In the world of business journalism, where I come from, the idea of a publishing brand, is common. Forbes, Financial Times, and The Economist are all household names. Book publishing, however, evolved quite differently, primarily because of its distribution and monetization models. Book publishers haven’t traditionally sold directly to their customers nor have they had to worry about making money through advertising, which requires a strong brand and an intimate understanding of one’s readership.
In book publishing, authors and retailers have always been the main consumer brands. Readers don’t buy books from publishers, but they certainly buy J.K. Rowling novels at the local bookstore, Waterstones (UK) and Barnes and Noble (US). These familiar retail brands have always played an important role in providing social proof for readers. Just walking through their doors guaranteed a level of quality and curation that readers understood in a very general but powerful way. There was no reason to explain the work that publicists, marketers and sales people did behind the scenes to get exposure and great placement for their authors and books. Why take the time to highlight the work that a publisher’s editors, graphic artists, and production people did to create a quality book in world filled with trusted gatekeepers?
For better or worse, that world is quickly disappearing. In the Digital Age, which is increasingly dominated by online retailers, shelf space is infinite. Instead of playing the role of gatekeeper, online bookstores impress customers with their vast selection of titles. Everything is thrown together. The range of quality is broad. Readers now shoulder the burden of sifting through this abundance to find well-written books that suit their interests.
Publishers need to consider the important role that a consumer publishing brand could play amid these new realities. Failure to do so could not only harm publishers, but their authors and readers as well. Here are just three important reasons publishers should consider having a stronger consumer brand presence in the Digital Age:
For the authors.
The most important reason publishers should strengthen their brand presence is to support their authors. In a world with less curation, traditionally and self published authors alike struggle to rise above the noise. If an author does not have a widely recognized, A-list name, readers don’t know whether it’s worth taking even a few minutes to explore their work. Having a publishing brand alongside the author’s name instantly conveys a vast amount of information to the reader about what went into creating the book. The publishing brand has the potential to provide the social proof that the physical bookstore once provided.
A Trusted Name.
Even if most publishers don’t sell direct to readers, they are going to have to market directly to them in today’s crowded online book marketplace. Marketing in today’s 24/7 social online world means that consumers only have time to engage with brands they know and trust. In today’s content abundant, distracted world, a trusted, connected brand presence can be extremely powerful.
Finally, publishers need to explain their value added in a marketplace where authors can bypass their services. The power of a well-developed consumer brand can help. Authors will continue to be the main relationship builders, but going forward publishers need make sure readers and authors are aware of the pool of editorial, production, artistic, marketing and sales talent a publisher provides to support that author. This need not be garish; subtle and consistently present will work just fine.
But in the Digital Age, when readers and authors are dazzled by a beautiful book cover or wowed by a well-written, error free eBook, they need to know not just the author’s name but the publisher’s name as well.