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Do publishing imprints matter?

2 March 2015

The excellent article by Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller, in this week's Futurebook, is an interesting examination of imprints and their importance within the publishing business. But it does seem that most authors will be indifferent to the imprint and in a way they're right. Who cares whether alongside a book you're reading there's another one from a more famous author?

There are very few imprints which are recognised by the reading public. Penguin has always had a certain air of quality about it but most readers have no idea who the publisher of the book they're reading is, and nor do they want to find out. This makes the imprint name a pretty poor marketing tool.

But from the publishing point of view it makes a lot of sense to group certain kinds of book together under an imprint, at least in terms of selling in to the book trade. It means that a publisher can build a reputation in a certain area and although ‘from the publisher of...' doesn't really cut much ice with the public, it does help to define what the publisher is doing within the book trade and helps to sell a book into bookshops, online sellers and retail chains, which is particularly important with a new author, especially perhaps one writing genre fiction.

What has happened over the last few decades is that many imprints have disappeared when they've been part of a takeover. Although the acquiring company has often paid good money for them, they then don't think it's worth investing in them to keep them going. Publishing veterans are surprised and saddened by this ongoing attrition. There is a brighter side to this though, which is that when imprints come back into fashion and are regarded as useful again, publishers sometimes reach back into the past to resurrect old names.

I myself have been delighted to see imprints I've worked for, such as Sphere, The Bodley HeadRandom House imprint and Coronet, reborn with new identities. It just goes to show that you can't keep a good name down!

Philip Jones' article