Dec 1 2009
Digital Book World held an online seminar entitled Marketing in the Digital Age. The panelists included Dan Blank, Director of Content Strategy & Development, Reed Business Information (owns Publishers’ Weekly); Patrick Boegel, Director, Media Integration, Media Logic; Jane Friedman, Publisher & Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest Community; and Diana Vilibert, Web Editor, Marie Claire. The moderator, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, showed a slide with 8 book covers including Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. None of the panelists knew all of the publishers of the book and none of them could even identify Dan Brown’s publisher.
I began to think about the branding (or lack thereof) by publishers.
What Is the Brand?
Brand is that name or logo with which consumers identify certain attributes, either positive or negative. The same brand can mean different things for different groups of people. For example, Fox News equal fair and balanced for some segment of the population. For others, it is simply a media arm furthering the political views of Roger Ailes.
Most traditional publishers brand by author. The goal of the cover is to evoke some coded message for the reader but it hardly ever includes a publisher brand message. Look at the following three historical covers. Can you identify the publisher of these books?
Compare the above covers with the following:
Each of these three print books have some signifier of the publisher attached to the front. Publisher branding is cheaper for a publisher. Instead of advertising for each individual author, the publisher can spend money on pushing its brand and its collective group for authors. Epublishers use this effectively, creating a consistent visual image for its covers so that if a reader enjoys Author A from Brand Publisher A, she can look for books with the same brand. With Author focused branding, the reader goes and looks for the Author’s backlist. Of course, if a reader has a poor experience with an author, she’ll be reluctant to try that author again hence the Author Pseudonym.
Harlequin is a leader in publisher branding (and perhaps after whom Ellora’s Cave and others patterned themselves). Their branding, however, is primarily by line.
I believe that Harlequin’s branding by line is why the categories are so strict in their guidelines. The publisher is trying to deliver that same spirit from book to book. Thus the downside of publisher branding is that it can be more restrictive. If a publisher is well known for doing one thing well, readers might not seek them out when looking for something else, something different. I think this might be where epublishers made some missteps. Romance epublishers are synonymous with erotic romance. Tamer romance doesn’t sell as well. I think this is because readers aren’t familiar with those books within epublishing. If Ellora’s Cave or Samhain had created different looks for separate lines of sexual explicitness, they could have created a brand identity for readers looking for the less eroticized books. Ellora’s Cave attempted to do this with Cerridwen Press, but instead of keeping the Ellora’s Cave brand, they created a separate distinct unit instead of merely extending the brand.
The current setup of author focused branding is very advantageous for authors. When JA Konrath posted the results of his Kindle publishing, many noted that the effort his publisher had put into marketing his Hyperion books was helping him sell the self published ebooks. That’s exactly why authors who are traditionally published are in a great position. They can leverage the brand creation and promotion that their publishers are putting forth on their behalf as well as solidifying their direct connection to readers. When the digital market is the right size, the traditionally published author can decouple from the print publisher with their brand intact.
As a reader, the Author focused brand is challenging because once you are done with Author A, who do you read next? With publisher branding, the curating is done for you. You can go to Harlequin Presents for the agnsty, overpowering alpha male set in glamorous international locales. You can buy a Blaze for the sexy contemporary. Where line branding hurts is when a reader associates something negative with the brand. One reader told me she didn’t buy Harlequin Superromances because she thought they were “issue” books. Another reader told me she just wouldn’t buy Harlequin category books because she didn’t have any positive associations with them. The negative association can prevent a reader from trying the publisher branded book.
With an increasing number of books on the market, the biggest challenge a reader has is finding a good book to read. Do you rely on Author branding? Do you look to see who the publisher is? Does it matter to you? How long does it take you to associate something (either negative or positive) to a book brand, whether it be author or publisher (i.e., 1 book, 2 books, etc.)? Did you get all the publishers right? If not, here’s the key:
- Paranormal Books: Grand Central Publishing, Kensington, Pocket
- Historical Books: St. Martin’s Press, Kensington, Bantam
- Contemporary Books: Grand Central Publishing, Bantam, Berkley