iUniverse Star Program and Barnes&Noble

A quick disclaimer before we begin. If you choose to pay iUniverse to publish your book, they are your publisher. Some people think of this as self publishing, and while I don't agree, I'm not in a position to dictate language usage any more than you are, I frequently recommend subsidy publishers to authors who contact me about self publishing but who aren't interested in the business.

Recent numbers released by iUniverse testify to the relatively low sales of their average title, and you can easily see this for yourself on Amazon. One of the headline numbers to come out of the Publishers Weekly article was that only 14 iUniverse titles were stocked in Barnes & Noble stores in 2004, a subset of the Star program titles. That's 14 titles out of over 18,000 published, or less than one tenth of one percent. The average book published by iUniverse in 2004 sold less than 50 copies, and the mean (the number of copies a typical title sold) was lower still. I'm equating the reported total of books printed with sales in this case, but a good chunk of the books I'm counting here were purchased by the author. Another chunk was purchased by family and friends. It's not really a business model for anybody except the producers, iUniverse and their printer, Lightning Source.

A quick search on Amazon shows that as of today, 112 titles are included in the iUniverse Star program, out of the 14,000 plus iUniverse titles currently listed by Amazon. If you've read elsewhere (like above) that iUniverse has published tens of thousands of titles and are wondering what happened to the rest, it's because iUniverse's cheapest package doesn't included distribution or a listing on Amazon. Getting into the star program requires two milestones. First, the title must receive iUniverse "Editor's choice" and "Reader's choice" designations. Second, the title must sell at least 500 copies, and at least 50% of those must be through retail channels (as opposed to the author just ordering 500 copies). Even if the author games the system by spending many thousands of dollars to buy 500 books through retail channels, it doesn't guarantee entry into the Star program. Even if the title gets into the Star program, it doesn't guarantee stocking in the Barnes & Noble chain - that decision is up to the chain buyers.

The irony is this. If you are good enough at book promotion to sell 500 plus copies of your book, you'd be making much more money as a self publisher, going direct with Lightning Source. Don't get caught up in the idea that iUniverse is a big name publisher and you're just "John Doe Publishing." In the publishing world, everybody knows iUniverse is a subsidy publisher, which makes it harder to market those books and get reviews. As a self publisher with your own press name, while nobody has ever heard of you, they haven't heard anything bad.

No comments: