Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Publishers and Pixar
(or: do imprints matter?)
(or 2: why are there no imprints for men?)

About 10 years ago, a little known movie studio broke onto the scene when they released a funny movie about a bunch of talking toys and the mischief and wacky adventures they got into. The movie grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, got fantastic reviews, and proved that both children and adults could enjoy an animated feature. I loved "Toy Story," loved "Toy Story 2," and adored just about every movie that Pixar has ever made. When I hear a new Pixar movie is coming out, I make it my duty to see it. The films are hilarious and poignant, more so than 99% of the live-action drek produced these days, and Pixar has my $10.75 for all enternity until Robert Iger goes insane and kills John Lasseter.

On the publishing front, a few days ago the New York Times reported that Hyperion was creating a new book imprint called Voice, aimed at women. Voice won't publish Chick Lit, but books aimed at real women, mothers, careerists. Imprints in publishing are hardly a new hat, but over the last 18 months a huge number of new imprints have sprung up. From Voice to Warner Twelve to Five Spot to Spiegel and Grau, each one with different mission statements and loads of editorial and authorial talent behind them. Most of them debut in 2007, so their success has yet to be determined.

Certain imprints resonate with readers, so much so that readers buy books based largely on imprint reputation. Harlequin Romance. Penguin Classics. Nan A. Talese. St. Martin's Minotaur. These are just a few.

Now with the exception of Pixar, I don't think there are any movie studios whose films I'd pay to see just based on the title card. It always amused me when I saw movie trailers that proclaimed, "From the Producers of..." as though I would buy a ticket just because the same rich people were writing the checks. I never felt that any one studio, with Pixar being the exception, made universally wonderful movies that convinced me to buy a ticket based solely on their reputation.

So I wonder, with all these new imprints out there, and all the ones currently in existence, do readers buy books based on imprint? Do you walk into a store and, without knowing much about the book, gravitate towards it because the imprint has a history of published books you loved?

I honestly don't think I have, but part of that might be because despite a large number of imprints aimed at women, there are absolutely none geared specifically towards men. I find this very curious, and if I thought about it for a while I might even be offended or upset. In fact, I have thought about it, and it does upset me.

Publishing is a very female-dominated industry, that's no secret, and many of the women in publishing are absolutely brilliant. But in a perfect world, the reading public would be closer to 50/50. Clearly it is not. But is that because men simply don't read, or they don't read because there isn't much out there for them? If 75% of television programming consisted of Lifetime Originals, The View, Oprah, and Sex in the City reruns, men wouldn't watch much television either. The other day a colleague told me so many imprints are aimed at women because women make up the majority of book buyers.

"True," I thought. "But it's not disproportionate to the degree that imprints aimed at women should outnumber imprints aimed at men by a score of 25-0. And maybe part of the reason women tend to buy more books is because their needs are being met to a far greater degree than men."

But I digress. End of inner monologue.

So I pose this question to the bookbuying and reading blogosphere: Do you buy books based on imprint? Have any imprints or publishers such made a significant impact--either positive or negative--that have influenced your buying or reading?

23 Comments:

Blogger Duane Swierczynski said...

I buy pretty much anything with "Hard Case" or "Black Lizard" on the spine. (And, ahem, of course, Minotaur.) And if I've enjoyed one book, I sometimes look for its imprint-mates--one example being Dark Alley, which led me to Rob Roberge's MORE THAN THEY COULD CHEW and Thomas Fahy's NIGHT VISIONS.

10:15 AM  
Blogger E is for Editrix said...

It might be hard to remove myself from the "in the industry" perspective on this. I definitely look at imprints when I'm buying books because it helps me gauge audience, which in turn helps me find out if I'll like it or not. If I see Viking, Ecco, Dell, I have a better idea of what to expect. In children's it helps a lot as well. Grosset, Greenwillow, Atheneum...But it's not really a make-or-break. Just gives me a sense of the flavor.

But I've had so many conversations with non-industry people about imprints just to explain to them what one is. I think largely "imprint" goes over the head of many well-read people. I think publisher also escapes most people's attention. But maybe with more publicity it'll become a better guide.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Amie Stuart said...

Nope not really. If at all, maybe young adult books (which I do read), but that'd be it. My adult book buying is all over the place. On another note, I find a lot of the movies I love are produced by Happy Madison (Adam Sandler anyone?)

11:22 AM  
Blogger December Quinn said...

Well...not really. I do ocassionally notice one and look for other books in that line, but generally I read blurbs and random pages to choose. Then I look for more by that author. Then I look on Amazon or do google searches or even lj interest searches to see what other writers people who liked that book like, and look for those. If a blurb compares a book to another book I'll check that one out.

So I guess I'm a word-of-mouth girl, rather than an imprint girl.


I agree there should be more man-related imprints, though I think after the failure of Lad Lit a few years back most publishers are probably shying away. Or perhaps there's an idea that men buy mainstream literary works, whereas women need imprints to cater to their special interests?

11:40 AM  
Blogger Graham said...

I agree that Hard Case Crime seems to be aimed primarily at men. And men's adventure publisher Gold Eagle is still around (and apparently owned by Harlequin!).

Myself, I made it a point to check out books from Uglytown, and in fact I think that says something about the appeal of a particular brand: Uglytown, Hard Case, and Pixar all represent the tastes of a small group of people, so if you like one, you will probably like others, as well.

12:29 PM  
Blogger D. Ann Graham said...

I find myself more aware of imprints that consistently publish things I don't like, or have a low quality standard in editing and design. I will almost always pass up an emblem from one of these companies... no matter what they have new on their lists.

It seems a producer (of print or any other media) must be a "notch above" in order for people to wonder where something came from. Then again, the general audience has always been an exacting critic: just getting there doesn't mean you get to stay.

Look what happened to Disney.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hard Case, definitely, but also Bitter Lemon Press and Europa Editions b/c they have an astounding record with crime in translation. Orion in the UK for its crime list. Nan Talese and Knopf for the uber-literary stuff.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

I definitely notice imprints and I'm not in the industry. I would be a lot of people notice them the way I do: the look of a book catches your eye because it's familiar, like one that you already know and like. Funny, I can't remember the names of any of the ones I'm thinking of--but I do know them when I see them, and I trust them to be a good book more than I trust unfamiliar looks.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Michele Lee said...

I'm imprint ignorant. I've never bought anything because it was a specific imprint, thought my aunt and grandmother do, with romances only. That and Nancy Drew are all they ever read. It amazes me. Of course I'm the type to read shampoo bottles to see if they say anything new.
But I love imprints because it means us writers are getting published.

5:23 PM  
Blogger Judge said...

Hello Jason,

Interesting thoughts. I'm aware of imprints but don't buy because of them. I do recall a time years back where it was Ballantine I believe that had a run of unique covers (paperback) and I recall noticing them more than others over a period of time. Coma by Robin Cook pops to mind. I don't know if it was the gloss used, but there was something that set them apart that caught my eye.

As for movie producers, no, I wouldn't go because of them. However, a Bruckheimer film does seem to have his stamp on it as far as production values are concerned. While the films aren't necessarily alike, there is an underlying consistency to them. So, if I catch a trailer and his name is associated with it, I have a rough idea of what I'm going to see.

8:56 PM  
Blogger GutterBall said...

I started to say, "Yeah, I'd probably buy a Signet book if the back blurb looked good". But then I thought, "Yeah, but I remember liking several Penguin books, too. And Viking. And Random. And..."

Oh. So no, I don't suppose the imprint has ever been the deciding factor in my book-buying experience.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Bella Stander said...

I'm in the biz and still I pay attention to titles and authors--and jackets if I'm in a bookstore. When I was doing lots of reviews I was happy if I could remember a book's title, never mind the other info. The only time I notice the imprint is when I need to get hold of an author, and so have to know who the publisher is.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

For me, it's all about the author's name, the title, the book jacket and the first three pages. At least two of these has to grab me.. Even if I recognize the imprint, it wouldn't cause me to buy a book.

But that's not to say an imprint's name isn't valuable. I think if a name and a mission helps the writers, editors and marketing folks involved to focus their work and get excited about their goals, then there's huge value in an imprint. And the benefit to me and the rest of the bookbuying public is that there are more great books to read.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Brilliance said...

I don't remember ever buying a book solely based on the publisher's name. I've heard that some of them are more respected than others, but what does it matter if a good novel is a good novel no matter who's the publisher?

On the side note, I'm glad to hear women read more than men :)

2:15 AM  
Blogger LampLighter said...

Back in the late sixties, I decided to boycot Avon books after many disasterous purchases. The cover blurbs promised great stories but the writer/editor never delivered. After one too many stories that rambled on and on without anything interesting happening and then ending abruptly with no resolution, I refused to buy any book Avon published. Never had that problem with any other publisher.

Today, I tend to buy based on author name, subject matter, and the occasional whim, with tendencies toward political thrillers no matter who publishes.

5:59 AM  
Blogger DanStrohschein said...

I buy books based on the story, and the story alone. If the blurb interests me I go to the first coulpe of pages. If I can stand the writing style, I buy it and enjoy it. Who produced the book interests me as much as who produced a movie.

Now it just so happens that imprints from large houses seem to capture me more often than other imprints, but that could be because they have more experience in finding the best stories.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Jude said...

As a reader, I never even registered the significance of imprints. It was only when I started writing and reading about the craft and business of writing did I begin to understand about imprints. I did take a chance on the Luna imprint, signing up to get their books every month, but the quality was too uneven, so I am back to WoM driving my selections.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I've never paid attention to imprints. I'm more of a grazer. On the other hand, if an author I'm familiar with recommends something, I'll take a look in many cases.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

I had to think about this for awhile. I'm agree with d. ann on the Disney thing...every pub wants to be Disney. Instant brand recognition. But I don't see a book imprint putting in the HUGE money and time and staff as Disney to make it a household name. I don't see anyone going, "I'm going to get the new Voice book down at the bookstore" like they say, "Hey, let's go see the new Disney movie." In fact, I'd even bet on it with hard cash.

I mean, Disney is a brand name because they have theme parks, movies, they've been around for fifty years, and during that time have spent millions--probably a billion or more--in branding. I don't see any publisher doing that, and I doubt they have the patience to wait a decade or more to reap the benefit of their expenditure.

Like most people here, I'm an avid reader and before I was published I looked at imprints only loosely. I knew the MIRA had a lot of good romantic suspense (Heather Graham has been with them awhile). But I never said, "Hmm, I wonder what books MIRA has out this month?" I would think "Hey, I wonder if Heather Graham has a book out this month."

I do associate imprints with the types of books. Tor is science fiction and fantasy. Period. I think they have branded themselves well among readers. And you know what? That's going to make them going into new directions very difficult. Scholastic is kids. Great branding--and years and years of book fairs.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

The only books I've ever bought where the name of the publisher played a role was when I was buying books for our children when they were little. When we were living in Canada, it was a good bet that anything put out by Annick Press or Kids Can Press was a quality book and I was never disappointed in that assumption.

For my own reading pleasure, I have favourite authors that I watch for new releases. If I buy a book by an author previously unknown to me and I like the book, I'll then look for other titles by that author.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Toni McGee Causey said...

I never really cared much about imprint, though like Allison, I noticed it in a loose sort of fashion. I did tend to stay away if I had several bad experiences in a row with any one particular pub, but mostly, it's word of mouth, back-of-book description, and first-couple of pages which work for me. I like cool covers, but since I've known for a long time that the writers have little to no control over that issue, I try not to judge the book by a design the writer couldn't help. I've picked up some great books with cruddy covers.

As for the issue of imprints, though, I tend to agree with you being offended and think men should be. There really aren't enough imprints aimed at men, and as a result, I think the publishing world will continue to lose men as readers unless they wise up and change. It would be a very smart move on someone's part to make a line that could be advertised on Monday Night Football. (grin)

3:59 AM  
Blogger Graham said...

One more comment: I should note that most imprints are not immediately apparent when you look at a book. Hard Case books are unmistakable, and in fact I have seen them all shelved together at a number of stores. So that makes it easier to identify.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

In college, whenever I saw a Penguin Classic, I'd buy it, figuring that it was a book I ought to read. But I don't go much by imprint now.

One thing I've heard from several fiction authors is that the general public doesn't know most of the imprints and assumes they're a small press or POD house. One author confessed that she sometimes wanted to punch people and say, "No, you dummy. It's Random House."

4:27 PM  

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