IBPA Hybrid Publisher Criteria

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From Independent Book Publishers Association:

Hybrid publishing companies behave just like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves and, in exchange, return a higher-than-industry-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. A hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales.

Although hybrid publishing companies are author-subsidized, they are different from other author-subsidized models (i.e., self-publishing service providers) in that hybrid publishers adhere—without exception—to the following set of professional publishing criteria.

For the avoidance of doubt, this means organizations that do not adhere to the entirety of IBPA’s Hybrid Publisher Criteria—or adhere to most, but not all of the criteria—are not hybrid publishers as IBPA would define them and should not be calling themselves “hybrid.” These organizations are better categorized as self-publishing service providers. In a self-publishing service provider/author relationship, it is the author who plays the publisher role.

Self-publishing service providers mislabeling themselves as hybrid publishers, whether knowingly or unknowingly, are contributing to the confusion and exploitation of authors and are rightly called out for doing so.

A hybrid publisher must:

  1. Define a mission and vision for its publishing program. A hybrid publisher has a publishing mission and a vision. In a traditional publishing company, the published work often reflects the interests and values of its publisher, whether that’s a passion for poetry or a specialization in business books. Good hybrid publishers are no different.
  2. Vet submissions. A hybrid publisher vets submissions, publishing only those titles that meet the mission and vision of the company, as well as a defined quality level set by the publisher. Good hybrid publishers don’t publish everything that comes over the transom and often decline to publish.
  3. Commit to truth and transparency in business practices. It should go without saying, but like any reputable business, a hybrid publisher must commit to transparency in its business practices. This includes being clear about the cost of services and providing an honest estimation of each book’s potential for success. A hybrid publisher is also fair and transparent in its financial dealings, writes contracts in understandable language, and resolves any disputes promptly and fairly. A hybrid publisher never misleads potential authors with false promises, inflated sales data, or manipulated reviews.
  4. Provide a negotiable, easy-to-understand contract for each book published. A hybrid publisher supplies a clear, negotiable contract at the start of every negotiation which sets out—in understandable language—the exact scope of the arrangement, including term limits and compensation. All contracts should include regular reviews and updates as needed. A clear rights-reversion clause must be included in every contract. A hybrid publisher should be clear that it welcomes potential authors to discuss the proposed contract with neutral third-party advisors, such as a legal advisor or authors guild.
  5. Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs. A hybrid publisher is a true publishing house, with either a publisher or a publishing team developing and distributing books using the hybrid publisher’s own imprint(s) and ISBNs.
  6. Publish to industry standards. A hybrid publisher accepts full responsibility for the quality of the titles it publishes. Books released by a hybrid publisher should be on par with traditionally published books in terms of adherence to industry standards, which are detailed in IBPA’s Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book.
  7. Ensure editorial, design, and production quality. A hybrid publisher is responsible for producing books edited, designed, and produced to a professional degree. This includes assigning editors for developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading, as needed, together with following traditional standards for a professionally designed book. All editors and designers must be publisher approved; they can be part of the publisher’s internal staff or outsourced, or a mix of both options.
  8. Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights. A hybrid publisher normally publishes in both print and digital formats, as appropriate, and perhaps pursues other rights, in order to reach the widest possible readership. As with a traditional publisher, authors may negotiate to keep their subsidiary rights, such as foreign language, audio, and other derivative rights.
  9. Provide distribution services. A hybrid publisher has a strategic approach to making books available to consumers beyond the simple mechanism of uploading files to online retailers and making books available for purchase online. Depending on the hybrid publisher, this may mean partnering with a traditional distributor that has a team of sales representatives who actively market and sell books to retailers, libraries, wholesalers, etc., or it may mean publisher outreach to a network of specialty retailers, clubs, or other niche-interest organizations. At minimum, a hybrid publisher has a marketing and sales strategy for each book it publishes, inclusive of appropriate sales channels for that book, and provides assistance and/or education to the author seeking to execute or understand this strategy in order to get his or her book in front of its target audience. This is in addition to listing books with at least one industry-recognized wholesaler.
  10. Demonstrate respectable sales. A hybrid publisher should have a record of producing several books that sell in respectable quantities for the book’s niche with a demonstrated sales track record with like titles. This varies from niche to niche; small niches, such as poetry and literary fiction, may see sales of less than a couple thousand copies, while mass-market books require more.
  11. Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty. When compensation is based on royalties, a hybrid publisher pays its authors more than the industry-standard* royalty range on print and digital books in exchange for the author’s personal investment. Although royalties are generally negotiable, the author’s share must be laid out transparently and must be commensurate with the author’s investment. In most cases, the author’s royalty should be greater than 50% of net on both print and digital books.

Link to the rest at Independent Book Publishers Association

PG says good luck enforcing that. PG has heard just as many complaints about Hybrid Publishers as he has about traditional publishers.

9 thoughts on “IBPA Hybrid Publisher Criteria”

  1. The hard part can be getting past the rhetoric and marketing and (all too often fake) testimonials. There’s a helpful functional test, perhaps best expressed in a four-cell decision matrix… and it’s really not that hard, and has objectively-verifiable elements. Unfortunately, this comment system doesn’t make for the nice neat matrix, but I’ll try (optimized for printed copies, but electronic is similar):

    Who owns (has legal title to, not mere possession) the first copy as it comes off the press — Author (A) or Publisher (P)?
    What is the contractually guaranteed direction of money flow from revenue (not profits) received at the moment the first copy comes off the press — inward toward the author (I) or zero-to-outward (O)?

    Which leaves us with four possibilities:

    PI is the NYC-based commercial publishing model
    PO is vanity publishing
    AI is self-publishing
    AO is something I’ve seen only at zero, when the entire purpose of publishing is as publicity for something else — In Pursuit of Excellence got its start this way (it was a publicity/premium given out at hundreds-of-dollars-a-day “executive training sessions”)

    Keep in mind that this is just to force the rest of the conversation into a box that enables comparison of “how good/bad is the deal?” (Usually some variation on “the author is getting screwed,” even with self-publishing electronically… because there are still other investments required.)

    Applying this analysis to the IBPA “list” is highly enlightening, and reveals just how much of that list is about softening the blow and hiding the nature of the transaction.

  2. Sounds like the No True Scotsman problem. If it’s a bad deal for authors, supporters will say, “Well, that’s no true hybrid.”

  3. The problem lies in the descriptor. “Hybrid” implies legitimacy, when in fact these companies are nothing more than vanity publishers, “vetting” or not.

    The best thing members of the publishing industry can do is stop calling them hybrid publishers and refer to them as what they are. That will end the confusion posthaste.

    • Back in the day, the difference between a vanity publisher and a print shop and bindery was in the claims of access to the distribution network.

      My church published in the mid-20th century a church history. It is professionally produced, and very well: good paper, every sign of professional book design, and excellent hardcover binding. It was published for the church’s internal use, with no expectation of commercial distribution. This makes the process something other than vanity publishing. The vanity publisher promised not merely a physical book, but that it would be sold in bookstores. Bookstores, however, had no interest in devoting space to books from these publishers, and the publishers did not put any real effort into it. That was not their business model.

      What does this mean today? Indie authors typically aren’t aiming for bricks-and-mortar bookstores, and e-commerce platforms are happy to list such books and take a cut of however little or much they sell. In these instances, the only real question is whether the services the hybrid publisher provides are worth the cost. I suspect that it would be cheaper for the author to farm the various services out to individual freelancers, but I can imagine situations where an author considers saving hassle to be worth the cost.

      Items 2 and 9 from this list are what would move the outfit from a publishing services provider to an actual publisher. They also are not transparent to a potential author. Do they really have a good distribution system, or do they just talk a good game? How are we to know? The underlying problem is that with the author putting up the upfront costs, the publisher has less skin in the game. If their distribution system works well, they get revenue from it. But if it doesn’t, they aren’t exposed. This seems to me the systemic problem with the model.

      • Terms like publishing services and hybrid publishers are too often abused by vanity publishers. To me a true publishing services provider should offer a menu of services at fixed, one-time prices. And traditional publishers should offer up an upfront advance and a time-limited distribution contract.

        Anything else (outside actual indie publishing) is predatory to one degree or another.
        Spending time trying to weigh the degree of predation is a waste of time.

  4. Hybrid publishers tend to be hybrids between overtly and deeply-hidden deceptive practices as the foundation of the business model. The fun is trying to determine which is which.

  5. Self-publishing doesn’t really work for the market I write in (early baseball history). I looked at hybrids and came to pretty much the same conclusion. I can see how it might work OK in principle, but in practice it is hard to tell which outfits are actually useful. I can imagine some writer I personally know and trust vouching for one, but that is about it. This leaves some form or other of traditional publisher. For the manuscript I just turned it, it is a university press.

    Edit to add: As a reader, the only part that matters to me is whether the book was vetted. Many books are disguised to look like they are traditionally published for just this reason. I have learned to research the publisher when considering a book purchase, unless it is by an author I know or is within my specific area of interest such that I will buy it just to see what people are saying.

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