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#16: Publisher Implosions

LBrownIII

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I can't believe I forgot this one

Byzantine Corporations

You sometimes see small publishers with as many imprints as they have titles. Going to their web site is an endless routine of clicking and clicking through many pages of cookie-cutter webpages. One such publisher who I won't name (but who was recently DELISTED from the Writer's Market Online) has at least 10 different imprints. Their best-selling title, by my estimate, has sold about 500 copies. This one's a pretty substantial tell, as it indicates that the publisher's main effort lies in ego-stroking rather than selling books. A proliferation of imprints or "divisions" exists only to inflate the publisher's size and importance.
 

JLowder

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Re: I can't believe I forgot this one

LBrownIII said:
Byzantine Corporations

You sometimes see small publishers with as many imprints as they have titles. Going to their web site is an endless routine of clicking and clicking through many pages of cookie-cutter webpages. One such publisher who I won't name (but who was recently DELISTED from the Writer's Market Online) has at least 10 different imprints. Their best-selling title, by my estimate, has sold about 500 copies. This one's a pretty substantial tell, as it indicates that the publisher's main effort lies in ego-stroking rather than selling books. A proliferation of imprints or "divisions" exists only to inflate the publisher's size and importance.
Imprints can have a valid purpose--if a publisher wants people to identify a certain line as a mystery line, another as an SF line, and so on. Of course, for an imprint to be valid, it needs to have enough releases to establish and maintain that identity.

And larger corporations are awash in imprints. Take the Bertelsmann Group. In addition to the BMG record group, newspapers, magazines, large chunks of AOL in Europe, a big piece of Barnes & Noble online, and various broadcasting stations and production companies, Bertelsmann owns the following book imprints (and this doesn't even list sub-imprints or lines):

Bantam Doubleday Dell group
Bantam Books
Doubleday
Dell - Delacorte
Broadway Books
Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
Bantam Doubleday Audio
Bantam Books Canada
Doubleday Canada
Transworld Publishers (UK, Australia, New Zealand)
Doubleday Direct (direct marketing book operations)
Literary Guild
Doubleday Book Club
Crossings
Random House
Random House Trade Publishing Group
Random House Information Publishing Group
Knopf Publishing Group
Crown Publishing Group
Ballantine Publishing Group
Random House Children's Publishing
Random House Audio
Random House Value Publishing
Fodors Travel Publications
Random House New Media
Random House Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa
Barrie & Jenkins
Bodley Head
Jonathan Cape
Century
Chatto & Windus
Doubleday
Ebury Press
Expert Books
Hutchinson
Julia MacRae
Partridge
Stanley Paul
Pimlico
Secker & Warburg
Sinclair Stevenson
Tellastory
Transworld
Yellow Jersey
Arrow
Black Swan
Corgi
Dell
Fodor's
Mandarin
Minerva
Red Fox
Sweet Valley
Vermilion
Vintage
Bee Book
Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag
Donauland
Science Fiction Book Club
Bold Type

Cheers,
Jim Lowder
 

LBrownIII

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Re: I can't believe I forgot this one

I re-read my post, and I can see a source for possible confusion. I wrote " A proliferation of imprints or "divisions" exists only to inflate the publisher's size and importance."

It should have been "An unnecessary proliferation of imprints or divisions..."

Care to offer an opinion on how many titles it takes to justify an imprint?

The point still remains: if you can't tell which company owns which other company, or what this division's relationship is with that division, or why the same person answers 10 different e-mails, then it's all fluff meant to impress you.

Stay away.
 

JLowder

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Re: I can't believe I forgot this one

LBrownIII said:
Care to offer an opinion on how many titles it takes to justify an imprint?
Four titles a year--one per quarter. Fewer than that and you'll have a hard time convincing bookstore buyers that you're anything other than a vanity press or a tourist. Of course publishers can test the fiction market with less, or release the occasional fiction title as part of a larger publishing program, but to establish yourself as a fiction imprint, you need to have more frequent releases.

LBrownIII said:
The point still remains: if you can't tell which company owns which other company, or what this division's relationship is with that division, or why the same person answers 10 different e-mails, then it's all fluff meant to impress you.

Stay away.
Do most people really know that Bertelsmann owns Knopf and Dell and Del Rey and the rest? Does that really make them risks as markets?

And imprints can be useful in differentiating lines to book buyers and the public, particularly with genres. Del Rey has an identity as an SF/fantasy line within the greater Bertelsmann collective, and buyers recognize the "brand."

I will give you one person answering ten different e-mails, though. That's a tell, especially if they're set up to give the illusion of being part of a bigger company.


Cheers,
Jim Lowder
 

LBrownIII

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Re: I can't believe I forgot this one

JLowder said:
Four titles a year--one per quarter. Fewer than that and you'll have a hard time convincing bookstore buyers that you're anything other than a vanity press or a tourist.
For the record, this example publisher has no bookstore presence that the author doesn't go out and arrange personally. They also produce about a dozen titles a year, with 10 imprints.

Do most people really know that Bertelsmann owns Knopf and Dell and Del Rey and the rest? Does that really make them risks as markets?
Check out this page as an example that clearly lays out which does what, complete with logo and link. Each has a brief corporate bio, as well. The transparency is vastly different from the deceit practiced by the "puffer fish" publisher.

http://www.randomhouse.biz/publishers/

Wizards has essentially one fiction imprint, targeting their young adult market, if I'm not mistaken. They don't have any RPG imprints.
 

JLowder

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Re: I can't believe I forgot this one

LBrownIII said:
For the record, this example publisher has no bookstore presence that the author doesn't go out and arrange personally. They also produce about a dozen titles a year, with 10 imprints.
A dozen books a year is a solid output for a small house--I was happy when the Pendragon fiction line got out one a quarter--but twelve spread over ten imprints? Hard to see the point of the imprints.

If an author wants to let local bookstores know that he or she has a book out, fine. In an era of shrinking ad budgets for all but the top authors, that's probably the only way a local store is going to learn about your book. But chain stores neither buy books at the local level nor will they typically even arrange local author signings. Borders and B&N arrange those things through national buyers and regional corporate PR officers. Indie bookstores are a different matter, but even they can be pretty uninterested in small press books, particularly if the books in question are published print-on-demand and are not available to them through normal distribution channels (Ingram, Baker & Taylor). The publisher you mention above probably fails on both counts.

LBrownIII said:
Check out this page as an example that clearly lays out which does what, complete with logo and link. Each has a brief corporate bio, as well. The transparency is vastly different from the deceit practiced by the "puffer fish" publisher.
Right. The notion that the publisher would try to deceive writers or readers about who owns what, or the size of an imprint, is a cause for serious concern. I like your "puffer fish" phrase to describe that.

But the presence of lot of imprints is not, by itself, a worry. And it is sometimes difficult to tell the signs of a puffer fish from the typical fog that exists around large media companies. That Random House link you provided does list imprints, but the fact that they are all owned by Bertelsmann is buried way down in the Random House Ventures section, and the other Bertelsmann imprints are never mentioned. It's sometimes in the best interest of giant corporations to downplay their size. Get too big, show too many tentacles of the octopus at once, and the consumer gets creeped out. The "We're Beatrice" TV ad campaign of the 1980s was pulled from the air for that very reason--it alienated consumers when they realized how big the company was, how many familiar product lines it owned.

What I'm getting at here is be careful about reading the information (or lack of information) related the imprints the right way. You're better off judging how worthwhile an imprint is by its market presence--as you do above--than by trying to decipher the corporate PR around it.

LBrownIII said:
Wizards has essentially one fiction imprint, targeting their young adult market, if I'm not mistaken. They don't have any RPG imprints.
WotC publishes everything--fiction and RPGs--under what amounts to a single imprint. Back in the TSR days, the fiction operations had at various times tried to establish lines that aped imprint designations--the TSR Books line was marketed as the creator-owned line, with books different from the shared world "game" fiction. But naming the line "TSR Books" kind of defeated the push toward an imprint-type identity shift away from the company's existing shared world image.

Cheers,
Jim Lowder
 
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