Brian Smith: We’re different than a traditional publisher for sure, but we are very different than a traditional Vanity Press because that model is really driven by book sale to the author.
Ron Pramschufer: [Music] This is Ron Pramschufer and welcome to Publishing Basics Radio where weekly we try to help you navigate to self-publishing minefield. Today’s guest is Brian Smith President and CEO of Author House Brian, your home page describes Authorhouse as a self-publishing company. What’s a self-publishing company?
Brian Smith: Well what Authorhouse does is we provide a range of products and services to help authors both the new authors and experienced authors publish their book and get their voice in print. So, from our perspective we enable the author to take charge of the publishing process and that’s what we mean by self-publishing.
Ron Pramschufer: All right. Now according to the last one I saw on your site was a 2004 press release that said you had 2 million books to date and 18,500 authors. Where do you stand now in 2005?
Brian Smith: We have more than 25,000 authors and we print well over a million books a year at this point.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, that’s good. Now question… I Universe had their Amy Fisher this year. Who did Authorhouse have?
Brian Smith: We have a range of authors. An author named Rita Rudner that’s a comedienne based out of Las Vegas . We have a hand full of books that you would recognize as popular movies so one example would be Legally Blonde was a book that was published at Authorhouse. Another is a book called The Long March to Freedom but the movie was called Proof of Life, which was a movie with Meg Ryan and Russell Crow and so we have a wide range of authors.
Ron Pramschufer: Now were these all done as POD or were they like the Amy Fischer book… I talked to Susan Driscoll the other day and they ran that (Amy Fisher book) more like a traditional publishing house than a true POD.
Brian Smith: We do books, we print based on what we think the demand is going to be and we view print on demand as a printing technology and depending on what… whether it’s also the author believe the demand and for the title to be, we make a business decision about how to print it. The majority of our books, the vast majority of our books we use the print on demand technology to print though. But we have in any given week we have books that will have print runs of more than a thousand copies because there’s a lot of demand for them.
Ron Pramschufer: You do them offset or you still do them print on demand?
Brian Smith: Well it depends again on the page length and the nature of the book but the majority of those are done on an offset basis.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. How big a company is Authorhouse? How many employed do you have?
Brian Smith: We have approximately 200 employees.
Ron Pramschufer: Well that’s a pretty big place. It is located in Indiana ?
Brian Smith: It is.
Ron Pramschufer: All the employees in Indiana ?
Brian Smith: We have a half a dozen or so employees located in Milton Keans, which is in the and the rest of the employees are located in Indiana, so either in Indianapolis or inBloomington . The majority of our employees are in Bloomington, Indiana .
Ron Pramschufer: That’s great. How many sales people do you have?
Brian Smith: We have roughly 45 sales people.
Ron Pramschufer: And out of these… how many of them, how do you have that split between people selling new authors and people selling books to bookstores?
Brian Smith: We have 45 people that are focused on working with authors and we call them author service representatives and one of the things that I think that makes Authorhouse distinct is we’re very focused on providing personal attention to the author and we view the author as our customer and so then we have a half a dozen or so in addition to the group I just described that work in our book order department. We’re working directly with bookstores.
Ron Pramschufer: Now do you have any problem, see I get on this kick every once in awhile, anybody that’s not traditional publishers like a Vanity Press, you got any trouble being called a Vanity Press?
Brian Smith: I think we’re very different than a traditional Vanity Press. I think we… a good way to think about us is a company that provides services to authors. And so we’re different than a traditional publisher for sure. But we are very different than what you might think of as a traditional Vanity Press because again that model is really driven by book sales to the author and our model is driven by whatever the author’s objectives are. So the first step for us is to figure what the author is trying to accomplish, and then how can we bring our resources to bear to help them achieve that goal. And so I think there’s a dramatic difference there.
Ron Pramschufer: I just got a kick… I just found this out last night… If you do a Google search under Vanity Publishing or Vanity Press you guys are the number one paid ad. It says, “Need a Vanity publisher? Print as many books as you need. Register free. Author guide. Authorhouse.
Brian Smith: Again that is not necessarily how our model is centered but it depends on how people are thinking about the world and how they find us and so Google is, it’s a great tool and you can identify a thousand different terms somebody may enter into the world of publishing by typing in a certain term, and so you’ll find our name will come up when you type in lots of different things.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay but that was under paid ads so…
Brian Smith: Yeah we proactively work with thousands of different terms.
Ron Pramschufer: All right now one thing I got from one of the writers magazines… one of your competitors is running a full- page ad and it’s kind of neat in a way and it’s sort of slanted towards their own service, but it asks basically Author house, Xlibris and IUniverse to answer… can you check off, do you do the following? You may or may not know about the ad. It’s all over the place. And there are a couple of the items…I’m not going to read them all off, but there are a couple of them that are kind of interesting. The first one… and of course this particular advertiser has a check for everything. They do it all as if they’re going to prove their point. But their first point is accepts all bookstore returns at no extra cost to you. Now I always thought that the book return with POD was sort of counter productive. It was so expensive that it didn’t make any sense.
Brian Smith: Well booksellers right or wrong, the book selling industry has an expectation the books, they’d like books to be returnable and what we do is we actually allow people, you know again it comes down to what the author is trying to accomplish, so we allow people to buy a program that makes their book fully returnable for a period of time and so our books are returnable to the extent that somebody chooses that as an option.
Ron Pramschufer: Do many people buy that option? Do many people take you up on that?
Brian Smith: A great number of people buy it.
Ron Pramschufer: ‘Cause I’m just curious. I mean if we use the average sale, and again you can’t do everything by average, but your average sale is somewhere between 100 and 200 books. And you’re selling the return option for like $700. So it doesn’t seem like that good of a deal. I mean are these only the ones that think they’re going to be best sellers?
Brian Smith: Well again it’s people whose goal is to have a commercially successful book and there are lots of things that go into whether or not a book will end up being commercially successful including whether or not they’re viewed as on an even playing field by the bookstore. And so to get onto that even playing field returnability is something that the bookstores require. And so again we have a large number of books that we’ve published and we have a wide distribution in terms of the number of copies that are sold. And so taking averages is somewhat misleading, I think, in this particular case.
Ron Pramschufer: All right, the next thing they bring up. Simple uses simple contract, no confusing lawyer talk. Now I’m not sure about what lawyerspeak. I’m not sure exactly what lawyerspeak means. I mean I think we all live with that, but I did notice that your contract is like four pages long and only the first two and a half pages have to do with specifications and the last page and a half have to do with legal remedies for solving disputes. Is that ‘cause you have a lot of disputes or is that because you are owned by a huge corporation or… it did seem a little odd?
Brian Smith: You know again I have never taken all of our competitor’s contracts and laid them next to each other. Our contract has evolved over time and you bring up a good point, it’s probably due for a fresh set of eyes.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. Now the last two of these kind of go together… The one says no sales force no commission and solicits you to add extra to the publishing of your book and the second has one all encompassing fee with no confusing price plans. Now I looked at your pricing, it seems pretty clear to me, although you do have a lot of options. And bringing back I think I’m a little bit older than you, but back in my day the sayin’ was how much is your $14.95 muffler? You know that that was what was advertised and you know you never got a muffler for $14.95. Can I really get my book published and distributed for that base $698?
Brian Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Ron Pramschufer: All right. And what percentage do you think out of you, obviously you’ve got options. You’re trying to offer people as many things as you can. What percentage would you think that will do just the base, get me in get me out I want a book versus adding on different options?
Brian Smith: Again it comes down to what somebody’s what they’re publishing and what their goal is. I think for people that are writing a book that might be something like a memoir book or maybe has a narrower universe and they’re not necessarily going, their goal isn’t commercial trying to have a commercially viable book. For that group I think the majority of people just buy that base program. For folks that are focused on really driving the number of copies that they sell those people end up getting services related to marketing and promoting their book. And whether or not they buy them from us or they buy them from somebody else it’s for the author to decide. Many people buy them from us but they end up doing those things regardless because that’s the nature of proactively promoting and selling your book. I mean you have to. Somehow you have to do those things. Either you do them yourself or you pay someone to do them on your behalf.
Ron Pramschufer: That’s it. Easy as that! So, now if I read right now the $698 it says you’ll prepare the interiors for distribution, design a full color cover, obtain an ISBN, register to work with distributors so it’ll be available for sale via all POD. And that’s whatever that’s the base price of $698. Based on that can I assume that the author owns that ISBN and they own the printing file when they want to move, or they want to cancel the contract?
Brian Smith: The, you know at Authorhouse at least, the author owns the work. What Authorhouse owns is just the physical piece that we create and store on our server, but if somebody wanted to change publishers or stop making their book available for whatever reason we’d be happy to cancel it and forward it on directly to them. So the author always maintains control of their own work and ownership of their work.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, so you’ll give me my PDF file back?
Brian Smith: Whatever was sent to us originally, absolutely. Now —-
Ron Pramschufer: No, No… That’s not what I am saying!
Brian Smith: Whatever we’ve worked on or designed again is something that we maintain, but somebody—
Ron Pramschufer: So that design for the full color cover.
Brian Smith: Right, well and once we put—
Ron Pramschufer: You also get that?
Brian Smith: Well what we do with that is we push it into the distribution system and so that is not, we don’t send those files around after they’ve been created other than to put them in place at the printer so that they can be printed.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay, ‘cause I mean that’s the one thing that I’ve scoured your contract over the last, since you were first booked and it seems like and you’re not the only one. It just seems like that point could be made a little clearer in your contract. And you say maybe it’s time to go back and look at your contract.
Brian Smith: Yeah that’s a good …
Ron Pramschufer: It seems like that could be a clearer point. I doubt if very very few people understand that. That it looks like they’re paying for a design, they’re paying for layout and then it’s time to leave well give me, I want my file and it’s like well no that’s ours. I mean you know printers used to do that for years, but it’s not as well laid out as everything else in that contract I mean it seems like a paragraph could be added to avoid confusion and just put this right in the contract.
Brian Smith: I’ll have to look into that.
Ron Pramschufer: Well that only my ten cents worth… Two cents worth on that one. Back on the commission sales people question, I assume your sales people are on commission.
Brian Smith: Yeah they get paid commission and a base salary so similar to most sales people.
Ron Pramschufer: Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t trust a salesman that’s not on commission. I mean to tell you they don’t work. There’s no incentive for them to work. The question is though what kind, you know you’re dealing primarily with novices here, what kind of system of oversight do you have in place to keep these salesmen, I mean salesmen on commission, commission salesmen are supposed to sell. What kind of system do you have in place to keep people from being oversold, from being sold things that they just shouldn’t buy? You know a book buyer? Okay I’ll sell you a couple hundred dollars of bookmarks, who cares? I’d sell you a New York Times ad for a couple of thousand dollars and I know you’ve got a book that’s worthless. All I’ve done is take your money. Is there anything in place to…? (monitor this)
Brian Smith: I think that we do several things: one, is we are very focused today on making sure that there are good expectations set with every customer on the way into our process. And I think if you look at the number of customers that publish more than one book with us it would tell you that most people, I think, know what they’re getting when they come in, they get what they expected to get, and are very happy with the experience. And so, we also survey every customer after the sales process and after their book has been produced to understand how did that experience go with the people that they were dealing with along the way. And so I told you originally we call them author service representatives, but once somebody’s signed up with us to publish their book we go through a process of making sure that that experience with the author services rep went well and if it didn’t we provide that feedback directly back to the individual.
Ron Pramschufer: Okay. And now anytime you’re dealing with 20,000 people you gotta have a certain amount of nuts that you’re dealing with. But generally people are pretty happy?
Brian Smith: Absolutely. I think the overwhelming majority of people, we ask the question, the first question we ask in the survey is would you refer us to a friend, and over 90% of the people would do that, and then I think that’s a great testament to the team that works here.
Ron Pramschufer: All right. Well it was real nice talking to you today. I learned a few things and I would love to have you back on again.
Brian Smith: Well good. Well thank you very much.
Ron Pramschufer: [Music] Okay thank you. For Publishing Basics Radio this is Ron Pramschufer. See you next week.
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