Subsidy publishing: Is it the same thing as self-publishing? No!

Posted By on April 22, 2013

If there is one area of self-publishing that seems to cause the most confusion it is what exactly constitutes self-publishing. In my mind, there is a very simple answer to that: You are the publisher.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? For some reason, it isn’t.

Way back before the days of POD “self-publishing” (and note my quotes around that), there was a fairly clear-cut delineation between self-publishing and what was known as vanity or subsidy publishing. If you self-published, you started up a publishing company, purchased your own ISBN prefix, and became a publisher. You paid an editor and a designer to put your book together for you (or you did it yourself), then you sent the files to a book manufacturer, paid for the printing, and sold the books for a profit. If you went with a vanity or subsidy press, you paid a company to publish your book for you under their imprint, meaning you paid them not only to publish your book but you also paid them for books when you needed them. They paid a royalty of sales—of which there were seldom any (unless your family members bought some books)

Somehow in recent years, the lines between self-publishing and subsidy publishing have become blurred. Mostly because the subsidies realized there is a stigma attached to books published that route (generally with very good reason since they publish poorly edited, badly designed books that are priced too high to sell), so they started calling themselves “self-publishing” companies. Print on demand “self-publishing” enabled the lines to become even more blurred.

But there are differences.

Fact: If your own company is not the publisher, you have not self-published.

Fact: If you have “self-published” using another company’s imprint, you have not self-published.

Fact: If you have to purchase your own books from a “self-publishing” company, you have not self-published.

Fact: If you receive a “royalty” from a “self-publishing” company, you have not self-published.

Fact: POD refers to a printing process—print on demand. It does not describe a way of publishing.


I urge authors to educate themselves before they make a decision to sign on with a subsidy press. In most cases, authors can truly self-publish for the same amount of investment—and they don’t have the subsidy stigma attached to their book.

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3 Responses to “Subsidy publishing: Is it the same thing as self-publishing? No!”

  1. Self-publishing is a decision best taken after a lot of research and consideration. Good post.

    Damyanti @Daily(w)rite Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z
    AZ blogs on Social Media

  2. Thanks for popping by, Damyanti!

  3. Great article, Sue. There is so much confusion among aspiring authors on this point, and it’s so important for authors to understand the publishing business before taking the plunge. Just one more point: many authors don’t realize that CreateSpace can be used in two different ways. As a subsidy publisher, they publish your book under their ISBN and can even do the formatting and cover design. Or you can upload your completed book files to CreateSpace and use your own ISBN, so you are just using CreateSpace as a POD printer and distributor.

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