More on imprints

Eoin Purcell

Why you ask?
A Little while ago I posted a fleeting thought on Random House and its imprint strategy. It kicked up a very small storm in the teacup that is my blog when one commentator called out one of the examples I used Michael Hyatt (CEO @ Thomas Nelson) among other things:

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.

The funny thing is, Jonathan had a valid point. But only as far as it goes.

Publishers have interests too!
It seems recently that publishing has been taking a beating. Supermarkets are getting better at selling books and forcing prices down and threatening the high street chains. Competition for quality authors is forcing advances and royalties higher with increasing numbers of high profile failures for celebrity driven titles. All the while publishers are told that they are saddled with an antiquated print product that is dying and that in ten years people will simply stop reading. But the alternative hasn’t made a good running just yet despite some positive press.

In the midst of all that it is a wonder anybody gets into the business at all. Never-mind people with fresh ideas and successful ones too. But they do. And they do it because they have reason to believe that they can make a living from it. What people forget sometimes is that although publishers like it keep authors happy and while seeing joy in the faces of readers is all very well, none of it matters a damn if it doesn’t put bread on the table.

Authors can like imprints as much as they want, heck they can see them as prestige or non prestige but the reality is that they create a confusing clutter especially when they proliferate. Marketing budgets get wasted and diffused, too many books get published and companies make less money because of them.

That to me is the reason that merits their elimination. Publishers have a right to make money, as much as they can. Author will do better in the long run too as will readers, both benefiting from better marketing, better selection, clearer thinking and hopefully richer publishers with greater luxury in the choice of books and authors.

Certainly that is the goal we should have in mind when we are thinking about imprints, the interest of publishers, neither the imagined preferences of authors and agents, nor even the desires of the reader (except when these are relevant to our interests) but the cold hard logic of getting out of the most the greatest attainable share of the profit.

If that sounds mercenary, that’s because it is.

Feeling better now after my rant

One thought on “More on imprints

  1. Hi Eoin. Part of this question can be answered by a simple litmus test: Does the “imprint” qualify as a “brand” in the eyes of anyone outside the publisher itself? I ask this question all the time at my job. Those of us inside the publishing house sometimes assume those outside our four walls even know what the imprint is, stands for, etc. More often than not, the consumer has no clue, and rightfully so!

    Also, I wanted to mention that I love the publishing world for two reasons. First, I’m extremely proud of the fact that my work is somehow helping someone learn something new; in reality, I have very little impact on this directly, but I an fortunate enough to get to manage the people that make this happen! Secondly, and just as importantly, I absolutely *love* the fact that we’re at a crossroads in this industry. Either we’re going to take the steps necessary to reinvent the business or we’re going to be toast, period. Maybe it’s my love of technology that fuels this the most, but I’m thrilled to be on the front lines of what should prove to be a seismic change in the industry.

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