“Traditional” publishing – let’s just change the definition, shall we?

“Traditional” publishing.

Seems this term has been tweaked, twisted, morphed, and choked into whatever new upstart publisher decides it is – and this disturbing trend makes me want to mainline Draino because it confuses authors into making decisions that aren’t in their best interests.

“Traditional” publishing (lordy be, but I hate that word) means that they pay advances, they actively market and promote their titles, they assume all production and distribution costs, they have standard royalty rates, AND they have distribution to the marketplace (which, for small indies, means they signed a distribution deal with a reputable indie distributor whose sales teams pitch their titles to the national accounts, libraries, and specialized marketplaces).


Yet I see “traditional” start ups offer no advances, don’t market or promote their books, and have zero distribution. And let me take the time to clarify distribution. These start up companies insist they have distribution because they’re “distributed” with Ingram. This is NOT distribution.

Let me say it again…THIS. IS. NOT. DISTRIBUTION.

Ingram is a centralized warehouse distributor for bookstores and libraries. This means that when a bookstore wants to special order a book, they either call their own warehouse (if they’ve stocked it), or they call Ingram. It’s easier to do this than call thousands of different publishers for the book.

Ingram doesn’t have sales teams who actively pitch titles to the national chains, indie stores, libraries, specialized markets. That job goes to independent distributors such as IPG, Consortium, NBN, etc., who act as a representative for their publisher-clients to the book trade—including bookstores, chains, wholesalers, libraries and specialty markets. They employ in-house and independent representatives to aggressively sell their client-publishers’ books to the marketplace .

There is a huge difference. When a company says they’re “traditional,” well…scratch your head because trade publishers really never use that term…then ask who their distributor is. If they say Ingram, Baker&Taylor, Quality Books, then ask if they have their own in-house sales teams and what kind of relationships they maintain with the corporate chains. If they don’t have any sales teams, you know they don’t have “traditional” distribution and they are not a “traditional” publisher.

Royalty rates – Cover price? Net vs. Abnormal Net

I see start ups who call themselves “traditional,” yet pay royalties on net (as opposed to paying on cover price), which is fine, BUT they don’t pay the standard net royalties, which means paying on the amount they actually received from bookstores (stores purchase books from publishers at a 45%-50% discount). Instead, they pay royalties AFTER they take out expenses that a “traditional” publisher assumes – which are:

  • printing expenses
  • production costs
  • selling costs
  • shipping/distribution costs
  • returns

This is not a “traditional” publisher. This follows more of a vanity model. The difference is that instead of getting a fee up front from the author, the publisher pays themselves back at the back end.

So avoid being sucked into the dank waters of mushy definitions that these start ups are trying to employ in an attempt to make themselves appear better than they are. There is trade publishing, and then there’s everything else. Make sure you know the difference.

7 Responses to “Traditional” publishing – let’s just change the definition, shall we?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Lynn, how do you feel about ebook only publishers?

  2. As always, Lynn, you are brilliant. At a writer’s conference, I asked the distribution question of a ‘start up’ and they said Ingram. I’m afraid I wasn’t savvy enough to know the distinctions…yet.
    Thanks for making it clear.

  3. It’s important to know which Ingram they’re a part of. If they say Ingram Publisher’s Services, then that’s real distribution like Consortium, IPG, etc. Ingram Book Services is the warehouse distributor.

    Very few start ups will be with IPS because they’re looking for sales of around $1M/year, or the ability to attain that.

  4. Frank Mazur says:

    Lynn, have you been hacking into my computer and reading my current work????

  5. The misused term that makes me crazy is “indie” publishing. It’s always meant non-conglomerate owned small press and, more recently, has included privately-owed epublishers who offers royalties and the usual services of no-cost editing, cover, etc.

    The vanity press and the darker-side of the self-publishing companies have co-opted it to give themselves a respectability they don’t deserve.

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more, Marilynn. Indie press had gotten to mean just about anything. Ugh!

  7. Very good information succinctly presented. Thank you.

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