In yet another attempt to define its publishing niche and reach profitability, print-on-demand and subsidy publisher iUniverse has launched a new program to identify its better-selling books and to market and promote them to both retailers and traditional book publishers.
iUniverse is revamping the publishing and marketing services it offers and adjusting its pricing model. The publisher is also launching the Star program, which identifies books that have sold at least 500 copies through outside retail channels and offers additional marketing services—some of which authors must pay for.
iUniverse will replace its previous three pricing options (fees ranged from $159 to $949) with two options. The Select option is the new basic service offering a black and white trade paperback for $199. The Premier option for $449 provides editorial review and offers retail distribution through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. There are also "à la carte" editorial options for one-time fees ranging from $49 to $199.
iUniverse CEO Kimra Hawley, told PW that she wants iUniverse to act "like an agent" for the better books. "The Star program is for qualified authors who are salable, good with the media and have a good book," said Hawley. According to Hawley, there are several hundred iUniverse titles that qualify by having sold 500 copies, and the Star program will launch with about 50 to 60 targeted titles. Hawley emphasized that POD authors need to work to get attention for their books, "and we make that clear to our authors up front."
She acknowledged that iUniverse has still not turned a profit. The company publishes about 400 to 500 books a month, but most iUniverse books sell only a few copies. Some, however, may sell hundreds or thousands.
"We lose money on most authors," said Hawley, "that's why it's important to us to sell books. Our best books make 60% to 70% of their sales after three years." These books represent authors who are generally skilled, energetic and serious, Hawley said, authors whose books appeal to more than their own friends and family.
iUniverse has always claimed to provide authors with online DIY tools to market and promote, but Hawley said past efforts were "not clearly defined." Now the publisher will monitor its sales, identify "star" titles and offer two new marketing services: the marketing plan work book and the book signing success kit. These new services are designed to help authors get book reviews, repackage titles, plan for advertising and events, conduct e-mail mailings and launch other promotional events.
The costs of these services are split between the authors and iUniverse. Titles that reach certain levels of sales (1,000 to 2,000 copies) are eligible for placement into B&N stores. B&N is an iUniverse investor.
Hawley also points to iUniverse's new alliance with Kensington (News, Sept. 23, 2002), which channels the better-selling iUniverse romance titles to Kensington for possible republication, as part of iUniverse's new approach. She notes successful iUniverse authors such as Ruby Ann Boxcar (Ruby Ann's Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook), who was able to move from self-publishing to Kensington.
"We want to serve as an incubator," said Hawley. "We're not an adversary to book publishers. We want to fit into the publishing infrastructure."