More on the IBPA Hybrid Publisher Criteria
Friday, May 18, 2018
An Open Letter from the IBPA Board of Directors
Dear IBPA Community,
On Tuesday, May 15, 2018, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) received an email from David Gaughran, who runs a blog for writers and self-publishers. David has been described by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) as a “tireless watchdog.” He is endorsed by ALLi’s Watchdog Group and many of his blog posts are exposés of people and publishers he deems “scammers.”
Here is the email IBPA received:
From: David Gaughran
Date: Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 3:52 AM
Subject: Article on Hybrid Publisher "standards" of IBPA
I run a blog for writers which regularly gets around 100,000 views a month, and which covers, among other things, scams targeting newer writers.
After receiving numerous complaints, I'm working on an article about some IBPA members. I'm particularly concerned that the IBPA has supposedly introduced new guidelines which distinguish a "hybrid publisher" from a vanity press, and yet has members...[who] have a terrible reputation for various practices....
Can you explain this apparent discrepancy? Or are the new guidelines just a complete sham?
Any comment by Friday would be appreciated.
Because of the tone of this inquiry, and in light of an April 21 tweet in which Gaughran publicly disparaged IBPA, we, the IBPA board of directors, felt it was important to address his question in an open letter to our members and the independent publishing community at large. While we don’t agree with the aggressive nature of Gaughran’s communications, we certainly understand where his wariness comes from. We know there are predatory companies in the self-publishing industry and that without advocates these companies would continue to take money and time from unsuspecting writers under false pretenses. It is for this reason, in fact, that IBPA developed the Hybrid Publisher Criteria: to help prospective authors and others in the publishing industry determine the precise business model behind an organization they’re considering.
If there is confusion about how IBPA can, on one hand, think the Hybrid Publisher Criteria is critically important to the publishing industry, and, on the other hand, refuse to participate in wholesale discrimination against organizations based on business model alone, we feel the confusion should be addressed in as open a forum as possible. To this end, we welcome feedback in the comment section below in solidarity with the desire of industry advocates to protect author publishers from predatory business practices.
Promoting Publishing Best Practices
In addition to helping open doors for independent publishers of all sizes, IBPA is concerned with promoting professional best practices within the indepedent publishing community at large.
In 2016, IBPA formed an Advocacy Committee based on the recommendation of this board of directors as a place where some of the dual-focused work described above could be accomplished. The IBPA Advocacy Committee has achieved three meaningful pieces of work in the past year and a half. The first was an Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book; the second was a campaign to raise awareness around Amazon’s change to its Buy Button policy; the third was the Hybrid Publisher Criteria.
Developing the Hybrid Publisher Criteria
The Hybrid Publisher Criteria was prompted by a conversation with the Authors Guild during BookExpo 2017 in which the Authors Guild expressed interest in understanding how hybrid publishers are different from publishing service providers.
The distinction here is subtle, but important, and has to do with clearly identifying which party (the author or the organization providing publishing services) is playing the role of “publisher” in a given working relationship. In the end, IBPA believes that an organization using an author-subsidized business model can only be called a “publisher” if it follows publishing best practices, i.e., those practices outlined in our 9-point Hybrid Publisher Criteria.
Following this logic, and using the Hybrid Publisher Criteria as a guide, we can now explain how hybrid publishers and publishing service providers are different.
- hybrid publisher: an indie publisher using an author-subsidized business model
- publishing service provider: an organization providing paid services to publishers
There is no judgment in the definitions above, only clarity. In its press release on this topic, the Authors Guild wrote:
"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…."
IBPA has always intended for the Hybrid Publisher Criteria to help authors, publishers, and the industry at large understand how to gauge whether an organization using an author-subsidized business model is a publisher in its own right, or a provider of services to author publishers. Service providers are an important part of our industry, of course. At the same time, service providers are not publishers.
IBPA acknowledges that there are bad actors looking to take advantage of authors. Most people have seen right away how the Hybrid Publisher Criteria can be used by prospective authors as a tool to weed out these bad actors. In fact, we have always positioned the Hybrid Publisher Criteria as such a tool, never as a standard. Our Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book is a separate initiative: a standards checklist for any book published using any publishing business model, with the goal of helping publishers and authors understand the elements of a professionally published book. The Hybrid Publisher Criteria has a different objective: to provide people with information about an emerging business model so they can make informed decisions when deciding which company to use to publish their work.
Related to IBPA Membership
IBPA is proud of our engaged membership, ranging from experienced publishers with long backlists to aspiring publishers who haven’t yet published their first title. As the independent publishing industry has grown and morphed, IBPA has welcomed any independent publisher or would-be independent publisher who wants to learn more about the industry. We also welcome what we call “Publisher Partners,” i.e., organizations providing services to the independent publishing community.
IBPA does not vet our membership. Our primary objective is to educate, advocate for, and provide publishers with the tools they need to become better at their job. That said, we have a Code of Ethics and we expect our members to adhere to that code. We, the IBPA board of directors, take very seriously outside complaints about any of our members’ business practices, and Gaughran’s concern has been heard. That said, while a single member’s allegedly problematic business practices may merit more investigation, we take issue with Gaughran’s claim that the entire 3,000-plus membership organization is a “sham” based on accusations against a tiny fraction.
IBPA’s History and Standing
IBPA was started in 1983 when a group of fifteen independent publishers who couldn’t afford to attend the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association decided to pool their funds and send IBPA’s soon-to-be-founder Jan Nathan to represent them and their books. Jan returned from the show excited about possibilities and the Publishers Association of Southern California (PASCAL) was born. Since then, PASCAL has become IBPA and built a strong reputation as a champion of independent publishers regardless of whether the publisher publishes another person’s work, or just her own.
Never has IBPA, as an organization, been put in the position of issuing an open letter in response to an email query, but in this case we, the IBPA board of directors, felt it was critical to unpack our full reasoning, acknowledging that we’re all working toward the same end: a world where every independent publisher (including every author publisher) has the tools and knowledge needed to professionally engage in all aspects of the publishing industry.
For over 30 years, IBPA has been fighting for the underdogs and championing independent publishers of all sizes. We will stay true to our mission, vision, and values and continue to do just that.
The IBPA Board of Directors