What’s the point of a publisher’s brand?
I ask the question only because the answer would once have been obvious. The books that I collect from the 19th and 20th centuries are all clearly branded by publisher and the brand clearly adds value. Customers were more likely to buy the book because it carried that publisher’s brand. Penguin is probably the most familiar example for many people. Any book that appeared in the familiar Penguin designs automatically acquired some of the Penguin aura. The fact that it was a Penguin Book told the customer something about the book. The same is true of the Tauchnitz and Albatross books from Continental Europe.
Is the same true nowadays, when branding has become such a sophisticated art? There are certainly all sorts of tags that tell you something about a book, and may make you more likely to buy it. The style of the cover is perhaps the most obvious, helping you easily to identify a thriller, or the latest ‘chick-lit’, or even to pick up clues about what other book it may most be like – ‘Fifty shades of grey’ being a recent example. Other clues may be the shape or size of the book, the quality of paper, even the font. But these tags have nothing to do with the publisher. If you’ve read ‘Fifty shades of grey’, do you know who published it? Are you any more likely to buy another book from the same publisher, because you enjoyed that one? If ‘Harry Potter’ is more your thing, have you tried another book by Bloomsbury?
What of Penguin Books? They have survived and indeed prospered into the modern era, although now as part of a publishing empire that controls many different brands. I assume that Penguin Random House have some sophisticated strategy to determine how each of their brands is used. But what does the general customer now learn about a book from the fact that it is published by Penguin? More generally would you ever buy a novel because of the publisher branding?