On Tuesday, Simon & Schuster tentatively dipped its toes into the lucrative self-publishing market with a service called Archway, launched in partnership with Author Solutions, Inc. (a company owned by Penguin parent company Pearson, but separately operated). The announcement has raised several eyebrows both for the service’s cost—which is thousands of dollars more than similar offerings, many of which are free—and for its relative disconnect from Simon & Schuster as a whole.
Self-publishing is an enormous industry: Bowker reports that more than 235,000 such titles are released annually, a number that only continues to grow. Archway would provide not only the editorial, design, and distribution services that Author Solutions has always offered, but also inclusion in the Edelweiss online catalog, access to a speakers’ bureau, as well as video and audio production help—all perks Simon & Schuster consulted on.
It’s clear that the publisher seeks both to capitalize off of its brand (Archway charges between $1,599 and $24,999 per book package) and to avoid tarnishing it (Simon & Schuster’s name does not appear on the final project and its employees are not involved). What remains unclear, however, is whether authors will find Archway’s service worth the cost.
Writer Roxane Gay (Ayiti), who runs her own micropress, took to Twitter and Tumblr to air her astonishment at the announcement. In an email she said, “Many of the services offered in the packages can be obtained, with a bit of legwork, for a fraction of the cost.” She concedes that, “consumers are responsible for educating themselves before investing in such ventures,” but asks “publishing to take a hard look at itself when an outfit like Archway offers a publishing package for $15,000 that includes a DIY Audiobook,” which Gay contends could be replicated with a $30 piece of equipment and a copy of GarageBand.
Gay is not alone in her skepticism about the value of these services. On Twitter, Sarah Weinman of Publisher’s Marketplace scoffed at the fact that social media services—the archetypically cheap marketing alternative—are only available in the most expensive packages.
Meanwhile, most libraries have yet to warm to self-published materials of any stripe, though the tide may be turning – among other endeavors, Califa and Douglas County Libraries in Colorado have recently made combined purchase commitments totaling some $100,000 to acquire the top 10,000 best-selling ebooks from Smashwords, an ebook self-publishing and distribution platform.