[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter I initially reached out to the folks at Pearson and Penguin for comment on their recent acquisition of Author Solutions, I received a very short non-response from Erica Glass, the Media Relations Manager at Penguin Group USA.
“What questions are you looking to have answered?” she wrote.
It’s not the open and welcoming reply you hope to get from a company’s media relations department. Clearly, I am being screened. Otherwise it would have been, “Let me put you in touch with…” or “Sure, what can we tell you?” Even if they needed time to prepare statements, I’d expect something along the lines of, “We are working to get you answers to your questions and will be in touch.” However, so far it’s been total silence on their part.
Public reaction to the sale has been mixed. Some who watch the publishing industry closely are confused, wondering why any company with a decent reputation would willingly take on Author Solutions. Some are excited, hoping the purchase will give self-publishing* the legitimacy it lacks. Others are taking the news like they’ve just received word their grandmother willingly contracted an STD.
.@EmilySuess This is lunacy of the highest order. What idiot took this deal? Bertram must have known they were unloading a dud…
— Claire Ryan (@rayntweets) July 19, 2012
To me, the most disturbing part of this story isn’t that Pearson and Penguin would chance marring their reputations by taking on Author Solutions; it’s their insistence that nothing will change. It’s like they believe the world will find the same ol’, same ol’ reassuring rather than appalling. That somehow keeping Kevin Weiss as CEO and giving him a seat on Penguin Group’s board will make us all sigh in relief. “Neither company will be laying off employees or executives,” writes Jeremy Greenfield, reporting for Digital Book World.
There are other things that bother me. In the official press release, the company states: “[Author Solutions] has approximately 1,600 employees, located primarily in Bloomington, Indiana and Cebu City, the Philippines.” Most people will read that and conclude that the majority of Author Solutions employees work in Bloomington, Indiana because it’s given first billing and comes immediately after the word “primarily.” Not so.
PR people are good at penning fuzzy sentences that are technically true when a linguist parses them, but ultimately deceptive when the public reads them. As an employee has already explained, there are now approximately 1,200 employees in the Philippines, comprising as much as two-thirds of Author Solutions’ entire workforce. Call Author Solutions or Penguin out on this fact, and they’re likely to show you their palms and shrug. But we said the majority were in Bloomington AND Cebu, you know—collectively.
So then the media cut and paste a line or two from the press release and—perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not—perpetuate the deception of Author Solutions as this American, nee Hoosier, company with a smattering of employees overseas. (For the record, Author Solutions has been registered as a For-Profit Foreign Corporation** with the Indiana Secretary of State since February 2, 2007, incorporating in Delaware and taking tax cuts from Indiana.)
So, yeah, there are definitely some questions I want Penguin to answer.
*You can put lipstick on a penguin… Author Solutions (and now Penguin) have established themselves as being the leader in “self-publishing.” As media reports of the sale have made their way around the internet, it’s clear to see reporters are buying this too. Author Solutions imprints are vanity presses.
**Not at all unusual for a corporation, but let’s not pretend they’ve been devoted to creating Hoosier jobs. It’s always about the money they don’t have to pay.