If there’s one sentiment about publishing that I’ve consistently heard during lectures at UCL (apart from the polarising powers of Amazon and the extreme importance of metadata), it’s that consumers have become one of the driving forces of the industry. Insight into their lives, their habits, their interests, and their preferences can influence everything from a cover colour swatch to a company formation — and publishers must discover ways to connect with them.
In a world where these consumers care less about face-to-face contact and more about getting what they want, immediately, from a source they trust to provide quality products, reputation is becoming more significant than money or power. It instills confidence, cultivates relationships, converts sales, and promotes allegiances. It can be localised, but it can also carry the same virtual weight and be used internationally.
As consumers often have multiple ways of obtaining their needs, publishers must learn to encourage consumers to feel a sense of familiarity and loyalty around their brands if they want to pull larger market shares (and not lose sales to the Big Three streamlined-service competitors of Amazon, Apple, and Google).
Drawing upon reputation economy to create brands around authors or titles is nothing new to publishers; many recognise consumers will pay significantly more — up to 40% more, according to White Fox’s John Bond — for an author they like. Yet while some houses are forming brand development departments, publishers’ overtly branding themselves can be a struggle for an industry accustomed to directing action rather than being in the spotlight.
One prominent example of a publisher’s brand re-imagination surrounds Penguin Random House, who used their merger as an opportunity to go into merchandising “like never before”. In launching The Scheme, a venture based in forming a “team” of “adventurers,” and expanding their range of story-based products without abandoning classic tea towels, mugs, and novelties that reinforce Penguin’s original image, the company is modernising its brand and lowering its exclusivity. Likewise, the recently launched Faber Members program aims to increase the Faber legacy reach by not only enticing consumers with free access to discounts, special events, and exclusive books, but also globalising Faber products and services through offers for local and online Faber Academy courses. Furthermore SAGE, who are releasing originally commissioned and produced online videos later this year, aspire to embody their sharing, insight, and learning mission by offering easily-accessible disciplinary and supplementary content through a channel tied directly to their brand.
While publishers should still focus on acquiring, filtering, curating, and disseminating content, publishing’s centre of gravity has shifted from monetary sales to reputation garnering. For publishers to succeed in today’s instant-gratification economy, particularly when consumers might question the industry's value, increasing visibility and word-of-mouth buzz can’t just apply to titles anymore—publishers must also support their content with tools and services that develop house reputations and identify what they bring to the table through strategic, controlled marketing. If publishers can repurpose content, personalise/offer new merchandise, and find new supply chains, they will discover new ways to reach readers and create a wider brand reach, which in turn opens new venues of profit and proves the value of publishers.
Aly Owen is completing an MA in Publishing at UCL while working as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine and an intern for Phaidon’s digital and cookery departments. She tweets at @Alyiteration
This is part of a series of blogs written by publishing students