A Publisher by Any Other Name

Quick, name you favorite book. Now, quick, name who published it. Gotcha, didn't I?
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Quick, name you favorite book. Now, quick, name who published it.

Gotcha, didn't I?

As someone who has worked in book publishing for the past 13 years, I'm keenly aware of the different houses that exist in the United States and the kinds of book they produce. I can name a number of the bestselling titles at most of the major presses -- or, at least, their most prominent authors or series. Keeping tabs on the competition is part of my job, and I take it pretty seriously.

But I have to admit that I don't think the general consumer cares very much who is published by whom. I don't even think most people notice. Tell me the last time you walked into a Borders, or a B&N, or your local independent and said, "Hmm, wonder what Simon & Schuster has been up to this week?" The companies just don't matter.

True, when browsing we may be mildly impressed by a title that has Knopf on the spine, or Norton, or Houghton, or Farrar, Straus and Giroux. We may select a Harvard University Press book over a similar one published by the University of God-Knows-Where. We may even smile and nod in recognition when we see that a collection of poetry has been put out by Copper Canyon or Graywolf Press. But I'd argue that recommendations by family and friends, and fabulous covers, and favorable reviews, and favorite authors are much more likely to catch our attention than a dolphin logo or a Borzoi silhouette.

Maybe that's why some newspaper book review sections -- even some fairly big ones like The Denver Post -- don't even bother to list the publisher any more.

It is a bit curious, though, that in this age of branding, both personal and corporate, publishing houses haven't done more to create an identity for themselves and to get that identity out there -- beyond literary agents, beyond book review editors, beyond the folks in the biz, and into the hands of the people who matter most to us: the readers.

Are there companies that have managed to establish themselves as leaders in publishing a certain kind of book? Tell me which houses have caught your eye...

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