Imprints (updated) • 13 September 2007 • The SnowBlog
I wonder which is best out of Hamish Hamilton, Viking, Allen Lane Publishing, Penguin, Dorling Kindersley or Rough Guide. Do a couple of them have really good IT systems while others have fabulous PR contacts? Is one weak on recruitment while another can never seem to get a good print deal? Or since they are all owned by Penguin Group and have the same registered office, should I expect that they're all the same people wearing different imaginary hats at different times of the day? You see, I can't quite decide about imprints. I can see the point of putting 'Rough Guide' instead of 'Penguin' on the jacket because it conveys something to the customer. On the other hand, the new Naomi Klein book is published by Allen Lane and not Penguin; does that help the customer? Will the readers understand the difference or is it not about them? Is it more about publishing tradition?
It certainly would be a shame if the grand old names of publishing gradually vanish, subsumed into mega-brands. On the other hand, if behind the scenes the loss of identity has already happened, then maintaining the fiction with a name seems pointless. And the ex-consultant in me wonders why one would buy up different presses unless it was precisely to merge a good number of the business functions. Why would Rough Guide and Puffin buy photocopiers or rent hire cars separately when they could combine their clout and have the same team handle both? And what about sharing legal, IT, payroll, maintenance, purchasing, finance and office space? If you don't, aren't you just throwing money away? And if you do, is keeping a separate name on the book spines almost deceitful - whether it's intended to be or not.
I'm not accusing anyone of anything, I just haven't quite figured out imprints yet. If you're part of the same company and the whole thing is about printing books then how separate and how much the same do you need to be? And how do you decide?
Whatever the right answer is, I shall be amazed if it reflects the reality.
Update: Em, both wise and cynical as she is, has pointed out one very sneaky but tangible benefit of imprints. She informs me that certain literary prizes restrict the number of entries not for a particular company, but for a particular imprint. With that in mind, we are considering dividing Snowbooks into a number of imprints called SnowbooksA, SnowbooksB, SnowbooksC and... well, possibly you've worked out the sequence by now. That way we can enter everything we publish for every prize. And while we might alienate the judges, we won't technically be cheating. I wonder if anyone else uses imprints that way.