Outskirts Press Defends Self-Published Book Pricing Policy — Astonishing!

John J. Hohn and dog Jessie

I was so astonished to receive one comment to my previous post, “Pricing Your Self-Published Masterpiece? Caveat Emptor,” that I sent the man who wrote it, Mr. Kelly Schuknecht, Outskirts Press, an email asking him whether he really wanted his comments to appear on the Internet. Since he submitted it as a comment to my blog, his intention seemed clear. After all, I am under no obligation to teach responders to my blog what the hazards are if they fail to maintain decorum and exhibit good customer relations. Mr. Schuknecht is no beginner. Greater loyalty to my fellow writers prompts me to publish what he has written as a separate posting and a few words of  rebuttal. (Readers should review my previous post for a complete understanding of the issues.) For the most part, Mr. Schuknecht’s letter speaks for itself.

Please note that my responses are entered in bold type.

(Schuknecht begins)

Dear John:

You’re right, even though we properly disclose all this information in various places, we would have liked your consultant to have done a better job bringing all the intricacies of pricing to your attention enough in advance for you to make proper decisions. While I cannot speak to the specific recommendations from your PC (who by the way is no longer with us), it sounds like she was acting upon the goals you set forth during your consultation. Perhaps you didn’t realize the ramifications of saying, “I want my book to sell in bookstores.” And now you do realize the pricing ramifications of such a goal. But if you had known then what you know now, your process would have been different with us, too. Regardless of where anyone publishes, the process and its success is largely dependent upon the author’s knowledge. Holding us responsible for that lack of knowledge (and giving CreateSpace credit for it ) is like blaming an elementary school for not teaching you the same stuff you learned in high school. We have authors who come to us from CreateSpace and have the exact opposite experience that you had – they hate CreateSpace and love us and write articles to that effect, too. Such effort, in their case and yours, is better directed elsewhere. We cannot take credit for them any more than CreateSpace can take credit for you. Doing anything a second time is always going to result in making fewer mistakes.

This is, of course, my the heart of my complaint. The selling effort at Outskirts Press was not consultative. I contend that Outskirts exploited my lack of knowledge of the publishing process. Almost no effort was directed at getting me to examine the assumptions that I was making with regard to publishing my book.

Furthermore, when I realized that I had set out on the wrong path with my pricing, I appealed twice for reconsideration. If, as Mr. Schuknecht states, a different pricing scheme would have been available had my initial goals be different, then why could they not be changed when I requested once I recognized that I was locked into the wrong arrangement.

As long as Outskirts Press charges $8.21 for the paperback, there is no configuration in pricing that will work out to favor the author unless the author buys hundreds of copies personally–a risk most will not want to take. Mr. Schuknecht never gets around to acknowledging that his company’s cut of the sale comes right out of the author’s pocket.

The reason your CreateSpace book’s pricing seems so much better is because you’re no longer trying to sell it in physical stores. Why doesn’t your article include attempts to stock your CreateSpace book in Barnes & Noble? Because such goals don’t even come into play with CreateSpace – they don’t want your book sold in regular bookstores. Why? Because CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and Amazon only wants books sold on Amazon. Anything else is not even a part of their conversation or the book pricing options they give you; the minute you remove a variable, it makes everything easier – but only for those authors who don’t mind having their sales channels so suffocated. If you had told us you only wanted to sell your book online, your consultant most likely would have made drastically different pricing recommendations for your book, pricing that compares favorably with CreateSpace: $13.95 or $14.95, and that price would have earned you the same high royalty everywhere. Don’t forget to mention that while you may be making $4 every time your books sells on Amazon, you’re only making $1.40 when your book sells anywhere else (IF it’s even available anywhere else – CreateSpace distribution is about 1/5th the distribution offered by Outskirts Press).

The above paragraph is inaccurate in several respects. First, I am still trying to sell it physical stores. Mr. Schuknecht has made another incorrect assumption. I can get distribution to brick-and-mortar stores through createspace. Createspace uses many of the same wholesale distribution channels as Outskirts. I will earn only $1.40 royalty when my “book sells anywhere else”—that being physical stores. I would only be paid $.36 at Outskirts, however, so the difference is still considerable. I wrote Mr. Schulknecht earlier that distribution hardly matters when a book is priced 40% higher than comparable books on the markets. I would need to sell 15,000 volumes to recover my costs with Outskirts, whereas, I needed to sell only 1,200 through createspace—regardless of the outlet used. 80% of all the books being sold today are sold through Internet retailers.

Your process was faster with CreateSpace because dealing with a computer is always faster than dealing with another human being who was trying to patiently educate you. CreateSpace doesn’t educate authors. Manuscripts run unread through a machine and pop out on the other end. Yes, they’re fast and yes, they’re cheap, and yes, in your case, the pricing they automatically set for you works for you. But that automatic process doesn’t work for everyone. And don’t forget, it was your second time publishing. Doing anything a second time is always going to be faster. We have thousands and thousands of authors who happily attest that our full-service support is the only way they will ever publish because they know they are getting an exemplary product and they know they aren’t publishing with a publisher who will publish literally anything: (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/pedophilia-book-amazon-sparks-outrage/story?id=12111987 ). Just last week we rejected another pedophiles book; his comment was that he was going to publish with CreateSpace, too, because they are a “publisher with balls.” Interesting word choice, don’t you agree?

Speed in the process was never an issue with me. I don’t why it is being introduced at this time. Mr. Schuknecht’s description of createspace process is the opposite of my experience. He doesn’t know what my experience has been. If anything, what he describes more closely reflects the way my book was handled at Outskirts. I found Outskirts Press to be  inflexible once the contract was signed. I appealed on the issues of pricing and shipping, and I was turned back without any consideration each time.

With createspace, the opposite was true. I asked for and received special consideration on a number of issues.

I am pleased that Mr. Schuknecht recognizes that writers ha ve a learning curve to climb. His admission suggests either he does not share that perspective with his sales agents and coach them to be help the first time author avoid mistakes or he withholds that information because it is somehow to his company’s advantage to do so.

Finally, Mr. Schuknecht reference to the ABC article about a controversial book has no place in this correspondence. My concerns are not with the editorial policies at Outskirts Press, but with their pricing and service. I believe Mr. Schuknecht is trying to sensationalize his rebuttal and attack his competitor in doing so.

At Outskirts Press, we strive for professional authors with professional, high-quality books. Yes, you fall into that category and yes, we’d like the opportunity to do it right for you. But in the meantime, we invite you to compare the statistical percentage of book awards won by Outskirts Press books compared with awards won by CreateSpace books. (Searching for this year’s Book of the Year contenders with ForeWord Magazine is an easy way to do that: http://www.bookoftheyearawards.com/

Mr. Schulknecht, my issues involve the pricing of my book and the level of concern for my knowledge of publishing and marketing when I first signed on with Outskirts Press.

Then we invite you to compare the percentage of 4-5 reviews CreateSpace books receive on Amazon compared with the percentage Outskirts Press books receive. (We’ll help you: It’s twice as high for Outskirts Press books at 52% compared with 27% for CreateSpace). It’s true that quality is in the eye of the beholder, but statistical evidence that is available to everyone brings into question your claim that CreateSpace quality equals or exceeds ours. That’s simply not true.

I am only concerned with the quality of my book. It is in every way comparable to the volume produced by Outskirts Press.

In short, your “better” experience was based almost entirely upon the fact that you knew what you were doing the second time around. We hope this has offered some perspective and we wish you continued great success.

I believe, sir, that I could have had as positive experience with Outskirts and never been prompted to change publishers if your pricing was realistic and afforded me a reasonable chance of recovering my expenses and if your sales people had worked with me in a consultative manner.