It’s widely accepted in the publishing industry that the difference between a vanity publisher and a mainstream, commercial publisher is that the former makes most of its money selling books back to its writers, while the latter makes its money selling books on to new readers: but why is this the case and why is that distinction so important?
Mainstream publishers focus on selling their books to readers. This is done through the efforts of salespeople, distributors, wholesalers and booksellers, with the assistance of publicity teams which manipulate a vast network of media contacts in order to bring books to their readers’ attention. It’s a two-pronged attack which simultaneously makes the book widely available and makes potential readers aware of the book, and publishers which only focus on one side of this equation rarely succeed.
Vanity publishers focus on selling to their own authors because they know that those writers are keen to see their books sell well, and they provide a guaranteed market for their own books. Vanities don’t attempt to sell to bookshops or to promote to new readers because that’s a complex system which can be very expensive; and because they know that bookshops aren’t likely to buy their books and reviewers aren’t likely to review them.