Atlas Plugged! Indy Publisher Takes On Spineless Giants

jamesatlas Atlas Plugged! Indy Publisher Takes On Spineless GiantsMost Americans don’t care who puts out the books they read. Sure, they might have heard of Random House, and Simon & Schuster probably rings a bell. But when it comes to brand loyalty, the thinking in the industry is that readers care about authors, not the companies that publish them.

James Atlas, the founder and editor-in-chief of the independent publishing house Atlas & Co., wants to challenge that conventional wisdom. And so, every book in his spring catalog—technically Atlas & Co.’s first ever—will prominently feature the company’s logo set in white lettering against a black vertical stripe along the left side of the cover.

Mr. Atlas said he hopes readers will eventually start recognizing the logo, and consequently develop loyalty to the Atlas & Co. brand. "What we are trying to do is to create a brand that identifies us very closely with each of our books," he told The Observer, "so that it’s not a random assortment of titles but a reflection of a particular sensibility."

That sensibility is an intangible one. The books on Atlas’ spring list are all over the map: One is a memoir by a Chinese factory worker who participated in the Tiananmen Square protest, another is a biography of Franz Kafka, and a third is an account of a British writer’s travels in Kazakhstan. But Mr. Atlas hopes to use the branding to get readers to see them all as peas in a pod.

Mr. Atlas said he was inspired by European publishing houses — especially André Deutsch, Calder Publications, and Duckworth—which have traditionally placed their logos prominently on their book jackets, and maintained a distinct and consistent aesthetic in their design. "These books had this wonderful personal feel to them," Mr. Atlas said. "It’s as if the publishing house was an author in its own right."

Until now, it’s been a strategy that by and large has only been used in the U.S. for books that have a clear thematic link, and are being promoted as part of a series — like Penguin Classics, for instance. "The branding is a crucial part of our publishing," said Elda Rotor, executive editor of the Penguin Classics imprint. "Book buyers and readers… like seeing their Penguin Classics in a set on their shelf."

But Mr. Atlas’ idea of braning books that don’t have a strong thematic link may be catching on. Amy Scholder, editor in chief of Seven Stories Press, another independent publisher, said that last season, her company’s logo appeared on about half of the 50 books that it published. She’s now pushing for it to appear on even more this season.

"There’s a real consistency and coherence to the books we publish, and we would like to have that be identifiable with a logo, so that a consumer might become familiar with it," Ms. Scholder said. "It’ll be a signal of, ‘oh, that’s one of those books that I’m interested in.’ Even if they don’t necessarily recognize an author or a title, they’ll recognize us for doing a certain kind of book."

Not everyone is in favor of this kind of branding. "It would be a very radical change," said Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi, who is a good friend of Mr. Atlas. "It would change the way we design our books. I’m not in favor of it." Mr. Galassi said that some of his colleagues at Holtzbrinck, the German publishing company that owns FSG, have asked him to consider placing the FSG logo more prominently on his books to capitalize on the house’s reputation, but he is not interested.

And Paul Bogaards, the publicity director at Knopf, argued that there’s little point in putting a company’s logo on the front of a book, because no one sees anything but the spine when they’re browsing the shelves at a bookstore. "It works for Kellogg’s, because when you walk into a grocery store, there it is, the box of cereal is facing out," Mr. Bogaards said. "But that’s not how most consumers are exposed to books. When you look at a Knopf book, you’ll find our logo on the spine, you’ll find it on the back, and you’ll find it on the title page. The intelligent reader knows where to look for those things."