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Book Business January/February 2013 : Page 18

Special Report lishers currently mean little to readers. This branding crisis represents a golden opportunity for publishers to shed their tradition of working in the shadows and introduce themselves to the world as the purveyors of quality content. If content branding is now essential and publishers need to step out into the limelight, the question becomes: How? Branding strategies are not universal. Nike—known for producing quality ath-letic apparel—doesn’t brand themselves in the ways Virgin—known for daring and lofty business strategies—does. So what’s right for today’s (and tomorrow’s) content producers? Branding for Niche Publishers Publishing houses and imprints with a clear focus on a niche—such as Chel-sea Green Publishing (sustainable living), O’Reilly Media (software developers), Harvard Common (cooking, parenting) and so on—will have an easier time es-tablishing themselves as experts than trade publishers or houses with varied lists. These niche-oriented pub-lishers already have an ex-tensive and targeted arsenal of content to draw upon to begin their brand-building. They already have defined audiences, de-fined content boundaries and a commu-nity of expert authors. Also, these publish-ing houses will not need to select a niche on which to focus at the exclusion of any others. They’ve serendipitously set them-selves up in the same way the Internet has organized itself—by topic. Shay Totten, communications director at Chelsea Green, a publisher focused on bringing the politics and practice of sus-tainable living to a broader audience, sees niche branding as the merging of content and company. “I think of branding very simply, which is that our [company] name and our books are synonymous with au-thentic content written by people who are practitioners in their respective area of expertise—not just writers who have become ‘experts’ by interviewing others. To me, the branding for a book publisher keeps you more engaged with your com-18 munity of readers, writers and doers than if you just sat back and looked merely at what is selling and what is not.” In every step they make, Totten and the Chelsea Green crew consider their venerable brand. “At Chelsea Green, we think about branding from the metadata out to the [customer] in a bookstore. It’s all about framing the message of the book, presenting the book that resonates a certain ethic and ethos that ties back to the mission, and to keep our name synonymous throughout. “For example, we have dozens of part-nerships with bookstores in which we provide them with discounted books— frontlist and backlist—in exchange for a dedicated, branded shelf inside the book-store of our titles. We also partner with like-minded organizations, like the Post Carbon Institute, on guides and series of books that help communities shape their own fu-ture.” But the pr ocess begins much earlier. “It also starts at the acquisition process,” says Totten. “And that means editors being fully engaged in what will further not just the Chelsea Green mission, but keep us a leading voice in whatever niche a potential books falls into as a category.” This niche-level branding has signifi-cant advantages. Joe Wikert, general man-ager and publisher of O’Reilly Media, the popular publisher for software developers, says branding and curation have been key to their long-term success. “O’Reilly as a brand has always represented a reliable resource to developers. They would seek out an O’Reilly book on a topic. You don’t see that in most genres of publish-ing. … In fact, [because readers seek us out] we generate more ebook revenue through our direct channel than we do through ebooks on Amazon.” Wikert says O’Reilly aims to be thought of as a publisher that is forward-thinking, trustworthy and that amplifies the voices of the developer com-munity. They have accomplished that task in several ways: 1. O’Reilly has invested in launch-ing and sustaining niche conferences around the world: •Tools of Change for publishers •Strata for data geeks •Fluent for JavaScript developers •Velocity for web-infrastructure engi -neers •and OSCon for the open source soft -ware community This conference-marketing approach brands the company as the friendly cen-ter of a community of experts, introduces O’Reilly Media to a constant stream of new authors, and boosts the company’s credibility within its niche and sub-niches. Conferences are also a potential profit-center for the company. 2. O’Reilly Media extends trust to their readers in the hope that they’ll be trusted in return. “The fact that we’re DRM-free helps show that we’re for-ward-thinking and that we trust our cus-tomers,” says Wikert. Offering DRM-free books with free updates for life has not only built the brand, it has provided a huge marketing advantage. Branding for General Interest Publishers Though proud of O’Reilly’s strong brand at the company level, Wikert allows that company-level, niche-specific branding may not be the most effective place for everyone to throw their branding efforts. “Right now the only brands that seem to matter in [general] publishing are the au-thor and the series. The publisher is gen-erally unknown, same for the imprint. It’s similar to the movies where you may have loved that Lincoln flick but you have no idea which studio produced it.” Wikert asks in his Dec. 10 post to the Tools of Change blog, “Who goes into a store looking for the latest book from Penguin or Random House? Nobody.” While this may be an overstatement— FEBRUARY 2013 | BOOK BUSINESS

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