Monday, July 14, 2014

Subsidy and Vanity Publishers - What Are They and Who Are They?

The definition is short and sweet:

Wikipedia - “A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published.”

The Free Dictionary - “A publisher that publishes a book at the expense of the author.”

Authors who self-publish also pay to publish their own books. But if they use a subsidy press, they are not truly self-published because another factor besides money comes into play - ownership of the ISBN:

Street Directory - “When you publish via a Subsidy Press, they are technically the Publisher of Record because they own the ISBN number. They cannot (and will not) sell you the number, give you the number, or assign ownership of the number to you. As long as they own the ISBN, they are the publisher. You did not self-publish. You paid someone to publish you. The only way for you to own the ISBN is for you to buy it from the only ISBN broker in the US; Bowkers.”

If an author has not purchased the ISBN from Bowker, then they are not self-published.

Ultimately, a subsidy publisher is simply a servicing company. They make money by selling services to writers and authors. And like any business, they are in it to make money. So, for these services, they charge a much higher price so they can make a profit. (For example, if you register your work with the Copyright Office, it’s $35.00 and the cost of mailing two books. Some subsidy presses charge as high as $170.00 to do the same thing.)

The easiest way to remember the difference between the three types of publishing is through this formula:

Traditional -
Publisher pays all expenses to produce and distribute book
Publisher owns the ISBN
Publisher makes money by selling books to the public

Self -
Author pays all expenses to produce and distribute book
Author owns the ISBN
Author makes money by selling books to the public

Subsidy -
Author pays all expenses to produce and distribute book
Publisher owns the ISBN
Publisher makes money by selling services to the author

Now, who are these subsidy presses? Below is a short list of the hundreds out there.

Note that these three can also be considered subsidy presses - CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords. (And there are several others.) Again, it all comes down to who owns the ISBN. If the author buys his or her ISBN from Bowker and uses those companies to print & distribute, it’s considered self-publishing. If the author uses an ISBN provided by those companies, then he or she is subsidy published.

List of Subsidy Publishers

Vantage Press
Author Solutions (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris and Trafford)
Dorrance Publishing
Outskirts Press
Morris Publishing
America Star Books (formerly PublishAmerica)
Xulon Press
SBPRA/Strategic Book Publishing/Eloquent Books (formerly known as The Literary Agency Group and AEG Publishing Group)
Janus Press
Bookstand Publishing
Tate Publishing
Mill City Press
Whitmore Publishing Company

What other vanity presses have you encountered? Have you experience with one of these comapnies?


Clarissa Draper said...

Doesn't Amazon have it's own vanity press? I think it's Create Space. Not sure though.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I haven't encountered any vanity presses. Thanks for sharing the list.

Mason Canyon said...

It's sad to think an author does all the work believing they're self-publishing by using one of these subsidy publishers and they're really just losing money in the long run.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I promise to avoid them!

Karen Walker said...

Oh, Diane, I wish I had known you when I began the process of publishing my memoir. I didn't know anything back then and after trying for 1 1/2 ears to find an agent, I decided to self-publish. Until I read this post of yours, I thought that's what I did. But I used one of the companies on your list. I didn't even realize I didn't own my own ISBN. I feel so stupid.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Clarissa, they do. I mentioned them just before the list, as a writer can come in with his or her own ISBN and not be subsidy published.

Mason, they are, and some of them charge $1000's of dollars.

Karen, you didn't know what you didn't know. Don't worry - been there, done that.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've heard of some people being so ripped off by vanity presses. Taking the time to do the research is so important!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

This is an important public service announcement for writers! Thanks, Diane. There are so many scammers out there.

Robin said...

Great information Diane. Thank you for laying it out so clearly and concisely.

Teresa Powell Coltrin said...

Great info, thanks!

Southpaw said...

I have used Smashwords, lulu, and Createspace. They are good alternatives for people who can't afford an ISBN or don't want to hassle with it. They all provide them for free, and allow you to withdraw you books without issue. I almost think they should have an alternative name like subsidy B. :)

cleemckenzie said...

It really is simple now that you've laid it out. Very clear. Very helpful.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I had no idea there were so many of them out there. I know a number of poets who have used them to publish chap books.

Anne R. Allen said...

Diane--This is a great run-down of publishing alternatives and you've put it all in easy-to-read format. Great post.

There's just one thing: as Southpaw has pointed out, Smashwords, Lulu, CreateSpace, BookBaby and Lightning Source--the primary print providers for self-publishers--can provide you with one of their own ISBNs, for free.

Using them does NOT mean you're vanity published. So a personally owned ISBN doesn't make the best marker for self-published books. All the above POD providers are author services, not vanity publishers.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I never heard of that before, but I would definitely call that a vanity press.

Carol Kilgore said...

I agree with Southpaw and Anne.

Karen Lange said...

Thanks for the breakdown and info. Haven't worked with any of these, but it's good to know.

J E Oneil said...

It doesn't sound like subsidy publishers are much good for anyone besides themselves. I feel like there's a warning siren blaring just looking at the names.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Holly, ISBN are less than $25 each when you purchase a block of ten. That's not bad.

Susan, I didn't even list a quarter of them.

Anne, of course, they are still listed as the publisher. Always best to be listed as your own publisher. (And didn't know Lightning Source offered ISBN - those used to have to be provided by the publisher.)

Lynda R Young said...

Great info to be aware of. Thanks, Diane.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Diane. Thank you for sharing this information. I've not used a vanity press, but I know a couple of people who have.

I bookmarked this post and I shared the link on Twitter and Google+.

Ella said...

Whoah! Thank you, Diane! I thought you could purchase the ISBN at Lulu. I haven't made a book there, but someone was telling me about it. Good to know-

Kimberly said...

I've heard of several of these - and what I've heard is to stay away. :)

Sherry Ellis said...

This is a concise explanation of the
various types of publishers. Could CreateSpace serve as both a subsidiary publisher and a printing company for independent self publishers?

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I didn't know the difference.

I've seen companies on that list on "beware" sites.

Elsie Amata said...

I'm glad you're here to help sort these things out. I'll self publish through Amazon, I think. Thankfully, my CP has been there, done that, so he can help me figure things out. (Thank goodness he's patient!)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great information. I'm saving it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thank you, Suzanne.

Elle, if you get an ISBN from Lulu, basically you're renting it. They purchased it from Bowker and by law can't transfer it to anyone. The book will be listed as published by Lulu.

Sherry, yes! If the author comes with his or her own ISBN, it most certainly can be used for printing and distribution for a self-published author.

M Pax said...

I use the free ISBN with Createspace. I bought 2, but then there were some distributions I wasn't allowed in. So, I get the free one now.

DMS said...

Thanks for sharing the list and the information. I have a friend who was badly burned by a subsidy press (I believe)- but I have no idea which one. All I know is that the forked over a lot of cash for services that weren't provided in the end. :(

Thanks again for this helpful post!

DMS said...

Thanks for sharing the list and the information. I have a friend who was badly burned by a subsidy press (I believe)- but I have no idea which one. All I know is that the forked over a lot of cash for services that weren't provided in the end. :(

Thanks again for this helpful post!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've heard bad things about them. I think you're better off self publishing. I didn't realize some people thought they're the same thing as being self published.

Carol Riggs said...

Very interesting, this delineation! I haven't actually thought of it before. Thanks for the food for thought and the list!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I have not encountered any Vanity Press. Thanks for this informative post.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I self-published my 1st novel and didn't pay for the ISBN. Thinking that was strange, I checked. Nobody pays in Canada.

E.J. Wesley said...

I shared this on G+ the other day. REALLY valuable info. Hope you're enjoying your summer, LD! :)

LD Masterson said...

I was a little uncertain on the vanity/subsidy press issue but didn't know to boil it down to who owns the ISBN. Thank you for this.

klahanie said...

Hi Diane,

Certainly a no thanks to vanity publishers.

Thanks for all the info and explanations.

Time to go pack another box.

Enjoy your weekend.


Milo James Fowler said...

I have a few of my reprints available through Smashwords, and I've used the free ISBNs they offer, so I guess those titles are subsidy-pressed. The author percentages are much higher, even though I still sell more reprints via Amazon. What do you think of the new Kindle Unlimited program? I don't plan on unpublishing and re-enrolling my Smashwords titles in KDP Select -- yet.

Tara Tyler R said...

my friend introduced me to a publisher she knew and i submitted to them and was accepted, but when i looked into it, i saw i would have to pay! i'm glad i turned them down - of course they will accept you, they have nothing to lose!

thanks for getting the word out there!

and thanks for supporting my bbf blog tour!

Nick Wilford said...

Re Tara's comment - you can tell it's a vanity publisher when they instantly accept anything you send them. ;) Rejections are the norm for proper publishing! It's sad to think of them exploiting people's hopes and dreams. Always do your research.

Jay Noel said...

I'm sure there are some good Vanity Presses out there, but generally, they're all predatory.