Publishing As We Knew It Is Called…what?

In the midst of the big e-revolution in publishing, nobody has quite figured out how to characterize publishing as we knew it, way back in the day (2010). Terms like "traditional publishers," "dead tree publishers," "NY publishers," and now "legacy publishers" have been thrown around, but none of them has stuck (though "legacy publishers" seems to gaining traction lately). How do you think we should refer in our discussions of the business to what we used to think of, in a general sense, as "publishers" and "publishing"? 

13 thoughts on “Publishing As We Knew It Is Called…what?”

  1. I usually refer to specific industry sectors to avoid confusion, so I’ll say ‘print publishing’, ‘print distribution’, ‘digital publishing’ etc. The first time someone said ‘legacy publisher’ I thought it meant memoirs or wills!

  2. I’ve used “traditional” publishers/publishing for the last five years. I think it has an old-fashioned ring to it–like the quaint furniture my grandmother had. 😉

  3. “Traditional publishers” seems the best. “Dead tree publishers” is too flippant for everyday use, “NY publishers” isn’t completely accurate, and “legacy publishers” is too confusing.

  4. I call it commercial publishing or professional publishing.
    “Traditional” was coined (IIRC) by the lawyer who designed the contract for the reverse vanity printer PublishAmerica. It sounds safe and reassuring to the people they’re selling themselves to, but to me harks back to the bad old days when writers had to pay to publish or get a patron to foot expenses. Down with that one!
    “Dead tree” while accurate, is insulting and often used in an patronization way by smug e-reader owners. I have many beautiful books that are works of art and they are a joy to the senses. A Kindle is cool, but lacks that “new book” smell.
    “NY Publishers” is acceptable after “commercial” since that’s where the biggest houses operate. It sounds intimidating, but if it puts a writer off or they use that as an excuse not to send out work, then they’re not ready for pro publication.
    “Legacy” is too hard to explain to the new kids and non-writers. I have to say, “It means commercial/professional publication,” then they nod to indicate they get it. I shouldn’t have to pause to define it.
    “Commercial/professional” in front of the “P” word works best. Everyone catches on to those the same way they do to “professional” sports. Whatever the flavor, words are traded for entertainment.
    You got paid an advance against royalties; your books are sold in stores. You get invitations to the cool parties, props from other writers, and have earned the right to sit in the bar with them and kvetch about how your house is underpaying you. Everyone trots out their amusing horror stories about the industry, and a good time is had by all.

  5. “Commercial publisher,” because it involves placing the book into the existing stream of commerce for a profit motive.
    The term “traditional publisher” appears to have originated (or at least became a popular, pejorative term for commercial publishing) with/through/around the notorious vanity press Northwest Publishing, Inc. in the early 1990s, whose owners/operators were so busy gambling away the thousands that authors paid to have their books “published” that almost none of the books ever made it to print, let alone became available for purchase…

  6. I’ve got to say, I think people are getting ahead of themselves on this one. Seeing as how ebooks only make up something like 10-15% of the market, I don’t think they get to take over the name “publishing” just yet.
    I mean, email gets a lot more use than regular mail, and we don’t refer to it as “dead tree mail.”
    On the other hand, I do hear people referring to it as “Snail Mail.” Given how long it takes to get a book into actual stores, I suppose you could call it something like “Plodding Publishing.”

  7. Can’t stand the term legacy publishing. It’s not like legacy software in which the user — for books, that would be the reader — opts for an outdated product (as a Windows XP user, I know this well). And it’s not about publishing to create a legacy.

  8. Given the accounts by yourself and others of how the business of book publishing is conducted …
    … how about bookmaking?
    (You make it sound like such a gamble.)

  9. “Legacy Publishing” is kind of a revolutionary renaming. Rob posted this definition: ‎”denoting software or hardware that has been superseded but is difficult to replace because of its wide use.”
    So renaming traditional publishing “legacy publishing” is a political action. Change perception, change reality.
    Being from Berkeley, I like it.

  10. I think “legacy publishing” is not just inaccurate, it’s inciteful.
    I’ve tended to go the other way though, naming today’s movement the “New Age of Publishing”. Not as a way to coin a phrase (it’s a bit of a mouthful) but it just has a nice, optimistic ring to it. And BTW, I don’t use it to denote epublishing, but today’s publishing model in general, which includes a mix of epub and print.
    When I do reference “old” publishing ways, I tend to use “traditional publishing”.


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