Christian publisher Thomas Nelson has implemented an interesting strategy: eliminating all 21 of their imprints (From Where I Sit, “Changing the Publishing Model,” by Michael S. Hyatt):
I guess I really can’t comment on what is best for other publishers; maybe there are some unique situations where imprints make sense. (I can acknowledge it as a theoretical possibility!) But, by and large, I think most publishers would do well to question their existence and ask whether or not they still make sense.
Imprints, for those not in the “biz,” are smaller divisions of a larger publishing company, although sometimes the names aren’t that separate (St. Martin’s Minotaur, ferinstance). Often imprints exist because the imprint was once its own independent publishing house but was then bought by MegaConglomCorp; allowing the now-subsidiary to keep its name helps keep the staff and their customers happy. Other times, big publishers will create imprint names in order to help brand a particular line of books. Some imprints seem to function fairly autonomously and some seem to share staff and office space with a half-dozen other imprints.
If other publishers were to adopt Nelson’s experiment — which, if I were a businessperson, would seem to have some logic to it — I don’t know how I’d feel about it. On the one hand, I find it oppressive to see the same brand names stamped on everything (and don’t think Target and WalMart don’t know that — that’s why they create their own house brands). On the other hand, eliminating the imprints seems to give a more honest accounting of where the books are actually coming from.
I guess it depends on the publisher and on the imprint. Some imprints do a good job of giving the publisher some personality and give them a more effective means to cater to the tastes of specific readers. Some imprints feel like little more than a category.
I wonder, too, how much the general reader even notices publisher and imprint names. Is this a distinction mainly for booksellers? And if so, does it matter if the book is published under the Megacorp/Mysterioso imprint or simply by Megacorp with the category “Mystery”?
I’m reminded of the Thursday Next books and the world-gobbling Goliath Corporation. One of these days, when one company successfully out-gobbles them all, it will eliminate all the cute names and stamp MEGACORP on everything. Then it will start issuing our jumpsuits.