Packaging the genre: publishers as curators

Paul Raven @ 14-10-2009

There aren’t many business methods worth copying from the record business at the moment, but should book publishers be trying to work more like record labels? Over at the if:book blog, one Bob Stein thinks there’s something to be learned from the days when books had a distinctive look that immediately identified their publisher as well as the author:

I find myself thinking a lot about what i call the “Foyles” model. in the not too recent past Foyles in London shelved books, not alphabetically by subject or genre, but by publisher such that there was the Penguin section and the Bloomsbury section. For a more recent example, video stores usually shelve Criterion titles on their own — precisely because of the power of the brand. From this perspective I see two sorts of physical store plays — one could open a completely new sort of superstore . . . . where publishers, like perfume companies, effectively rent space to show their wares (fulfilling in some cases with actual books but also via POD and online). The second is a publisher branded cafe/store…

It’s not that crazy an idea, really… it’s pretty evident the current book-barn approach isn’t working so well. Perhaps I’m more attracted to the idea through being a genre reader, where publisher trust is stronger and more focussed: I’m statistically more likely to be interested in a book published by Gollancz or Tor than I am one from Penguin or Bloomsbury, for instance.

Visual branding plays a part, too, as pointed out by Joanne McNeill at Tomorrow Museum:

If there were a Tony Wilson of publishing, you bet I would buy every book printed…

Well, yes!

This all ties in rather neatly to Jonathan’s Blasphemous Geometries column from December last year, where he suggested that someone should give science fiction the Criterion Collection treatment. And there’s a new column from Mr McCalmont due later today, as it happens…

How strongly does a book’s publisher influence your likelihood to buy that book, if it’s by an author you’re not familiar with? And what about packaging? I rather liked the look of the Gollancz Future Classics collection, but I know a lot of other folk found them ugly or odd.

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3 Responses to “Packaging the genre: publishers as curators”

  1. Anthony says:

    I already figure I’m about 25% more likely to look at a book with the Baen imprint on the spine, when I’m just browsing at the local bookstore. And that probably increases to 50% more likely if I’m at the local library.

    Publishers who take the time and energy to create a solid brand, with well-written books, and an imprint that you can identify from arm’s length, get their investment back, IMO.

    I can tell at a glance what a Penguin title is likely to be, and while I don’t buy tremendous numbers of them – I do look for them when I’m looking for a classic.

    BTW, anyone know anyone who bought the ‘One of Everything’ Penguin collection? One UPC code for a package of every book they had in print at the time – came on two pallets!

  2. Marco @ Angry Robot says:

    That’s good timing. Us at Angry Robot were delighted today to get this unsolicited comment: “Angry Robot is rapidly becoming that rare (and almost old-fashioned) kind of imprint where you can look for the logo and trust their taste to guarantee a good reading experience.”

    To that end, we include common signifiers: logo in the same place, cover and spine; all rear covers using the same framing – just enough to say “Yup, it’s another one of those books you liked.”

    Love that Tony Wilson comment – I guess everyone forgets the Stockholm Monsters, Crispy Ambulance and so on on the Factory roster. Factory are definitely one of AR’s (many, many) influences, albeit not directly – though we have discussed giving everything we do a catalogue number a la FAC91 the office cat, etc.

    And you’d be surprised — or maybe not — just how many ex-music biz people are in London publishing.

    Marc @ Angry Robot

  3. Denni says:

    Angry Robot has a lot of exciting authors on their list and I would love to see their books featured more prominently. I still do most of my shopping in bookstores because I enjoy browsing the physical product.