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The importance of publisher brand on book covers

October 22, 2010

Yesterday on A Brand Day Out we discussed some of the pros and cons of the new generation Amazon Kindle. Despite its shortcomings, Amazon reports that it their current best-selling product on their UK site. This is hardly surprising and of course, if these are relative early-adopters, the trend can only be that more book purchases will be electronic. So, wither the brand?

A cursory look at a Kindle book – be it Winnie-the-Pooh or Dracula – shows that brand perception is entirely owned by the Kindle format. The look, the feel, the experience. Any branding that the original book has, whether typeface, paper weight or colour, is simply washed away. The brand experience is owned and loaned by the Kindle machine. You enter a sanitised world of electronic presentation in a field of the cloth of grey.

So it can be seen that if publishers wish to remain relevant in a world where their efforts are transformed from a verdant woodland to a brown, fenny waste, brand is crucial. Brand, as we know, is about experience so now, publishers – as we have said before – must stand for something and, whatever that something is, it must be obvious and relevant to their core readers.

If you’re Penguin, brand is now a combination of quality authors and quirky legacy. If you’re Oxford University Press, your brand is academic authority of world renown. If you’re William Reed, your brand is about business practicality in the hospitality sector. Publishers put much effort into pleasing their customers and their readership is hard-earned. So now, as electronic publishing takes stronger hold, publishers seeking to retain customers need to make visual links with their readers.

Cue the logo, the colophon, call it what you will. It is surprising even today how few publishers incorporate their logo on the front covers of their books. Yet now, more than ever before, it is crucial for publishers to have a defined space of quality in the emotional experience of book (or e-book) purchasing. Yes, some readers go for authors but when they’re looking for something else to read, where do they go and why?

Brand recognition has a big role to play here – but achieving it is a long ball game. For publishers with a reputation, readers will not only identify with authors but with other books by the same publisher. Bizarre as it may seem, this applies as much to B2B and reference as it does to fiction.

Yet it is surprising how many publishers don’t emphasise their brands via their logos on their books front covers. Many do not have brand guidelines – indeed, some publishers change the size and position of their logos – as if their logo was a secondary thought.

But picture today’s commercial landscape. Book reviewers in papers and magazines – often out of spite – frequently fail to include the publisher in the review: price, publication date and ISBN maybe but the publisher’s name is often ignored. With the Kindle and other e-readers, the brand experience is the machinery itself, not the publisher. In the bookstores, brand is subsumed within the migraine-inducing flashing bands of spine-out presentations and spurious “staff recommendations”.

In an environment where the many (books) seek out the few (readers), publishers need to act like the bower bird, luring the reader in with a sophisticated array of visual cues. Of these, brand plays a significant role – and consistent brand presentation works to engender marriage rather than a profitless series of literary one night stands.

By having brand guidelines and ensuring their colophons/logos are on the front of their books in a consistent fashion, publishers can start to own some emotional equity in their customers’ and prospects’ minds:

  • When book jackets are shown in reviews, the company logo will be shown 
  • When authors are interviewed and their book is shown, the company logo will appear
  • If books are used in product placement, the logo will appear
  • If logos are on jackets, they will appear as the e-book entity of brand
  • In store promotions will feature your brand as well as your authors
  • If book jackets are shared in social media, so will be your brand

Failure to have a consistent brand and brand strategy will result in yet further erosion of a publisher’s share of voice. And with a decline of share of voice comes further profit free-fall and further surrender of a company’s equity to third parties who care little for a publisher’s business model.

Who do you want to own and leverage your brand? You – or someone else?


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