Consolidating the Traditional Publishing Industry: What Will This Mean for Authors?

Penguin Random House parent company Bertelsmann announced on November 25 that they will be purchasing Simon & Schuster for $2.175 billion, further consolidating the “Big Five” trade publishers into the “Big Four.” The deal will create what many are already calling a “megapublisher.” What does this mean for current and future authors?

Deal or no deal
The merger between PRH and S&S will likely take about a year to close, and many have concerns about whether the deal will go through due to possible legal issues. The Authors Guild released a statement criticizing the potential increase of PRH’s market share, which would rise to between 18.4% and 33% of all book units sold if the merger is completed. They have called on the Justice Department to challenge the deal and all future consolidation between publishing houses. The Guild was joined by the American Booksellers Association and the Association of American Literary Agents, both of which noted the loss of a traditional publishing choice for many authors.

What stays the same
While critics of the deal have been vocal about the way it will change traditional publishing, there are some constants authors can expect.

Retaining Core Identity. PRH CEO Markus Dohle stated that the company has previously demonstrated its ability to “successfully unite company cultures and prestigious publishing teams while preserving each imprint’s identity and independence,” referring to the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013. Editorial autonomy will remain with each imprint’s publisher, so it is possible little change could trickle down to authors.

What changes
Many authors are wary of the PRH-S&S deal based on the history of consolidation in traditional publishing.

Lower Advances. With fewer competitors, PRH-S&S is more likely to acquire the books it wants for a lower advance. Imprints under the same parent company often don’t bid against one another, so the merged company has less incentive to offer higher advances to authors as there will be fewer imprints competing in auctions. Lower competition and fewer bids for authors mean smaller advances.

Less Diversity of Books. Different publishing houses choose to publish different projects. With fewer voices in traditional publishing, the range of published books will become more homogenous. Big Five publishers are more likely to focus on acquiring fewer books that are sure to sell, offering higher advances to secure those deals rather than taking many chances on “riskier” deals by debut authors. This trend has not gone unnoticed. An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times noted this merger comes at a moment where diversity in America is a focus, and an op-ed in The Atlantic raised concerns about preserving democracy through the diversity of thought. The Association of American Literary Agents echoed this in their statement by arguing the deal will “diminish the diversity of viewpoints and the vibrancy so essential to the future of books.” If a lack of diversity ensues, even more authors will be excluded from traditional publishing avenues.

What does this ultimately mean for authors?
It will likely become more difficult for authors to secure a traditional publishing deal in an already-competitive market. Professional writer and publishing industry commentator Josh Bernoff argues that “basically, as an author, you have to take more responsibility than ever before for your own books.” If the merger goes through, pursuing traditional publication through a Big Five publisher may be a less attractive option for authors. Authors may turn to alternative publishing options such as:

Independent Presses. Indie presses may give more time and attention to each author even if they can’t promise a big advance.

Self-Publishing. Promising total creative control, self-publishing is an option for the author who is willing to produce the book themselves in totality in order to retain full creative freedom.

Hybrid Publishing. Hybrid publishing bridges the gap between traditional and self-publishing, and appeals to authors who want the guidance of publishing experts yet have the final say on their book.

Whether or not the Bertelsmann acquisition of Simon & Schuster will go through remains to be seen. The merger of two large traditional publishers has drawn attention and speculation as to what it means for the future of publishing. What’s certain, though, is that the future of alternative publishing options has never looked brighter for authors of all genres.

As the CEO at
Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books, Naren Aryal is a recognized publishing industry expert. Naren advises authors, thought leaders, and various organizations on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the evolving publishing world. He’s guided the company’s growth from a single children’s book in 2003 to becoming one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. Today, Mascot Books publishes hundreds of books a year across all genres, and Amplify Publishing is a leading nonfiction imprint specializing in “big ideas” from some of the most reputable names in business and politics.

Naren frequently speaks at publishing and business events about the importance of developing compelling content and a robust author platform. He is also the author of How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform.

Prior to entering the world of books, Naren worked as a lawyer, advising technology companies in the Washington, D.C. area. He holds a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech and Juris Doctor from University of Denver.

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Traditional, Hybrid, and Self-Publishing: Pros, Cons, and Choosing Your Path

By Naren Aryal

Last week, I presented to a group of authors at the National Writers Union in New York City and had a great conversation with a group of motivated writers about the ever-changing market and the various publishing paths available to content creators. I’ve given this presentation many times and love giving it, so I thought it would be appropriate to share parts of my presentation here on the Amplify blog.

At a high-level, there are three paths to publishing: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and where we reside at Amplify—hybrid publishing. This post provides a brief overview of each path, including the pros and cons of each approach.

Traditional Publishing

Up until the early 2000s, traditional publishing was virtually the only way to get your book into the market. This approach requires securing a literary agent who shops your manuscript to large publishing houses, typically in New York. If your manuscript is sold to a large publishing house, congratulations—you’ve beaten the odds!

Agents and large houses generally look for authors offering (a) compelling content, (b) massive author marketing platforms, and (c) a track record of selling books. I’ve met plenty of authors that have amazing content, but just don’t have the requisite platform or sales track record to be a good candidate for a traditional deal.

Traditionally published books typically have high production quality (editorial, cover and interior design, premium book printing) and have access to large distribution channels. For authors, the upside of this model is the publisher bears all the up-front production costs—the publishing house assumes the financial risk. Some (not all) authors also collect advances against future royalties.

Potential downsides that come with traditional publishing include loss of creative control and intellectual property rights (including ancillary rights, like merchandising, film, etc.), an agonizingly long time to market (18-24 months on average), and smaller royalty percentages on sales (which may be offset by an advance, meaning you don’t collect any royalties until the house recoups its investment in your content).

Regarding marketing, there seems to be a misconception that all traditionally published authors enjoy overwhelming levels of marketing support. This is true if you’re an A lister that’s authored a book with runaway bestseller potential. For rank and file authors, however, meaningful marketing support only kicks in if sales meet or exceed projections. Authors have to be fully-engaged in book-related marketing efforts—and this is true regardless of the pathway to publishing.

I have simple advice for authors considering this route: if you get a solid traditional publishing deal with a reasonable advance (and this definition differs from project-to-project and author-to-author)—take it!


Many of the elements that make self-publishing attractive to some are exactly what makes other authors refuse to consider it. First, the barrier to entry is low (or non-existent, depending on the platform). You can become a published author today by simply uploading your content onto to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform—you and everyone else that fancies themselves an author—placing you among the masses clambering to stand out and get their content noticed.

On the flip side, you’ll have complete editorial control and will have final say concerning your book’s physical specifications, including its cover and interior design—a great thing if you know what you’re doing, but something that can easily become overwhelming. If you have no experience producing a book, you could end up with a book that’s riddled with typos and has a cover that “looks self-published,” a criticism you hear often in the publishing industry. If you do go the self-publishing route, and you’re intending your book to have an audience beyond your friends and family, invest in hiring an experienced editor and designer—it will be money well spent.

Distribution can be a challenge for self-published books, and even more so for self-published print-on-demand titles. Retailers work almost exclusively with their preferred distributors, such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a few others that service specific account types—grocery stores, warehouse clubs, airport vendors, big box retailers, museum gift shops, hospitals, museums, gift stores, etc. Procuring inventory from these channels allows them to get inventory per industry terms, namely standard wholesale discounts, full returnability rights, lengthy payment periods, shipping and freight agreements, chargebacks to publishers, and any number of other terms, most of which are highly favorable for distributors and retailers, but not so much for authors and publishers. Most retailers won’t even consider POD and self-published titles for their shelves.

Self-publishing also places all the responsibility for the marketing and promotion of the book squarely on the author. While all authors should engage in marketing their book, self-published authors have a heavier burden. There are plenty of resources online, but it can be difficult to know what’s worth the investment, making increasing awareness of your book a challenge.

Hybrid Publishing

So what is hybrid publishing? Up until February 2018, there really wasn’t a universal answer. That’s when the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) attempted to clear-up lingering confusion by issuing their Hybrid Publisher Criteria, which is definitely worth a read.

The high-level takeaway is that a true hybrid publisher maintains the highest industry and ethical standards and produces books that are on par with traditional houses. Hybrid publishers have a vetting process for content, provide access to meaningful distribution channels, and offer book marketing services. In other words, there’s a commitment to creating high-quality books and emphasis on helping get those books into readers’ hands through distribution and marketing. Other benefits include speed-to-market (the average timeline is about half that of traditional—sometimes even less), creative control, and ownership of all intellectual property rights.

Unlike traditional publishing, there are production-related costs, and therefore the financial risk falls largely on the author.  To make up for these up-front expenses, the author often receives a much higher royalty rate per sale than traditionally published authors. At Amplify, we pay our authors 85% of sales, and provide distribution and marketing services designed to maximize visibility and sales potential.

Every writer’s publishing goals are unique and there are benefits and disadvantages to each pathway to publication. I encourage you to investigate each opportunity available to you before deciding which path to choose. Do your research. Ask questions. Compare your options and then confidently pursue the publishing path that’s right for you.

Naren Aryal is the co-founder and publisher of Mascot Books and Amplify Publishing. After starting his career as a Washington lawyer, Naren launched Mascot Books in 2003 with the publication of his first book. As an author himself (How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform), Naren appreciates the opportunities and challenges facing storytellers. As a publisher, he’s well-versed in the market factors that determine a project’s ultimate level of success. Naren’s more than fifteen years of publishing experience have made him an expert in the editorial, production, distribution, and marketing arenas. He’s passionate about staying up-to-date on industry technology and trends and is a respected commentator on anything publishing-related.

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