Comparing: ‘publisher, ‘self-publishing services’, ‘hybrid publisher’ and ‘vanity publisher’

What’s the difference between a ‘publisher’, ‘self-publishing services provider’, ‘hybrid publisher’, and what we in the editing industry call a ‘vanity publisher’?

Firstly, there is nothing at all wrong with the first three models (publishing, self-publishing or hybrid publishing). However, ‘vanity publishers’ have a bad name, and for a reason. They typically present themselves as a ‘publisher’ instead of what they really are, which is a cross between a self-publishing services provider and a hybrid publisher; and some vanity publishers are unethical in the way they treat their clients.


Thorpe-Bowker (the organisation that assigns ISBNs and barcodes, in Australia) will tell you that a ‘publisher’ is an organisation that produces a book for an author at no charge, and then pays the author a royalty for the books sold. A publisher will usually only accept manuscripts of books they are pretty sure will be profitable (i.e. that will sell). The ISBN and barcodes are held in the name of the publisher; the copyright ownership is as per the contract.

Self-publishing services

A self-publishing services provider produces self-published books for authors, and charges for that service. For example, I am a self-publishing services provider so I produce books for people from spoken word, or handwritten word, to self-published printed book stage, and I then charge for that service. The author owns the copyright, and all the books. For a portfolio of the books I’ve produced go to Our publications.

Hybrid publisher

A hybrid publisher is far superior (in my mind) to a vanity publisher, because they are totally upfront about their offering being ‘hybrid publishing’, not ‘publishing’ per se. They are a cross between a publisher and a self-publishing services provider and the companies or businesses who actually call their service ‘hybrid publishing’ are being transparent, so I don’t have a problem with them. However, some (not all) hybrid publishers allocate their own ISBNs to their author clients; whereas Thorpe-Bowker (who – and correct me if I’m wrong – I regard as the authority on publishing in Australia) has explained to me that businesses that offer self-publishing services should not take on the author’s ISBN themselves.

Vanity publisher

A vanity publisher does not call themselves a ‘vanity publisher’; that’s just the name coined for them by the industry. They call themselves a ‘publisher’. However, they are not a ‘publisher’ (as per Thorpe-Bowker’s definition of ‘Publisher’, above). A vanity publisher offers to ‘publish’ an author’s book for them, which appeals to the vanity of the author because their manuscript has been accepted so easily by a publisher. But then they add, usually in small print or at the end of their offer, that the author is required to partly (or even fully) fund the cost of producing their book. So a vanity publisher is kind of a cross between a self-publishing services provider and a publisher, but there is usually some lack of transparency involved; for example, it is a bit sneaky to call themselves a ‘publisher’, not a self-publishing services provider or a hybrid publisher.

The problem with ‘vanity publishers’ is that they request the author to pay (all or most of) the costs of producing their book, and often request the authors to give away their copyright to them. Some vanity publishers have it written into the contract that they own all the books, and if the author wants a copy of their own book they have to buy it from the ‘publisher’.

For more information about vanity publishers go to:  Writers, be careful of vanity publishers.

So, should I publish or self-publish my book?

It’s up to you to work out which model works for you and your book. Here are a few options, but with all of them, make sure you check the fine print in the contract before you proceed.

  • If you want to publish it (with a real publisher) this is the cheapest way to have your book published, but it is a very competitive market; which means that it may be hard for you to find a publisher willing to take your book on.
  • If you are prepared to pay to have your book produced, a self-publishing services provider or a hybrid publisher will self-publish your book for you, although usually you’ll have to do the marketing and distribution yourselves. Carefully read the terms and conditions and make sure you are assured of getting value for money. Seek a quote from more than one source.
  • If you are prepared to pay to have your book produced, a vanity publisher (that calls themselves a ‘publisher’) may be suitable for your needs – but beware. If they haven’t stated in the contract that they will be editing and designing your book to a professional standard, they probably won’t. Carefully read the terms and conditions and make sure you are assured of getting value for money. Seek a quote from more than one source.

For more information about self-publishing in general, go to: The steps of self-publishing.

Proofread by Hannah Auld, On Time Typing, Editing and Proofreading


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