The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions

As its name suggests, “vanity publishing” did not acquire a stellar reputation in the twentieth century. Although some vanity publishers have served authors with niche audiences, others ran such notorious scams that they helped stigmatize the business of author-subsidized books. But fraud was only one reason for the stigma against vanity publishers. They were also criticized for producing low-quality books and failing to act as gatekeepers. By the late twentieth century, the stigma had received limited attention in scholarly literature, but among professional authors, publishers, and librarians, avoiding vanity presses was mostly common sense. Aspiring authors were warned that publishing with a vanity press could be a career-killer, and commentary in articles and trade journals suggested publishers and librarians were exasperated with the quality of the books that rolled from vanity presses and the treatment of authors who used them.