Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

07/11/2013

The World’s First Truly Global Trade Book Publishing Company?


The Penguin Random House merger comes with costs you won’t find on a price sticker

‘A wave of consolidation has snapped what made imprints distinctive.’ – Boris Kachka

Does everyone really know just what the hell an ‘imprint’ is?

Is it a ‘bought’ company that now comes under the management and rules of the ‘buyer’ company but can still fly its own flag over its published works (sort of like a consolation prize for selling out)?

Or, as WikiAnswers defines it: it is the ‘ “brand name” under which a book is published. Most major publishers have at least a few imprints. Some of these imprints are organized as subsidiaries, or “companies within a company,” with their own editorial staffs, release lists, etc. Others are strictly brand names slapped on a book purchased and edited somewhere in the corporation. (According to Wikipedia, Random House, the world’s largest English-language trade book publisher, has more than 50 imprints.)

While the above definitions may be partially accurate (?) Wikipedia probably has the ‘most’ accurate idea of a publishing house imprint simply because it is the most complicated (like all things Re legacy publishing) 🙂 :

‘In the publishing industry, an imprint can mean several different things:

  • A piece of bibliographic information about a book, it refers to the name and address of the book’s publisher and its date of publication as given at the foot or on the verso of its title page.[1]
  • It can mean a trade name under which a work is published.[citation needed] One single publishing company may have multiple imprints; the different imprints are used by the publisher to market works to different demographic consumer segments. In some cases, the diversity results from the takeover of smaller publishers (or parts of their business) by a larger company. This usage of the word has evolved from the first meaning given above.
  • It can also refer to a finer distinction of a book’s version than “edition“.[citation needed] This is used to distinguish, for example different printings, or printing runs of the same edition, or to distinguish the same edition produced by a different publisher or printer. With the creation of the “ISBN” identification system, which is assigned to a text prior to its printing, a different imprint has effectively come to mean a text with a different ISBN—if one had been assigned to it.
  • Under the UK Printer’s Imprint Act 1961,[2] which amended the earlier Newspapers, Printers, and Reading Rooms Repeal Act 1869, any printer must put their name and address on the first or last leaf of every paper or book they print or face a penalty of up to £50 per copy. In addition, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, any election material – including websites – must show the name of the promoter of the material and the name and address of the person on whose behalf it is being published.’

Actually though, imprints (and how they are or are not allowed to operate) have a greater affect on readers and writers when publishers consolidate as just happened with Random House and Penguin.

After consolidation, some companies prevent their imprints from bidding against one another for manuscripts. This results in not only lower advances for writers — ‘but also fewer options for writers to get the kind of painstaking attention — from editors, marketers and publicists — that it takes to turn their manuscripts into something valuable.’

Boris Kachka writes these details in The New York Times:

Book Publishing’s Big Gamble 

“IT’S official,” Alfred A. Knopf Sr. tweeted last week. “We’re now #PenguinRandomHouse.”

Mr. Knopf — or rather his ghostly avatar, the actual publisher havingsold his namesake firm to Random House in 1960, died in 1984 and rolled over many times since — was celebrating the largest book-publishing merger in history.

The mergerannounced last October and completed on July 1 after regulatory approval, shrinks the Big Six, which publish about two-thirds of books in the United States, down to the Big Five. HarperCollins has reportedly been flirting with Simon & Schuster, which would take it down to four. (The others are Hachette and Macmillan.)

The creation of Penguin Random House (“the world’s first truly global trade book publishing company”) is partly a response to unprecedented pressures on these “legacy” publishers — especially from Amazon, which came out on the winning end of an antitrust lawsuit over the setting of e-book prices. It is also a way to gain leverage and capital in an industry that has been turned upside down. This endgame may be inevitable, but its consequences can’t be ignored.

Consolidation carries costs you won’t find on a price sticker. Dozens of formerly independent firms have been folded into this conglomerate: not just Anchor, Doubleday, Dutton, Knopf, Pantheon, G. P. Putnam’s Sons and Viking, which still wield significant resources, but also storied names like Jonathan Cape, Fawcett, Grosset & Dunlap, and Jeremy P. Tarcher. Many of these have been reduced to mere imprints, brands stamped on a book’s title page, though every good imprint bears the faint mark of a bygone firm with its own mission and sensibility.

Read and learn more

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