Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tate Publishing

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked to give an opinion of Tate Publishing (legally, Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC). When I was originally asked, I had very little basis to form an opinion, other than from what I could find online and that left a bad taste in my mouth. According to their website, Tate Publishing claims to be a traditional publisher. This is interesting because authors who have used them mention a $4,000 fee. By definition, that fee makes them a subsidy press rather than a traditional publisher. I don’t like it when companies hide stuff.

I began to understand them a little better when I had the opportunity to look at the contract they ask their authors to sign. The $4,000 fee is actually a $3,990 fee that they classify as a publicist setup fee. Essentially, they require their authors to have a professional publicist. If they don’t, Tate Publishing will charge them $3,990 to use one of theirs. They claim that the publicist is valued at $20,000 per year, but they will absorb that cost. They also claim that they budget $27,000 for editing, production, marketing, etc.

Consider, if their claims are true, $3,990 is a very good deal. It is a little higher than most people are paying for a subsidy press to publish their book, but Tate Publishing functions more like a traditional publisher. Besides, once you sell 1,000 copies of your book, Tate Publishing will refund the $3,990. I may be coining a phrase, but I want to call that a reverse advance, since the author is paying the publisher with the option of getting it back once the publisher earns enough money from the book.

But the problem I see with Tate Publishing’s claims is we have no way to verify that they are accurate. First, the contract states that Tate Publishing is under no obligation to tell the author how the $27,000 allocated for the book is being spent. For all we know, the bulk of it could be allocated toward printing books as the orders come in. That would allow them to allocate the funds on paper, but it would be a very low risk because they wouldn’t spend it until the orders come in. That is just one possibility. It is also quite possible that they are actually spending that money.

Consider also the $20,000 annual publicist fee. This appears to be going to another company called Key Marketing Group. According to the Tate Publishing website, Key Marketing Group is providing six people. Three and a half of these people have the title of “Publicist”. For good or ill, that appears to be the smallest department Tate Publishing has. Their editing department does appear to be quite large, which speaks well for at least part of the $27,000 going toward editing. But Tate Publishing says they absorb the $20,000. My question would be, where do they get the $20,000 from. Are they getting the $20,000 from the $27,000, in which case only $7,000 would go toward everything else? Are they actually allocating $47,000 per book (which would put them more in line with traditional publishers)? Is the $20,000 the result of creative accounting? It isn’t clear.

But consider this: a search for books published by Tate Publishing yields 8,131 results on Amazon.com. Let’s assume that Key Marketing Group is charging Tate Publishing $100,000 per man-year. With six employees allocated to Tate Publishing, that works out to $600,000. Divide that by 8,131 and you are looking at about $75 per book per year for publicists. Those are rough figures, but they are enough to tell us that they don’t have the staffing level required to do what they claim they are doing. It isn’t proof of anything, but it smells a little off.

So let’s look at editing. Traditional publishers budget around $5,000 for editing. Tate Publishing has 32 editors (not including acquisitions editors). These are in-house people, so let’s assume a rate of $50 per hour (salary, benefits, LOE, etc.). Amazon.com indicates that Tate Publishing published 1,496 paperbacks last year. There are approximately 2,000 working hours in a year so 64,000 hours for the editorial staff. So on average, each book published was allocated 40 hours of editorial time. Or approximately $2,000. It would appear then, that Tate Publishing is providing editing, but it is still along the lines of what you would expect from a subsidy press rather than a traditional publisher.

Let’s look at it another way. Tate Publishing as about 165 employees. At $50 per hour, that means their staff costs them about $16.5 million per year. That works out to be about $11,030 per book they publish each year. By the time you throw in equipment cost and other overhead, I could see them making the claim that they are allocating $27,000 per book. I think the $20,000 publicist fee is bogus and I don’t really care whether the $3,990 goes directly to Key Marketing Group or if it helps pay down the $27,000.

While Tate Publishing is a subsidy press and is less selective than most traditional publishers, it appears that their structure forces them to function somewhat like what we would expect from a traditional publisher. The amount authors are subsidizing them will not cover their expenses, so they must rely on the income from book sales to stay in business. Whatever problems Tate Publishing might have, the need to sell books in order to make a profit is a good thing for the authors who choose to use them. I still feel that they are less honest than a self-proclaimed Christian publisher should be and I fear that some of the books they are selling are not what a Christian publisher should be publishing, but I imagine that authors who are willing to spend $4,000 to get their book published could do a lot worse.