We run into many new "publishers" these days. With the proliferation of digital printing technologies and Print-On-Demand (POD), many new companies have sprouted up (anyone remember SPROUT?) These companies offer many different combinations of book creation services that can confound and trap an eager writer. Some of these companies offer to publish books for writers by producing the book cover and layout, digitally printing the books, and filling orders; others offer production and POD fulfillment services without publishing the book; still, others offer just the POD fulfillment without the production or the publishing; and others offer just short-run digital printing without POD fulfillment production services or the publishing. There is a lot of confusion and misnomenclature out there! Furthermore, it's a tangled jungle of new and different types of publishers, producers, printers, and, most importantly, predators. Let's distinguish between the various entities..
Who Is a Publisher?
A publisher is any company or individual who owns the International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, of a book. The owner ascribes one of their ISBNs to a given book title and becomes the "Publisher-of-Record" for that title. If you are "published by" a traditional royalty trade publisher, or "pay to be published" with a vanity press or an online publisher who assigns your book an ISBN, then, obviously, you are not the publisher. They are the publisher and you are the author.
Who Is Not a Publisher?
We hear many authors today claim they are self-publishing because they have personally paid to have their written work put into book form and sold by a service. This understanding might be incorrect. The truth lies in who owns the ISBN for that book. If the author applied for and paid for the ISBN in his or her own name, then no matter who produces and sells the book, the author has become the publisher of record -- an authentic self-publisher. If the author paid a vanity press or online publisher to produce and sell the book and that service issues one of their own ISBNs to the title, then that service is the publisher.
The ISBN is used to track a book title throughout the book industry from publisher to seller and everywhere in between. The ISBN identifies the title and who published it. This is why it matters.
In today's book industry, there is a stigma attached to self-publishing that must be overcome. The stigma comes from the proliferation of poorly developed, poorly edited, and poorly designed books that are being produced by vanity presses, online publishers, and sloppy self-publishers. The key to overcoming that stigma for self-publishers is to produce a quality product that is indistinguishable from any other book produced by trade publishers. If a vanity press or online publisher is publishing your book, there might be a stigma associated with that particular company and there is not much you can do about that. There are very few vanity presses and online publishers that do not have a recognized stigma within the book industry. What can happen to your book if it is recognized as being published by one of these companies? Mainstream book reviewers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers may ignore your book. If you have self-published, there is at least an opportunity for your book to NOT be recognized as a vanity press or online publisher. In such a case, the onus is on you as the publisher to prove quality and beat the stigma associated with self-publishing.
More P's in the POD
Online publishers produce books for writers and print them using on-demand or short-run digital printing technologies versus larger-quantity traditional offset printing. This is usually called "Print On Demand" -- printing one book to fill an order. This is great for the writer because POD means no inventory, and the cost to print books is incurred only when a book is ordered. This may also be an adversity for the writer to overcome commercially. Because each book is printed per order, they usually cannot be returned. The book industry typically does not wish to order books that cannot be returned. And, sadly, the quality of many or most online publisher's books is often poor -- another reason for the book industry to reject books produced in this way.
But let's not throw the P's out with the bathwater... there are very good uses for short-run digital printing and POD. Let's first get our P's and Q's in order.... Online publishing is not synonymous with digital printing or POD. Online publishers are sometimes called "POD publishers;" however, this does not mean that they are POD printers... they are publishers first and foremost. They might digitally print the titles they publish or they might contract an outside digital printer to print the books and fill the order. Along those same lines, it is worth saying that digital and POD printers are usually not publishers... they are printers first and foremost. Additionally, POD is not synonymous with digital printing. All POD is digital printing, but not all digital printing is POD. Digital printing is often used for short-quantity runs of books, what Dan Poynter calls "PQN" (Print Quantity Needed).
There are many good printers out there and using PQN or POD digital printing for testing, galleys, short-run publishing, specialty markets, and custom publishing is a great idea. The determining factors and questions to ask should be, "Where do I plan to sell or market my book and what does that particular channel require from my book?" "Will POD be acceptable or not?" "Do the benefits of POD outweigh any hindrances or possible stigmas associated with it?"
At this point, it might be worth discussing Lightning Source as an example of where the P's may become confusing. Lightning Source provides a PQN or POD digital printing solution for publishers. And check this out... Ingram owns them. By using their PQN or POD digital printing services (YOU are the publisher, it is YOUR ISBN on the books), your book appears in the Ingram database if you opt into their Distribution Program. If you are tentative and don't want to pay for an initial book run of over 750 books, this may be a viable option for you. You are the publisher. Your publishing imprint is on the book; you set the price of your book; you determine discounts; and Lightning Source does not take a cut of your sales. You pay for services only (printing and shipping, plus a nominal file cataloging fee). You decide whether or not to accept returns. Bookstores will order books from Lightning Source, most likely through Ingram. Beware though, many distributors will not rep digitally printed titles to retail. (That's another article!)
So What Is True Self-Publishing?
A self-publisher makes a commitment to write and produce his or her own book for many reasons. The decision is a big one and must be carefully considered (see our download seminar, "Is Self Publishing For Me?" available on our site.) It's not for everyone. A good definition of self-publishing is a writer who subsidizes the logistics (ISBN, PCIP, etc.), editorial, design, layout and typesetting, manufacturing, marketing, and promotion of the book they have written. Commercial self-publishing is a commitment to produce and sell a book that rivals traditional trade publisher's books in quality and competition. In order to be successful, these self-publishers often contract a team of professionals (like ours) to help develop, produce, and promote the book -- each professional having credible expertise in their particular area of publishing. True commercial self-publishing is not looking for the cheapest way to get a manuscript turned into a book. True self-publishing is not entrusting your commercial publishing dream to a stigmatized vanity press or online publisher with little return in the marketplace. True commercial self-publishers fully research, understand, and weigh their publishing and book production options.
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Pneuma Books is not a Publisher, Subsidy Publisher, Vanity Press, POD, or Book Printer. Pneuma Books is a Book Producer. Pneuma Books does not issue ISBN numbers.