Thomas Nelson Adds Self-Publishing Imprint

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writer BewareAs reported today in the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Nelson, a major independent Christian publisher, is adding a self-publishing line to its business.

Books from the new imprint, West Bow Press, will be designed, printed, and distributed by Author Solutions, the self-publishing mega-company whose brands include AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, and WordClay.

Per the WSJ article, “Thomas Nelson editors won’t edit the self-published manuscripts, but they will monitor sales to identify potential big sellers. Specific terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed.”

Certainly this is an indication of the ambition and clout of Author Solutions, which over the past couple of years has acquired several rival companies, and attempted–in my opinion extremely misleadingly–to reinvent itself as an “indie publisher”.

But might it also be a sign of things to come in the commercial publishing world? According to the WSJ article, Nelson is “searching for new revenue as the book industry continues to struggle.” And that potential for new revenue is large indeed; in 2008, according to PW, the number of on-demand and short-run titles (the bulk of which represent offerings by self-publishing companies) jumped by 132% (total growth since 2002: 774%), outstripping books produced by “traditional production methods”. Not only does adding a self-publishing line allow a publisher to cash in this trend, it presents the possibility of monetizing rejections. By the same token, the self-publishing service’s connection with a major publisher will be a major attraction for authors–especially if the publisher suggests that it may take the better-performing books commercial.

I’ve speculated before about the possibility that more commercial publishers may add self-publishing divisions in order to keep their core publishing business afloat, as has Jane Smith at her How Publishing Really Works blog. I don’t often prognosticate about the future of publishing–but I have a hunch that this is something we’ll see more of in coming years.

Edited 10/14 to add: Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson has written a long blog post about West Bow Press.

It appears that there will be a referral fee component to the program. Nelson is looking “to work with agents and consultants as ‘WestBow Press Affiliates,’ so that they can help more authors realize their dream of getting published. Rather than simply send a rejection letter, they can now offer a legitimate alternative and earn a referral fee in the process.” Given the potential for abuse inherent in such referral programs, this is a dismaying development, and I hope that Nelson will reconsider.