|"Demonstration on October 17, 1905" by Ilya Repin|
Despite what the publishing naysayers say, the endorsement of a publisher really does mean something to consumers. I've heard way too many people tell me they only want to buy books traditionally published to believe it doesn't matter. People want the quality control, they want the traditional process, and I think people are willing to pay a premium for it. The mark of a known publisher could be a powerful differentiator in what will only be a more and more jumbled space.
But there's one problem with this: Publishers are squandering their brands on imprints few people outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn have heard of.
What's an imprint? Basically it's the name on the spine of a book, usually a division or a group within a larger publisher. The major publishers are made up of literally dozens of imprints, and they're not all ones that most people know.
People have heard of Penguin. They've heard of HarperCollins. They know Random House and Knopf and Doubleday and Harlequin and a few others.
I'm not going to name the ones people haven't heard of because I don't want to offend anyone, but you know who they are. Or rather, you probably don't know who they are. Even ones that have been around for fifty or a hundred years - not all of them have name recognition. And that's a huge problem.
Imprints matter to publishers and agents and somewhat to booksellers as they help organize the company into various divisions. You can get a sense of the "flavor" of a book by knowing who is publishing it, and agents know where to send projects.
But these distinctions matter next to zilch to consumers unless they've actually heard of the imprints and unless the publisher actively cultivates recognition of the imprints and what the "flavor" of an imprint means.
If a consumer hasn't heard of Unknown Imprint but they have heard of the bigger company, why insist on putting Unknown Imprint on the spine and in the Amazon metadata? How are consumers supposed to distinguish between a book published by Unknown Imprint and a book self-published under Imprint a Self-Published Author Made Up?
If a self-published e-book has a polished cover and presentation, the only thing separating it from a traditionally published book is the imprint. And if the consumer hasn't heard of the imprint (but has maybe heard of Random House or Penguin): Opportunity lost.
Publishers have cachet. Consumers want to buy books published by the major publishers. But consumers can't and won't do that if they've never heard of the imprint.