Do Publisher Brands Still Have Relevance?

Kate Eltham espies HarperStudio, asking whether they should have a separate Web portal/site, or just operate with a blog. She wonders: can a publisher drive a brand these days? Or just authors? What would make the return on investment worthwhile?

Personally, growing up, discovering reading, I remember some imprints with fondness, and I might see their name as an added validation of quality — e.g. Black Cat/Grove always meant
something specific; so did Pantheon (not the same thing!). But I would never purchase solely because of the brand “hey another Black Cat by an author that i’ve never heard of — I’ll give it a go!” That never has happened to me.

Anyway … back to Kate:

And all this got me thinking … is the author the only brand? Isn’t it possible, however unlikely, that some publishers could create an identity so strong and a community so vibrant that audiences seek out their books because they trust and like the people producing them? It’s hard to imagine of the multinationals, but not so hard to imagine of the quirky independents who have well-known identities associated with them, such as McSweeney’s (Dave Eggers) or Small Beer Press (Kelly Link).

Of course, even a wildly successful publisher blog is unlikely to generate the kind of audience that would shift books in the quantities required to make the ROI worth it. Then again, when you look at blogs like Boing Boing it’s quite clear the awesome power of conversation and community. The publisher as brand may not be something to write off just yet. Perhaps publishers just haven’t worked out how to do it well in the new paradigm.

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