The flip side of self-publishing packages

I recently came across an interesting article that explained how all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffets use principles of psychology to great benefit. The manager of an AYCE restaurant has a single mandate: that to fill the customer’s belly quickly and cheaply, while creating the perception of providing ample variety and high quality food items. At the same they must ensure that food wastage is minimal to ensure that profit margins remain high.

The psychology of AYCE meals is rather interesting. It’s been found that most people eat the same amount they do in other restaurants which do not offer AYCE (where, instead, customers are asked to choose from a menu). One study reduced the price of an AYCE menu by half while keeping untouched the food on offer. The customers expressed dissatisfaction with the food, equating the low price to low quality. Clearly, getting a good deal wasn’t of primary importance. It is also true that most customers do not over-eat and even fewer waste food in an AYCE restaurant. More importantly, most customers are not price-sensitive, so higher prices (which give a perception of higher quality) actually yield higher margins.

Okay, so what does that have to do with self-publishing? Lots actually because most self-publishing companies provide the equivalent of an AYCE menu by offering packages. At CinnamonTeal Publishing, we have resisted the urge to provide package-based services because we are certain that choosing off a menu is not only cheaper for customers, they actually get to choose varying levels of quality based on their budget. That means, for instance, while a package will offer editing, a menu-based service will allow customers to choose between proofreading, copy editing and substantive editing, based on what the manuscript actually needs and on the budget of the customer. A package, on the other hand, will rarely specify the type of editing that is being offered (and very often, quite surprisingly, editing isn’t offered at all).

Agreed, the AYCE approach, and packages, do have some benefits. It makes comparison easier and it saves the customer the hassle of looking into the details. There are many self-publishing providers like Notionpress and Pothi who provide packages, and we do not believe they would have done it without giving it enough thought. But this blog is based on our belief on the flip side of self-publishing packages. And while we have lost many customers because they prefer the hands-off approach to the publishing process and opt for packages, we also have had many more authors who take the self-publishing exercise very seriously, and who wish to know how the process works, and engage with us to develop a better book.

So what is the flip side we are taking about? Here are some factors we think may apply:

a. Authors lose the ability to choose among levels within the same service: We already provided the example of editing. The same goes for cover design. By simply saying “basic design” or “premium design”, the details of complexity within the (cover design) process are deliberately obfuscated. Moreover, the customer has no say in the process. So if the author wishes to have a cover that has a personal touch to it, the package-based system simply does not work for him or her. In the package-based way of doing things, nuance is lost and every service is homogenized. One must remember that cover design is not cover design. There are many ways each cover can be uniquely fashioned. And authors can and must be given the option to play a vital role in that process.

b. The “meat” is avoided: Just like AYCE meals skimp on the protein and feed the starch, so also many packages are designed to seem “full” while providing little substance. One extremely high-priced package available in the market does not include copy editing but includes several marketing gimmicks, all of which are available for free on the Internet. In the hurry to seek a rationale for the money that is asked, the hapless customer overlooks the fact that no matter how good the marketing, the buyer will return the book to the shelf if he encounters a spelling or grammatical mistake. Good editing and presentation make a good book. A good marketing effort can only work with a strong product. Yet, the long list of “benefits” on offer prompts the customer to overlook that starch has been substituted for protein.

c. Unnecessary costs are justified: A quick look at most packages will show that most of the “features” on offer are simply not necessary to develop a book and get it out in front of the eyes of readers. Much of these bells and whistles are, like explained above, post-publishing i.e. after the core product, the book, is already produced. It is also true that many of these features on offer make sense to the author only when it is part of a larger plan. Like the website, for instance. Unless the website is part of a larger marketing plan, a poorly designed website, in the design of which the author has had no part to play, might actually harm the author’s credibility. It makes more sense for the author to put together a comprehensive marketing plan, then individually purchase the components that fit the plan, with the desired level of complexity of each component. Speaking of marketing plans, does the one your package provider is offering you allow you to prioritize visuals over text, or text over visuals? Do they provide analytics to determine the efficacy of the plan?

d. Books are homogenized: If the same set of packages can be applied to all books, it follows that package providers consider all books equal. That is very rarely the case. Even within a genre, a certain book might require a certain way of presentation and handling that another book in the same genre does not. The package provider treats all books as equal and goes through the same process for all books. This can only be harmful for the book. If generic marketing services are being employed, such services may actually end up doing the book more harm than good.

e. There is no clarity if services are homogenized: If, to take the previous example, website design is a service offered as part of a package, is there a change in the design offered each time to customers choosing that package? And if different designs are being offered to customers, are they costing the package provider the same? And if they do not all cost the same, why are the changes in cost not being passed on to the customer? Or are these services being outsourced to the lowest bidder?

It is our firm belief that a customer who is paying must have the ability to choose between the wide array of options available. For this reason we have not offered packages. And we think that the serious author shouldn’t opt for packages either.

Before finishing, let me reiterate that this post is not to ridicule the service providers who offer packages and the authors who purchase them. Both have been successful. This is to explain our point of view so authors who are still looking for a self-publishing service can make an informed decision. We hope we have been able to successfully communicate why we do not offer packages and we insist on a menu-based system.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io/