Mike Shatzkin of Idealog has long been arguing that commerce in books needs to go ‘vertical’—that readers will gather at sites where their interests are served. Publisher branding doesn’t matter as much as putting the right combination of books together for a one-stop shopping experience.
Tor Books has effective done just that with their new online store. Through their site, they are selling Tor books, Spectra books, Xlibris books, anyone’s books: the selected titles are linked only by subject (sci fi and fantasy) and not at all by publisher.
This isn’t not to suggest that Tor isn’t involved in some pretty heavy branding. Their new store also includes a link to buy Tor-branded merchandise. So the explicit branding is certainly there (I mean, the site is called the Tor Store. Not only because it rhymes, one can assume) but the more subtle brand expansion is what’s really impressive.
As I understand it, the argument for continuing to buy books from publishers when there is scads of free content available goes something like this:
- I like good books but don’t have time to sort through/gamble on the millions of options out there to find them
- There are trusted sources (publishers) who both filter for and enhance the quality of written work, creating books that are easy to find and that are a reasonably safe bet.
- I am willing to pay for this kind of quality assurance to save me time and hassle.
Tor has created an environment where their expertise extends not only to the manuscripts they themselves have picked up, worked on and published but also to all the good sci fi/fantasy books that other publishers like them have created. Tor is positioned now as the arbiter of great books in this genre….they are kind of like the super trusted source managing all the mini-sources.
Of course you’d want to wear a Tor shirt—by being creator-neutral in sourcing, they have become the most recognizable part of a really good thing for book lovers. Is it too sci fi for me to suggest we kneel before Tor? Yes? (Imagine I was saying it in a really funny voice - I know my coworkers are really liking my practice rounds. Did I mention BookNet has an open-concept office?)