Simon & Schuster Moves to Build Publisher Brand With ‘Behind the Book’ Videos

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

It’s a question that’s been floating around for years now: What do publishers do in an era when anyone can publish a book?

And publishers have been answering it.

Several years ago, Digital Book World obtained a leaked document that publisher Hachette had been circulating among agents and authors, explaining the value it added to the publishing process (read the complete document here and here’s a response from self-publishing advocate J.A. Konrath). Later, Random House put out a series of videos directly explaining what publishers do.

And now, Simon & Schuster has launched a series of videos featuring its editors giving inside details about titles and authors called “Behind the Book.” The company said in a release that the series is meant to be “an extension and a complement to Simon & Schuster’s ongoing series of author videos, offering new and revealing information that can enhance and inform the reading experience.”

The move also serves to give Simon & Schuster a consumer-facing brand that could help it in the future when legitimizing its role in the publishing process to authors and partners.

“In addition to providing background for our books and authors, one of the main rationales for the series was  to showcase Simon & Schuster personnel,” Adam Rothberg, senior vice president of corporate communications at Simon & Schuster, told me. “We know from our own internal meetings and discussions how articulate and passionate they can be, and this new video series allows them, in a direct-to-consumer forum, to also serve in an ambassadorial role for their imprint and our company while sharing the knowledge and enthusiasm for their books with readers.”

Self-publishing advocates often argue that publishers don’t add enough value to the publishing process to legitimize their take. Publishers have responded by saying that they help make books better, offer them print distribution, help authors get translated into other languages and exploit other opportunities, and help authors build careers.

This series of videos is another small way that publishers are saying to authors — and readers — that they add value. The videos themselves (there are five at this point) show editors talking intelligently about various titles they worked on. They not only give curious readers an inside look at a book but also suggest, “hey, we know a lot of stuff about these books and ultimately help make them better.” One video even features author Mary Alice Monroe talking with her editor Lauren McKenna about how they work together, the editing process, and all the late-night, hours-long phone conversations between the two that resulted in her latest book:

In addition to the overt appeal to authors, readers and other stakeholders, the videos also should help Simon & Schuster build its consumer brand. In the book publishing world, authors have traditionally been the brand: Everyone wants to buy the new James Patterson title, not necessarily the latest release from his publisher, Hachette. But there are consumer brands among content companies in other media businesses and these brands give those companies advantages in the marketplace: For instance, everyone looks forward to new Disney and Pixar movies; and The New Yorker magazine has a loyal fan base and many of its readers know and follow its writers and editors.

Related: Should Editors Get Credited in Books? | Random House Partners With Huffington Post on Public Event to Build Publisher Brand

With few exceptions, book publishers don’t have this advantage. So when they compete with other publishers for authors or negotiate with with partners, it’s hard for them to argue that readers look forward to each new release from the company or its editors. Changing that could give them a new tool to survive in a quickly shifting publishing landscape.

Related: Free Download: Press Copy of What Advantages Traditional Publishers Offer Authors Report



12 thoughts on “Simon & Schuster Moves to Build Publisher Brand With ‘Behind the Book’ Videos

  1. Michael W. Perry

    As someone whose served all too often as an editor of one sort or another, I can’t help but suspect that this is a high-risk scheme for editors. Putting on my reader hat, I can imagine enjoying an interview with a book’s author. I can’t imagine myself, however, listening to an editor go on about all the comma splices he had to fix. Were I an S&S editor, I’d be careful not to check up on the viewed numbers. They’re likely to be dismal.

    Why? Long ago G. K. Chesterton joked that the public didn’t really grasp all the confusion and last-minute improvisation that went behind publishing a newspaper. Spread out over a longer time-frame, something similar it true of books. All sorts of compromises and workaround may be involved, particularly with touchy political biographies. It’s a bit like those who darkly warn the public that they don’t really want to know what goes into their sausages and hot dogs.

    In much the same fashion, most readers idealize the writers they like. Finding out just how much of a tale done by someone famous was created by ghostwriters or how many flaws were corrected by sharp editors destroys those illusions. That they don’t want. That they won’t watch. In a world in which all too much that happens is the product of giant corporations rather than a single creative genius, readers like to feel that what they’re reading is what a lone author created. That’s why they ignore publishers and concentrate on authors.

    This isn’t to say that what editors do isn’t very important. It’s just that the essence of most editorial work is to avoid the limelight and concentrate on making the final product as good as possible. The fame and glory can be left to others.

    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      I’m not sure I agree with you here, Michael. Obviously if the editors told us EVERYTHING involved in working on a title, it would be boring. But editors have fantastic insight into books, interesting facts, reasons why readers might want to read them.

      Imagine Darren Aronofsky talking about his latest film. It would be boring if he told you about the day-to-day of cutting and editing. But if he tells you an anecdote about one of the stars behind the scenes, or how they managed to pull off that amazing shot in the preview — that’s entertaining. And it’s routinely done to great effect in other industries.

      I’m not saying this will be good or work or that the current videos are very good (they feel like a start…), but it could. And I like the idea and the experimentation.

  2. Jean-Paul Wayenborgh

    I still am amazed, as a Frenchman, that a large company like Simon and Schuster overlooked a typographical mistake on their own add!
    Last line in main text (ONIX feeds etc…..Biblilolive.
    Germans say “Er sah vor lauter Wald keine Bäume” (more or less: “he saw no trees in the forest” )

  3. Spade

    Seems like Big Pub is trying justify its relevance in a changing market that increasingly favors the actual content providers.

  4. Lexi Revellian

    I’m sure a sympathetic editor, such as Lauren McKenna seems to be for Mary Alice Monroe, is great. I value my beta readers’ opinions, and my daughter’s suggestions, when I can get her attention, are pure gold. But not all editors are helpful. Some are…counter-productive, to say the least.

    I blogged about my experience with a Harper Collins editor under the title, Do Authors Need Editors? here:

  5. Kevin C

    I don’t think this is what big pub should do. They should create their own worlds then hire writers to write stories based on those worlds. Think Star Wars instead of Disney. I know Star Wars books were published by Del Rey, not because that interested me, but because I’ve read so many of ’em. The Publisher didn’t matter, the world did. And within that world there are hundreds (thousands probably) of stories.

    Why can’t big pub create similar worlds. For instance \Gotham\-yeah I know it’s taken but let’s go with it anyway. In Gotham you have super heroes, criminal master minds, villains, police, politicians, business people and your average law abiding citizen. You build a world with an over arcing story line you can pull stories from but you also pull material from some of the lesser characters. Again, think Star Wars. There’s the main conflict between the Jedi and the Sith, but there’s also a lot of other things happening.

    You can use social media to promote but not in the typical way. Try to be as immersive as possible. Conspirators send out tweets. Politicians have a face book page. A business tycoon has a instagram page showing her travels or possessions. Everything links back to the main site which gives a comprehensive rundown of the world and its inhabitants. And is primarily designed to sell books (and graphic novels.)

    I’d do this in a number of genres. Digital distribution simplifies the process. No worries about printing unwanted books. When something sticks, open up print.

    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      Really ambitious idea and publishers are already doing this. Look at Scholastic with 39 Clues or Penguin Random House with Game of Thrones. And, as far as opening it up to more than one author, look at Kindle Worlds.

      That said, it’s really, really hard to come up with the next Star Wars. Everyone is trying all the time.

      And why not do both? If someone pioneered the creation of a new Star Wars, I’d love to hear what she had to say about it.

      1. Kevin C

        Yeah, Star Wars is kinda big but I think you see where I’m going with this. It’s all about the stories and the move to digital has opened up genres which the big pubs said wouldn’t or couldn’t sell profitably in print.

        There is opportunity and it will require effort but I’d rather see them attempt that than the meet the editor/publicist/cover designer videos. Also, if big pub want’s too make themselves more attractive to authors they should concentrate on building the platforms of writers they have under contract. Most people follow the writer. The publisher, for the most part, is an after thought.

  6. Susan A.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a \Behind the Book\ series; however, if the purpose is to prove that a publisher adds more value to a book than a self-published author, it’s done in poor taste. Simon and Shuster do not have a monopoly on editors. There are tons of editors-for-hire online and in person, some are good, some are bad, and some are in between, but I’m going to say that most, if not all, editors are passionate about their work. They’d have to be to spend that kind of time nitpicking over commas, sentence structure and content.

    While this video demonstrates the relationship between an author and her editor, its the subtle nuances that gives the Publisher presence. For one, it’s mentioned the author was brought to New York to shoot the video. Having just been to NYC for the first time myself last month, I curiously looked up the address of Simon and Shuster NYC… 1230 Avenue of the Americas, about a 2 minute walk from The Rockefeller Center. While it may not be on Forbes list of most expensive zip codes, it’s right next door. Another thing that struck me in this video was when Monroe and McKenna share the story of talking on the phone until midnight on Christmas Eve (!) because, they say,\we HAD to do it!\ WHY? Was your Publisher breathing down your neck, cracking the whip on Christmas Eve? Because it gave me the impression of S & S as a modern day Scrooge (which I sincerely hope isn’t true!).

    For me, both as a reader and an independent author, this video failed to convince me that publishers add value to a only confirmed that publishers need the extra value added to a book to pay for the prestigious address, thousands of employees, and plush offices to the extent (and expense!) of shooting videos, editing them, and posting them online in an attempt to justify why their books cost more than a self-published title. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m fully aware that editors add value to a book. And maybe next time I talk with my editor, I’ll fly down to see her and we can sit on her front porch, mug of coffee in hand, and shoot our own \Behind the Book\ video with my iPhone 🙂

  7. Joe Lennon

    I think it will be interesting to see how publishers evolve in the next couple of years – particularly in terms of improving awareness of their brand. This approach Simon & Schuster are using is interesting, but I can’t help but think it will only appeal to a tiny fraction f their customers. To extend the reach of their brand, publishers need to broadcast louder and create stronger associations between their leading titles and series and their brand. Look at TV – brands like HBO and AMC are analogous with high quality programming, and viewers actively seek out new shows produced by these brands. It’s a similar story in other entertainment industries such as music and video games. When it comes to books, it’s probable that many readers are not aware of what company published the book, and for the most part, they might not even care. Publishers need to change this.

    Of course, building up your brand is one thing, but publishers also need to be ready to capitalise on increased consumer awareness. Many publishers like the idea of launching a direct to consumer store, but right now the economics don’t add up because the revenue such a store would bring in would be limited. The lack of brand awareness plays a huge part here, so it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Publishers may have to take the risk and invest in a D2C offering, or risk losing out on the opportunity increased brand awareness could bring.

    Also, rather than be concerned about the potential negative impact that subscription services like Kindle Unlimited, Oyster and Scribd could have on their business, publishers need to embrace the concept and think of how making their backlist available through such a channel could lead to increased brand awareness and have a very positive effect on the sales of their new titles. In fact, because the concept of subscription eBook services is at a relatively early stage, publishers have the chance to shape how it evolves. By embracing it, publishers can innovate and potentially take control of how subscription services change their business. If they don’t, history will repeat itself and publishers will find themselves battling to protect their business in a new marketplace all over again.

    Technology publishing is a section of the market that all publishers can learn from. There is extremely strong brand awareness in this market, with the likes of O’Reilly, Manning, Apress and Packt attracting a considerable following of devoted readers. Manning Publications recently asked people to tweet photos of their book shelves, and there were many responses filled with Manning (and rival publishers’) books on a wide variety of subjects. The most interesting aspect of this was just how recognisable the publisher of each book was. Technology publishers come up with standards for their cover artwork and spines – making it easy to identify and associate a particular title with them.

    This market has also had a hugely successful subscription service offering for years in Safari Books Online. Owned by O’Reilly, this service includes titles from all major technology publishers, and delivers content in a way that protects sales of their print and eBook editions (i.e. online reading only). Individual publishers have also successfully operated D2C stores in this market for many years – and some, such as Packt Publishing, even operate their own subscription services.

    Publishers are a vital component of this industry, and if they can get ahead of the curve when it comes to their brand, business models and emerging technology, the future will be exciting for everyone involved.

  8. Edward Gordon

    I read the article, and yeah, if publishers completely changed their business model, it might work for them. But, in my opinion, they can’t. It doesn’t work that way.

    I remember back in the days of the nursing shortage, there was this movement to get LPNs permission to do more of RN stuff, and Texas even tried to create the “medicine tech” someone who could hand out pills for the RN, but it never works in the end. If you take all the unlicensed personnel and train them to do what licensed RNs can do, it takes just as long, they have to be just as smart, they have to be just as professional, and thus deserve just the same pay. In the end, you end up with an RN by another name. You can’t get away from the MD/RN mode of healthcare delivery. It’s impossible.

    Same with publishing. Simon and Schuster can’t become like Disney, unless they want to put out only one big book per year and nothing else, promote it with TV advertising and late night talk shows. Because if they did that, they wouldn’t be publishers anymore. The publishing industry would go extinct all the same. Hell, Simon and Schuster can get into the toilet paper business if they want to, but that won’t save the dinosaur called “traditional publishing.” In my opinion.



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