Is it a steal?: Report on ‘hybrid’ publishers exposes widespread bad practice

03 May 2022

An investigation examining so-called ‘hybrid’ publishers that charge writers for publication while taking rights in their work has been carried out by the Society of Authors (SoA) and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), and was supported by ALCS.

The Society of Authors (SoA) and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) represent 14,800 writers between them. Together, with the support of ALCS, they carried out research last year after an increasing number of members started to raise concerns about the nature, management, and outcomes of publishing deals that they had been asked to pay for.

Is it a steal? report: key findings
The report published on 29 April exposes widespread bad practice among companies that charge writers for publication. It details aggressive marketing tactics, manipulative sales approaches, unclear contracts and publishing processes and services that fall far short of expectations and value. The report also includes the results of a survey which found that 94% of writers who had paid to have their book published, made a loss, with median royalties coming in at only £68.

The median loss for a writer in a ‘hybrid’, or paid-for publishing deal was £1,861, with some participants reporting losses as high as £9,900. The deals resulted in an average of just 67 books sold, including those that writers bought themselves, while 59% of writers said their book was not available to buy in bookshops, supermarkets, or retail outlets.

The median loss for a writer in a ‘hybrid’, or paid-for publishing deal was £1,861, with some participants reporting losses as high as £9,900.

One writer said: ‘After four months of unsuccessfully trying to get more support from the company, I gave up trying to contact them. My first royalty statement shows earnings of £30. I see the £2,000 I paid them as lost.’

Publishers vs ‘vanity’ publishers
The publishers in question often describe themselves as ‘hybrid,’ ‘contributory,’ ‘subsidy’ or ‘partnership’ publishers, but they have much in common with what used to be called ‘vanity’ publishers.

What does ‘publisher’ mean?
Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, said: ‘Fundamentally, what we’re seeing here is a hijacking of the term “publisher”. These companies are not traditional publishers. They provide a service and should market it as such so as not to mislead authors. We all have a role to play in ensuring people are not exploited by these deals, and that includes being clear in how we define what a publisher is. Trade bodies and advertising platforms have an important role to play here too – they have a responsibility to ensure that paid-for publishers can demonstrate their legitimacy.’

The publishers in question often describe themselves as ‘hybrid,’ ‘contributory,’ ‘subsidy’ or ‘partnership’ publishers

Trade unions call for reform
The writers’ unions are calling for reform of the ‘hybrid’/paid-for publishing sector based on a three-pronged approach. They call for a commitment to 15 key publishing principles, listed in the report, and a commitment by other organisations to ensure that companies describing themselves as publishers are just that. Finally, they have committed to raising awareness among writers of their rights when it comes to entering a ‘hybrid’/paid-for publishing agreement, and of the need to have all contracts independently vetted before signing.

What you can do:
Sign the open letter to call for an end to bad practice
Download Is it a steal? An investigation into ‘hybrid’/paid-for publishing services