“Traditional” ebook publisher…WTF?

I’m scheduled to attend numerous writer’s conference this year. I always like to read up on who’s coming. Conferences are great places to network – not just for authors, but for everyone. It puts agents and editors into the same mix, and we’re always eager to see who’s publishing/representing what. So I did some catching up on the faculty of a number of the conferences. My heart sunk when I read one bio:

“… is a traditional ebook publisher”

Blink. Blink. Traditional as opposed to what? What makes this ebook publisher “traditional”? Color me confused here. I don’t know if there are vanity e-publishers who charge their authors, but they would be…well…vanity. Whenever I see a publisher using this term, I always think they doth protesteth too much.

For starters, there is no such thing as “traditional” publishing. That is a term that a particularly nasty vanity POD coined years ago in order to make themselves appear to be a commercial trade press. Sadly, the term stuck, and now it has wormed its way into the standard publishing lexicon.

What is it about some people who think that a new definition, or stealing existing ones, will suddenly make them legit? Or better? So far, I’ve refused to absorb the “t” word into my own publishing vocabulary, other than to deride its use. I stick to established terms, such as commercial or trade.

But now we have the “t” word leeching over into the ebook trade. Good grief. What gives me the heebie jeebies is the principals of this e-publisher have experience in the publishing industry, so they really oughta know better. But I know what they’re trying to do; they’re new, so they want to separate themselves from the pack. After all, there are a ton of new ebook enterprises popping up like new Spring flowers. The strategy is to put doubt in authors’ eyes. Authors will read this and think, “oh wow, they’re ‘traditional,’ so we better query them.”

It’s a nonstarter.

“Traditional” has to do with nonstandard print runs and how books are sold. The POD publishing model doesn’t include a distribution deal, so this means books won’t be in stores. Their financial model is geared toward selling stock to their authors, not readers. If authors never bought any of their own books, these kinds of PODs would cease to exist.

Ebooks are a different animal altogether. They don’t have print runs. In terms of distribution, they are on equal footing with every other e-publisher. The difference is that some are better at it. Those that suck are a result of no publishing experience and not enough operating capital to hire talented editors and cover artists. But budget isn’t the defining element that distinguishes a “traditional” e-publishing model, so what is? And if an e-publisher isn’t “traditional,” then what are they?

And more importantly, what makes this particular ebook publisher better than every other e-publisher out there – especially given the fact that they have no actual publishing experience?

To be certain, not all e-publishers were created equally, and it’s up to you to do your research – just like you would do for a commercial publisher. Some e-publishers have onerous royalty rates and only sell their product on their websites. This means that if readers aren’t aware of the website, then no one will buy the books. In perusing many e-publisher sites, grande and petite, I noticed none of them offered an advance.

So it comes down to reputation. You gain a good rep because you sell lots of books and your authors are happy with the royalties that come from sales. But none of the big e-publishers described themselves as”traditional.” And this is why this new e-publisher’s bio bothers me so much. They are brand new and have no established reputation, so the best they can do is resort to starting fires where none exist by adopting an ignorant term that has no meaning?

And it really bugs me that they’ll be at the same conference I’m attending. Since they have experience within the publishing industry, they’ll exploit this to the max in order to snare in all kinds of unwitting authors whose eyes are already pretty glazed over to begin with (go to a conference, and you’ll see what I mean). I’m sure I’ll hear plenty awe-inspired comments such as, “they’re a traditional e-publisher!” I may hurk up a lung.

So how ’bout it? Have any of you heard this term “traditional” e-publisher before, and what does it mean to you? As for me, I’ve ordered the beagle to get the blender rolling.

13 Responses to “Traditional” ebook publisher…WTF?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I already responded to this on Twitter. I don’t see how you can HAVE a traditional e-publisher, given how new the technology itself is. I assume they mean ‘not vanity’.

    What I find is the saddest thing here is that any publisher should feel the need to specify that they are not a vanity publisher. It’s almost as sad as the person I was talking to who genuinely thought you always have to pay to be published…what does it say about the industry. And the country, for that matter.

  2. Checking the veracity and quality of epublishers is a challenge, since they are so new.

    Editors are the invaluable source that separates the best from the nightmares.

    It comes down to doing the homework and investigating the potential publisher before signing the dotted line. The business part that many authors feel less assured doing.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    I was going to say what NinjaFingers said. How can something so new be ‘traditional’ in any sense?

    Thank you, Lynn, for making the distinction, and using the correct term ‘commercial’. It makes so much more sense.

  4. Ok. I’ll play Devil’s Advocate.

    Technically any entity that has published a webzine, ezine, online magazine, online newspaper, website, blog, PDF files, etc. could be considered in many circumstances an electronic publisher. I don’t know about your speaker, but could entities that have been publishing online content (especially a webzine/ezine) since the ’90s fairly consider themselves “traditional?” I would think so.

    Electronic publishing is much, much more than creating e-books.

  5. And apparently I didn’t read the sentence close enough. It states “traditional ebook publisher.” I’ll take my humble pie now.

  6. Moondoggie says:

    “Traditional” e-publisher makes about as much sense as a “humdrum” Lady Gaga outfit. I say fire up the blender. Make it a double.

  7. Tara Maya says:

    Traditional in this case dates from the 1990s rather than the 1890s. I think they are trying to distinguish themselves from self-published ebooks.Another term I’ve seen is “legacy publisher.” Self-published authors have use the term “indie publishing” to distinguish themselves “traditional publishing” and from vanity press. (Although of course vanity presses also try to grab this term.)

    As Shawn said, it’s especially important for ebook publishers to make this distinction, since indie ebooks are now surging on Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.

  8. “Legacy publisher”? Good grief…I have no idea what that even means – and I consider myself to of above average intelligence. What people will stoop to in order to maintain the smoke and mirrors. Sickening.

    In terms of making a distinction with e-publishers – I don’t see where defining yourself makes a difference. You either sell books based on the consistent quality of your product, or you don’t. There exists a level playing field for e-publishers – meaning distribution – so claiming to be a “traditional” e-publisher has no meaning.

  9. NinjaFingers says:

    I’ve seen that term before, and it is one I *hate*. ‘Legacy’ implies old, behind the times…

  10. U.L. Harper says:

    Like you said, they’re just trying to set themselves apart of drive traffic their way. Nothing more. Or they’re trying to draw a line. I always thought “traditional publishing simply meant you queried and got accepted before publication. So when they say traditional e-publisher, I think they’re saying, “Query us if you want to be accepted.”

    Anyway. That’s all I got.

  11. Mary Hoffman says:

    You only have to do a thing once in my family for it to become a “tradition.” Maybe this publisher has the same mindset?

    And “legacy publishing”? It will be “heritage publishing next.

    Good luck at the conference.

  12. Mary: Har! Just once, you say? I’ll keep that in mind the next time one of my kids suggests that we follow tradition and watch Mom belt out old show tunes while dancing in the kitchen. Geez, I only did that once…

    As for the conference, I always pack my bug spray. Actually, cons are so big that I’ve been quite successful at avoiding those whom I felt didn’t operate in the authors’ best interests. And yes…these are very good, legit conferences. Go figure.

  13. Rachael says:

    Honestly, when I see ‘traditional’ publisher in any sort of press, promotion, or on the webpage, I think either ‘totally clueless’ or ‘vanity press who’s lying’.

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