The rooster’s roster


Why yes, it is just lovely to have my agent shopping a manuscript of mine while the publishing world implodes and hundreds of suddenly unemployed people roam the streets with WILL LINE-EDIT FOR FOOD signs dangling from their necks. The last few days, I feel like I decided to go house-hunting in Chicago the day before Mrs. O’Leary’s cow took that wrong step. Thanks for asking.

On the other hand, we have a roof over our heads, the bills are getting paid and the kids appear to be happy. That puts me several laps ahead of a lot of people these days, so I’ll just stop whining now. But first, I’ll answer a question posed by New York magazine:

The big houses, HarperCollins, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, will shrink to survive. Random House should have shrunk a long time ago: Think of it as General Motors, with an imprint for every type of book, a brand for every reader. And far too much overlap. What’s the difference between the books from Knopf and Doubleday, anyway? Maybe Bantam head Irwyn Applebaum could tell you why this duplication worked for the good of literature, but he just lost his job after 25 years at the company and saw his group absorbed. Random is now down to three main brands: mass Crown, middlebrow Random House (which ate Bantam), and high-end Knopf.

It’s of no particular significance now, but I remember when paperback imprints had well-defined identities and Bantam was the big rooster of classic and mid-list authors. That little black bird was on the covers of many of the first Big Deal Literary Books I bought as a sprout. John Steinbeck, James Baldwin, John O’Hara, Jack London . . . I’ve still got quite a few of them. And they were good looking books, too — sometimes classier than a lot of the hardbacks on the shelves. Those white-background Steinbeck covers conveyed seriousness and mass-appeal in equal measures.

That identity was diluted amd eventually lost in the corporate wash a long time ago. I’m not going to be sobbing into my pillow because the Bantam line has disappeared — we all have better things to worry about. As a member of the reading class, I just wanted to note its passing and enter this little fact as a footnote in publishing history.

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3 thoughts on “The rooster’s roster

  1. Jeff says:

    Even though the identities of those various big-house imprints do mean something to writers, you’re right to point out that they rarely mean anything to readers. But then I remember how friends of mine have adored, say, the distinctive design of the late-1980s Penguin Classics, or the mid-1980s sci-fi paperbacks from Ace, or those fancy white modern-lit trade paperbacks from Vintage circa 1990, and it occurs to me that something as simple as consistent book design often turns readers into repeat customers. So I wonder: what would happen if publishers worked to build brand identities again? Perhaps that’s a silly idea, but given the lack of market research in trade publishing, I doubt the publishers have any good reason for not having tried it lately, and branding does seem to be at least somewhat effective among readers of genre fiction.

  2. Steven Hart says:

    I don’t think that’s a silly idea at all. That kind of brand identity is one of the intangibles that builds customer loyalty and repeat business.

  3. […] Along those same lines, Steven Hart notes the passing of Bantam. […]

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