David is so often on the money, and he nails it here, but crucially the first quote I’ve pulled is only part of the story:
In consumer publishing it is really hard to find examples of players once great in print who are now able to operate in network terms with a similar facility .
There’s much more more:
I also feel that the portfolio days of B2B have drawn to a close. Investing in disparate service elements in niche markets no longer adds sufficient value to be justified , and if the future really is around workflow emulation, as this column has been suggesting, then the niche positions do not cut it without a great deal more content and software.
A brand that is in between these two is “Dummies.” It definitely creates a meaningful shortcut for a consumer; they recognize it and it tells them “this book explains the basics on the subject in a way that requires you to bring almost no knowledge to it for it to be useful.” But because Dummies covers many subjects under the sun, it would be difficult to make use of it for audience-gathering or direct marketing the way Harlequin is employed.
You wouldn’t “subscribe” to new offerings, sight unseen, from either Penguin or Dummies. That means that, in at least one very important way, those brands aren’t as useful as Harlequin. Why? They’re too broad. General Motors wouldn’t ever have sold nearly as many cars if they called all the cars “GMs” to create a megabrand and had lost the distinction between Chevrolet and Cadillac. Trying to create “one big brand” if it captures unrelated content or unrelated audiences could be “one big mistake.”
My own theory is that publishers have to completely re-think their imprints in light of the need to move from b2b to b2c. Imprints at big houses are almost always silos with no discernible b2c meaning. In fact, the names of smaller houses, because smaller houses tend to focus on subject areas, can more readily have meaning to consumers.