The Measures That Matter

From Publishers Weekly:

A fellow publishing professional told me recently that she wished hybrid publishing had a different name—that it would be better if hybrid publishing could be clearer, sexier somehow, as if that would solve its lingering challenges. But there is no name hybrid publishing could adopt that would change the fact that it’s a gray zone—between traditional publishing and self-publishing—or that it’s an emerging model that’s still being defined.

The Independent Book Publishers Association took a giant step earlier this year to codify hybrid publishing by laying out nine criteria that publishers must meet to be called hybrid publishers. The criteria are important because hybrid publishing, despite its unsexy name, does have clear appeal. It’s getting attention. The industry is writing about it and therefore further codifying and validating it. And because the business model is one in which authors pay, service providers and other entities that do not meet the criteria are calling themselves hybrid because it behooves them to do so.

Not all of these players are sinister. I’ve talked to plenty of service providers who say, “We’re hybrid. We meet most of the criteria.” The issue is that most isn’t enough, and hybrid publishing will only be fully embraced and legitimized once the good actors understand that aspiring to be hybrid and being hybrid are two separate things.

Hybrid publishing has, in fact, been around for as long as publishers have existed. In its simplest definition, hybrid publishing is traditional publishing in which authors invest in their own book projects in exchange for higher royalties. On the front end, the difference comes down to the money and who pays; on the back end, reputable hybrid publishers must adhere to the industry’s best practices and standards. Traditional publishers have been cutting these kinds of deals for decades, and often the authors who want them are the savviest and most entrepreneurial: they understand that there’s a certain insanity to giving up over 90% of their earnings and that the reality of a big advance is that it has the potential to be a career killer.

. . . .

One editor, quoted in a 2014 Publishers Weekly article titled, “The Rise of the Seven-Figure Advance,” in attempting to explain these enormous advances, said, “The whole pool of talent is shrinking. There are fewer publishers, fewer slots, and fewer submissions, so… the higher the quality of the project, the more you’re likely to get.”

The talent pool is not shrinking. Far from it. It’s just that there are fewer “sure bets”: the debut (often young and attractive) literary ingenues and celebrities. Publishers cry poor and then throw a million dollars on red. What’s actually shrinking is any space within traditional publishing for new ways of thinking about how publishers might do business. Those who think outside the box, as always, are the indies.

The big question that continues to challenge hybrid publishers is how they can prove they have a stake in projects if they’re not paying for them.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has responses to a couple of issues raised in the OP.

  1. A fellow publishing professional told me recently that she wished hybrid publishing had a different name – Perhaps it could be called Big Five Bankruptcy Insurance.
  2. The big question that continues to challenge hybrid publishers is how they can prove they have a stake in projects if they’re not paying for them. – Include a clause in the publishing agreement that permits the author to terminate the agreement and regain all rights to the book(s) upon reasonable notice – one year should work.

PG also cautions that a hybrid publisher is not the same as a hybrid author.

PG also double-cautions that more than one “hybrid publisher” is really operated to rip off authors without providing any meaningful commercial value.

10 thoughts on “The Measures That Matter”

  1. “The whole pool of talent is shrinking. There are fewer publishers, fewer slots, and fewer submissions, so… the higher the quality of the project, the more you’re likely to get.”

    Only if you’re a ‘big name’ they think the public will buy for that name. It’s also a great way to ‘pay/bribe/donate’ to that big name without getting into trouble – and hey – those big payouts might be fooling the dumber writers into thinking they too can get a big check for their book.

    Like PG, I’d suggest hybrid writers not use hybrid publishers – or the old fashioned publishers either, and I see Writer Beware had a new warning out Friday of more outfits to give a pass.

    MYMV and you not be taken by flim-flam artists. 😉

    • It’s Pay-to-play publishing.

      Not quite Tradpub, not quite vanity…or at least the honest ones are. The problem is it’s closer to Vanity that tradpub and it’s hard to tell the honest operators from the scam artists.

      The idea is they offer one-stop publishing services for hire for authors unwilling or unable to manage the process themselves, typically because they want the “all-important” B&M shelf space. Which, yes, would be important to established legacy authors but… well, to a total newcomer without an installed base POD is a whole lot cheaper, albeit with a lower margin.

      A hybrid publisher might offer editing, formatting, graphics, and the connections to China to order up a traditional print run…all paid up-front by the author, either in cash, a piece of copyright, or both.

      Easy to see why they struggle to prove their bonafides, right?

      And the OP is right: it is an old business model that harks to before the nineteenth century, when authors would pay a printer to run a batch of pbooks for an upfront free. Over time, the printers started doing more and demanding more and became what is now the legacy publishing business that has been mostly taken over by the multinationals. The smaller players that are getting hit the hardest by disintermediation seem to have reverted to the older model to try to stay afloat.

      Personally, I don’t think there is enough money in today’s markets for the model to work for honest operators.

      At the low end sales will be too low for a fair distribution so one or the other (most likely the author) will get shorted. At the high end, sales will be high enough the author will have enough leverage to negotiate a non industry-standard contract with an advance somewhere, instead of having to pay. What remains is mostly a narrow band of legacy midlisters dropped by the BPHs, successful Indies willing to pay to offload the backend workflow, and… Well, Dreamers with cash…

      The idea is that you have to spend (lots of) money to make money but the assumption that B&M access is essential isn’t real. The payoff is limited and in most cases not justifiable for newcomers.

  2. Hybrid publishing? You mean like Author Solutions? This is just vanity presses re-labeling themselves “progressive” so they don’t go out of business. Either you’re a publisher, or your not.

    Authors can be hybrid, publishers cannot.

    • Sure they can.
      They can try, anyway.
      As the OP points out, it’s a bad term but they haven’t come up with anything else to explain it.

      An author is a hybrid if they send some books down a traditional publishing channel and some through non-traditional channels like direct sales, KDP, KU, D2D, Lightning source, etc. “Hybrid” refers to their distribution channels and revenue sources.

      A publisher is hybrid if they earn some of their money from selling/licensing books and some from the author. “Hybrid” publishing refers solely to how they get their money.

      An honest Hybrid publisher might split the cost of getting a book to market 50-50 with the author and, likewise, split 50-50 the net revenues (after warehousing and returns, pulping, etc), if any.

      The risk is the “if any”.

      An honest hybrid publisher that takes on too many “less than popular” titles might find themselves making 90% of their net from Author payments instead of from the minimal book sales. Depending on their bookkeeping, that might put them out of business or make them an accidental vanity press.

      It’s slippery turf on both ends.
      Publishers want to minimize risk and one way to minimize it is to not only pay minimal or non-existent advances but to actually “share” their costs with the author. How the costs and revenues are shared and how discriminating they are in taking on “partners” to share them with is the distinction between a hybrid press and a vanity press.

      As with everything publishing related, the devil lies in tbe details.

      It’s just a different minefield for authors to navigate, different risks and different trade offs. And, more often than not, another game that it is safest not to play because there is no significant difference between a scammer and an honest but incompetent operator.

  3. “Hybrid Publishing” is merely a rebranding of what used to be known as “Subsidy Publishing” – i.e. where the author pays some or all of the publishing costs. (In practice, they usually pay more than 100% of the publishing costs.)

    Many vanity presses have also rebranded as hybrid publishers to confuse authors.

    Publications like Publishers Weekly have given a huge assist in that rebranding by giving glowing coverage to the likes of She Writes Press and Austin Macauley – who just happen to be big Publishers Weekly advertisers.

    Case in point: the author of this article is Brooke Warner, founder of She Writes Press – where it costs over $5,000 to publish a book.

    Brooke Warner is also the chairperson of the IBPA, which drew up the meaningless hybrid publisher guidelines that are nothing more than a smokescreen for charging authors obscene sums like this.

    And thus the circle is complete.

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