Publishers Weekly's Booklife reports that Macmillan has abruptly shut down its self-publishing arm, "Pronoun," with the loss of an unknown number of jobs.
Originally launched in 2009 as Vook, an early e-book and interactive content production platform, the company pivoted in 2015 and relaunched itself as a self-publishing platform under the direction of Josh Brody.
In May 2016 the company, now called Pronoun, was acquired by Macmillan, and Brody was kept on board as president. Ben Zhuk, Pronoun chief product officer, was also retained and named v-p of product for Macmillan.
But it did not work well, it seems, because earlier this year both Brody and Zhuk left the company. It was the beginning of the end, a situation confirmed by Jeff Seroy, senior v-p of publicity and marketing at Macmillan's Farrar Straus and Giroux unit.
Asked why Pronoun was being shuttered 18 months after the acquisition, Seroy said despite Macmillan investment in the platform and “terrific” feedback from Pronoun authors, “we came to the conclusion that there wasn't a path forward to a profitable business model and decided to shut down the platform.”
And so it ends, leaving an unknown number of frustrated Indie authors, and a raft of unanswered questions.
For a traditional publisher to dip a toe in the new world of self-publishing is odd to start with. The best explanation is that if the arm sponsors an author whose work zooms into the bestseller ranks, she or he is an author who has been already captured. But that is a gamble with very long odds indeed.
And it doesn't seem financially promising. Indie authors who publish with Pronoun in print are competing with a stable of regular authors, who would obviously get the cream of marketing and promotion. In digital, Amazon dominates the market, and Smashwords is a better entry for the newbie in the self-publishing world. Added to that are swept-up operations like Draft2Digital, which specialize in producing a quality product which is taken up by a whole raft of online digital book stores, like Kobo.
Plus, most importantly, while digital books quickly seized about 25% of the market, that fraction has not improved, and may even be declining, as print books regain their popularity.
You can read Macmillan's closing statement here.