Friday, February 12, 2010

Recipe for Saving Traditional Publishing (A Satire?)

A Trademark Attorney's View of Negligent Publishing

By Lloyd J. Jassin

What will it take to get readers to flock back to quality paperbacks and stiff backed hardcovers?  Simple.  A single mushroom hunting enthusiast led astray by an anonymous Wiki editor who misidentifies a poisonous mushroom as "safe" and "delicious atop a bed of arugula."

Two words can save traditional publishing. “Negligent publication.”   Negligent publication = defective advice. While the web is edgy and cool, and can fit in your pants' pocket, if you plan to birth your baby at home, rewire your home, or pick mushrooms in the wild, consult a recently revised and updated "big six" bound book. That's the "Got Milk" message the Association of American Publishers (AAP) should be shouting from roof tops. Wikis kill.

Trademark is the new copyright. It is the key to competing with free on the internet. Information quality and pedigree still matters (to some). "Without trademarks to identify and distinguish products or services," John Oathout, the author of Trademarks, states "consumers would have no basis for selection or rejection, or any assurance that a particular product is the product they are seeking." Regrettably, though, publishers have undervalued the goodwill associated with their colophons and imprints for years.

Whereas a trademark identifies goods, a trade name, like Random House, merely identifies a company. As Mr. Oathout points out in his book, "Frequently, the same word identifies both the [publisher] and the product. "The Random House Dictionary" for example. However, most books are identified solely by a generic (unprotectable) title or the goodwill associated with the author's (not publisher's) brand. If you are being disintermediated, don't fire editors and stop acquiring books, rebrand your company as a trusted source. That's right, call a trademark attorney or brand specialist.

A Modest Proposal

If I were marketing manager of the Peterson’s Guides, I’d gladly forgo my entire marketing budget for the "A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America," for one severely ill, penny wise, but dollar foolish, mushroom enthusiast, who relied to his detriment on a Wiki.

If the house is to remain standing, house marks need to stand for something. Trademarks identify the source and quality of a product. Many stand for reliability. Yes, recommendations and reviews matter, but brands matter, too. If you are familiar with Vertigo, you know in advance something about the "flavor" of their graphic titles, which are marketed to late-teens and adults. From a marketing point of view, most publishers get failing grades. House marks should be used as umbrella marks.  While familiar to booksellers, publishing imprints, do not, as a rule, resonate with book buyers. But, that is changing; at least among the cutting edge indie publishers who populate Brooklyn's northern shore.  Record labels mean something in the music business.  Soft Skull is today's ESP Disk.  Akashic is Decca Jazz.  Ig is Verve.  Even spine out, these brands communicate with prospective purchasers.   


As part of the AAP's efforts to fend off digital barbarians, EFFing advocates of free, Amazon, Google, the recession, they need to remind readers that their members edit books -- and stand behind them. Publishers provide confidence -- especially, if your life depends upon what you are reading.  

The AAP must know someone who knows someone, who can stage a mushroom "incident," and make it look like an accident. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Disclaimer: This is satire. As we all know, a bound book written or edited by the wrong person can be as lethal as a Wiki. "Books don't kill. Unedited books kill."


Read Alfred A. Knopf's (the man, not the imprint) Borzoi Credo.  It's everything you need to know about publishing (except the digital stuff)