What Makes for Effective Publisher Branding?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

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By Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story by Erin Cox urges publishers to pour effort and resources into branding themselves, essentially making their colophons and imprints into part of the sales pitch they make to customers with each and every book. As discussed in the article, there are a variety of reasons to do this, not the least of which is the fact that authors typically only produce a book a year at most and have little publisher loyalty meaning that branding opportunities are limited, while publishers put out new titles each month, week, even day — offering a far bigger canvas for branding.

Of course, it’s widely acknowledged that some publishers have done a better job at branding themselves then others. Knopf and Vintage are two examples that work from within a big publishing house cited within Erin’s piece, as are New York Review of Books editions and Open Letter, among the smaller publishers. Arguably, these publishers’ branding “works” in so far as it attracts book buyers. (I know that one of the gifts I want to buy myself someday is a full run of the NYRB editions, if only for how beautifully the spines would decorate a room. Call me shallow, but they are so much more alluring than Penguin Classics’ imposing and uniform black.)

Other publishers have made strides in branding themselves — Quirk Books or Chronicle are examples — while others don’t bother: Quick, name an imprint of Macmillan and describe their colophon!

To me, the publishers with the most effective branding of all are Harlequin and Mills & Boon. Their names are synonymous with the genre they publish, namely romance. Now that is effective branding.

Other times, publishers branding can be a little double-edged. Take for an example Algonquin Books which I always think of by it’s full original name “Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.” And that may still be their full name…I still largely associate them with Southern fiction, something they’ve published very, very well over the years. But they are a part of Workman and have a broader publishing program, one that incorporates nonfiction among other subjects.

At the end of the day, branding is about making you feel something. With books that feeling that should be conveyed is: “Buy and read this book NOW! Or else you’re missing out on something really profound/entertaining/important/special.”

So, the question is, what makes for effective publisher branding?  What works, what doesn’t and what would you like to see more of? Which publishers do you think have effective branding and why?

Tell us what you think in the comments below or share them with us on Twitter using #ppdiscuss.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.