Hybrid Publishing: Does It Define You? Does It Matter?
Jennifer Baum is publisher and editorial director at Scribe Publishing Company. She is writing a series of articles for MIPA on insights from the 2015 IBPA Publishing University.
Across the publishing industry, new business models are developed every day. As publishers (who are often also writers), we look for ways to create a more author-friendly industry, and at the same time, many authors are taking matters into their own hands and self-publishing or grouping with other authors to practice cooperative publishing.
Somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing lies the most elusive of them all: hybrid publishing.
At its core, hybrid publishing allows publishers to selectively borrow elements from both traditional publishing and self-publishing models to create a tailored approach. The term is somewhat of a catch-all, and unfortunately this means that five different publishers practicing hybrid publishing might have five different ways of defining it.
A common thread is that there is some type of curating involved on the publisher’s part (generally not all submissions are accepted) and the publisher provides its authors with editorial, promotion, and distribution support. Sometimes authors are required to contribute financially to production, and often authors are paid higher royalties than would be customary with traditional publishers.
In an April 2015 Huffington Post article, Brooke Warner of She Writes Press notes that the real qualifier of a hybrid publisher is that the author pays to publish. If this is the case, then there’s a murky line between what’s traditionally been called “vanity publishing” and what’s now being called “hybrid publishing.”
On the other hand, writer David Vinjamuri in a January 2014 Forbes article says hybrid publishers “combine traits of both traditional publishers and indie authors with a dash of Silicon Valley technology.” Vinjamuri goes on to define the model as paying few advances, having few salaries, and adopting agile marketing and timing of book releases.
Since jumping feet first into the world of publishing in 2011, I had some ideas on how I wanted to run my company but didn’t spend too much time trying to define what I was doing. I knew we certainly weren’t a vanity press (a question I still get a lot, even now), but we also definitely weren’t an established “traditional” publisher, either—there were too many hurdles to clear, and that takes time.
This spring at a panel discussion at the 2015 IBPA Publishing University, I was drawn to the many definitions of “hybrid publishing,” a term I hadn’t previously given much thought to.
It is a good thing that in a time when print costs are high and bringing a book to market is a risky endeavor, hybrid publishing has enabled new publishing companies to get off the ground, which is generally beneficial for writers. Hybrid publishers seem more willing to try out new technologies, such as the improvements in printing on demand. I never could have launched Scribe Publishing Company in 2011 without relying on a print-on-demand model, which meant I could afford to bring a book to market without risking an expensive print run that may or may not move once it’s on a shelf (if it even made it to a shelf).
However, the print-on-demand model comes with myriad setbacks and insufficiencies (another post for another day), and now in 2015 as Scribe Publishing Company shifts from a print-on-demand model to printing initial runs of 500 to 5,000+ and using a traditional book distributor, perhaps the only “hybrid” aspects of my company are that we currently do not pay advances when signing authors, and that we don’t have a salaried staff.
So could Scribe Publishing Company even be considered hybrid anymore? Was it ever to begin with, since we have never and will never charge authors a fee to publish the work we select? Does it even matter? I don’t know, but the writer in me is a little cautious of the term “hybrid publishing,” and the way I see it, the bottom line is: Regardless of how you define yourself or your company, if you are publishing the work of others, for the sake of writers and your own authors, and for the respect that comes from complete transparency with and ownership of your business practices, it’s important to be straightforward from the beginning with authors on what your company’s operating procedures and expectations are. Our initial contract noted that books would be printed on demand through Ingram’s Lightning Source, since I myself was wary of the “print on demand” stigma (as it turns out: rightfully so), and I didn’t want that to be something we hid from authors. Hybrid publishing seems to leave room for both the publisher and author to be happy, but it’s the publisher’s responsibility to make it so.
To hear the panel discussion from the IBPA’s Publishing University 2015 session on “Publishing the Work of Others: An Exploration of Traditional and Hybrid Publishing Models for Aspiring or Beginning Publishers,” go to http://vwtapes.com/traditionalhybridmodelsforaspiringorbeginningpublishersmp3.aspx. The session is available as an MP3 for $10.
The 25th Annual Midwest Book Awards Gala was held on May 13, 2015, at the Olson Campus Center at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. Hundreds came to celebrate the finest in independent publishing. Congratulations to all the winners, finalists, and the supporters they brought to the gala. You truly made it a great party. Also a big thank you to all of our judges and volunteers.
The 2014 Midwest Book Awards attracted 185 books, entered in 42 categories. A record 90 publishers from the 12 Midwestern states in our region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) participated. Some books were entered in more than one category—for a total of 372 entries.
Click here to view the List of winners and finalists.
Entries for the 26th Annual Midwest Book Awards for books published in 2015 will be accepted starting in the fall of 2015.
Don Leeper Receives the 2015 Pat Bell Award
The 2015 recipient of the Pat Bell Award is Don Leeper, founder of Bookmobile in Minneapolis, MN, and a pioneer in independent publishing in the Midwest.
About Don Leeper
Don Leeper grew up surrounded by his family’s books, so it was no surprise that he majored in English literature. He soon landed a job as production manager at the Twin Cities Reader, which began a lifelong career in publishing and printing, with Don often leading the way as new technological advances forced changes in both industries.
Soon he started Alphabet Express, which provided quality book design and typesetting services for the University of Minnesota Press and the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Quality work and Don’s willingness to jump at new opportunities set his business apart from the others.
One huge opportunity came in the form of “turning authors’ word processing files into typeset book pages”—the beginning of modern-day self-publishing. Don remembers, “Most typesetters didn’t want to screw around with files from Wordstar or any of the other rudimentary software editors that authors were beginning to use. We made a specialty of scraping book content from oddball disk formats and programs. There were lots of them: some 50-odd disk formats and a dozen word processing programs (this was before Microsoft secured its monopoly and winnowed everything down to Windows and Microsoft Word).” As the business grew, which included buying offset printing for multiple publishers and phototypesetting, its name was changed to Stanton Publication Services.
Soon Macintosh, Pagemaker, Quark, and other technology appeared and made typesetting (both the trade and the machinery) obsolete. Don realized that “digital technology will eat everything in its path.” Forward to 1994 and a Pioneer Press article on the idea of print on demand. Don’s vast knowledge and experience in book printing told him it didn’t make sense economically unless books could be sold on the Internet, but he was still intrigued.
Then he heard about Amazon, and “we immediately began planning to enter the digital printing business,” he said. It was 1996, and the technology was so primitive he could only print bound galleys or ARCs. But “right from the beginning, our aim was to print books, not just bound galleys, so we continually upgraded equipment and procedures, hoping ultimately to produce books indistinguishable from those printed on offset presses.”
It took a few years, but “now in 2015, with the parallel evolution of digital presses, binding equipment, and our own processes, we certainly match offset and, in some cases, surpass it in quality.”
Along the way the company name was changed again. This time to Bookmobile, and today Bookmobile prints books (including art books for museums and galleries), provides ebook conversions and distribution, and offers book distribution through Itasca Books.
Now in its 34th year, Bookmobile has printed several million books and continues to provide services for publishers large and small. Don sees opportunities continuing to appear but does not fear that printed books will be lost. He says, “The flow of beautifully printed new editions of interesting work by authors, poets, artists, and photographers is continuing testimony to the power and importance of the printed book.”
About the Pat Bell Award
In 2010, MIPA awarded the first Pat Bell Award in honor of a woman who, for many years, was the rock of the organization and a long-time board member. On the phone, by email, or during meetings, Pat Bell patiently answered the many questions posed by MIPA members and others curious about publishing. Pat Bell embraced the Internet early on, and soon her mentorship extended nationwide through chat rooms and user lists. Publishers Marketing Association (PMA)—now IBPA, Independent Book Publishers Association, a national organization of independent publishers—recognized her expertise. She was asked to serve on its board and became a major national advocate for independent publishers.
Past winners of the Pat Bell Award include:
2010: Sybil Smith, leader in the development of Midwest Independent Publishers Association and Publisher, Smith House Press
2011: Julie Arthur, longtime buyer for Barnes and Noble and advocate for Midwest writers
2012: Mary Ann Grossmann, book reviewer for St. Paul Pioneer Press and friend of Midwestern publishers and authors
2013: Loris and Marlin Bree, charter members of MIPA, first chair of Midwest Book Awards, and passionate advocates for independent publishing
2014: Patricia Rouner Morris, past president of MIPA, author, professional editor, and publishing consultant