So anyone who already follows me on Twitter will have heard this rant before, or my third year tutor read the essay I wrote, but I thought I’d post it here with the TL;DR version (still may be too long).
An imprint is like an individual brand within a larger company, allowing the company to diversify its product range and target specific markets with niche branding.
In the 1950’s the Australian market was extremely limited, with most books being imported – particularly from British houses. As the industry grew here, branches of those international companies were established here, and started taking over the smaller Australian companies who were struggling to compete. From the 1970s, with the Whitlam governments arts initiatives and more financial support helped the publishers to ‘meet the needs of Australian’s’. Throughout the 80s and 90s, lists were vastly expanded with Australian authors and content.
The majority of imprints are international companies who have absorbed smaller companies and kept their names going. The smaller companies are rarely closed down completely with the larger company taking on the reproduction of the titles and authors. Another way for an imprint to be created is for a new imprint created for a new change in direction. Publishing houses may also ‘honour’ one of their publishers with their own imprint.
There is a lot of criticism of imprints and what they accomplish, as many will argue that readers only care for the author’s brand. Some say the use of imprints diminishes the overall company’s brand. Some argue that imprints make sense – to the publisher and the bookseller only.
So where’s my rant?
I find imprints to be useful, to an extent. The most talked about imprints are the ones that are defining and targeted. Voyager is HarperCollins global speculative fiction imprint, and for years operated a successful (in terms of interaction) Australian fan forum affectionately known as ‘The Purple Zone’. Momentum is a relatively new imprint from Macmillan which is the first (I believe – feel free to correct me) Australian digital imprint. While it has a range of books from autobiography to thriller to erotica zompocalypses, its name is well known and maintained.
We get lost in imprints when there’s no distinguishing marks. From my random discussions with people in the industry on Twitter, whether reviewers, booksellers, editors, we do seem to agree that distinct identity is important. As much as I love a lot of their books, what difference is there between Orbit and Gollancz? Both are under Hachette, both focus on speculative fiction – a range of fantasy, horror, urban paranormal, sci fi. There’s issues with publisher’s perspective versus readers, where publishers will identify a book with a certain genre and imprint, but readers consider it a different genre. Due to the difference, it may not be picked up by certain specialist bookstores where readers would expect to find it. Another example is how children’s books are being taken into traditionally ‘adult’ imprints.
The sub-branding of sub-brands within a brand often gets lost in confusion and if there is any message or meaning to an imprint anymore, it becomes too messy for any consumer to attempt to unravel. It is rare that an imprint can stand out and be noticed. The connection between publisher and reader is more often seen as through a reader’s loyalty to a particular author, not the imprint to which the publisher places them.
- American Booksellers Association Bookweb, 2007, New imprint in Orbit, [online] Available at: <http://news.bookweb.org/news/new-imprint-orbit>
- Bookseller and Publisher, 2010, HarperCollins creates global Voyager imprint [online] Available at: <http://www.booksellerandpublisher.com.au/articles/2010/09/17290/> Accessed September 10 2010
- Bookseller and Publisher, 2007, Foley goes into Orbit, [online] Available at: <http://www.booksellerandpublisher.com.au/articles/2007/06/04549/> Accessed October 25th 2010
- Booksellers, 2010, Rosenthal to start imprint at Penguin in 2011, [online] Available at: <http://www.booksellers.co.nz/book-news/trade-news/rosenthal-start-imprint-penguin-2011>
- Bone, A, 2006, ‘Expect the unexpected’ Bookseller, Issue 5211, Jan 2006, p 16-17
- CallMyAgent, 2010, Imprints in a vacuum, [online] Available at: <http://callmyagent.blogspot.com/search/label/imprints> Accessed September 20 2010
- Carter, D & Galligan, A, 2007 Making books: contemporary Australian publishing, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia
- Epstein, 1963 ‘A criticism of commercial publishing’ , Daedalus, Vol 92 No 1,
- Greco, A 2005, The book publishing industry, Routledge, London
- Matthews, N and Moody, N, 2007, Judging a book by its cover, Ashgate, Hampshire
- PanMacmillan , 2010, Pan Macmillan launches new imprint with Maria Rejt, [online] Available at: <http://www.panmacmillan.com/news/displayPage.asp?PageID=7915>
- Piatkus, J, 2006, ‘What’s in a name?’ Bookseller Issue 5240 July 2006 p20
- VoyagerBlog <http://voyagerblog.com.au/>