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Bad Language: ‘Legacy Publisher’ Is Not A Thing

Legacy publishing is not a thing. Sorry, maybe it’s this thing. But in the context of the publishing industry, supplanting the word ‘house’ or ‘printed’ for ‘legacy’ is used as a tool only to insult mainstream publishing and assist the few who are benefiting from this false dichotomy (thanks, university degree) of publishing houses vs author.

This meaningless phrase is used as meaningless phrases are: to cover holes in our understanding of things. In this case it is being used to describe a gap in our understanding of digital publishing. In our rush to seem up-to-date and not go the way of the music industry, we create such labels and then throw them around in order to draw a line between ourselves and them. Those others. Those morons with old ideas. Those… Saruman-like dictators of culture.

Ok, there are legacy models of publishing, but to remove this very important word from the equation assumes mainstream publishing houses only use these models and are therefore the embodiment of antiquated idiocy itself. What’s wrong with the term ‘publishing house’? Doesn’t this cover it? Or is it too neutral to fully impart the perceived exploitative nature of what a business does to culture?

So, while publishing houses labour under the tomes of their forebears like an army of decrepit Atlas’ (that’s an old cultural reference), authors who opt for the vanity press route dance around singing of the thousands of copies they have sold and how their tight embrace of Amazon reviews and Twitter is redefining the industry.

How does vanity press get such a good wrap? By assuming the label of ‘self-published author’, or the (even more) self-congratulatory ‘indie’.

Amazon (as it exists in its KDP form) is a vanity press. So is Apple. These are no longer just retailers, they are retailers who share a cut of any work to get any author on the market. Yes, the term vanity press is pejorative, but it is also the harsh light of truth under which all the authors who are self-publishing should consider their work.

The implication is clear. ‘Legacy’ denotes age, tradition (both of which have become insults in our culture) and an inability to adapt. It implies feeble-mindedness and irrelevance. ‘Self-published’ suggests vibrancy; youth; freedom; anti-establishment; cutting-edge; mould-breaking – the Ryan Goslings of our industry.

The language we use to describe ourselves, and our industry and culture, frames our experience. Maybe there is no such thing as completely neutral language, but these current phrases (with their connoted values as subtle as a Rocky sequel) assume one way is inherently better than another – meaning authors will approach the culture with the idea that there is one way, a right way. The KDP way.

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Felice Howden

Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.

Comments (7)

  • I enjoy your posts, Felice. Your comments on the state of publishing are always refreshing and informative! I have sort of assumed the new terms/ phrases/attitudes towards publishing and authors etc were engineered by and pushed by Amazon, because ultimately Amazon stands to benefit the most from these new shifts in attitudes. I’m not a fan of KPD, it strikes me as a very high price to pay for being published (a bit too much like going over to the dark side!).
    Cheers 🙂

    • I think they are in some ways pushed by Amazon, but everyone in the industry is guilty of this. Obviously, the attitudes can be taken advantage of but our own trade media just absorbs these terms as though they’re fact and regurgitates them without thinking. That’s a real danger, I think.

      Glad you enjoy the posts! 

  • Vanity publishing and self publishing are not the same thing. Vanity publishers tell authors their book is brilliant when it’s not, take money to publish it and pay royalties if they manage to sell any copies. With true self publishing, there is no publishing company involved. Authors organise and pay for their own editing, printing or digital file production, covers, distribution and marketing and keeps all the profits. Companies like Amazon and Smashwords merely act as distributors.

    Now ebooks have opened up a a viable way to self publish, many authors are choosing to go down that route rather than sign restrictive contracts with traditional publishing houses. That is no more deserving of the derisory term ‘vanity’ than  any other business decision.

    • Hi Diana, i agree with a lot of what you say. In many ways the changes in the publishing world means there has never been a better time for an author to become published and pejorative terms are not necessarily helpful. I would probably not be successfully  in print now, if it hadn’t been for this new open attitude towards independently (I can see you rolling your eyes, Felice! tsk tsk!) published books, being published by a tiny publisher as I am. However, that doesn’t mean to say we newbie authors have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As I understand it, what Amazon offer with KPD is as bad as, if not worse than, any of the worst kind of ‘restrictive’ contracts  traditional publishing houses might hand out. As sole publisher and sole distributor you have no say whatsoever in what happens to your book and there is no relationship whatsoever between you and KPD Amazon. For me this is not a comfortable place to be – the worry of them becoming a monopoly aside.  At the moment we use Amazon as one distributor out of many – it works well for the ebook sales. For paperback sales we rely almost entirely from bookshops – the lack of   paperback sales from Amazon is not helped by the fact Amazon  say in bold that my book is out of stock, when there are in fact copies in their warehouse. ( I feel this is their way of trying to make us sign up to KPD!). 
      I suppose my point is, we independent authors are being ruthlessly targeted by Amazon and should be very, very cautious before giving the rights away for anything to them. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain, while we have …??
      Interestingly, Amanda Hocking, of the kindle million/troll books fame, has not signed with KPD Amazon for her latest paperbacks.
      Cheers 🙂

  • The truth, as usual,lies somewhere in between. It is not “vanity” to want to sell one’s wares in the open market. The more traditional publishers and literary agents have concentrated on celebrity books and safe and sure commercial authors, the less they can lay claim to be the gatekeepers of what books people should be reading.

    On the other hand, Amazon does have the responsibility of exercising some quality control. Even on the open markets there has to be checks and balances.

    • No it’s not ‘vanity’ Chris. But the term used for such a publisher is a ‘vanity press’ in the same way there is such a thing as an independent publisher that might be very much dependent on grant money from the government. It’s just a name. Such is the bias of language we use, or in this case choose not to use, to describe publishers.

      Amazon, as far as I can see, will never have either a responsibility or the resources to exercise quality control through the KDP. That’s built into other arms of their publishing business, but not this one.

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