Comparing: “traditional publisher”, “self-publishing services”, “hybrid publisher”, “vanity publisher” & “indie publisher”

What’s the difference between a “publisher”, “self-publishing services provider”, “hybrid publisher”, “indie publisher”, and “vanity publisher”?

Firstly, the first four models – publishing, self-publishing services, hybrid publishing, and indie publishing – are legitimate publishing models.

However, what we in the publishing industry call “vanity publishing” is not so legitimate.

A “vanity publisher” typically presents themselves as a “publisher” but is, in reality, a cross between a self-publishing services provider and a hybrid publisher; and a “vanity publisher” may be unethical or unfair in its dealings with clients.

Traditional publisher

Thorpe-Bowker (the organisation that assigns ISBNs and barcodes, in Australia) will tell you that a traditional publisher produces a book for an author, and pays the author a (small percentage) royalty for the books sold. The publisher does not charge the author anything: the publisher foots the total cost of editing, design, production, marketing and distribution.

The  publisher usually only accepts manuscripts of books they are pretty sure will be profitable (i.e. books they are sure will sell, or will become best-sellers). The ISBN and barcodes are owned by the publisher.

The copyright ownership of the book may be held by the publisher or the author, as per the contract. The extent to which the publisher or author is expected to “market” the book varies, and is as per the contract.

Self-publishing services

A self-publishing services provider produces a self-published book for an author, and charges the author for that service. The author has full ownership of the books which they can then distribute, market etc. as they wish.

For example, I am a self-publishing services provider. 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.

Note: some people refer to self-publishing (by an author) as ‘indie publishing’.

Hybrid publisher

A hybrid publisher is a cross between a traditional publisher and a self-publishing services provider.

For a detailed description of a hybrid publisher, read these articles:  What is a hybrid publisher? and The requirements of a hybrid publisher.

A hybrid publisher is a professional business/company that offers “hybrid publishing”. Using this model, the author pays the publisher to produce their book. The publisher does all the production, uses its own ISBNs and barcodes, and does all the marketing and distribution of the book being published. The publisher then pays a large (percentage) royalty to the author, per sold book.

If using a hybrid publisher, be very careful to read and understand the contract, and make sure they meet the requirements of a self-publisher.

Indie publisher

The terms “indie publishing” or “indie publisher” are used for either:

  • an author self-publishing their book (and doing all the distribution and marketing themselves), or
  • a small, independent press that publishes books (using either a traditional or  hybrid model). That is, it is a small, not a large traditional publisher.

Vanity publishing

A vanity publisher may call themselves either a “publisher”, “hybrid publisher” or “indie publisher”, but in the eyes of the publishing industry, they are known by the derogatory term of “vanity publisher”.

While the other publishing models may charge the author for part or all of the costs of production, those models are up front about the costs and benefits to authors – whereas a “vanity publisher” is not up front about those details.

A vanity publisher may offer to publish an author’s book for them, without mentioning that there will be costs to the author. Then they may add – often in small print or at the end of their offer – that the author is required to fund part, most, or all, of the cost of editing and production.

With a vanity publisher, there may be  hidden fees in addition to the charges they initially told the author about; for example, after the author has signed the contract, the publisher may tell them that the editing stage was not included in the production cost, and there will be an additional charge for editing services.

Depending on the terms of the contract, a vanity publisher may take ownership of the author’s copyright; the royalties paid to the author may be very small; the quality of the editing, book design or printing may be very poor; and/or if the author wants any copies of their book they may be required to buy them from the ‘publisher’.

If you are tempted to hire a particular publisher you have found online, do a Google-check on them: type in the publisher’s name, then “review” (and/or “scam” and/or “vanity publisher”).

Better still, before you look for someone to help you publish your book, ask a qualified professional editor for advice. (For example, if you want to know anything about the publishing industry you are welcome to call me here.) This will help you avoid all those shonky operators swimming around on the internet!

For more information go to:

Which model should I use to produce and publish my book?

It’s up to you to work out which of the above models works for you and your book.  Below are a few comparisons of the different models, which may help you decide. Whatever service or model you end up choosing, make sure you carefully read everything (including the fine print) in the contract before you agree to it.

  • Cheapest method: Using a traditional publisher, or an indie publisher that behaves like a traditional publisher, is the cheapest way for an author to get their book into print. But it is a very competitive market – that is, it is really hard for 99% of  authors to find a publisher who is willing and able to take their book on. And if a publisher does take on your book, the royalties you make from each book sold are very small.
  • Self-publishing services, or hybrid publishers: If you are willing and able to pay to have your book produced, a self-publishing services provider, or a hybrid publisher (including some indie publishers), can produce your book and publish your book for you. With these models, you may have to do the marketing and distribution yourselves. Seek a quote from two or more sources.
  • Beware of vanity publishers: You may think you are dealing with a “publisher” for a while, and you may even have signed a contract with them to produce your book, before you realise they are in fact a vanity publisher. If they haven’t stated in the contract that they will be editing and designing your book to a professional standard, your book may be sub-standard. Read the above section about vanity publishers, and do the online checks. Seek a quote from two or more sources to avoid getting ripped off. Then carefully read the terms and conditions of your contract before accepting it.

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

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

Image: Copyright S W Kane.


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