Pronoun, an e-book distribution start-up that sought to bring higher royalties to independent authors, has announced it’s closing effective January 15, 2018. Authors who distribute with Pronoun need to shift to other distributors or do all the distribution themselves.
I’ve distributed several of my self-published books through Pronoun because:
- it’s an easy-to-use-platform
- it doesn’t charge for distribution, so the amount I earn per book sold is higher than if I distributed through a competitor like Draft2Digital (also known as D2D) or Smashwords
- it pays a higher rate for Amazon sales than if you publish to Amazon directly—70 percent of the cover price regardless of your ebook’s price, where Amazon pays 70 percent only for books priced from $2.99 to $9.99, while paying 35 percent on ebooks priced higher or lower
Well, those last two bullet points seemed too good to be true, though Pronoun had hoped to turn a profit through data-mining. Now, it won’t get a chance.
A little background on Pronoun
Pronoun was originally Vook, a creator of “enhanced ebooks,” according to The Digital Reader. (No, I don’t know what “enhanced ebooks” means. Cool pictures? Interaction? Probably.) In 2015 it gave up on that and rebranded as Pronoun, a distributor focusing on getting indie authors’ books into Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and libraries. In 2016, big-time publishing house Macmillan Publishers acquired Pronoun.
The acquisition was supposed to bring stability to Pronoun, but having worked in start-ups, I can vouch that acquisition by a major player brings huge risks. That’s because major players want to make major amounts of money, and if they don’t foresee the start-up turning a profit in the near future, they have a tendency to swiftly and suddenly pull the plug on even the most inspiring projects. Or they might squash them because the startup’s goals no longer align with the overall purpose of the main organization.
So Pronoun is dead. Or it will be soon.
Here’s the email I received in my inbox yesterday:
Two years ago Pronoun set out to create a one-of-a-kind publishing tool that truly put authors first. We believed that the power of data could be harnessed for smarter book publishing, leveling the playing field for indie authors.
We are proud of the product we built, 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.
Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.
While many challenges in indie publishing remain unsolved, 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.
As of today, it is no longer possible to create a new account or publish a new book. Pronoun will be winding down its distribution, with an anticipated end date of January 15, 2018. Authors will still be able to log into their accounts and manage distributed books until that time.
For the next two months, our goal is to support your publishing needs through the holiday season and enable you to transition your books to other services. For more detail on how this will affect your books and payments, please refer to our FAQ.
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
Long live Pronoun.
What does this mean for writers who published through Pronoun?
If you switch to another distributor, you’ll earn less money on my book sales, since every distributor other than Pronoun takes a cut. Both Draft2Digital and Smashwords take about 15 percent of your net earnings (across retailers, net earnings per book sold average about 70 percent of the list price). So, if you sell a book for $4.99 through Pronoun on Amazon, your net earnings would be $3.50, and Amazon gets $1.50. Working with Draft2Digital or Smashwords, the breakdown is roughly $3 for you, $1.50 for Amazon, and $0.50 for D2D or Smashwords. For many authors, it’s simply a cost of doing business and not something to worry about. But it still means making about 15 percent for each book sale less than you were making on Pronoun. (Find a more detailed breakdown below in the section …”
If you decide to distribute on your own, it means you have to spend more time on the not-writing aspect of your writing business. (Hmmm, maybe 15 percent isn’t so expensive after all …)
I acquired my ISBNs for free from Pronoun, so I’ll also be losing those. That’s one of the risks of using a free ISBN from a distributor rather than buying your own. If your relationship with the distributor ends, you need to start over with a new ISBN. If you had purchased your own ISBN, you could migrate it to whatever distributor you chose.
For me, this isn’t a humongous deal—it’s not difficult to get a new ISBN—but since all the booksellers use ISBNs to track sales rankings, it means my rankings will start over again from scratch.
If you’re interested in purchasing your own ISBNs to prevent this kind of thing happening in the future, the procedure varies by country. In the United States, it’s really expensive to purchase ISBNs unless you are a prolific publisher. If you decide to purchase your own, ignore all the other crap that Bowker, the U.S.’s official ISBN agency, tries to sell you. (On a side note, why does their home page look like a criminal front for the exotic pet trade? Creepy.)
New storefront URLs
When you republish your books, they will have the new URLs in each of the stores.
How I’ll deal: I’ll have to relink any store URLs that I have on my website. Univeral linking tools like Books2Read (owned by D2D) and BookLinker can ease this process. If your site runs on a self-hosted WordPress platform, the Search & Replace plugin by Inpsyde GmbH can also help, but be sure you understand how it works or you could really screw up your site.
I keep my Amazon reviews
I will not lose my reviews on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I know this from dealing with the Torquere Press shutdown a year ago. Authors that republished their books were able to transfer reviews that had been left on the Torquere editions of their books over to the new editions by sending a customer service request through Amazon’s Author Central, though sometimes Amazon migrates the reviews automagically without a request.
I might lose a few other reviews
According to Pronoun, I will lose reviews on iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo.
How I’ll deal: I’m not worried about this, because I don’t think I have reviews on any of these sites. But before I hit the “Remove From Retailers” button, I’ll check one more time and copy and paste any reviews that do exist into a file. If any of them are absolutely fabulous, I might add them as an editorial review in a future edition. Or I might just keep them in that file to look at on a rainy day.
Can Draft2Digital fill the void?
According to my non-scientific polling of author friends, Draft2Digital seems to be the most popular alternative to Pronoun. It distributes to more stores than Pronoun and has a decent interface. Its main drawbacks compared to Pronoun have been:
- It charges for distribution.
- It hasn’t distributed to Amazon.
So it seemed like not-at-all-coincidental timing when I checked my inbox this morning to find this email from Draft2Digital (I’ve toned down on the insane amount of colors and formatting that were in the original email, but you can read it here if you want to see it in all its glory):
Finally, you only need one resource to reach Amazon and beyond.
If we’ve been asked one question more than any other, it’s “You give so many things away for free, how do you make any money?”
But a close second is, “When will you start distributing to Amazon?”
Your wait, good and worthy author, has come to an end!
Starting right now, Amazon joins the ranks of Draft2Digital’s elite list of eBook distribution channels, worldwide—alongside Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, just to name a few! Now you have a one-stop-shop for reaching the biggest and most popular eBook retailers on the planet.
Adding Your Books is Easy
The next time you log in, you’ll be able to add your books on Step 4 of the publishing process. Just edit your book and use the navigation at the top of the page to click directly over to Step 4, Publishing.
You’ll want to make sure your books are not already listed in KDP—books that are double-listed will be rejected by Amazon.
As always, whether you opt into Amazon or not is entirely up to you!
We Make “Making Things Easy” Look Easy
Just to sum this up, if you opt in you’re getting:
- Distribution to Amazon
- All your books sales and royalties reported in one place, with our beautiful, powerful, easy-to-read reporting tools
- Amazing customer support for all your books, including those distributed on Amazon!
That last one may actually be the biggest news of all.
If you want to learn more, including certain key differences between distributing through D2D versus distributing direct to Amazon, you can dive into our blog post.
We are very happy and excited to finally offer Amazon distribution as one of your options, and we’re looking forward to seeing how much easier this makes things!
If you have questions, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Draft2Digital Team
I immediately went to my Facebook groups for self-published authors to find out if anyone was jumping on board. So far, the consensus seems to be, “No.” Why?
Well, it’s that sales commission I talked about earlier in my article. Most of the authors I know have the majority of their sales on Amazon. It makes sense to pay a distributor to send their e-books to lots of different retailers where they have relatively few sales. They’re willing to pay a commission because of the time they saved not having to upload their books to multiple sites.
But when the bulk of their sales come from Amazon, they don’t want to turn over 15 percent of that income to a middleman. The extra money they earned by publishing directly to Amazon more than pays for the time they have to spend uploading their books to the site.
A minority prefer to use a distributor to deal with Amazon, but in that case, they’re already working with D2D’s competitor Smashwords, which has distributed to Amazon for a while. They feel no urgency to make a switch.
But for those who enjoyed the one-click ease of Pronoun and are trying to decide on a full-service distributor, Draft2Digital is starting to look like a decent contender along with Smashwords, though neither site distributes to Google Play.
So what about you, reader? Do you have any books here distributing through Pronoun, and what do you plan to do with them now? What kind of advice could you use as you decide what to do next?
I’ll be writing more about distribution as I explore new distributors myself, so sign up for updates from my writing blog if you’d like to learn along with me.