Wanna Be Called IPPY Publishers?

Self-Publishing Calls Itself Independent Publishing as Independent Publishers Search for a New Term

We have a very big word problem.

The problem surrounding the words independent, indie, independent publisher, indie publisher, independent publishing, indie publishing, independent author, and indie author. 

Small press used to be the term commonly used for an independent publishing house. Then, nearly 20 years ago, that term was replaced by the terms independent publisher and independent publishing house (often also called indies, indie publishers, and indie presses), because the word small was misleading and inaccurate. Many independent houses are quite large. Now, small press is a term only used to describe a press that's actually small: one that only publishes a few titles each year. 

Independent publishers need a new term once again, not because that one isn't a good one, but because the stigma still attached to variations of the term self-publishing has led self-published authors to now call themselves independent (and indie) publishers and authors.

This has caused much confusion and frustration throughout the independent publishing wing of the book biz.

"Calling self-publishers... 'Independent' is a misnomer. It's like calling your pot dealer an independent pharmacist," wrote Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books, a St. Louis independent bookstore, in a July 3, 2011 blog post about what self-publishers are really facing in the marketplace. "There are no quality controls, no support from professional publishers, no support from bookstores -- and that's just for the writer. The reader gets the short end, too."

Steele's post spoke for many in the publishing industry who share his views, and not just authors, editors, and publishers.

"I know I'll get a lot of flak for pointing out the uncomfortable truth, but it is the truth," he wrote. "Independent Publishers are businesses...those are true indies. Not the snakeoil salesman who promises riches beyond your wildest dreams -- for the right price. To call this Independent Publishing is insulting to the agents, publicists, sales reps, accountants, yes even credit reps in the publishing business, and truthfully it's insulting to independent bookstores. Just because you borrow a term and apply it to something else doesn't mean it's true. Words actually mean something."

Self-published authors have successfully rebranded themselves as independent/indie publishers and independent/indie authors. They have successfully rebranded what they do as independent publishing. They have successfully put the traditional independent publishing industry in one hell of a bind.

Since self-publishers are now calling themselves indie publishers, perhaps independent publishers would like to borrow The Independent Publisher Book Awards nickname and call themselves IPPYs? I'm not kidding.

Too much time has already passed since the hijacking. Traditional independent publishing needs a new identifying term. Now. And, no, I don't think "traditional independent publishing" is a good choice. While it has clarity going for it, it sounds stodgy.

Whatever term catches on, given the rapid technological changes that are now the tail wagging what used to be a pretty slow-moving dog, this new term will be part of a larger rebranding of the independent publishing sector of the industry.

I talked about the impact of this problem with Bethanne Patrick, founder of the online book community Friday Reads and the Executive Editor of the online publication Book Riot. She's also the co-author of An Uncommon History of Common Things and the author of  An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy, both published by National Geographic Books.

Q: Say the term independent publisher now, and most people think you're referring to self-publishing. That leaves independent publishers and their authors in a constant state of self-explanation.

A. It is confusing.

Q: Eventually, the term independent or indie will become solely associated with self-publishing, and self-publishers will find themselves searching again for a new term in a never-ending quest to run from any label that inherits a self-publishing stigma. So, for self-publishers it seems it's a process that will never end.

A: That's exactly it.

Q: Independent publishing needs a new term now to alleviate the confusion, but self-publishers will likely go from one term to another until the stigma is gone.

A: I'd like to see the confusion cleared up. Independent publishers have such a great history. That's not to cast aspersions on self-publishing, but the confusion doesn't need to be there.

Q: What would you tell independent publishing houses about solving this problem?

A: They do need something, but it's not just a new phrase or moniker. They also need a way to convey what they do.

Q: It's a multi-layered marketing challenge.

A: They need to make their names known, and to brand themselves. Being an independent house should be branded as a strength.

Q: Not just editorially as houses or presses that publish great books. Now, more than ever before, independent publishing houses are in a strong position because they're better equipped to adapt to the rapidly changing industry than the Big Six major houses are.

A: Right, and book bloggers have really picked up not only on the strong identities that the Big Six's imprints have, but also the strong identities that the independent houses have. And it's just a matter of time before readers do, too.

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As a journalist, columnist, essayist, and media critic, Nina L. Diamond's work has appeared in many publications, including Omni magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

She was a regular contributor to a number of "late, great" national, regional, and newspaper Sunday magazines, including Omni; the award-winning South Florida magazine; and Sunshine, the Ft. Lauderdale (now South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Sunday magazine.

She covers the arts and sciences; the media, publishing, and current affairs; and writes feature articles, interviews, commentary, humor/satire/parody, essays, and reviews.

Ms. Diamond is also the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers (Lotus Press) and the unfortunately titled Purify Your Body (Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House) , a book of natural health reporting which has been a selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club's One Spirit Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club.

For its entire run from 1984-1998, she was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, which aired on WLRN-FM in Miami.

She has appeared on Oprah, discussing the publishing industry, but, in a case of very bad timing, that appearance was two years before her first book was published.

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