Friday, April 14, 2006

Branding: its all in the logo?

The other day we finally got to move our Religion section (and by we I mean another girl and I due to some well timed exits by the rest of my coworkers), a cause for much celebration. Previously the section had resulted had caused contention between all of us due not to differing religious beliefs, but because it was packed so tight that none of us could move the books. Even those of us with small fingers were powerless against the towering wall of spines. We tried sending books back, only to have them return in larger quantities (“Hey, it’s Easter,” the company thought, “You need these books.”). We tried creating a separate backstock for the titles, but staring at if for long periods a time had the ability to induce tears. Shelving at all became a battle where we would pull two books to make room for one, never mind that all the titles had been stocked down the absolute minimum out of necessity.

It was no way to run a section, and we knew that, but at the time we had no alternatives. With the move, however, the section expanded from a three foot to a four foot gondola and gained a second gondola specifically for Christian fiction. Suddenly where there had once been backstock, there was now empty space thanks to the added room. Sure, we didn’t need to put out all ten copies of C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain—one could ask why our store needed that many copies to begin with—but we had the room, so why not! There were face-outs even, despite the Da Vinci Code tie-in madness that resulted in even more religious titles than before.

Oh Happiness. Oh Glorious Day! We could shelve without losing fingers. We could actually alphabetize the section rather than just shoving the books in and running.

(Insert allusion to Holy Light or great weight lifted here)

Of course now that we had a Christian fiction section we had to weed the appropriate books out of regular fiction. It was due to overwhelming customer request that it had been created at all, and we couldn’t have it looking bare and neglected. There was no way to pull up a comprehensive list of the books in our store due to an inventory glitch, so I just had to go on my own knowledge.

In the end I found myself relying on the imprint symbol on the spine of the book more than my passing familiarity with the authors.

Never before had I been so aware of the branding that symbol represents. In general I don’t tend to find house branding that important on the bookstore level. I don’t shelve Random House books together or give Penguin its own bay. There only to publishers in the whole store (Ellora’s and Silhouette/Harlequin series romance) that get that treatment by company mandate, and these are probably the only publishers that my coworkers could easily group by simply looking at the covers. With all the major publishers and imprints running around, it’s easy for a person to develop book blindness, and our customers (for the most part) are even more unaware of imprint signifance.

Does this represent a failure to “brand” on the publisher’s part or simply a failure on our own end to create awareness within our customer base? Do publishers want to brand at all? And as a reader, does this make any difference to you at all, or are you sitting there asking yourself, “What the hell is she talking about?”


lady t said...

I think that publishers do want to brand certain books which is why they have so many imprints. Random House,for example,puts out books by Dean Koontz and Alexander McCall Smith but you wouldn't know it right off the bat.

Koontz is put out by Bantam(which is more commerical)and McCall Smith is at Anchor(one of the more arthouse imprints). Most readers really don't care so in some ways,it's more for the publishers than the public. It's easier for them to market certain genres by handing them over to their sci-fi line,romance,etc. You see it much more clearly in the catalogs-the cover art alone clues you in to what type of books to expect.

jmc said...

I agree with Lady T -- publishers are branding. But I think that most consumers/readers are unconscious of it, except perhaps readers with an interest in specific subgenres. For example, many romance readers who read a lot of historical romance refer to the Avonization of historicals, because Avon puts out so many light and fluffy European set historicals. Readers who are looking for historicals that are not necessarily Regency set often look to Dorchester's Leisure imprint, because that line seems more willing to publish books set in more "exotic" locals or time periods.

I never paid attention to publisher/imprint until this year, when I finally began a reading spreadsheet. Another blogger was kind enough to share her template, which included publisher information as a field to populate, as well as a modifiable table listing publishers and imprints. Now I am very conscious that I read more books published by Harlequin imprints (Red Dress Ink, Mira, Luna, Bombshell, etc.) and Penguin-Putnam (Berkley, Jove, Signet, etc.) than any other publisher. Does this mean that they have branded successfully, or is it a coincidence that the writers that I prefer happen to be under contract to them? I'm not sure.

Marianne McA said...

Off the top of my head, the only brand that I have currently an assumption about is Walker books, who publish children's picture books in the UK. Over the years of buying for the children I found their books excellent. I've warm fuzzy feelings about - and happy associations with - the brand. [My children are past that stage now, so I don't buy picture books any more - but I found some Walker books remaindered the other week, and nearly bought them nonetheless.]
And an old-fashioned Penguin book - even a reproduction of an old-fashioned Penguin book - still has it's attractions.