Archway ‘self publishing service’ welcomed by no authors anywhere. Ever.

Last week, Simon and Schuster US announced the new publishing ‘service’, Archway, which, for a fee of between $1,599 and $24,999, offers help to authors wanting to self-publish. The prices are tiered to include more advanced ‘services’ at different levels, all of which you can find on the Archway website. The most premium includes a social media publicist, 40 more PB copies of the book than the tier below, 5 more HB copies of the book than the tier below, and costs $5k more than the tier below.

The reactions to this news do say it all, so I’m going to put a few here:

  • they have spent some money launching something that only a complete idiot who lives under a rock in the middle of the desert would take “advantage” of – NYT comments
  • Passing off services like this is the exact opposite of what publishers should be doing. – The Bookseller comments
  • There are so many disturbing elements to this news its hard to know where to begin. – The Bookseller comments
  • I can’t say it any plainer: Author Solutions [the company S&S are working with, who I wasn't actually aware of at all before this news. Wilful blindness on my part, perhaps] are in the business of ripping people off. - David Gaughran’s blog (which also includes further details of Author Solutions and what they will do for your novel, and is worth a read)
  • I think you meant to say “Simon & Schuster Creates Author-Milking Unit” - Publisher’s Weekly comments

I have not read, and would be surprised to find, a positive slant or comment anywhere online or offline.

I will defend publisher to the ends of the earth because I believe what they are doing is a good thing. Most of the arguments I make are based on the idea that ultimately, publishers and authors are working towards a common goal. It should never be (and I have never believed it to be) an exploitative relationship. But this week I read the following sentence, and I wanted to cry. I could think of no defence.

‘…another attraction of Archway was that Simon & Schuster would be carefully monitoring sales of books completed through the new venture and would use it as a way to spot authors it might want to sign to a contract.’ - New York Times

S&S will be profiting from authors before the book is published, and will then be using these publications as market research to inform future acquisition. They have no qualms about how self-interested it is, and do not try to justify the costs of any individual elements of the package.

Worse than this, though, it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of why the self-publishing business has taken off in the first place.

Self-published authors are not short of cover designers. They are not uncertain about using social media. What they are asking publishers to do is recognise the fact that the books industry starts and ends with them. You don’t have to look very far at all to realise they’re not looking for a publishing deal and have no interest in working with traditional publishers. None. Not even slightly. They are working under a different business model.

The authors that Archway is aimed at do not exist and the assumption that they do is evidently incredibly offensive. When I said we need to talk to authors about what we’re doing, this is almost exactly the opposite of what I meant.

Publishers faces a challenge from self publishers. The challenge is: why should I work with you when I can reach readers myself? If you are not going to answer that question, you don’t deserve to be trusted with an authors’ copyright, and Archway seems to do less to answer that than any venture I have seen (while concurrently doing more to make all of us look like we have no idea what’s going on in our own back yard).

Archway. The entrance to a tunnel at the end of which there is no light.

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