Macmillan’s Pronoun Self-Publishing Platform Signs Off

In News by Porter Anderson15 Comments

Acquired by Macmillan last year, Pronoun was a no-cost-to-authors self-publishing platform developed from Vook. Information about its closure provides guidance for authors to export their files from the service.

Image – iStockphoto: Antonio Guillem

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Pronoun’s Story Ends Here’

Some eyebrows were raised in the spring of 2016 when Macmillan bought Pronoun. And today (November 6), the trade publisher has announced that it’s closing the self-publishing platform.

“We are proud of the product we built,” the publishing house says in an “Epilogue” posted on the home page of the Pronoun.com site, “but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.”

The statement doesn’t elaborate on how Pronoun is deemed to have “changed the way authors connect with readers.” And its message is sobering: “Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.”

The statement avoids any clear explanation of why the Pronoun is being shut down. “While many challenges in indie publishing remain unsolved,” the statement reads, “Macmillan is unable to continue Pronoun’s operation in its current form. Every option was considered before making the very difficult decision to end the business.”

Users are offered an FAQ with information on how authors’ books and accounts will be handled.

Pronoun: Originally Vook

Pronoun had a relatively unusual pathway to its eventual demise. As Publishers Weekly’s Calvin Reid wrote in May 2016, the self-publishing platform had been created as Vook, “one of the early ebook and multimedia technology producers in the business.” Vook specialized in combining electronic elements for storytelling such as video and social-media links with text.

In 2014, Vook also developed a sales-tracking revenue dashboard for authors called AuthorControl, and was said at the time to be supplying book-publishing software services to several news-media corporations.

In May 2015, as Reid recounted, Pronoun had been launched as a new evocation of Vook. And along the way, Vook had at times been in acquisitions mode, Reid wrote, buying “Booklr (a data analysis service for e-book sales founded by Brody), Byliner (a literary e-book publisher), and Coliloquy (a choose-your-own-adventure platform using enhanced e-books and apps).”

As Pronoun CEO Josh Brody told Reid, “We tried to create a company that would be transformational and would serve authors. You reach a point where you know you can’t do it all by yourself, and you need advisors and resources. So it makes sense to be a part of a traditional house.”

Last summer (June 2016), the Alliance of Independent Authors’ John Doppler appraised Pronoun under Macmillan’s ownership as part of ALLi’s “Self-Publishing Services Watchdog Reports” for authors. The outlook then was cautious optimism. The indie author service organization’s outlook was bullish on the fact that Macmillan had not partnered with a vanity press to create a self-publishing division as some publishers had done.

What’s more, Pronoun was assessed by many in the self-publishing community (as by Doppler in an earlier ALLi review) as a fairly simple interface for ebook creation by comparison to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system.

And yet, there was at times a community-wide hesitation around the platform because it charged nothing. Authors retained their rights and 100 percent of a retailer’s net payment–no cut to Pronoun. Doppler wrote in that earlier review that Pronoun’s services were free to authors because the company had $3.5 million in venture capital funding from Avalon Ventures and revenue from “its not-insubstantial legacy business.” Future revenue, he wrote, would come from “voluntary partnerships with high-performing authors. These authors may be invited to publish through Pronoun’s traditional imprints, giving up a share of royalties for enhanced services.”

Of course, the heady success of some self-publishing authors in the early days of the Kindle ecosystem has been less frequently seen in recent years. If Pronoun was anticipating partnerships with “indie bestsellers” as some of the best known outliers were known (Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, Jasinda Wilder, Hugh Howey, Holly Ward, and others), it may have found that fewer of those high-earning chart-toppers were being generated in an increasingly competitive market.

Some in the industry have speculated that Pronoun’s value to Macmillan lay in data collection. Indeed, the company’s farewell note includes the line, “We believed that the power of data could be harnessed for smarter book publishing, leveling the playing field for indie authors.”

And Pronoun spokeswoman Allison Horton was quoted by Doppler last year saying an ambitious thing for a company about to be bought by a Big Five trade publisher: “Pronoun’s goal is to make indie publishing so successful that it becomes the predominant way great books are published.” That’s a vision that won’t be realized by the Pronoun platform, it turns out.

The company’s shutdown message concludes: “Thank you for the time and attention you’ve contributed to this experience. It has been a privilege to publish together, and we look forward to meeting again. #keepwriting”

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. This is unfortunate as I just published an ebook through them three weeks ago. I’ve also got books with Draft2Digital and KU so I guess we’ll all have to decide where to put our books now.

    1. I am beyond devastated by this. I have 3 childrens books and now NO where to put them. I loved pronoun because it was free to publish and easy to use. It’s not fair what they have done by closing their doors. I am sure other authors feel the same way.

      1. “It’s not fair! I’m devastated.” You were getting a service for free and now you’re not. Why is that even surprising to you. Why do you believe they owe you anything?

        1. Have a bit of compassion. She’s hurting and does not need your judgemental crap right now. Maybe offer a solution? Next time your going through some kind of mental suffering I hope people don’t just stand there wagging their finger at you like you’re doing right now.

  2. I’ve been using Pronoun since March, so this is disappointing news. I haven’t heard from Pronoun yet on what I must do and when. But it’s easy to unpublish, so that’s not a worry. Besides D2D and Smashwords, are there any other independent distributors outside of KDP?

    1. Author

      Hi, John.
      Information from Pronoun for its authors is in the FAQ linked in our story.
      Thanks for reading us.
      -p.

      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson @PubPerspectives

  3. Ah well…I was going to distribute my new series via Pronoun so I’m glad they timed their demise for this year rather than next. Back to D2D, then.

    In answer to John’s comment above, what about Kobo? I would recommend going direct to both Amazon and Kobo because both platforms offer features you can’t get from an aggregator. With Amazon it’s the near-real-time reporting that allows you to test and tweak advertising and pricing strategies. With Kobo, it’s the in-house promos: I use those a lot and find they do help build sales on a platform that, let’s face it, may end up as the only independent, books-only, global competitor to Amazon (I’m praying they’ll buy Nook). Kobo also now have Kobo Plus, audiobooks, and Overdrive distribution which makes them a distributor as well as a vendor platform.

    Nook currently has a tiny advantage over D2D with its better reporting, but I’m now thinking I’ll distribute the new series to Nook via D2D to test that route. I had great sales on Nook when I was in the States but had to open a new account when I moved to the UK, and they don’t treat international authors well.

  4. You could try Lulu.com who are an indy publishing platform and provide free publishing tools and support ebook and print books. They are not a content aggregator and offer full distribution with some of the largest author royalties in the industry – http://www.lulu.com

  5. Porter, your confusion about the contrast between today’s far less noisy indie sector, versus the vocal, “heady success” glamorized by the handful of 2012 indie authors you namedrop here, is understandable. But you completely misconstrue the reasons for self-publishing’s relative quietude in more recent years. It sure as hell ain’t because there are fewer successful indies now. Quite the opposite.

    What you’re missing is this:

    That first generation of indie superstars you mentioned saw themselves as evangelists for self-publishing. The commercial viability of self-publishing was a brand new phenomenon way back then, and the unprecedented freedom and control it gave authors over their careers was such an intoxicating and unfamiliar experience that those first mega-successful indies, who had begun their writing careers in a traditional-publishing world, went around shouting their newfound indie success from the rooftops. And doing nonstop interviews about it. And blogging about it incessantly. They actually cared what the trad industry media thought about their publishing choices. Admit it or not, they still wanted recognition from the trad industry, even as they flaunted their ability to skirt the middlemen.

    Fast forward to 2017.

    Indie publishing has become–dare I say it?–boring now.

    It’s just another equally valid publishing path for authors nowadays, and it’s the preferred route for many of today’s biggest earners in genre fiction publishing. And indie publishing is no less renumerative than it used to be; in fact, the top indie players are earning more than ever. It’s just that they aren’t still the same folks who were running around singing self-publishing’s praises back in 2013.

    Ever hear of Bella Forrest? A. G. Riddle? Lauren Blakely? Douglas E. Richards? Helen Hardt? Alice Ward? Tijan? No? Time to update your industry knowledge, then, because you sound like you’re still stuck in 2013.

    The reason the trad industry media doesn’t hear as much about the newer generations of indie superstars, is because 2016 & 2017’s top-earning indies don’t feel the same compelling need to constantly evangelize anymore. Indie publishing is all grown up now. Today’s biggest indie authors have no chip on their shoulder and nothing to prove to anyone, let alone the middlemen and mouthpieces of the old industry. For the most part, they are content to simply write their books, cash their checks, and attend to their readers and fans.

    The silence nowadays isn’t because indie publishing is struggling.

    It’s because it isn’t. 🙂

  6. Ah, and it’s worth noting that Pronoun failed for 3 very obvious reasons:

    1) The complete lack of anything resembling a viable business model

    2) An inability to gain traction with indie authors, who figured Pronoun wouldn’t be around much longer, mainly due to reason #1, and especially once Macmillan bought them.

    3) An inability to generate much sales revenue from the 2,200 or so indie titles and the 950 authors they had.

    Even Pronoun’s very best-selling author, Sandra A. Brown (whose books sold mainly because readers mistook her for her more famous namesake, if you believe the myriad 1-star reviews they left) barely cracked five digits in dollar sales over the past year. And she stood head and shoulders above the rest.

  7. This is just to let you know that at StreetLib.com (disclaimer: it’s my own company) you’ll find a dedicated “1-click importer” from Pronoun to StreetLib, delivering your ebooks to all relevant ebook store on a global scale (60+, including the global ones).

  8. I didn’t even know about Pronoun until now. Sounded like a great idea, but I’m glad now that I didn’t…

    You could try PublishDrive or StreetLib. My personal preference right now is PublishDrive. The whole set up is just much more user-friendly and professional looking and right now has partnerships with way more online stores and libraries (over 400 online stores compared to just over 260). Thought StreetLib is getting into paperbacks, so that’s something to consider.

    From experience my approach now is that if I really want to be safe, I need to upload my eBooks to multiple platforms, use one as my main and the others as backup. For me I use will PublishDrive as my main, but I think StreetLib has a few stores they don’t, so I will have all my books uploaded to both.

    I publish directly to Kindle as they own the market and I don’t have to give another 10% away to the middleman, which in the case of Kindle as they own 75% of the eBook market would be quite a substantial amount. Being in Europe, I don’t have access to some of the other large American ebook stores and I don’t have a Mac for iBooks. So the only other store I upload directly to is Kobo, but the return from that store monthly is negligible, to the point that I wonder if it’s worth doing separately.

    DriveThruFiction is a stand alone eBook publishing website. They also accept non-fiction. I will be putting my works up there too.

    Babelcube connects authors and publishers with translators. I am slowly having all of my works translated and published there too.

    All of these sources together will hopefully offer me a little more security in an environment that does not lend itself to such very easily.

    1. I liked your comment above, for Sara to have a bit of compassion. Your advice is also very good. I’ve never heard of PublishDrive, StreetLib, DriveThruFiction or Babelcube. Will certainly have a look. There are so many out there to choose from. I have some tough decisions ahead. Daunting, but exciting.

  9. Some wonderful comments and advice. Pronoun seems to have closed down just before I chose to go with them. Saves me messing about I guess. I am a newbie from the UK and this all so very daunting. I’ve written my first psychological thriller/horror, designed and completed my cover. I thought all that would be the hard part, but the decision with which way to move forward from here is quite a difficult one. I would like to publish my story as an ebook and print on demand. As far as I could tell, Pronoun had the best royalties for that. I’ve never even heard of some of these mentioned here. Any advice would be so very welcome.

Leave a Comment