jane Smith Says:

    Anonymous, without meaning to be snippy I’d like you to tell me exactly how you think that Alexander was wrong: without that, I have nothing to respond to apart from a vague sense of uneasiness.

    Max, you’re right about first publishing rights: once they’re gone, they’re gone for good; while the UK publishing industry isn’t quite so particular about them as the US industry is, it’s an issue that it’s paying more and more attention to. By self-publishing and failing to sell in large numbers you’re effectively demonstrating that your book is uncommercial, and so not worth considering by a mainstream press.

    Meanwhile, thanks for the kind words about my blog–they’re much appreciated, especially today: following a piece I had in the Bookseller Blog yesterday, I’ve had more than a couple of rather less complimentary emails!

    If you want to read more about the Authonomy book details I’ve discussed one of them over at my place: it was submitted by agent Andrew Lownie, and following my piece about his connection with Authonomy he asked me to write something for his website. My piece is now up, and is called “Preparation is Key”, but there are plenty of other far more useful articles on his site, which is well worth visiting.

  7. Annie Says:

    interesting… I think you’re right Max to want to withdraw your novel. At least, until you find out more and the situation becomes clear

  8. maxdunbar Says:

    I’ve been reading the Bookseller for months and have somehow missed your pieces, Jane. I’ll catch up now.

  9. Jane Smith Says:

    Don’t feel too bad, Max: it’s only the online edition, not the print one, and my first piece only went up yesterday! I’ve got two more due, but they’ve not scheduled them yet.

  10. maxdunbar Says:

    But I only ever read the web edition 🙂

  11. alexander Says:

    I don’t usually bother with anonymouses, but I thought that it was worth responding to this one.

    Making the assertion that my post was full of misinformation is all very well, but there is no attempt to correct any assertion I made in that post. Perhaps because there is nothing that misinforms in there?

    More reference, BTW, here, although Eoin has disabled comments as he thought the debate was getting a bit ‘iffy’: here

    Jane makes a good point about the three authors. Miranda Dickinson was an ‘authonomy find’ and that’s really, really great. I think the way HC dressed the other two up as authonomy originals was arguably cynical. But that’s water under the bridge now.

    Thanks, BTW, Max for the credits! I’m sorry to have been an influence in your taking your book down. I don’t like the POD button, either, but did get enormous value out of authonomy. Although I have to say it no longer really holds much enjoyment for me now that it appears not to be a means to any particular end other than POD farming.

    Pip pip!

  12. maxdunbar Says:

    Thanks Alex. I just don’t want to be associated with a site that even has POD as an option.

  13. modernityblog Says:

    Max, you wrote:

    “The fact is that POD and self publishing is nothing more than twenty-first century vanity publishing”

    but is that really the case?

    clearly publishers wish to reduce costs and authors would like their works published on a large scale, but newer technologies mean that older, out of print, books could have a limited run or be printed off when readers want it, which I think is a good idea

    on top of that, I don’t think that POD is going to go away.

  14. Better than Authonomy? « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] than Authonomy? By maxdunbar You may remember I pulled my novel from Authonomy due to widespread concerns that it was turning into a digital POD farm. I figured that, even if I […]

  15. If anyone is still taking Authonomy seriously… « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] that you are losing many of the serious writers that you hadn’t already alienated with the POD debacle. They aren’t going to be adequately replaced by a few hundred game nuts who are there to […]

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