Putting a finger on imprints

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‘Does anyone really care about imprints outside of the book trade?’

When Canelo publishing director Michael Bhaskar starts his essay for us here at The FutureBook with that question, he could well be referencing the range of perceptions and issues we found waiting in #FutureChat.

Prompted by my colleague Philip Jones’ good column, The imprint of meaningful things, we took to Twitter with The Bookseller’s digital publishing community to discuss what future there is in imprints.

And one of the first things that became apparent is that everyone doesn’t have the same idea about what imprints are meant to do.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

Some of us have assumed that publishers would like readers to learn and recognise imprints as brands — following them as content guides, much as they might follow, say, HBO’s “Zone” channel that specialises in contemporary content aimed at a younger demographic.

But others of us, as it turns out, have no concern at all about readers being unaffected by imprints, and see them, instead, as organizing identifiers — if used well — for industry people.

As Jones put it in a tweet during #FutureChat: imprints “remain relevant to the industry — and useful.”

For his part, Bhaskar sees an important element of the story lying between digital and print — the format connection he makes in the first part of his piece. That, in turn, is related to the trend toward publishing house consolidations. He writes:

With the consolidation of publishing starting in the 1960s and continuing into the present, these distinctions, between imprints and publishers, by and large, separated (with some exceptions like Faber). One conglomerated publisher contained multiple imprints and even where hardback and paperback had different imprints, there became one institutional infrastructure behind them. Imprints became a colophon, not a meaningful business distinction. They no longer embodied corporate identity but became tools for communicating parts of a list. Does this make sense in the digital world? I’m not sure.

Michael Bhaskar
Michael Bhaskar

And in one of his comments I like best, he argues for the curation power of personality in implied by an imprint. He writes:

If we want to play up imprints, we should probably play up the fact they are unique assemblages of messy human tastes that really believe in what they publish. Many of the best imprints do this already.

Our #FutureChat discussion proved to be robust, pleasant and thought-provoking, not least because we weren’t all talking about the same thing.

Is an imprint meant to be consumer-facing? Well, it’s probably not meant to be hidden from a reader, no, but is it meant to telegraph specific messages? As Jones said, they wouldn’t keep using them if not.

The question is, who is supposed to be receiving those messages?

As usual, the selection of tweets from the discussion below is meant only to be representative of the conversation, not chronologically accurate, nor contextually complete. Our thanks to everyone who participated.

Many interesting moments are here, as when, for example, Orion Publishing’s Gollancz joined us — perhaps Simon Spanton, I believe — on a point of iconic branding and generational recognition. Please join us Friday (6th March) for our next #FutureChat about the Kindle, its prominence on the landscape, and what it tells us about international markets.

Meanwhile, as Bhaskar writes:

Regardless of whether imprints are directed at the public or at the book trade, if they are to have meaning and credibility it won’t be as a sterile marketing exercise but as a reflection of the colourful characters within them.

Happily, #FutureChat enjoys its own cast of colourful characters. And here are some of them. 

Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook: Putting a finger on imprints: A #FutureBook recap

Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook


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