Vanity Publishers in Nigeria’s Book Publishing Industry

Though the book industry may not be as economically viable as other media industries especially radio, television, and newspaper industries, its intellectual impact in the society is huge. In respect of culture for instance, the book industry is highly impactful. This is evident in the fact that many major movies, culture-changing ideas, global trends, historically significant movements, and unforgettable characters were premised on contents of books. Hundreds of thousands of trade hardcovers, paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks get bought and sold annually in Nigeria and across the world.

There are different kinds of publishers in the book industry today. You may have heard of traditional (or conventional) publishing which is where a publisher pays an author to publish their work and share royalties with them. You may have also heard of self-publishing where authors publish their works by directly hiring the professionals and supervising the process to cut costs. But have you heard of vanity publishers? Well, here’s a quick explanation.

What is Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing refers to a situation where the author pays for the cost of book production. This is different from conventional publishing where the publisher pays the author for the content. A vanity publisher is a company that helps authors to self-publish their books. They collect upfront payments and embark on the production of books with their expertise and professional input in pre-production, production and post-production (marketing) strategies. But in self-publishing, the author does the production supervision directly, and cuts costs by so doing. The author personally hires individual professionals (designer, editor, production company etc.) required at each stage of the work which may involve people from different companies.

Publishing companies prefer this business arrangement especially where the book is unlikely to sell many copies to recoup the cost of publication. Vanity publishing is also a kind of self publishing but the term sounds derogatory due to the perception that a publisher is not willing to pay for the work probably because it is sub-standard. So the term “self publishing” is preferable. It could be that the publication is in a niche area and the publisher might not want to take the risk by experimenting with publication cost no one is sure might be recouped.

Vanity publishers are often contracted where the author feels they don’t have the time or inclination to do it themselves. They prefer to get someone who knows the job to handle the publishing work. That is how the vanity publishers gets involved in assisting authors to self-publish their works. The vanity publishers understand the process, have the vendors, and know what books need to be ready for publishing.

Many big book publishing companies in Nigeria are hybrid publishers, combining the different methods of publishing. There are self-publishers in the country who even have small printing presses for handing their works and other people’s jobs. Many companies advertise their services online as hybrid publishers combining both vanity and traditional publishing. Caution must be taken while contracting vanity publishers online in order not to be scammed. You have to consider which publishing type is most cost-effective and economically viable before designing which option to choose.

Basic difference between vanity publishers, self publishers and traditional publishers

The basic difference between these kinds of publishers is in the control and supervision of production process, including payment and earning methods. Vanity publishers help authors self-publish their books. The author pays the vanity publisher for editing, formatting, cover design, and often marketing and promotions of the book to make sure it is visible in the market. Using the vanity publisher is basically far more expensive than just self-publishing your own book but the professional input might be higher when handled by vanity publisher. The vanity publisher also typically requires an upfront payment and but does not take royalties from book sales. The contract ends with publication of the book.

In traditional or conventional publishing, the publisher does not charge the authors any money. The authors are actually paid for their books. They share royalties with the traditional publisher. The publisher handles editing, formatting, cover, publishing, distribution, and promotions. They share royalties with the author for all book sales. The publisher also bears the risks where the publication cost is not recouped from sales. In some instances, big authors are even offered an advance payment on future royalties, at least to keep them with the company. But first-time authors basically start earning royalties from the first book sale. The basic difference between the three publishing types is in the mode of payment, payment for the production, bearing of risks, control/supervision of production, and earning format.

If you do not exercise caution in selecting a vanity publisher you could get duped. People who are not familiar with the publishing industry may not know the difference between these kinds of publishers and they get scammed even without realizing it. This often happens in this era of e-publishing where there are several vanity publishers online who might be wrongly seen as traditional publishers by unsuspecting customers. Some vanity publishers could even advertise themselves as “hybrid publishers” even when they are only into vanity publishing. It is the responsibility of the author to do your research and identify if the company is really what it says it is.

In summary, the vanity publishers require upfront payments for their services. They do not usually distribute your physical books to bookstores and libraries. For e-books, the publishing is done under the author’s Amazon account (if Amazon is the platform the author wants to use). Remember they are helping authors to self-publish their book. They do not take royalties from the books they publish. If a vanity publisher offers to split royalties then there is a possibility of scam involved. This is because you are pre-paying for the book as a self-publisher. But when such publishers appear online some people may not understand the difference.

Trade publishing does not cost the author any money. The trade publishers bear all the risks hoping that the book will sell enough copies to make a profit for both them and the author. This kind of publishing is done under the publishers registered company name and not the authors’ personal company name of Amazon account (for e-books). The trade publishers distribute the books to many physical and electronic locations.

In self-publishing you do everything yourself, from finding designers, editors, and formatters, to paying them for their services, and uploading your own book online. This process cuts production cost but you also have to be careful with quality of production not just saving cost.

Self-publishing and vanity publishing have the same end result. Whether it is done by the author or a vanity press, the book will be self-published under the author’s personal company name (if they have one) or Amazon account (if this is the e-platform the author is suing). Royalties are sent directly to the author. For e-books, the author a can personally track book sales through his account on the e-platform used in self-publishing.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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