Q&A with Pronoun: An Increasingly Competitive Ebook Distributor

Pronoun ebook distribution

Do you remember the digital publishing startups Vook? Booklr? Byliner?

All of these services/companies have been folded into an ebook distribution service known as Pronoun, which was launched in fall 2015 and later acquired by Big Five publisher Macmillan.

Pronoun works with independent authors to distribute and sell ebooks to the five major online retailers: Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play. Pronoun charges authors nothing upfront, and doesn’t take a cut of ebook sales either.

Let’s restate that, since it’s so remarkable: Authors are paid 100 percent net on ebook sales (after the retailer takes their cut), and authors pay no fees to Pronoun.

Today, Pronoun is announcing some significant changes to their terms, including:

  • 70% royalty on ebooks sold through Amazon when the price is below $2.99 (standard is 35% if you sell direct to Amazon via KDP)
  • 65% royalty on ebooks sold through Amazon when the price is beyond $9.99 (again, the standard is 35% if you sell direct to Amazon via KDP)
  • The ability to make ebooks free at any time through Amazon without being exclusive (not possible via KDP)
  • No requirement to be “all in” with Pronoun; you can use them to distribute to just one retailer, several, or all. It’s up to you.

Recently, I asked Justin Renard, Pronoun’s head of marketing, a few questions about Pronoun’s services for authors.

As far as I know, Pronoun is the only distributor open to indie authors that can promise a 70% cut on Amazon sales on prices below $2.99 or 65% at price points beyond $9.99. Do you welcome authors who are already selling their ebooks through Amazon KDP to move their books over to Pronoun to take advantage? How long does it take you to get a book available for sale on Amazon once someone sets up their account and uploads their files?

Justin Renard: Our door is open to all authors who are excited by what Pronoun has to offer, and with our new terms, we offer the flexibility for authors to decide what publishing strategy makes the most sense for their books. 70% sales on books priced below $2.99 will be very appealing to authors who rely on ebook price promotion tools to market their books.

We’ve tried to create a frustration-free publishing experience—from uploading and producing a cover, to preparing a book for success on retail sites. Once you press publish it usually takes between 2 hours and 48 hours for your book to appear on all the retailers we serve.

Right now, Amazon KDP offers authors immediate sales data about their ebooks, as well as total control over all the book information and metadata. Does Pronoun match all that functionality in its dashboard for authors?

We do offer total control over all the book information and metadata pushed out to retailers, the difference being is that on Pronoun, you can push the updates out to all retailers at once. Our sales reporting updates daily from all retailers.

Copies sold, total sales, and estimated earnings are some of the sales information we report from all retailers. We also automatically record major events like go-live dates and metadata changes so authors can see the impact of their work on their sales. Authors can also add their own milestones for promotional activities or any offline marketing.

I know many authors have trouble figuring out the right keywords and categories for their books at Amazon. Could you explain the tools Pronoun offers to help authors get this right?

Pronoun has been tracking data of over six million books for over five years, recording important information like sales ranks, ratings, prices, keywords and categories, so we’re able to provide authors with enough information to help make decisions.

Amazon, for example, has over 4,000 distinct ebook categories, and any book might be relevant to several or even dozens. When publishing on Pronoun, we’ve made it easy to find relevant categories by searching for a topic or genre, even if it’s a niche topic or doesn’t perfectly match an Amazon category name. And we rank these options based on the size and competitiveness of the category, so you can choose the ones that have the most opportunity.

Another great example is our keyword recommendations. Keywords are most valuable when they actually help surface an author’s books in more reader search results. If an author chooses broad and popular keywords—like “romance” or “science fiction”—it won’t help unless the book is already selling extremely well. So when authors choose keywords, Pronoun suggests real search phrases that are still popular but have less competitively ranked books in the results.

Pronoun includes support for free ebooks and pre-orders at Amazon. Just to confirm: Does that mean authors can make their books free at any time on Amazon if they distribute through Pronoun (since that’s currently not allowed if you use KDP)? How far out can a pre-order be scheduled, and what materials are required to make a pre-order available?

That is exactly right. Authors are now able to make their books free at any time and across all of our retailers, including Amazon. This is a feature that authors have been asking for a long time now, especially those with a series.

Pre-orders can be scheduled as far as one year in advance. Authors will need to upload a book file, cover image and include all the book information, but this can be temporary placeholder files and information that can be updated before the release date.

Pronoun used to require that authors be “all in” with Pronoun, meaning they couldn’t cherry pick which retailers they wanted to use Pronoun for. That’s now changed. I imagine—since Pronoun can reach Google Play—many authors may sign up with you for that alone. I assume you welcome that? I’m also curious, if you’re able to share, what percentage of overall sales you see happen through Google Play?

We welcome authors who want to publish to only one or a few retailers, though we think over time more and more authors will want to use Pronoun as a one-stop solution. And while I can’t share the exact Google Play market share, I can tell you that for some of our best-performing authors, sales on Google Play are at par or greater than their sales on Kobo.

I know Pronoun is making a significant effort to be clear, transparent, and honest with authors about how your company works. To that end, there’s a question as to how Pronoun survives if it doesn’t take a cut of book sales, and it doesn’t charge fees. Can you offer insight into your current or future business model?

Pronoun works not only with individually self-published authors, but we also work with a number of paid enterprise publishers and count our own digital nonfiction imprint Byliner in our business mix. Through these income-driving activities and the strategic backing of our parent company, Macmillan, we are in a unique position to continue building a truly author-centric and free publishing experience. Our core pursuit as a business is to help authors succeed at publishing. As we grow along with our authors, new business opportunities will emerge that add value to what authors need.

Pronoun had a former life that some authors may remember—Vook—and there were at least a couple pivots for Vook as a business before it became Pronoun. Right now, many authors in the indie community are worried about ebook retailer and distributor longevity, since All Romance Ebooks recently went out of business. I know you can’t make promises about what your corporate parent Macmillan will or won’t do in the future, but what would you like to say to authors who may be understandably wary?

This is such an important question and valid concern for authors. At Pronoun, we want to ensure a publishing experience that empowers authors with not only intelligent insights but also the flexibility to make choices for their books and careers. Plus being a part of Macmillan, which as you know has a 174-year history, means we are a part of a special community of award-winning publishers and a company with a commitment to self-publishing as a critical part of the overall publishing mix.

Thank you, Justin.


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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80 Comments on "Q&A with Pronoun: An Increasingly Competitive Ebook Distributor"

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Mark Williams Int.

One small correction to your intro, Jane.

Pronoun launched in 2015 but Macmillan only bought out Pronoun in May 2016.

Pronoun has some impressive tools (keyword and category analysis as reffed in the main post, daily emailed sales reports, etc) but also some major drawbacks (only offering Paypal as a payment, limited post-sales data, and limited choice of outlets – no OverDrive, for example).

As part of a diversity package Pronoun should be part of every indie author’s toolkit, but still lots of room for improvement.

Lawrence D. Elliott

As of now, Pronoun offers distribution to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, OverDrive, and Bibliotheca (the last two recently added).

Doris

Thanks for this interesting article.
I read it about 3 times – and could not figure out how they make money.
Where is the trap? I can’t imagine someone (MacMillan) treats it as an expensive hobby.
Distributors either charge for sign-up or they take a commission from books sold.
How can this work? They have to pay for salaries, promotion, etc.

Cheers, Doris

Edward Smith

How does Pronoun compare to Smashwords? They seem to offer roughly the same service, except Pronoun appears to have some special deal with Amazon.

Mark Williams Int.
No comparison, Edward Smith. • Smashwords does not get our titles into Amazon (except special cases, nor into Google Play. That’s a dozen Amazon stores and 75 Google Play stores we miss out on. • Pronoun pays more. • Pronoun pays monthly. • Pronoun lets us format our book descriptions with bold, italics, etc. • Pronoun lets us customise our author pages. • Pronoun does not make us jump through ridiculous hoops to link series or to add contributors (translators, designers, illustrators, even co-authors). • Pronoun lets us add sub-titles. • Pronoun will let us style our titles how we… Read more »
Bron

Just one wee point in Amazon KDP authors DO get 70% on $2.99. it’s only 99c books that we get 35%.

Harald Johnson

Actually, with KDP, *anything* under $2.99 is at 35% royalty: $2.29, $1.99, whatever.

Jasmine Kelley

You may be thinking of the ability to offer a Kindle Countdown Deal and still reap the 70% royalty. When a book’s on that limited-time deal, you can offer it for 99 cents and still get 70%. It just needs to be originally listed at $2.99 or above.

Tamara Leigh

It’s been interesting to watch Pronoun evolve into a tool indies will embrace. Nearly all my concerns have been put to rest since I first looked into Pronoun 1-1/2 years ago. One concern that remains is the payment system. Like many, I’m averse to receiving funds via PayPal. Hopefully, direct deposit will be offered in the near future. And then…I might test those waters.

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Chris Syme

Skeptical as I am the only thing I worry about here is what we don’t see. There’s a carrot: 70% royalties across the board. But I’m not sure how Amazon is going to treat books not loaded through KDP. Time will tell. I’m not going to jump up and down yet. Who has the rights? I saw in a group this morning that if you put books on Amazon through Pronoun, Macmillan is listed as the seller. Not sure yet–need more info.

Mark Williams Int.
The author has the rights at all times. The author or author’s imprint will be listed as publisher on the Amazon page, depending on what the author lists in the metadata at upload. If you have your own ISBN the ISBN record will also show the author as publisher. If you use a Pronoun ISBN the publisher will show as Pronoun, in the same way as using a Smashwords or Draft2Digital free ISBN will show Smashwords or D2D as your publisher. Amazon will treat books not loaded through KDP as books loaded by a publisher. Aggregators like StreetLib, PublishDrive, Ebook… Read more »
Laurie Gienapp
This is not correct. I’m part of an indie publisher. We listed several titles with Pronoun and were VERY happy with the experience, UNTIL we realized that Pronoun was listed on Amazon as the publisher, notwithstanding the fact that the metadata at the upload listed Smoking Pen Press. We do have our own ISBNs, and the ISBN records show Smoking Pen Press as Publisher.. but the Amazon page lists Pronoun. We have had many cordial discussions with Pronoun about this.. pointing out that we put out the Call for Submissions, we review submissions, we sign contracts with the authors, we… Read more »
Brittney Sahin

I am a little nervous about how Pronoun can offer free/70% (below $2.99) on Amazon titles when Amazon cannot. It seems odd Amazon would give such power away…?

Nicky
I’m curious about a particular portion of the Pronoun Author Agreement (Updated January 16, 2017). Does this mean that you cannot self-publish erotic romance/erotica or romance novels with adult content through this distributor? “your manuscripts do not contain objectionable or pornographic content that will prevent retailers from selling them. (We’re all about artistic freedom, but retailers set their own standards, with which we need to comply. If your manuscripts do not comply with those standards, we’ll let you know and give you the opportunity to fix the issues. Until any issues are resolved, we may have to cease selling the… Read more »
DKH

Will there be a way to transfer titles and preserve reviews and ranking for those who might be using a different distributor (D2D or Smashwords)?

Mark Williams Int.

Rankings will not transfer. Any change of distributor will mean starting over. Reviews will transfer (sometimes a short delay), providing the other core metadata (title, author, etc) stay the same. Old links will not redirect, of course, so all existing promo links will be redundant.

Mark Williams Int.

Jane, why is it when I go to the blog page it says “no comments” and no comments are to be seen? I can only find these comments thanks to the comments-subscribe notifications and can only see comments one at a time from each individual email notification.

Amanda Hagarty
Super excited about the new changes at Pronoun. It was almost perfect before when it had no Amazon preorders. That’s all I was waiting for to consider Pronoun as an option and they just fixed that issue times ten! Very exciting. I will point out however that authors do not need to be in KDP select or have Pronoun to make their books free on Amazon. You just need to utilize the price matching. I do it for my novella. Sometimes the book resets to 99cents but I just send them another note and they reset it to free. Anyway,… Read more »
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[…] Q&A with Pronoun: An Increasingly Competitive Ebook Distributor (Jane Friedman) Do you remember the digital publishing startups Vook? Booklr? Byliner? All of these services/companies have been folded into an ebook distribution service known as Pronoun, which was launched in fall 2015 and later acquired by Big Five publisher Macmillan. […]

Marie
This sounds like a great opportunity. I’ve been meaning to try out Pronoun for a long time. It all sounds too good to be true, which was why I was wary about using this system. I’ve asked on forums, and people have said to avoid Pronoun, that they’re scammy, etc. But after reading the info on their site, and articles like these, I’m still trying to figure out where the ‘scam’ is? Why are people so afraid to use Pronoun? If Pronoun were to go the way of ARe, would authors still have the rights to their books? And would… Read more »
Mark Williams Int.

Pronoun only delivers books to Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, Nook and Apple. All rights are held by the authors at all times.

Yes, we can list books at $0.00 at any time , including on Amazon. No exclusivity or price-matching required.

It’s far easier to cry “scam” at every new opportunity rather than take time out to see what is actually on offer.

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[…] Pronoun distributes ebooks to the five major online retailers; it charges authors nothing upfront, and doesn't take a cut of ebook sales either.  […]

Linda Simek

=)

Tony

I guess the only drawback to those of us in KDP is one you’ll all guess is coming: the loss of KU page read income, which currently accounts for 54% of my earnings on average. Any thoughts on this?

Al Kalar

I know a number of authors who make good money from KU and this would be a deal breaker for them as well.

David Biddle

Wow. What a great new(ish) tool. I look forward to trying Pronoun out. I assume they are still growing their reach to other resellers and that tools continue to grow. This service along with Vellum as a publishing tool seems to seriously upgrade the power and ease of operating for any indie author. Micro presses too. As always, thanks Jane, you gem, you for keeping us shut-ins informed.

Connie Myres

I’m excited about Pronoun and will move all by books to it as soon as they come out of KDP Select. Can’t wait!

Jeff

How do they make money? If they’re not charging authors for this service, where are they getting their money?

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[…] Q&A with Pronoun: An Increasingly Competitive Ebook Distributor | Jane Friedman […]

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[…] This story snuck in about 5 minutes after I hit publish last week, so I’m hardly on the scoop, but that has given time for it to play out a little. It started with the announcement that the ebook distributor Pronoun was introducing some seriously impressive terms for authors. It was the final step in what has been a very quick march out of beta. Pronoun distributes to all major ebook retailers, and promises to push out books, and changes, to all of them within 48 hours of the change/upload being made. The headline figures of what look like… Read more »
Karl Drinkwater
Apologies if this has already been covered! “70% royalty on ebooks sold through Amazon when the price is below $2.99” This only applies to Amazon US. The royalty rates for other regions have lowered to compensate. E.g. “For Amazon sales in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, you receive 41% of your book’s list price. You receive 45% for Amazon sales in India and China, and 46% for Amazon sales in all other countries.” http://support.pronoun.com/knowledge_base/topics/what-are-pronouns-royalty-rates Whereas before it was the usual 70% in Amazon UK for items of $2.99 and above, so the royalty rates have been almost halved.… Read more »
Karl Drinkwater

I should have said “This only applies to Amazon US and Canada”, sorry. 🙂

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[…] grapple with. Janet Reid peeks inside book pricing, while Jane Friedman hosts a Q&A with Pronoun Distribution, an up-and-coming distribution […]

Mike Van Horn

A really basic question. Who can qualify for Pronoun? Can any ebook be published this way? Or are there criteria for acceptance? Or review process?

Jeremy Sanders

I am very excited about this service, and I really appreciate you bringing it to our attention but I had one question. Everything in pronoun’s platform is about eBook sales and distribution, but I was what about print books? What if I as an indie author wanted to distribute eBooks with them but still do some sort of print on demand service? What do I do then?

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[…] more info, interviews with Pronoun representatives have been released on janefriedman.com and selfpublishingadvice.org. Though the platform may not be everyone’s best fit, we found it […]

William Kuhn
Hi Jane, thank you for this. Do you think the following is a baseless worry? Several years ago there was a big showdown between Amazon and Macmillan. Because of a dispute about ebook pricing, Amazon took all Macmillan books off their site for a matter of days if not weeks while the two companies were warring with one another. Authors were hostages while the dispute was going on. I don’t think Amazon can be trusted not to interfere with the sales of a competitive platform. KDP is sort of a competitor of Pronoun, which is being undercut by the current… Read more »
Brock Deskins

I just read about this service in a Facebook post (also saw Karl Drinkwater here, hi, Karl! lol) I have a few titles on Amazon that are getting few enough sales and KU reads to try a new distributor. I was reading the user agreement and it said books have to already be listed on Amazon; is that right? How does that work with transferring existing Amazon books to Pronoun?

Gabriel

Very informative, Jane!
I just have a question on Pronoun that hasn’t been explicitly addressed. Can foreign authors use the platform? If so, does Pronoun has something similar as Smashwords has to report as such to the IRS? (can’t recall the name of the form atm)

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[…] not currently using Pronoun, so can’t give any insight about their platform.  This Q&A between industry expert Jane Friedman and Justin Renard, head of Pronoun marketing, may be helpful […]

Becky McGraw

Hi, Jane! I see in the article you state Pronoun offers a one-year pre-order period. Does that include a one-year preorder with Amazon too? Do the pre-orders require upload of the final manuscript ten days prior to the release date? What are the penalties if you miss that ten-day window or want to extend your release date?

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[…] Q&A with Pronoun: An Increasingly Competitive Ebook Distributor (Jane Friedman) […]

Katrina Ariel

Thank you for this article! I’m in the midst of publishing and came across this at exactly the right time. You answered all my questions in the article and in your replies to comments. Another awesome resource on my top blog to turn to when it comes to publishing. So appreciated!

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[…] “Q&A with Pronoun“ […]

Wicked Run Press

Anybody have an idea of how responsive Pronoun is when making price changes? When does the price take effect at each retailer? For example, if I have a Bookbub deal and need it priced at .99 cents, how will I know how far in advance to make the price change so that it takes place by the time the deal is active. I’ve been amazon exclusive so far, but used pronoun for a perma-free and it worked perfect. I may move more over. Thanks for any thoughts.

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