What's going on with readers today?
Used ebooks: Why your assumptions are wrong and the opportunity is huge

Moving from industry brand to household brand name

At last year's BEA I heard a Big Six executive state that her company didn't want to build a direct consumer channel because they're totally happy with their retail partners. She said it as though the two channels are mutually exclusive. They're not, of course, and any publisher that isn't working on building a robust direct-to-consumer channel is missing out on an enormous opportunity.

One of the reasons I think so many publishers haven't moved forward here isn't that they want to be reliant on retailers but rather because they don't have a household brand name. They have one the publishing industry knows, but not one consumers are talking about. As the saying goes, nobody goes into a bookstore looking for the newest book from Macmillan, Random House, Penguin, etc.

Authors and, in some cases, series, are the household brands here, not the publishing house. That was OK in the old days but the more our industry goes digital the more every publisher has a terrific new opportunity to build and leverage a household brand name.

It's not just about capturing 100% of the revenue. That's just part of the benefit. There's also the ability to engage directly with your customers, something you can almost never do when a third-party retailer is involved. In the direct-to-consumer world you finally have a chance to speak with your customers, learn what they like and don't like, discover new ways to serve them and create new revenue streams.

You'll never be able to do that unless you have a household brand name. And you won't simply build that overnight. That process begins with a commitment to community.

Btw, it might not make sense for the bigger publishers to try to turn their industry brand names into household ones. They need to go more granular based on target audience. I don't see much of that happening today though either, or at least I'm not seeing the fundamental building blocks required here: community engagement. You might have a website for your author/series, but what reasons have you given consumers to come to you rather than Amazon? If you've got nothing more than a collection of catalog pages you haven't given me a reason to buy direct.



I have to agree that most publishing houses aren't household brands, but I disagree with your listing Penguin as one of them. I grew up going into the bookstore looking for books from Penguin Classics, along with books from Scholastic and Everyman's Library [Random House]. Those imprints meant something to me decades before I ever started working in publishing. And now that I am working in publishing, I have to say that I get plenty looks of recognition when I mention Potter Craft to people. There are plenty of imprints that have established themselves as household brands long before the umbrella organization has.


A might add a couple of things about publisher brands and direct-to-consumer sales: (1) It may be a mistake to try to retrofit a B2B brand for consumers, and (2) if you don't have a strong customer brand you're much better off building one from scratch. Why? Because you begin with the consumer in mind so your traction in getting brand identification and, ultimately, customers is much more efficient.

Bob Mayer

I was saying no one walked into a bookstore asking for a Random House three years ago. I was talking about hybrid authors two years ago. It's interesting to watch the industry slowly waking up, but they're too far behind. I don't see anyone signing in to Amazon and looking for the next Random House in two years either.

One model that does work is Harlequin's lines. However, romance readers are rabid fans of their genre.

As long as NY keeps navel gazing and believing they can come up with their own answers to the problems they created, there won't be much movement. I've yet to see a Big Six publisher bring in an outside producer of content (called story) who sells that content very to consumers (readers) for advice. Publishers have always believed they know it all when it comes to the industry and authors and readers are rather ignorant. I believe that cap is on the industry.


Bob, while I'm not sure of the merits of debating the navel gazing habits of the Big 5/6 publishers. They (and other publishers) have been more active that you give credit in attempting to either launch new brands (e.g. www.biographile.com by Random House) or piggyback on 3rd party brands (e.g www.politico.com, also Random House). Simon & Schuster has similar initiatives as does Harper/Avon and their are more in the works. While, I'm doubtfull these particular efforts by Big 5/6 publishers will be especially successful (for various reasons), we should at least give them credit for trying, eh?

Bob Mayer

They certainly are trying and there are very smart people doing it. But let's accept that while Amazon was just a concept in Jeff Bezos mind in 1994 and then the music business imploded at the turn of the century, how many people in publishing were really looking to the digital future? How many were actually employing "tools of change" in the decade before digital exploded in publishing?

I remember Richard Curtis being a bit before his time holding up a mini-CD, saying it might be the future of books. I remember at DBW in 2010 when some of these same people were laughing at digital being only 3% of the market and why worry?

While those publishers are doing those things, they're also launching Hydra, teaming with Author Solutions and other things that make them less attractive. I came up with the term hybrid author over 18 months ago on my blog and have watched gurus latch onto it just this year as if they had just come up with something startlingly new. Here's a new term: urban flight. Authors who are going to look at what their publishers are doing for them, balancing it against their e-royalty rates, and at the very least go hybrid, if not indie. Bella Andre, Hugh Howey and an increasing number are using the "big 6" as subright print. Something every agent and editor at NINC in October last year said would never happen, even though Bella was sitting in the audience and had just signed a seven-figure print only deal.

Frankly, I don't have to give them credit. I don't care much what they do as it's a business. People get credit when they get results.

My concern is there is a simple truth. which even Maureen Dowd touched on this past Sunday in her NYT column: writers produce content (which is story). Readers consume content. Everyone else (and everything else, including the technology) is in between. As both a writer and a publisher I understand the huge difference between the two. I don't even really view myself as a publisher-- we call ourselves a partner to our writers. We work for them. We add value to the equation. There is a fundamental shift in the business paradigm going on, and little nudges and "re-branding" isn't going to succeed.

It's not about credit. It's about adding value.


Bob, though I'm a former book publisher, I don't think I have an ax to grind here. I'm just wanting to offer a check on some rhetoric I hear coming from all fronts regarding the value that traditional publishers are or aren't bringing to the table. I'm not going to try to defend publishers for charging for self-publishing services--though there are quite a lot of folks making money charging authors for services with the hope of achieving book sales.

I do completely agree that the role of traditonal publishers (or anyone that helps bring a book to market) should be measured by results, that is, sales. That said, isn't it true that an author's likihood of seeing sales is dramatically increased if their work is published by a traditional publisher rather then self-published or via an "indie" publisher?


Worth taking a look at #pubbrand via Twitter.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)