Book Business — January/February 2013
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Identity Publishing
Lynn Rosen

The Brand Is The Message

Technological developments are regularly presenting a raft of new challenges and choices. Through it all, publishers are continually being asked to demonstrate their utility. With self-publishing a click away, authors ask publishers, “Do we still need you?” If printing and distribution can now be accomplished at a much-reduced cost and degree of complexity, must publishers redefine their raison d’être? Are publishers having an identity crisis?

If that is the case, then it is more crucial than ever that publishers put more thought into how to craft their identity for readers. Publishers need to do some branding. As Wharton School Marketing Professor Jerry (Yoram) Wind says, “The brand is the value proposition for the product.” As founder, with Pearson Education, of Wharton School Publishing (now Wharton Digital Press), Wind knows a thing or two about publishing.

“Branding is critical in most cases to help consumers identify a product and know what they’re buying,” says Wind. “If you buy an Apple, you know probably you’re going to get the best, most modern, most exciting design. It suggests something. People can relate to this. Think about Nike and immediately comes a connotation of ‘Just do it.’ It’s more than just the product—it’s the way the brand relates to the consumer.”

Branding is becoming increasingly important, explains Wind, as a way of convincing the consumer that a product has characteristics they value and is worth purchasing. And yet, he says: “Publishers have not done a good job in terms of branding.” With just a few exceptions (Wind mentions the Oxford English Dictionary as one), publishers rely on their authors to be their brands, which makes it hard to develop a consistent message that reflects the mission of the house as a whole and distinguishes it from the competition. “When you look at publishers you don’t see a clear identity in terms of what types of books or authors or what sorts of a experiences you as a consumer or as a reader can expect.”

With technology rapidly bursting barriers to what was once the province of publishers alone, now, suggests Wind, would be a good time to pay attention to brand building.

“I think [branding] will allow a little more differentiation,” says Wind, “especially as publishers are moving beyond just books to ebooks and multiple screens and more interactive offerings. It’s a great opportunity for the more innovative publishers really to establish themselves.”

Publishers can determine their focus and their brand message in terms of their areas of expertise, their mode of content delivery or other characteristics of the works they publish. All of which will lead to a more stable market position.

Wind offers a useful retail analogy: “Think about the stores that carry different brands within them, departments stores like Saks, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus. Each one of these stores has a unique identity that brings people to the store. Then within the store they can select the brands. What’s missing to the publisher is this unique identity of the store. Are you more a Bergdorf Goodman or Macy’s or Target? Who are you?”