Branding by the book – publishing brand dynamics

Brands in the general publishing world have a strange relationship with their public. We are all aware of a number of major players, but when it comes to purchasing choice, brands are almost insignificant, instead, the author or category often becomes ‘the brand’. Book retailers display fiction titles, usually with no reference to the brand or imprint. They are usually racked by author or title. Readers are very aware of their choice of authors, but if asked who is the publisher, may struggle to remember. Modern production technology has led to a growth of new imprints which has been largely unnoticed by the general public.

Publishers make little effort to promote their brands to the public. However, they do work hard to build strong visual ‘brands’ for their authors. Series have recognisable visual identities and typography to respond to the needs of loyal readers.

There was a time when perhaps one major paperback house did have a distinctive style, and that was Penguin. In the 60’s however, publishing became more aggressive and competition for shelf space, intense. It was then that Allen Lane recruited Italian graphic designer Germano Facetti, who redesigned the imprint’s look with illustrative and photographic covers.

In non-fiction however, brands still survive and indeed can thrive. Examples include the ‘For Dummies’ series and Haynes repair guides amongst others.

The fact that publishers’ brands appear unimportant to the public may hide the fact that there is an arena where the brands are very powerful – that is amongst authors, agents and other publishers. For an author or agent to get a book deal with a strong imprint has both kudos and can be very financially significant. Similarly, much of the publishing business depends upon subsidiary rights – again, strong brands can sway deals.

This may seem like a minor diversion from mainstream branding, but it is an important observation, as it points to the fact there is no one-size-fits-all model of branding. Just as within publishing there are many industries and sectors, each having its own dynamics and its own brand idiosyncrasies.


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