Service or tool?
In talking about the Penguin acquisition of Author Solutions, some questions came up on Twitter that were very thought-provoking. Essentially, @eoinpurcell stated:
The problem isn’t selling authors services, the problem is not providing good enough services for the price charged.
And I wrote him back:
The best sales/mkting services are fairly bespoke & expensive. Are ASI’s actual services or more like tools?
Like do they facilitate DIY and the authors just don’t have the expertise to use them well?
In that same conversation, @glecharles brought up some of the issues around ASI’s upselling methods, which are different issue from what I’m thinking about here.
The fact that the bulk of ASI’s revenues come from selling services, rather than books, is not surprising to me. Putting something in an epub file or between two covers doesn’t mean anybody’s actually going to purchase it. (Ask Bibliobazaar.) So of course the purchasing that happens is the purchasing between the author and ASI. ASI exists not necessarily to put great books into the world, but to provide authors with tools. Traditional publishers exist to put great (or useful, or entertaining) books into the world. And they go to some length to do so. And that’s a service – a service which requires a lot of infrastructure, investment, development.
Which is the point. Self-publishers take that infrastructure, investment, development on themselves. Competing with traditional publishers means more than just using some templates. It means a lot of work – much of which extends beyond the use of tools. It’s hard. And expensive. And generally prohibitive for one person to handle (unless that person is very wealthy with a lot of time on his/her hands).
I’m not saying it can’t be done. There are certainly plenty of instances where self-published authors have gone big – and promptly signed distribution agreements with major publishers because of the infrastructure, investment and development they can now take advantage of. These services must all be paid for. Whether you’re paying for them out of pocket, or paying for them by accepting a royalty in exchange for the right to sell and distribute – different authors will have different models depending on what’s effective for them.
But self-published authors should not confuse services with tools. A tool is a hammer. A service is the contractor laying down your new flooring. A tool is GarageBand. A service is Sony Distribution. Access to tools is easy. Using them with proficiency, as well as having a ready network of colleagues and organizations, is skilled service that requires compensation.