Nine Criteria for Hybrid Publishing from the Independent Book Publishers Association

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The IBPA has released a 9-point outline for hybrid publishers with author-subsidized business models to operate reputably and maintain quality standards.

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By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Hybrid’ vs. Vanity Publishing

The California-based Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has released a round of nine criteria for reputable operation of a “hybrid publisher.” The intent is to draw a line between “partner publishing” and vanity publishing.

“Hybrid publishing,” as the IBPA’s new material says, should be a case in which “hybrid publishers behave just like traditional publishers in all respects, except when it comes to [a] business model.” The key distinctions, in other words, are in who’s paying the bills and what they get for the money.

And yet, the rise of hybrid or partner publishing has bedeviled the sector. The self-publishing industry today is besieged by offers of “services,” some of which are authentic and effective, some of which are rip-offs. The industry’s message must continue to be “buyer beware.” To that end, note the IBPA’s Point 8 in particular about how a viable hybrid publisher should have proven sales traction. The UK-based Alliance of Independent Authors is a good resource for service evaluations.

We’re editing some of the discussion of various points here for our article. The full IBPA document can be seen as a PDF here.

The IBPA’s Nine-Point Guidelines for Legitimate Hybrid Publishing
The Independent Book Publishers Association membership today includes 53.5 percent independent publishers and 36.3 percent self-publishers.IBPA Figures

To operate within the best practices of hybrid publishing, the IBPA’s guidelines say a company must:

  1. Define a mission and vision for its publishing program. In a traditional publishing company, the published work often reflects the interests and values of its publisher … Good hybrid publishers are no different.
  2. Vet submissions. …  Good hybrid publishers don’t publish everything that comes over the transom and often decline to publish.
  3. Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs. A hybrid publisher is a true publishing house, with either a publisher or a publishing team developing and
    distributing books.
  4. Publish to industry standards. A hybrid publisher accepts full responsibility for the quality of the titles it publishes. Books released by a hybrid publisher should be on par with traditionally published books.
  5. Ensure editorial, design, and production quality. A hybrid publisher is responsible for producing books edited, designed, and produced to a professional degree. This includes assigning editors for developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading, as needed, together with following traditional standards for a professionally designed book.
  6. Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights. A hybrid publisher normally publishes in both print and digital formats, as appropriate, and perhaps pursues other rights, in order to reach the widest possible readership. As with a traditional publisher, authors may negotiate to keep their subsidiary rights, such as foreign language, audio, and other derivative rights.
  7. Provide distribution services. A hybrid publisher has a strategic approach to distribution beyond simply making books available for purchase via online retailers. … This may mean traditional distribution, wherein a team of sales reps actively markets and sells books to retailers, or it may mean publisher outreach to a network of specialty retailers, clubs, or other niche-interest organizations. At minimum, a hybrid publisher develops, with the author, a marketing and sales strategy for each book it publishes, inclusive of appropriate sales channels for that book, and provides ongoing assistance to the author seeking to execute this strategy in order to get his or her book in front of its target audience. This is in addition to listing books with industry-recognized wholesalers.
  8. Demonstrate respectable sales. A hybrid publisher should have a record of producing several books that sell in respectable quantities for the book’s niche.
  9. Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty. A hybrid publisher pays its authors more than the industry-standard royalty range on print and digital books, in exchange for the author’s personal investment. Although royalties are generally negotiable, the author’s share must be laid out transparently and must be commensurate with the author’s investment. In most cases, the author’s royalty should be greater than 50 percent of net on both print and digital books.
Authors Guild: ‘Certain Risks and Uncertainty’
“Like traditional publishers, hybrid publishers perform a gatekeeping function by curating titles and catalogues, and they also distribute through all of the traditional trade distribution streams.”Authors Guild

In further discussion, one of the key points to stress has to do with an author’s rights. “An author may be asked to subsidize or pay the full cost of his or her print runs,” the IBPA’s copy reads. “Authors who do so should own the physical copies outright, having paid the manufacturing fees, and should not be required to pay a “percent-off list price” amount arbitrated by the publisher when [the author] needs to order copies.”

And it’s interesting, even for those who don’t work in the non-traditional sector, to see how some of these points are parsed. Point 7’s focus, distribution, for example, is a particularly complex issue because there are so many variations possible in what a hybrid company might do–while “distribution” at vanity presses may mean no more than helping you carry your books out to your car.

The commentary of the Authors Guild is helpful at this point, as it calls the attention of its roughly 9,000 members (some of whom are self-publishing) to the newly released IBPA guidelines:

“Over the last few years, we have seen the non-traditional publishing market expand as more and more books are being self-published and new business models are being experimented with.

“Hybrid publishing, as the name implies, lies somewhere between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Like traditional publishers, hybrid publishers perform a gatekeeping function by curating titles and catalogues, and they also distribute through all of the traditional trade distribution streams. But like self-publishing platforms, they provide no advances, and they typically pay higher royalties and exert less control over rights than traditional publishers.

“Like any new business model, the advantages of hybrid publishing come with certain risks and uncertainty; the IBPA’s criteria are intended to help authors navigate those risks and identify the reputable players by setting clear and balanced standards.”

And another way the IBPA is defining the nature of the model is this: “A hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services [sold to an author] and book sales.”

Clarifying IBPA, Too

The organization behind these new critieria, the Independent Book Publishers Association, is an interesting one, which, for many, could use a little clarification, itself.

While many might assume that “independent book publishers” meant companies publishing authors books–and the IBPA includes many such companies–the group also has a sizable contingent of indie authors in its mix.

As the non-traditional publishing sector has broadened, this nonprofit organization’s definition of itself has come to include this line: “If you’re an independent publisher, self-published author, small press, or mid-sized publisher, you’ve come to the right place.” That’s a big church and a broad ministry.

Angela Bole, IBPA’s chief executive, has provided Publishing Perspectives with up-to-date information on the IBPA’s membership, which she says totals just over 3,000 people. Quoting Bole’s figures and definitions here:

Angela Bole

Independent publisher: 53.5 percent. Persons or organizations involved in publishing other people’s work using a traditional, royalty-based publishing model and/or an author-subsidized publishing model. (In addition to publishing other people’s work, an independent publisher might also be publishing his or her own work.)

Author publisher: 36.3 percent. Persons exclusively publishing their own work, e.g., self-published authors and authors working with hybrid publishers.

Publisher partner: 5.4 percent.  Persons or organizations involved with supplying services or products to the field of publishing.

Future publisher: 2.8 percent. Persons–student or otherwise–considering or preparing to publish their own or other people’s work. Future publishers may not serve on committees, may not vote, and may not serve on the board of directors.

Uncategorized: 2 percent.

The group, then, is speaking both to writers and to publishers in its new guidelines for hybrid publishing, and in other issues.

The organization’s conference in Austin, called the IBPA Publishing University, is scheduled for April 6 and 7.

You can hear Bole and  Rob Price (of Gatekeeper Press) in a conversation with Christopher Kenneally about the upcoming conference at Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book podcast.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International,, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.


  1. The IBPA’s standards are very welcome, given that the term “hybrid” is widely abused–both by vanity publishers trying to look more respectable, and by small presses that have seized on the term to sanitize a variety of exploitative and semi-exploitative business practices, from fee-charging to “partnership” arrangements that require authors to outsource basic elements of the publication process (such as editing or book cover design).

    It’s a good idea, therefore, for authors not to take a hybrid publisher’s claims at face value, but to investigate on their own. The IBPA’s criteria are a good starting point. Here are some additional research tips from Writer Beware:

    Does the hybrid claim to screen for quality and publish to professional standards? Assess those claims for credibility by buying a few of its books. You can use Amazon’s Look Inside feature to sample even more.

    Make sure that the hybrid is offering more than just a self-publishing-style suite of services, or pretending that the basic elements of digital publishing (such as “worldwide distribution” via online retailers) are premium extras. What will it do for you that you can’t do for yourself, or buy for less from another service?

    Check the hybrid’s other claims. Does it really work with a distributor (as opposed to a wholesaler like Ingram)? Can it really get its books into brick-and-mortar stores? Does it really do the marketing it promises?

    Search for complaints. Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Check forum is a good place to start ( ). Contact Writer Beware (beware [at] ); we may have heard something.

    Last but not least, ask yourself whether it’s worth it. Hybrids can be seriously expensive–mid- to high five figures is not uncommon–and some hybrids don’t even include everything you might want in their basic packages; you may have to pay extra for editing, for instance. That makes it even more important to determine that you’re not being rooked by a vanity publisher in disguise.

    1. Author

      Hello, Victoria,

      And many thanks for these observations and warnings for authors who are considering working with a hybrid publisher. I know that your experiences in handling the Writer Beware column have given you a lot of background in spotting the danger signals.

      I especially like your points about getting input on a hybrid’s claims, looking at what its output is, checking for complaints and trouble signs. There’s little glory in being the first to try an offer (of any kind of author service whatever), and if feedback and examples are hard to come by, that in itself may be a warning signal that something isn’t right.

      And I like your overall point, too, about assessing whether working with a hybrid is actually worth it. I think a lot of mistakes can be made out of impatience and an unwillingness to submit to the process of shopping a book for an agent’s representation and a publisher’s interest. The IBPA, we must remember, while doing the industry a service with its new set of guidelines, also is juggling a split consituency: its membership includes hybrid publishers as well as authors, and while this new round of criteria should be helptul to all, it could be interesting to see what happens if authors who are IBPA members find their hybrid publishers who are also members on the wrong side of the criteria.

      Thanks again for the benefit of your longtime efforts in spotting danger signals and raising red flags. Great to have you here, thanks for reading us, and all the best.

      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson @PubPerspectives

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