Crowded House: Author Solutions Buys Xlibris

DIY publishing giant Author Solutions, Inc. has announced the acquisition of Xlibris, one of the pioneers of Print on Demand publishing. ASI now owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Wordclay and Inkubook, and counting Xlibris' output, ASI published nearly 19,000 titles in 2008; or about one of every seven U.S. titles in the print-on-demand/short run category and nearly one of every 20 new titles in distribution.

ASI is owned Bertram Capital Management LLC, a Palo Alto, California private equity investment firm with $350 million in capital under management.

Author Solutions got some ink in The New York Times recently, in Motoko Rich's January 27, 2009 article, "Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab." Her lead: "The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them."

An excerpt:

As traditional publishers look to prune their booklists and rely increasingly on blockbuster best sellers, self-publishing companies are ramping up their title counts and making money on books that sell as few as five copies, in part because the author, rather than the publisher, pays for things like cover design and printing costs.

In 2008, Author Solutions, which is based in Bloomington, Ind., and operates iUniverse as well as other print-on-demand imprints including AuthorHouse and Wordclay, published 13,000 titles, up 12 percent from the previous year.

This month, the company, which is owned by Bertram Capital, a private equity firm, bought a rival, Xlibris, expanding its profile in the fast-growing market. The combined company represented 19,000 titles in 2008, nearly six times more than Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books, released last year.

In 2008, nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from close to 375,000 in 2007, according to the industry tracker Bowker. The company attributed a significant proportion of that rise to an increase in the number of print-on-demand books.

“Even if you’re sitting at a dinner party, if you ask how many people want to write a book, everyone will say, ‘I’ve got a book or two in me,’” said Kevin Weiss, chief executive of Author Solutions. “We don’t see a letup in the number of people who are interested in writing.”

The trend is also driven by professionals who want to use a book as an enhanced business card as well as by people who are creating books as gifts for family and friends.

“It used to be an elite few,” said Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, a print-on-demand company whose revenue has grown to $30 million, from $1 million, in just two years and which published more than 300,000 titles last year. Many of those were personal books bought only by the author. “Now anyone can make a book, and it looks just like a book that you buy at the bookstore.”

To be sure, self-publishing is still a fraction of the wider publishing industry. Author Solutions, for example, sold a total of 2.5 million copies last year. Little, Brown sold more than that many copies of “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer just in the last two months of 2008.

But in an era when anyone can create a blog or post musings on Facebook or MySpace, people still seem to want the tangible validation of a printed book.





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