Penguin isn't really a brand. Penguin Classics is a brand. Ace is a brand. Portfolio is a brand. Firebird is a brand. (There is an imprint called Penguin, but it doesn't have a strong identity -- imprints with the same name as the parent company, like Penguin and "Little Random," tend not to have strong identities, perhaps for the same reason Mickey Mouse has been a bland wimp for most the past century: it's hard to be both distinctive and a corporate symbol.)
This is exactly parallel to the way that SC Johnson isn't a brand, but Glade, Drano, Windex, Ziploc, and Raid are brands. Book publishing is very much like other manufacturing industries in that the consumer band is not the same as the name of the parent company, and it's not particularly surprising or remarkable.
Most publishers tend to promote their author-brands more strongly than their house brands -- though there are exceptions, such as Harlequin and O'Reilly -- because the authors have stronger, more resonant brands with consumers. But there are definitely publishing brands, and consumers who read deeply in particular areas know the brands in that area.
I'd say your advice is exactly backwards: publishers need to understand the power of specific brands and strengthen the ones they have. Their big "mainstream" imprints, though, are clearly the ones with the least effective branding and the least audience recognition -- perhaps they need to focus their efforts better and present a stronger brand proposition for "Bantam" or "Little, Brown" or "Viking."
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Pimp My Novel was writing about brands in publishing today, and, well, I disagreed with him. My comment grew long, so I'm repurposing it here, though I suspect you may have to read his post first for mine to make sense: