The Big Five have been so busy reducing old companies to brands that they’ve neglected the notion of what a brand should mean. Can any reader tell a Pantheon from a Riverhead novel? The logo doesn’t do the trick. The value of a publishing house — and now an imprint — has been its function as that dreaded straw man of the self-publishing gurus: a gatekeeper.... Maybe it’s time for publishers to revive the value of their brands by making them more distinctive and connecting them more closely to consumers.
My usual line about these things is how it might help to have book publishers pattern themselves more after record labels of yore — the Motowns, the Atlantics, the Wax Trax!s. Record labels do get a nod and a name-check in the piece above, but the idea of a publishing company as the extension of a specific impresario's personal taste and curiosity is on the wane.
Well, there are a few holdouts. New Directions remains as pleasingly bohemian as ever; Melville House sees fit to put the likes of Hans Fallada back in print; and Centipede Press has been bringing back John Brunner, Tim Powers, and R.A. Lafferty to audiences who might well have never heard those names if not for them. And maybe Vertical Inc. as well. Those outfits are run by folks who are upfront about what they like and don't like, and a bit more of that would be welcome in these increasingly faceless times.