What exactly is ‘legacy publishing’?

Q: I keep seeing the term “legacy publishing” when reading various blogs and articles about self-publishing. What is it? Traditional publishing? – sandiegowriter92

 You are correct, legacy and traditional publishing are one and the same. Which term you use, however, largely depends on your personal opinion about the Big Five publishers.

If you champion self-publishing and abhor the Big Five, then you probably use the term legacy publishing. This term was coined in 2008 just after the first Amazon Kindle came out. At the time, those frustrated with the Big Five and visionaries of the new self-publishing era saw trade or traditional publishers as archaic. The term was used pejoratively.

Traditional publishing is a more recent term, used by some who wished to distinguish between it and self-publishing and by those in trade publishing who wished to rescue the falling reputation of that industry.

Personally, I prefer trade publishing. As modern self-publishing enters its second decade, it’s becoming “traditional” in its own right. In any case, the real difference between self- and trade publishing has little to do with its time or which came first but the distribution model used. Self-publishing largely depends upon online sales while trade publishing is all about selling advance copies to brick-and-mortar bookstores. Of course, both have dabbled into the other’s distribution methods – many self-published authors place their books into local mom-and-pop bookstores while the Big Five sell online at Amazon.com.

One other note: Legacy publishing isn’t vanity publishing. Vanity publishers are companies that charge authors to print their books. Many vanity publishers have smartly set up their websites so they rank high when one searches the keyword “legacy publishing,” apparently hoping to tap into that market of potential clients.