If it wasn’t clear before that self-publishing is transforming the book industry, Pearson’s $116 million acquisition of self-publishing vendor Author Solutions Inc. should wipe away any lingering uncertainty. The purchase of Author Solutions—which has 1,600 employees, has published 150,000 authors, nearly 200,000 titles and reported just under $100 million in revenues last year—and its integration into Penguin operations marks a new era for the self-publishing category going forward.

In the wake of Penguin’s launch last year of Book Country, a writer’s community and self-publishing startup, and now the acquisition of one of the largest self-publishing ventures in the world, Pearson has marked the self-publishing sector as a critical new corporate publishing service—even at a corporate bastion of old-school editorial selectivity. In a conference call from Author Solutions headquarters in Bloomington, Ind., Penguin CEO John Makinson and ASI CEO Kevin Weiss hailed the acquisition as the “mainstreaming” of self-publishing and outlined a plan to “ develop a global strategy and quickly identify new opportunities,” according to Makinson.

Pearson’s acquisition was particularly notable in a new era of free or mostly free e-book self-publishing services like Lulu.com, Amazon Kindle Direct, B&N’s PubIt, Smashwords, and others, and Weiss was quick to emphasize that “we compete with free options more than ever and we’re not seeing any cannibalization.” Weiss said, “Every writer has different needs,” and Makinson agreed, noting that self-publishing is “causing more people to think about writing as a career. There’s a new category of professional author that will be more attracted to the Author Solutions model rather than the free model.”

Makinson and Weiss outlined plans to integrate Author Solutions into Penguin’s publishing operations—while carefully delineating the editorial differences between it and the self-publishing units—combining ASI’s skills at data gathering, consumer analytics, online marketing, and user-generated content with Penguin’s proven expertise in editorial, distribution, sales, and global reach.

In a separate phone call with PW, Makinson emphasized that Book Country “will retain its identity and continue to develop as it had before the acquisition, but this is also an opportunity to take the advantages offered by Author Solutions and use them to strengthen it.” Makinson was quick to point to Author Solutions’ expertise in data analysis—processing digital feedback from hundreds of thousands of authors, books, and consumers to improve publisher decisions and services—noting that “it’s not just data but how the data is interpreted to add value.”

Asked if the acquisition marked the advent of a new trade book publishing business model that will now include highly scalable self-publishing services, Weiss laughed and said, “Selfishly, yes,” pointing to Authors Solutions’ “white label” services. Through contracts with six publishers, Author Solutions’ white label imprints allow client/publishers to offer their own branded self-publishing services. “We have advanced systems and can run multiple imprints for disparate publishers, keep them segregated from each other, and service publishers as though we were their employees,” Weiss said. The white label program has been one of Author Solutions’ fastest-growing businesses, and Weiss said he doesn’t expect other publishers to be turned off to the option just because Author Solutions is now part of Penguin. “We think more publishers will want to get into this business,” he said.