There are many different business models out there in the publishing industry. As many as there probably are in any manufacturing or creative industry business. SaskBooks supports all publishing activity; below is a list of terms and what they mean in the publishing industry. “Editorial discretion” is a term that shows up frequently when we talk about different business models in publishing.
Ultimately, the decision to produce a book is a commercial one. No publisher (with the possible exception of promotional publishers) produces a book without the intent to sell it. Editorial discretion means the publisher has extensive knowledge of the market and/or has done market research to know *how well* the book they intend to produce can be expected to sell in their known/tested markets. Businesses without editorial discretion do not focus on the marketability of a title; they earn their income “up front”, and do not rely on book sales to continue production.
Printer or Pay-to-Print
Printers are not publishers. Printing is only one portion of the production that a manuscript undergoes in its journey to become a book (and it’s not even the last step). Printers or pay-to-print services do not edit manuscripts (or may offer a cursory proofread) nor do interior/cover design (although some printers may have a design department available for hire). Printers and pay-to-print services do not market, promote, or distribute your books. Some printers also bind books. That still doesn’t make them a publisher. Printers and pay-to-print services do not exercise editorial discretion; they will print whatever their client requests them to print.
Print-on-Demand services are no different from printers. They usually do not offer much in the way of editing or design or other production services. They may have a cursory or specialised distribution network. Print-on-demand and pay-to-print services are wonderful for manuscripts which have already undergone the production process. In other words, for market-ready books. Print-on-Demand (POD) services are great for small publishers or for self-publishers to reduce print costs for their books or for publishers to use to produce Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) or bound galleys. POD services do not exercise editorial discretion. They will produce whatever their clients request them to produce.
A vanity press generates revenue primarily through selling print and design services directly to authors; profits don’t come from book sales. What makes a company a “vanity press” is how they appeal to a writer’s vanity – many vanity presses are critical of the literary publishing schedule of manuscript submission/rejection. They may talk about how certain titles were rejected multiple times by “mainstream publishing” before becoming an “overnight success” with the publisher that eventually accepted the manuscript for production. Vanity Presses often have a variety of ‘menu items’ to choose from for writers who “just want to get [their] book(s) on the shelves”. Vanity presses do not exercise editorial discretion. That is to say, anyone through the door willing to pay for their services gets what they pay for. Many vanity presses do not provide specialised marketing plans, promotions, or distribution services. Some vanity presses retain copyright for the books they produce! Some register the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to their own company rather than to the writer who’s paying for the service (this has impacts on marketing and distribution). This is a very “production line” form of publishing which doesn’t usually focus on the unique aspects of each title.
A self-publisher is, quite simply, a writer who publishes her own works. Self-publishers may hire out the work for their books, and in fact, most do hire editors or designers or publicists or marketing consultants or distributors. They may choose to do all of this work themselves. Ultimately, someone who self-publishes is someone who pays for all of the production, marketing, and distribution work on their own book themselves and puts the book out under an imprint or a business name which they control. Self-publishers exercise editorial discretion over what they choose to publish; nobody is going to publish a book that won’t sell, so self-publishers usually do market research before they bite the proverbial publishing bullet. Self-publishers rely on book sales for ongoing revenue.
Hybrid Publisher/Publishing Partner
This is a model we see more of now than previously. Sometimes labelled ‘self-publishers’ or ‘vanity presses’, hybrid publishers take a little bit from the submission-model publishing model and a little bit from the “self-publishing” model. Hybrid publishers (or publishing services, or publishing consultants) form a very close business relationship with the writers whose work they produce. Hybrid publishers exercise editorial discretion, they conduct market research, and they rely on book sales to generate revenue. Hybrid publishers often receive bridge financing from the clients whose works they choose to produce. This is different from submission-model publishers for whose services writers do not have to pay. Hybrid publishing is not new. It could be argued that some forms of scholarly or academic publishing are a form of hybrid publishing, because many scholarly or academic works arrive with grants, bursaries, or some kind of investment for research or for book production. Nevertheless, a hybrid publisher will charge writers for things like editorial or design services, entry fees for award programs or advertising purchases; the writer along with the publisher has some “skin in the game” in hybrid publishing. Most hybrid publishers have mandates to produce books from traditionally under-represented demographics, or for niche publishing. In fact, submission-model publishers will often produce books that are financed wholly or in part by clients who wish to have their story told – for example, a business may wish to produce a book to commemorate a milestone, and will commission a publisher to produce the book. Hybrid publishers earn their profits through book sales, not through bridge financing with clients.