No logo?

From The Bookseller:

There’s definitely a thing about birds and publishing houses. Not just in the UK, but all around the world. 

Off the top of my head, I could name dozens of publishers who have gone for birds for their logo. Perhaps for obvious reasons – wings can look like book pages, and the ability to fly evokes what we do when we read – many publishers have chosen a feathered creature. 

Forty years ago, when they founded Edizioni E/O (Europa UK’s Italian sister house), my parents picked the stork. There is no particular love for birds in my household as far as I can tell, but the stork is a migrating bird which, in the collective imagination, carries something in its beak (usually a newborn). The stork migrates from east to west, and that’s precisely what E/O stands for, est/ovest (east/west), because, at the time the name of company was chosen, it focused on bringing the very best of Eastern European literature westward, to Italy. 

This bird with its elegant long legs seemed made to grace a book spine. And that’s exactly where you find it on our Italian editions, while the front cover carries only the company’s full name.  

Our stork grew restless and ambitious, and eventually, following the dictates of its nature, migrated again, further west, from Italy to New York, where we established Europa US, and then flew back east to the UK, landing on the front cover of our English editions. As a matter of fact, our stork keeps migrating every which way: altogether we publish authors from around 70 countries, motivated by the deeply rooted belief that literature can and must travel far. 

The reason I’m telling the story of our stork is that there’s also a thing about publishers’ logos appearing – or not – on book covers. Apart from a few exceptions (notably Penguin and Faber), few UK publishers persist in this practice.  There are several sensible reasons for this – to leave enough space for quotes, to stress the author’s importance, to ensure a tidy look, and, ultimately, to convey that every book is unique and should be published to reflect this.

Also, most imprints have over time lost their original identity, adopting an approach which is both more general and more eclectic. So, books are often purposely aesthetically undistinguishable from one another, and branding is an insider game, something that happens within the trade, as a way to communicate publishing and acquisition strategies to fellow publishing professionals.

It would seem that a logo on the front cover is a privilege accorded only to prestigious publishers with a long history: because unless a publisher is renowned among readers, what is the point of having a logo that only a few would be able to recognize?

. . . .

Europa is a UK company founded by and staffed with cosmopolitan people. In continental Europe, where some of us are from, all publishers, from the biggest corporate conglomerates to the tiniest independent houses, from academic to trade to children’s publishers, put their logos on book jackets. It’s always been a straightforward way to communicate to readers that behind every single book there is a unifying editorial vision (in Italy we call it “il progetto”, the project). A way to tell readers that just as every author and every book is unique, every publisher is also unique and follow its own taste and ethos. All tools that can help readers make informed choices. 

In Italy, one can often overhear readers saying things like “I can’t wait to head to the bookshop for the Adelphi promo”, or, “I just adore Sellerio”, and, “I think Feltrinelli have the best books”.  The same is true of readers in France, Germany, Spain and in other countries. When browsing in a bookshop, the publishing house becomes one of the basic criteria for their purchases. The fact that, in addition to having their logo on the cover, publishers almost invariably adopt a coherent overall design policy, makes this process even more radical. In Italian bookshops, books are frequently grouped by publisher, not just on display tables, but on the shelves too. Vertical displays of a publishers’ backlist often provide readers with an overview, a sense of how a list is curated, and ultimately why it exists. Seeing a whole wall covered with titles by a single publisher or imprint focuses attention on “the project”, helping readers discover new authors.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Although PG loves Italy and many of the Italians he has met, he thinks the OP is vastly over-emphasizing the weight most book purchasers place on the publisher of a book which they may find interesting. Or not.

PG admits he may be projecting since he virtually never pays attention to the identity of the publisher when making a book purchase and couldn’t tell you the name of the publisher of any book he has read either recently or in ancient times.

The OP also assumes, like many others before it, that most people are buying/will buy most of their books from physical bookstores.

7 thoughts on “No logo?”

  1. Maybe so many publishers use birds as logos because they know that (a) the true cultural value (since they’re the Gatekeepers of Culture) will fly right over the readers heads, (b) leaving behind only the guano?

    Do I really need a <sarcasm> tag on that?

  2. I’m not sure that I completely agree with you here, PG. For one thing, I believe that Europeans tend to visit a brick and mortar store for paper and ink books more than Americans. (There was a time when a bookseller had a break on the VAT in many EU countries; I don’t know whether that still applies or not. E-books are a mishmash, with some countries having a lower VAT than on print, other countries having a higher rate.)

    I also don’t know what the named publishers publish. General fiction, perhaps? In genre, people that I know tend to have very definite opinions on the publishers, both pro and con. I know that I do – there are ones that I’ll buy just about anything from, and others that I’ll never consider one of their books ever again. Non-fiction, the people I know tend to make the same distinction, as do I.

    • Once upon a time publisher brands mattered, mostly because each imprint was a separate publisher. And each had a clear specialty. Some brands still matter–BAEN, O’REILLY, Harlequin–but in general the big publishers’ tactic of favoring authors with existing strong platforms and name recognition means that a book’s brand is almost always the author instead of the imprint and never the publisher.
      They neutered themselves.

      • This.
        Of course, I’m an outlier, but here, in Spain, there’re some imprints and/or small specilized publishers (I think some of the imprints I check were small independent publishers in the past, that haven’t been cancelled when being bought) that I continue to check out buying almost blind if something capture my interest: good translations of classics (Austen, Dickens, Wilkie Collins…), another getting back early XX mistery and satiric authors that I didn’t know of (again, good traslations), another specialized in horror with some incursions into westerns and satiric authors, another one specialized in SF, another with illustrated editions of not much known classics…
        This kind of publishers continue to matter, and I look for them. I don’t buy everything from them, my TBR mountain doesn’t allow for it, but my incursions into brick and mortar bookstores result in a hole in my credit card and at least one book from them.

      • In the UK publishers’ brand is pretty much non existent for fiction, at least for paper books. For ebooks I suspect that Mills & Boon/Harlequin may still matter for romance but for SF and other genre fiction I think it is the author brands that dominate.

        However, brand is still important for the specialist non-fiction publishers. For example, in the military history field Osprey, Pen & Sword, Helion & Company have fans who read their newsletters and study their new releases (though few have time or money enough to buy everything that they publish). Many other subject areas also have their specialists with viable brands.

        Once one moves away from trade publishing to the other publishing industries that CEP always reminds us of the picture is no doubt quite different.

        (And as for VAT, in the UK paper books were never taxed whilst ebooks paid 20% until recently – now zero).


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