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What is a hybrid publisher?

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It is no secret that in recent years the publishing industry has faced a real challenge from Amazon compounded by the evolution of eBooks as they morphed from “that book that really isn’t a book” to a large share of book sales. Augmented by the growing popularity of print-on-demand and a simultaneous explosion of self-published authors including some big names, publishing a book, which was once daunting, has become quite easy.

Although the overall unit sales and book revenues for traditional publishing held their ground in 2012, pricing wars accelerated. The eBook edition of bestsellers like John Grisham’s Sycamore Row was actually discounted to $3.29 during the 2013 holiday season.

Over the past few years we have seen “hybrid publishers” emerge and some are going tooth-and-nail with Big 5 publishers as well as some of the successful self-publishers. Others are extended arms of the Big 5. Their business model combines a royalty-paying traditional publishing business with publishing for indie authors. Many use the same printing platforms an indie author can use on their own, although some even have their own printing capabilities.

What defines a hybrid publisher?

There is no one-size-fits-all description because it can include most of the requisite elements, or just some. However, because of the combination of markets they are not wholly traditional and not wholly a self-publishing company. Hybrid publishers may be the cost-effective model of the future for authors who don’t command the advances or sales of New York Best Selling authors.

Hybrid publishers generally operate with a small staff dedicated to the business

The salaried employees of many of these publishers wear multiple hats and the owner or CEO is generally also hands-on. Sometimes no one is on salary, but rather on a percentage of profits. If the books don’t sell, they don’t get paid. This can include the company’s owner(s), designer and editor. Some have people in charge of marketing, some don’t.

Hybrid publishers usually offer a very small or no advance to the author

Some of the hybrid publishers offer small advances, perhaps a few hundred dollars, but it is a paltry sum compared to what an author might receive from one of the Big 5 publishers. Since many operate close-to-the-vest, by not offering much or anything in the way of an advance, they can remain competitive in the marketplace. Otherwise, without the finances or marketing arms enjoyed by large publishers, they could go broke on as little as one book. The royalties are generally a higher percentage, but for understandably fewer sales unless the book is suddenly on fire. With self-publishing the author’s share is much larger but the final figure, again, depends upon the number of sales. Remember, few books even exceed sales of 100 copies.

However, since most hybrid publishers don’t charge authors anything to publish the book, the up-front costs for the author are nil. Books are generally sold to the author at wholesale cost (from 50% to 60% of the retail price) as opposed to being able to buy them cheaper if you are self-publishing.

The risk is definitely greater for hybrid publishers than self-publishers, no matter how you look at it. If the publishing team only gets paid if the books sell, if they make poor choices the company could lose their employees due to lack of income, so they must be discriminating about the books they contract for on their royalty-paying side.

Because most hybrid publishers use the print-on-demand method, their initial investment is not escalated by ordering large runs of books that might not sell. Therefore, the low cost structure and often profit-sharing nature of the publishing team for hybrid publishers allows them to be cost-effective and quick. Many produce books as fast as in self-publishing while it can take years for a Big 5 publisher to release a book. Also, it is easy to modify errors or elements in a book without having to absorb shelves of the prior version of the book which would have still been in stock.

Reaction from Big 5 publishers

Responding to this sudden influx of books, both digital and those printed by the print-on-demand (POD) method, maybe even more than the cost effective nature when publishing lesser known authors, the heretofore shunned POD method is now being employed by several larger publishers when they are not certain of the sales power of a title or an unknown author. Random House launched their digital imprints Alibi, Loveswept, Flirt and Hydra. Using Hydra as an example, their business model is different from their traditional guidelines, and that propels Random House into essentially being a hybrid publisher.

Random House seems to be trying to use its know-how and resources in the Hydra model to tap into a different level of writer with minimal risk in that they pay no advance and take back a portion of profits to cover their costs before paying royalties. The terms of their contracts elicited a negative reaction from authors backed the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) and forced them to quickly modify the terms of the contracts they were signing with authors.

Turning their imprints into consumer brands

If it seems as though these hybrid publishers are very clever marketers, it’s because they are. By large publishers creating imprints bearing their famous brands as the parent company it can help sell books that might otherwise go unnoticed. For smaller companies, it is the ability to do business with minimal risk.

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Morgan St. James has written over 500 articles for Examiner.com as well as for other publications. She is the author of Writers Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction and author or co-author of 10 novels. St. James is a frequent speaker, panelist, moderator and radio guest.

For more information about St. James visit www.morganstjames-author.com.

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