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.
I’ve had a soft spot for Smashwords since it launched. This is quite the milestone!
Traditional publishers have always been challenged to predict which books will become commercial successes. They acquire books they think they can sell. In my view, the Achilles heel of traditional publishers is their myopic fixation on commercial potential. Sure, they have businesses to run, and Manhattan sky rise rents to pay. And yes, they employ brilliant and generous people who are passionate about books. Yet because they’re running businesses limited by decades-old business models and cost structures, they’re not able to take risks on every author. Nor do they want to.
I created Smashwords so I could take a risk on every author, including the author who writes for an audience of one. Because our platform is self-serve and extremely automated, we enjoy a low cost structure that enables this risk-taking, and also allows us to return up to 85% of all net sales back to the author or publisher.