Does the Publisher Matter When You’re Buying a Book?

When was the last time you bought a book based on the publisher? When was the last time you even visited a publisher’s website? How many publishers can you even name? Do they even make a difference to you at all? Or do you follow your favorite houses like your favourite sports teams? Let’s take a few minutes to dive into whether or not publishers matter to us at all.

A few weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times about Amy Schumer’s new $8 million book deal (a dollar amount so psychotic it might warrant its very own blog post). In it, literary agent Russell Galen talks about how bidding wars happen between publishers, and specifically how Schumer’s $1 million advance just a few years ago ballooned into an offer eight times that size. It’s an interesting piece based on economics alone, but the kicker for me was when Galen started talking about how the publisher (Gallery Books) can possibly come out on top after such a gigantic advance.

“Even if you lose money in the short run, it helps your prestige,” Galen said. “If you are a big publisher, you need to show the flag, you need to make news, because it helps your entire list.”

But does it?

I may be wrong, but instinct and personal experience tells me that the publisher of a book barely factors into whether people buy that book. People care about four things: who the author is, what the book is about, how well it’s been reviewed, and how pretty the cover is. For the most part, I’d wager that readers couldn’t give two shits whether a book came from Vintage or Harper Collins or Simon and Schuster.

How then, does having a popular book help a publisher’s prestige? For agents and authors and people in the industry, sure. But for readers?

Let me ask you something. Think of the last really good book you read. Can you tell me who published it? Think of the third-last book you read. Can you tell me who published that? If you can, you’re a total book nerd. I can’t even tell you the publisher of the book I’m reading right now. The book I held in my hand less than four hours ago.

With so many houses to choose from, how do publishers even expect readers to care who's who?
With so many houses to choose from, how do publishers even expect readers to care who’s who?

If it’s a local publisher, then that’s a bit of a different story. There’s probably a personal connection there. A deliberate attempt at reading locally. Disregard those books. That’s not who I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the heavyweights. The national bigwigs.

In truth, I think we do care (to some extent) whether a book is published by a large press or a small one. There’s a perceived legitimacy there. I’ve regularly turned down Advanced Reading Copies from small presses because I just assumed they wouldn’t be as polished as some of the larger press books I’ve received and enjoyed. I think that’s only natural. So yes, I think there is some merit to large house vs small house, but the thing that pokes a hole in Galen’s comment about organizational prestige is the fact that we don’t care what large publisher put out the book we’re interested in. All we care about is that a large publisher put out a book we’re interested in.

The reason being most publishers don’t really have a brand. I’m sure each of them thinks they do, but let’s be honest: most of them don’t. Harlequin has a brand. Del Rey has a brand. If you want romance or sci-fi/fantasy, they’re your go-to’s. But how can a company like Harper Collins claim to have a brand when, this month alone, they published a book by Jamie Oliver, a Game of Thrones-esque book by Wilbur Smith, a Back to the Future retrospective, and the biography of Kim Kardashian.

So do you care at all who publishes a book you’re looking at? Do you find out about new books or authors based on your interest in certain major publishing houses? Which are your favourites? Are there houses you try to avoid?

Fun Reading Challenge Idea

How cool would it be to start a Publishing House Reading Challenge (name currently in development #reallynotreally). There are a lot of different ways to go about it.

You could do a (digital) round table where each person is defending a publisher’s list based on certain questions (Canada Reads style, but with publishers instead of single books). You could read 5-10 books from several different publishers and compare/contrast to see who’s better. Do certain houses have certain trends?

Any other ideas?

Note: I’m not committing to this. It’s simply an idea. LOL.


9 thoughts on “Does the Publisher Matter When You’re Buying a Book?

  1. I read the article about Amy Schumer’s book deal too and thought it was a little bizarre. The only publisher I (half-heartedly) follow is Europa ( because I really loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog and I think the books look pretty, haha.

    I do like the idea of a publishing house challenge though, maybe even looking at books they’ve put out in the same year to see if one publishing house has better taste or more big hits than the other ones? You’ll have to keep me posted if you ever decide to commit to this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh, I bought The Elegance of the Hedgehog at a library sale a little while ago. Still haven’t tackled it. You recommend, I take it? What’s so great about it?

      The Publishing House challenge sounds fun, but it feels daunting. And challenges are my undoing. Maybe one day when I’m feeling overly ambitious 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I absolutely recommend it! I haven’t read it in a while, so I might have to reread it soon, but I just remember it being half-hilarious and half-insightful/witty/touching.

        I agree – the idea of challenges always kind of freaks me out. I have a hard time forcing myself to read books in a certain order.


      2. I’m VERY in the moment when it comes to my reading choices. I can’t even plan two books ahead most of the time. If I read a book I didn’t choose immediately before starting to read it then my entire experience is compromised. I’m an extremely finicky reader (sorry to get all technical on you).

        Thanks for the note on Elegance. I’ll have to give it a whirl. I just can’t plan it first 😉


  2. This is definitely interesting is how many of the “small” publishers we see on shelves are actually owned by one of the big three or four publishing houses. It’s CRAZY how few small independent publishers actually still exist.


      1. It’s hard to say, but with the “resurgence” of independent bookstores I think there’s an opportunity for independent publishers, especially digital publishers (if they can hold themselves to an exacting standard)!


      2. Online marketing might be the thing that gets independent publishers over the hump. With social media, bloggers, Goodreads, YouTube, and the relative affordability of Google marketing, they stand a chance of getting the word out if their product is really strong. Here’s hoping!

        Liked by 1 person

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