Turning vanity publishing on its head

It has never been easier to self-publish a book:

  • Amazon has CreateSpace which offers a print-on-demand service and an ISBN if you want one. Self-publishing on the Amazon Kindle store could not be easier.
  • Apple allows anyone to self-publish ebooks through its iTunes Connect service. Unfortunately, you need a Mac to run their software, and you must have an ISBN number. Thankfully, you can buy ISBN numbers online through vendors like Bowker.
  • Barnes and Nobel make it very easy to publish ebooks through their pubit! online service.
  • Borders offer a service of its own called Get Published.
  • Lulu offers print-on-demand and makes available both your paper and electronic books through Amazon.

Typically, self-publishing is associated with vanity publishing. Wikipedia defines vanity publishing as publishing at the author’s expense. So, is self-publishing really vanity publishing? Consider the Amazon kindle top-10 best-sellers. Three of these books are self-published books from Amanda Hocking. She can sell 10,000 books a week.

I believe that we are seeing a reversal: people who want prestige, but not necessarily readership or sales, want a bona fide publisher. Meanwhile, individuals who want to make money increasingly self-publish. In this respect, self-publishing is attractive: in many cases, you get to keep close to 70% of the sales as royalties.

What about academia? Some people believe that researchers get paid to publish articles. The opposite is true. Often, journals charge the authors. Thus, by definition, scientific publishing is vanity publishing. Some professors make money by publishing books, typically by publishing a popular textbook, but most do not.

10 thoughts on “Turning vanity publishing on its head”

  1. @Suresh

    Another argument you could have come up with is that we do not actually pay per se, since page charges and conference fees often come out of research grants. Hopefully.

    But the main point is that we mostly publish for the prestige of being published. Academics are pretentious and marketing-oriented folks. I hear some professors even have huge egos.

  2. Writing a good book is hard, irrespective of how you publish it…

    It is a lot of fun too.

    The same is about blogging: if several thousand people are following you, it is if your blog is a newspaper of a small town.

  3. These days, there are a lot of vanity publishing in academia. The other day, I was very surprised to see a friend of mine boasting his “book” being published by a publisher. A few days later, I got the form-letter email from VDM Verlag, which feigned to have interest in my PhD and MS dissertations, and expressed their intent to “publish” them. Needless to say … my friend’s “book” was just his PhD thesis published by VDM Verlag.

    It seems that these publishers either crawl university webpages to find list of dissertations, or get the list from some place else. Then they send out thousands of emails to the students … often taking advantage of their ego by addressing their emails to “Prof. A” or so. The royalty deals are designed to give the author royalty only if a certain number of books are purchased by people.

    What is interesting is the ego boost many smart people get from these “books”. If you google, you’ll see many people boasting of these publications in their CVs (along with the ISBN numbers etc.). And there are enough gullible people out there who fall for these “books” as big achievements … without realizing these “books” are just vanity publication of theses.

  4. @Hasan

    It is unclear what value such a publisher is providing in this scenario. You can sell your thesis on Amazon, with an ISBN, with CreateSpace in minutes. Assuming your thesis sells at all, you will make more money on your own. But more importantly, you will keep control.

    Publishers are going to have to be clear on what value they are offering if they are to remain relevant. Thankfully, many of them are aware of this challenge.

  5. But the main point is that we mostly publish for the prestige of being published. Academics are pretentious and marketing-oriented folks.

    Really? I thought the main reason we publish is because it is the #1 way that we get assessed for promotion.

    Although I will admit that I get a little thrill when I know that one of my papers has been quoted by somebody else 🙂

  6. It seems that these publishers either crawl university webpages to find list of dissertations, or get the list from some place else. Then they send out thousands of emails to the students … often taking advantage of their ego by addressing their emails to “Prof. A” or so. The royalty deals are designed to give the author royalty only if a certain number of books are purchased by people.

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