PublishAmerica is a print-on-demand publisher founded in 1999 by Lawrence Alvin Clopper III and Willem Meiners. The company is based in Maryland, United States, and to date, they have published books for more than 40,000 authors (33,279 titles listed on Amazon.com), printing (according to PA) and publishing more books per year than Random House or HarperCollins. The company describe itself as ‘a traditional, advance and royalty-paying book publisher’.
We treat our authors the old fashioned way – we pay them.”
PublishAmerica stress many times on their website (Author Information and FAQ) that they are not a vanity press. This ad nausea practice by a publisher is the first sign to me as an author and researcher to immediately start to look a lot closer and read between the lines if necessary. Most publishers present their company ‘as a given’ that they are an above-board operation and run a traditional model of publishing. If there is any fundamental aspect missing from this model, the publisher will be at pains to point out they are a small press and do not offer advances against the royalties they pay, or they are a non-profit publisher, but that the essence of their publishing philosophy is to produce, market and promote authors and books through the normal recognised channels of the book industry.
“By not charging its authors any publishing fees at any time, PublishAmerica has saved them, all combined to date, an estimated $50+ million that might have otherwise gone into the coffers of vanity publishers.”
I have no idea where PublishAmerica generated this math, or who are the nameless people working for the company behind many of the figures quoted amply throughout their site. When I go to a publisher’s site (a traditional publisher), I want to see an ‘About Us’ page listing CEO, editors, marketing personnel etc. On the whole, at first glance, the PublishAmerica site presents what I would expect to see on a publisher’s site, plenty of information, a list of their leading books, new author acquisitions, news of recent author successes with film deals with their ‘Up In Lights’ section and a good few books with buy links.
I took a trip to their FAQ pages and again found the same continued mention (read obsession) with those vanity guys and an emphasis on how much they should stress PublishAmerica is a traditional publisher.
PublishAmerica adheres to the traditional publishing concept: we assume all financial risks and all expenses, we earn our income by selling books, and books only.”
“The author pays no fees to have their book published. There’s no pay-to-publish at PublishAmerica at any time. We want your book, not your money.
Bookstores do not automatically put a book on their shelves. All stores have full access to our books, but in order to actually stock them, they must be convinced that the book will sell. Author: there is work to be done!
Ok. Even the most naive author visiting this site in a bid to place their manuscript for publication is going to start asking themselves:
‘If this is a traditional publisher, why do they keep going on about those vanity guys and how PublishAmerica are definitely a traditional publisher?’
PublishAmerica is pressing an agenda here and they are doing it so badly. Have you ever been at a party, started talking to someone, and all the time you share their company, they tell you everything and anything about everyone else in the room, painfully repeating points about some of the guests. But more importantly, they are eager to inflate their own status and equate it with everyone else in the room; to a point you start to eye the pathway to the toilet, or worse, run out the front door. Finally, you manage to escape from the conversation and reflect that in the whole half-hour you spent with the person, you still actually know very little about them, and what you did manage to glean about them, you remain curiously suspicious with lingering doubts. If you know what you are looking for when you go searching for a suitable publisher, you will know you have not seen it with PublishAmerica.
Something just isn’t right here. The PublishAmerica universe is a vacuum, and a vacuous one at that.
I think it is time to have a look at those claimed facts and figures.
“FACT #1: Unique among all traditional book publishing companies, PublishAmerica counts almost 40,000 happy authors. Each day, an average 15 of them ask us to also accept their next work, 75 second-book requests per week, more than 300 per month, roughly 4,000 per year! By any standard, this is an amazingly high number of return authors, unseen in the rest of the book publishing company industry. In the summer of 2009, PublishAmerica was the only traditional publisher, ever, to introduce tens of thousands of books in softcover and in hardcover to the market!
FACT #5: PublishAmerica is NOT in any way a POD, vanity press, or subsidy publisher, and has nothing in common with them. Obviously, our authors are also not being self-published. In the most commonly used context, POD indicates “Publish On Demand”, or vanity publishing. Vanity publishers charge for their “services”. Some charge a few hundred dollars, others a thousand or more. We are not in that league, in any way, shape or fashion.”
Firstly, there is some confusions and downright misleading information being pedalled here and it worries me that it is deliberate. POD means print-on-demand. There is no such thing as publish-on-demand or a ‘commonly used context’ of the term, and if it has wrongly entered common speak when discussing models of print-publishing, then the likelihood is that FACT#5 is the place where it has earned its ‘common usage’ wings. PublishAmerica is POD. The year the company was founded just happened to be the year print-on-demand technology properly announced its arrival in the print-book world. Virtually all PublishAmerica books are printed on-demand. They claim books are printed at their own print facilities, but as you will see later, this is not the case. Is PublishAmerica really asking us to believe that 4800+ (latest estimates) authors are publishing their books with them every year; all produced using offset print runs of a thousand or more? If PublishAmerica is not POD as they claim, then why did they negotiate this deal in February 2010 with Baker & Taylor’s TextStream Digital Print service? From that press release:
“CHARLOTTE, N.C., Feb. 4 /PRNewswire/ — Baker & Taylor Inc., the world’s largest distributor of physical and digital books and entertainment products, today announced it has signed an agreement for its TextStream Digital Print Service to print and fulfill orders for PublishAmerica’s catalogue of more than 40,000 titles. PublishAmerica’s titles are€“ largely fiction and non-fiction stories of triumph over hardship and€“ will also be available to Baker & Taylor’s worldwide network of library and retail customers.”
With 4800 books printed every year through POD, at a minimum retail cost of $20 per average 200page paperback (way above the competitive market rate); this gives PublishAmerica authors a 50 unit average overall sale per year (I’m being really kind here – a good POD book by an author little known, which makes up most PA authors, can sell as little as a handful, or a couple of hundred). PublishAmerica have to give the author their 8% royalty up to the first 2000 units sold; pay the print costs of the book, then a royalty of 10% for 2000+) and, also, look after giving the retailer a discount (40% Amazon, can vary with other retail outlets of anything from 30% to 55% – PublishAmerica will not disclose discounts rates to the trade, but keep in mind, a very significant amount are sold directly to their own authors without the concession of trade discounts). We will simplify things:
$20—the average cost of a 200 page paperback as advertised on AmazonLess $3.90—as per Lightning Source current rates—a leading POD printerLess $1.60—the royalty most of PA’s authors get for fewer than 2000 units soldLess $6.00—the average discount given to retailers (an average of various discounts taken at 30%)
Left $8.50—the average overall profit PublishAmerica takes on all of the books it publishes per year
Now, if we take PublishAmerica’s output figure of 4800 books published per year, then they are taking an annual profit of: 4800 X $8.50 X 50 (a conservative average unit sales per title-per year) = $2,040,000
So, profits just over two million dollars, and add to that anything PublishAmerica make from their cut of 50% of additional rights as per their contract (acquisitions sold to another publisher, film/TV rights etc), and when you can take it they are publishing 4800 titles per year, whether by their own steam or by their author’s endeavours—several book rights are being sold each year by PA to studios—you can add another $1m to $2m to that figure. For an overall ballpark figure, $4m profits—sound like a lot? Actually, in publishing terms when you take what PublisherAmerica claim they do for every book and the volume of books pushed out—it’s actually a pittance, pocket money. To give some perspective, a single bestselling Random House title will conservatively gross $20m globally in sales—and that’s just one of their annual bestsellers in the top-ten!
Keep that $4m figure in mind, and take a look at what PublishAmerica claim they do for every title they publish.
*Professionally designed cover and interior book
*An edit based on the assessment of an editor*ISBN/Barcode
*Marketing assistance by direct mail*Distribution and online listing
Despite cataloguing, copyrighting, registration with libraries not being included; ask the question; how many staff in-house would be needed to deal with 4800 titles per year. As an example, let us take editing. For an editor, 4800 titles per year is 13 manuscripts per day, and guess what, you are working for Scrooge, no days off, 365 days per year. An editor at a traditional publishing house could work with an author on a manuscript for several weeks – sometimes months. Even a basic proofread on a book could take an editor a couple of days—freelance rates at about $350 – $500. Remember, the publisher may get several thousand manuscripts per year, but they are not publishing all of them, only a tiny fraction, and they have got to take the time to sift through them and find the ones worth pursuing, whether unsolicited or through an agent. I hope you are getting the picture I am painting here. Let me be blunt.
This publisher, in spite of the approximate $4m+ I estimate they make per year, is not operating any traditional model of publishing I know—they simply couldn’t afford to run a traditional model of publishing even if they wanted to based on their own output and claims of what they do! Their model of business, maths, combined with what they claim to be and promise, is entirely unsustainable and financially impossible for any company earning what they do. As an example, a cursory basic proof edit on an average book would cost about $350, bottom line, at the current rates—that is 4800 X $350 = $1.68m. I will call it as I see it, entirely independently—this publisher has to be pushing out the vast majority of their books—beyond a basic MS Word spell checker—entirely unedited and without any kind of marketing. Either that or the editorial and marketing staff at PublishAmerica are all working for free!
A deep read through their website reveals, at best, a company with a ridiculously inflated view of what they can do for the many thousands of authors who publish with them every year, and at worst, PublishAmerica prosecute a deliberately skewed and misleading model of ‘traditional publishing’ I can only equate with McDonalds announcing they are going into landscape gardening tomorrow. This is a hit and miss—what success is achieved comes by default of numbers—attempt to claim you are a large traditional publisher by exploiting the obvious and inevitable efforts of the more gifted and commercial astute authors who somehow got themselves into this unfortunate mess. They are the real foot-soldiers and force behind PublishAmerica, out on the road, signing books and beating on the closed doors of executive offices, weighed down by some of the most expensively sold books in the book retail industry. They are also the same authors worn down, week after week, by requests from PublishAmerica with discount deals to buy more of their books in the hope that they can help PublishAmerica land the book on the desk of a Random House editor, or better still, Oscar Award winner, Sandra Bullock!
PublishAmerica, like traditional publishers, offer an exclusive contract, but the author should be aware that the terms of this contract stipulate that the period of publication is for seven years and will only falter if PublishAmerica do not publish an author’s book within 365 days. An Author must also apply to be released from the seven year contract at some stage during the final three months of the period or another seven year sentence will be imposed. The author also concedes 50% on all additional rights, although, PublishAmerica is not obliged to actively or aggressively sell those rights unless directly instructed by the author. However, the author is not allowed enter negotiations with a third party for additional rights without the permission of the publisher. Stipulations like these in a contract spell nothing but a mix of confusion and abject apathy.
PublishAmerica offer 8% royalties on sales, based on the first 2000 books sold—importantly –this royalty is in light of PublishAmerica earning 92% and conceding a minimum and regulatory $1 advance, at best, very basic editing, assistance to the author on a direct sales marketing plan and design and set-up of the book with their printer. The author also receives two copies of their published book. Authors can purchase their own books at 20% off retail price if they order less than 20 copies, or 30% if more than 30 copies.
So, what is PublishAmerica?
PublishAmerica is not a traditional publisher, whatever their spurious claims, and outside of not charging the author money upfront bear no relationship to a traditional publisher. They have not got the infrastructure, transparency, business model or revenue to operate as a traditional publisher at their level of book output. They also say on their site that they are they first traditional publisher not to outsource printing, but this is plainly not true, as can be seen from the earlier Baker & Taylor press release and court documents here and here relating to a dispute they have had with POD printer Lightning Source. They are certainly not an author solutions service of any kind because they again lack transparency and are not even equipped with the paid-services better author solutions services offer, like a competitively priced book; a prescribed and effective template of marketing aid for an author; a properly developed network of both physical and online distribution and availability; a contract based on non-exclusive terms; a strategy that has properly considered the advent of e-books; and most importantly of all, a reputation that is remotely salvageable in the book publishing and retail industries.
Strip away all the self-proclaimed ‘traditional’ pretentions and all you are left with is a company who host grossly expensive books online for sale, and provide print-on-demand orders, it would seem, primarily to sell to their own authors. You might say it is like PublishAmerica printing free money to perpetuate their existence. I have no comprehensible reason why someone would place their book with PublishAmerica, baring an utter desperation to see their book in print and sell a handful of expensive copies to family and friends, and perhaps for a week of two, be toast and talk of the town at the local school hall and grocery store.
While PublishAmerica is not a traditional publisher; they neither fit the strictest terms of vanity press or author solutions service. You do not become a traditional publisher by default because you do not charge an author an upfront fee. Therein is the self-created sword PublishAmerica falls upon. They believe traditional publishing is defined solely by whether the author pays for their book to be published or not, and that is fueled by the ignorance and naivety of authors combined with the greed and ignorance of a publisher. Plainly and simply; PublishAmerica are just a bad publisher.
UPDATE: June 2010.
PA Discontinue Trade Paperbacks
UPDATE: July 2010.
Has PublishAmerica Lost the Plot?