In the past, publishers used to select titles and develop them to a set of editorial and typesetting standards. Those standards conveyed more than the house grammatical preferences, they lent a general feel to publishers’ books.
Publications were deliberately crafted to be identifiable as being the product of a particular house. The reading audience, those who purchased books, may not have explicitly understood this process, but they could identify books from particular publishers and identified with them. They knew that books from a particular publisher reflected that publisher’s editorial choices and that there was consistency across their books. Books had imprint identity.
Publishers lately have lost focus on imprint identity. Many outsource to vendors who do not have the capacity to maintain the distinctiveness of the house. Others publish outside their area of expertise (e.g., many university presses are publishing trade). Others see no value in imprint identity and opt for “lower costs” instead. Consumers (we don’t call them readers anymore) have stopped being able to identify imprints and seem more susceptible to other marketing methodology.
Enter the e-book. E-books present a lot of risk and concern, so publishers outsource their content (doesn’t that phrase make what we are creating seem generic) to the lowest bidder. The devices (now these are the readers) used to present this material seem primitive. So we end up with poorly crafted e-books that convey none of the consideration that the editors and production staff brought in the creation of the book.
Many e-books are sloppy and readers (the actual human type) are disappointed. They share their dissatisfaction through reviews on websites, which hurt book sales. To make matters worse, these consumers notice groups of e-books that are of poor quality—often the books of particular publishers. So the e-book programs of publishers are suffering from poor sales. Turns out that books have acquired an imprint identity. Only this time imprint identity means something bad. Publishers are becoming identified with the poor quality of their products, and their publications are being avoided. Authors are wondering why their e-books are so poorly crafted, sales so low, and what value publishers bring to them. Thus, publishers are scrambling to rebuild their e-books.
The moral here is clear. The need for editorial control and high quality book production remains. It is necessary to build good books, no matter what the format in which they are presented.
Publishers must maintain imprint identification.