Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why is Outskirts Press still alive?

Outskirts Press is an often-awful pay-to-publish company. Its people do so many things so badly that they are a frequent topic for this blog. The web has many complaints from unhappy author-customers.

A few years ago I wrote a book, Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How Do They Stay in Business? The book needs to be updated but I now think I know what the last chapter will be: "Outskirts Press goes out of business."

For several years Outskirts had decent positions in the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in the USA. Four years ago Outskirts plummeted from the 500 into the 5000. The company still touted its dubious achievement, assuming that readers would not notice that FIVE THOUSAND is not the same number as FIVE HUNDRED."

Well, I noticed.

Last year at this time I wrote: "Prior to 2012, Outskirts Press boss Brent Sampson (the same guy who confused 'foreword' and 'forward') used his blog to brag in advance about his company's pending Inc. position. This year -- and in 2012 -- Brent had nothing to say in advance of the announcement, a wise move."

Now, in 2014, Brent has nothing to brag about. Strangely -- and ominously -- he stopped blogging last January and had nothing to say until two days ago, with a post that kisses the asses of some of his publishing customers. 

  • In 2009, Outskirts had a ranking of #268 (part of the top-performing "Inc. 500").
  • In 2010, Outskirts dropped out of the 500 and was ranked #1266.
  • In 2011, the Outskirts ranking dropped to #3088.
  • In 2012, the company ranked #4530, getting perilously close to the bottom of the barrel.
I wrote, "In 2013, if the trend continues, Outskirts will not even be in the 5000."

Well, it happened.
 - - - -

So, is it over for Outskirts? Are we just waiting for the fat lady to sing? 

Consider the following:
As recently as this morning, Outskirts Press still called itself "the fastest-growing full-service publishing provider." It would be hard to justify that boast -- and Inc. disagrees. [below] Last year and this year Outskirts completely vanished from the Inc. lists of the 500 and 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the United States.

(2) Outskirts faces considerably richer competitors with bigger staffs possessing broader experience. The multi-brand Author Solutions behemoth now belongs to publishing giant Penguin Random House. CreateSpace is now part of Lulu had to cancel its planned public stock offering but seems to be reinvigorated, recently broadening distribution, reducing prices and adding executives and programs.

(3) Other small self-publishing companies such as Vantage, Aachanon and McKinney have recently closed. They failed to deal successfully with the same pressures facing Outskirts. Arbor Books emphasizes ghostwiting over self-publishing. Other companies' websites show no recent books. Horrible PublishAmerica has renamed itself America Star Books, with a new niche -- helping ignorant non-Americans to publish in the USA.

(4) According to the info published by Inc., sales at Outskirts dropped from 2010 to 2011 and there was a tiny increase from 2011 to 2012 -- a time of tremendous growth in self-publishing -- and Outskirts employment has remained at three lonely folks since 2009. The Outskirts website contains just three "executive profiles," and two of them are Sampsons. Judging by the many errors in the company's website and press releases, and complaints by authors, the tiny staff is inadequate. 

(5) Many new competitors have appeared, particularly concentrating on ebooks.

(6) More and more authors realize that they can publish without the hand-holding provided by Outskirts, and can probably publish faster and more profitably.

(7) Outskirts Press skipped recent Self-Publishing Book Expos and does not exhibit at Book Expo America -- where an increasing number of competitors vie for attention of authors and media.

(8) Even after 12 years, Outskirts is apparently still a home-based business, using a UPS Store as a mailing address. 

(9) Boss Bent Sampson has drastically reduced and weakened his blogging. Instead of posting about a wide range of book-publishing topics nearly every business day, now Brent does little more than tout his own company, and seldom does even that. I don't know if Brent has earned so much money that he can spend his days fishing or golfing, or if he is so depressed that he can't stand going to work. An un-engaged Chief Executive Officer/Chief Marketing Officer is not good for the company's future. He no longer calls himself president. I wonder why?

(10) The growing importance of inexpensive ebooks means less revenue per book for publishers, fewer physical books to be sold to authors, and less need for such profitable tchotchkes as bookmarks. 

(11) The Outskirts website continues to tout the success, in 2008 - '09, of author Gang Chen ("Self Publishing Author Earns Over $100,000 in Just Six Months with Outskirts Press") even though Chen left Outskirts to form his own publishing company. Apparently Outskirts has no recent superstar to brag about.

(12) Outskirts is trying to broaden its base by offering "Full-service Christian publishing" in competition with experienced specialists including Xulon, Westbow and Crossbooks. Is this a desperate Hail Mary pass? 

(13) I realize that it's natural for companies' growth to slow down as they mature. I realize that the Inc. ratings are relative rankings of growth, and a company's rank may drop simply because other companies are having growth spurts. However, Outskirts's claim to be "the fastest-growing full-service publishing provider" seems to be unprovable and should be dropped if not provable.

(14) Perhaps the most revealing -- Brent wrote: "No company plans to fail . . . Being prepared for that possibility is the responsibility of the executives at every company. That’s why, at Outskirts Press, we have a cash-flush savings account devoted solely for our authors exclusively for this purpose, so that all outstanding royalties would still be paid to them and any remaining authors in the pipeline would receive refunds." 

I've never seen a similar statement on any other publisher's website. Brent wants to instill confidence in authors and prospective authors, but it sure sounds like he is anticipating going out of business. 


Gravestone photo from Thanks