Random House & Imprints (Are they getting ready to shed them?)

Eoin Purcell

Call me crazy but . . .
I don’t pretend to be privy to anything that goes on at Random House UK but I was searching through their rather excellent new online bookstore: rbooks, can you find their imprints listed there? I can’t. Which is odd because for all the books listed on their front page and deeper (for example: Wicked by Jilly Cooper), Amazonlists the imprint.

Sure, you can find the list of their imprints on their home-page but you have to know they exist and click a menu drop down to go to them and helpfully they offer an explanation for those who don’t know what an imprint is:

Each imprint has a slightly different publishing philosophy. Most imprints publish either hardback or paperback editions, so the same title usually appears under two different imprints. For instance John Grisham is published by the imprints Century and Arrow which are both part of Random House.


The lack of positioning for the imprints on the retail site is important because it reflects the reality both of the book-selling trade (I guarantee that Waterstones, Borders and Foyles shelve by category and not by Publisher) and the customer experience (few readers care what imprint publishes their book, though for sure some might know the better known houses they will not know the endless sub-divisions of the giants).It also makes perfect sense. The books are what are important not the imprints. And rbooks does a lovely job of displaying Random’s books.

Am I getting ahead of myself?
Maybe they don’t plan to phase them out and rbooks is in its infancy so they may simply be learning lessons critical to online selling (Though they seem to ignore the discounting policy so prevalent at Amazon.co.uk eg Pig Island).

Maybe they have thought about it and see the benefits. I’d advise them to read Michael Hyatt’s assessment of the Thomas Nelson moves in the recent past as further support for doing away with them. All in all, I hope they do eradicate their imprints. Despite the many proud names that might disappear, book publishing would be stronger and better for it I am sure.

Thinking heady thoughts

6 thoughts on “Random House & Imprints (Are they getting ready to shed them?)

  1. Eoin, in this case I will call you crazy. Don’t believe everything you read on Hyatt’s self-promoting blog. As a former exec there I can tell you that things are not quite as he makes them out to be.
    First, I will agree with you that consumers don’t care who publishes a book and that bookstores don’t merchandise books by publisher but by category. But the world of publishing is considerably deeper than just this. Agents and authors DO care about Imprints and what they bring to the table. They do matter.

  2. [continuing] things at Nelson aren’t as rosy as Mike makes them out to be. The proof will be in another year or two when the books they acquire now are published. Authors and agents are leaving as are employees. Don’t be too quick to jump on his bandwagon. Only a small b-level christian publisher has followed suit. There is a lot more to this than you reveal.

  3. Jonathan,

    You are correct. The proof will be in the pudding. At the end of the day, publishing companies will succeed based on whether they provide real value to their key constituents, including authors and agents.

    I do not believe that eliminating imprints is a panacea. For us it was simply the logical outcome of trying to become a more customer-centric company. It is only one block in our strategic framework. But, so far, I am pleased with the feedback we are receiving from customers, authors, agents, and, yes, employees.


  4. Jonathan, Mike,

    Thank you both for reading and commenting.

    Jonathan: I agree there are people other than buyers/readers who car about imprints. The question is whether those concerns are big enough to justify the retention of those imprints. I suspect on balance that it is not.
    That publishers have been slow to copy Thomas Nelson might be an example of people waiting to see how it pans out in a full year, or it might be inertia, fears similar to your own.
    As for taking Mike at his word, I’ll risk it. His blog may be self promoting (whose isn’t), but at the very least it’s public and he has never made any bones about who he is, why he writes and his overall purpose.
    One final point, you are right to suggest there is more depth to the issue and I may well comment more on that in a future post.

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