On publisher branding, geekdom and not trying too hard



“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.  Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.” -Aldous Huxley

Yesterday morning, I stumbled upon an interesting discussion about publisher branding. It was triggered by ‏@missdaisyfrost’s question: “Does WHO a book is published by have ANY influence whatsoever on whether you buy it?”

The responses covered the whole spectrum, but general consensus was that while people recognize genre or niche publishers (ie romance, comics, scifi, even poetry), they are pretty clueless when it comes to trade fiction or nonfiction. Some people from the book trade insisted “normal” people don’t pay attention to publisher names, while others said publishers need to work harder to create consumer brands. All the while, people were dropping names of their favorite presses, which showed that yes, even without a slimy corporate “brand strategy”, presses CAN leave a lasting impression. When the conversation split off into side discussions, people started thinking about other media: relationships between gamers and game studios, film nerds and directors and of course music fans and band labels.

@pressfuturist: it was always a niche part of the audience who appreciated labels, I think: indie rather than mainstream

@Louiestowell: My rule of thumb = the geekier/more obsessive the consumer, the more the brands matter. …Sort of like food nerds and local butchers 🙂

These two comments get to the heart of indie press for me, about who pays attention and why it’s worth paying attention to publisher insignias. Much like in the music scene, with books it’s also the nerds and geeks among us who pay attention to publishers, since we want to keep up with what is being released in our niches of interest. And although the biggest book nerds are often writers, there are plenty other book lovers who can geek out about different book covers or new releases from their favorite presses. These are the people who pay attention when genre or indie presses which blog about interesting, niche-related stuff. Think Melville House or Open Letter’s Three Percent blog, which are great for keeping abreast of news in independent culture and literary translation, respectively.

I also think there’s a lot to be said for implicit branding, which literary magazines pretty good at. By “implicit” I mean it’s not all about the logo or getting in people’s faces, it’s more about a certain aesthetic or taste that gives a litmag a certain personality, along with regular columnists that set the tone. It’s all about editorial decisions, the details. Like [PANK], which features gutsy, pretty hard-hitting prose and poetry. I like that there’s no bells and whistles, the editors don’t feel the need to dress up this writing. Or Largehearted Boy, which is a great example of a “niche” magazine – it explores the junction where books, music and comics meet. In Book Notes, my favorite section, authors are interviewed about how music has influenced their writing. You end up getting to know a lot about the writers’ books and their writing process, but all through the lens of music. In LB’s case it’s more the original concept which carries the “brand” – I’m definitely more likely to remember this blog than the umpteenth book review site I read.

The takeaway: an implicit brand is like coolness – either you have it or you don’t. Trying too hard just makes things awkward. Lightly, children, lightly.

Postscript: If you made it this far and I haven’t lost you in my ramblings, you might be interested in a poll I’m conducting. It’s about reading habits and which litmags, authors and publishers you pay attention to. The survey’s short, and I will definitely sum up the results here, so please take a few minutes to add your “two cents”. Thanks! http://de.surveymonkey.com/s/TCFCMPW