Branding Revisited

Two weeks ago an article in the New York Times profiling Jane Friedman of Harper Collins ignited a firestorm among devotees of books; Ms. Friedman expressed a vision of a time when book buyers would simply reach for a Harper Collins title without awareness of the author. In the spirit of solid journalistic curiosity I sent Ms. Friedman an email asking for a clarification; she didn’t respond. Since nature abhors a vacuum we can only imagine her thoughts as an assistant read salient parts of the inquiry aloud. Mr. Miscellany is on line two; what should I tell him?

There’s evidence to suggest that Ms. Friedman’s idea is already gaining traction. Think back to the moment during INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS when the half-formed replicants began to resemble Kevin McCarthy. Obviously if all they looked like him the sinister plan to take over the planet would’ve been quickly detected; we’d have the cops comparing notes scene where they’d say…they all look alike. We don’t look the same…something’s wrong.

Romance writers can attest that HARLEQUIN is a brand. In fact HQ is busy creating demographic based imprints that calibrate the readers taste for which books must be written. The authors are low paid and very secondary to the process; sometimes their names don’t appear on the jacket. When they are acknowledged they write under psuedonyms appropriate to the sub-genre.

Judith Regan of ReganBooks, a Harper Collins imprint, is often mentioned as a publisher well versed in branding. Her titles are topical on provocative subjects like sex. She also published Tommy Franks memoir AN AMERICAN SOLDIER. Is the general a brand name? Will you discover him in a bookstore section marked ‘ReganBooks?’ Does your next door neighbor resemble Kevin McCarthy?

The argument could be made that the influence of branding has contributed to the decline in readership; a poorly written novel by a famous writer is one thing. Five in a row generally kills interest in future offerings from said writer; that the publisher is invisible in such a fiasco is a good thing. Bad books are the author’s fault; the logo on the spine is an innocent bystander.

Jeff Grim
Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.