Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Publisher as a Brand

I'm still trying to catch up after a week away from both my day job and my blogging life. I read two posts last night that I want to talk about. We'll discuss one today and the other tomorrow.

I've often mentioned Mike Shatzkin on this blog. Mike is a publishing consultant and a very smart man. Last week, he had a post here titled "Publishers, Brands and the Change to B2C" that I think well worth reading.

For years the publishing industry has operated under a B2B (business-to-business) model wherein they sold books to retailers who--in turn--sold books to consumers. But, as we've seen, the Internet is driving a stake through the bricks-and-mortar retail book business' heart. B&N and Borders are scrambling to stay alive.

Back in March, I talked here about a panel titled "The e-Book Tipping Point" held at the Digital Book World Conference. During the discussion, literary agent Larry Kirschbaum (formerly head of Time Warner's Publishing Group) said something that seriously caught my attention:
"Publishers have never really had to deal ... with their ultimate consumer. They've gone through intermediaries--whether it's retailers or distributors. Now they're in the game of dealing with their ultimate consumer ..."
Larry's comment brings me back to Mike's blog where he talks about moving from a B2B model to a B2C (business-to-consumer) model in which the publishers focus on selling directly to readers.

The problem with that plan is that readers don't usually go to a publisher's website when looking for a new book. Mike tidily summarizes the issue this way:
Authors are brands for consumer marketing purposes, but publishers don’t own those brands: the authors do.
Publishers are trying to get around this problem by building "communities" or "niches" of readers.

Back on June 1 here, I said:
I find it ironic that publishers are suddenly hot to build communities of niches. I can think of only three publishers who made the effort to build niche communities before it became recently fashionable:

1) Harlequin: romance
2) Thomas Nelson: Christian
3) Tor: sci fi and fantasy
Since then I've remembered one other: Kensington's Brava line, the first print imprint devoted to erotic romance in the U.S. Brava's first release was Intrigued by Bertrice Small in February, 2001. Along with many other women, I can remember snapping up every book Brava turned out--without regard to the author or plotline.

For years I have extolled Harlequin and Thomas Nelson for thinking outside the box while adapting to the changing publishing landscape. I'm still thoroughly disillusioned by their forays into vanity publishing. However, both have proven to be creative and ruthless in reworking (transforming) their businesses.

The Big Six could do worse than to copy Thomas Nelson. I wrote a lengthy post titled "Publishing 3.0" here in mid-2007 about Nelson dismantling the functional silos represented by their imprints. The company reorganized into divisions according to customer needs and with a focus on the Nelson brand. "If it doesn't add value, it disappears."

Tomorrow we'll talk about value. In the meantime, let me know if you think of any other publisher that deliberately or inadvertently built a niche market before the phrase became a buzz term.

1 comment:

randolph said...

[in passing]

Pretty much all the sf publishers have been doing this before, even, the internet. But that has to do with the history of sf publishing, where by 1970 many publishing pros came from the fan communities.