Digital Imprints


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Publishing. It’s been experiencing a revolution, and for a time, no one was quite sure where it was going…especially for traditional publishers. They were using outdated business models that involved printers, shippers, wholesalers, distributors, marketers, and booksellers, all of whom took a cut. And those writers who chose to forgo this process and self-publish (also known as vanity publishing) were frowned upon by the “establishment.” 

But as self-publishing success stories proliferated, it started to become less stigmatized and more authors were willing to dip their toe in the pool. Writers were beginning to take control from the publishers—control over format, pricing, publication dates, type of content, and other areas.

“The revolution of digital publishing has leveled the playing field for writers,” says Ron Gavalik, creator of the Emotobooks™ format and self-publisher of Grit City Books. “But it requires us to use new technologies to garner readers.”

One of those technologies is Amazon. Amazon provides a platform for authors to display their books, and for customers to write reviews and rate books. Amazon began forcing the big-box bookstores out of business, and the advent of e-books just hurried the process along. In a “fight or flight” response, traditional publishers had to develop new business models just to compete. They needed a way to publish more simply and at lower cost. Enter digital imprints.

An imprint for a traditional publisher is a trade name under which certain types of books are published and can be used to segment the market. For example, Harlequin LUNA is an imprint of Harlequin romance for fantasy-related stories. Harlequin TEEN appeals to adolescents.

A digital imprint is a trade name that publishes only electronic forms of media. And the traditional publishing houses have developed several of them in response to the changing market.

Random House has developed the digital imprints Alibi for mystery/thriller/suspense stories; Hydra for science fiction and fantasy, Flirt for New Adult; and Loveswept for contemporary romance. The imprints offer two remuneration models:

  • Profit share model—No advance is given the author. The imprint and author share profits 50-50 from the first copy sold. “Profit” is defined as net sales revenue minus deductions for print editions (actual costs directly attributable to production and shipping of the book). For digital editions, Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover the cost of production. For both print and digital editions, Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover all marketing costs connected with general, category- or imprint-wide marketing programs.
  • Advance plus royalty model—Authors are given a more traditional publishing arrangement, with Random House’s standard eBook royalty of 25 percent of net receipts. The imprint will cover production, shipping, and marketing for all formats at 100 percent of cost.

However, the imprints acquire the rights to every book for the term of copyright, which is for the life of the author plus 70 years. Essentially, you’re selling all your rights, unless your book fails to sell a certain number of copies. If you’re a writer, be sure to carefully consider the terms of the contract before signing on the dotted line.

HarperCollins takes a slightly different approach with Authonomy. It’s a website where writers post works of at least 10,000 words and other writers comment on or rate them. HarperCollins publishers review the site for the most popular works, and then work with those authors toward publication. HarperCollins has also recently announced a romance digital imprint, Impulse.

Harlequin books is launching the romance digital imprints The Harlequin, Harlequin TEEN, Harlequin MIRA, and Harlequin HQN. Harlequin also recently announced that it will establish Harlequin E, an imprint to focus on mystery, romance, erotic romance, young adult, fantasy, fantasy romance, sci-fi, and sci-fi romance categories. 

Other publishers have joined the digital bandwagon, as well. Penguin has announced that it is reviving the Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries line as a digital imprint, Kensington has launched eKensington as a digital imprint, and F+W Media is moving its Crimson Romance e-book imprint from a beta test to full launch.

Profound changes in the publishing industry were brought on by technology, an external force; but these changes will be furthered by a desire for profit, an internal force. The proliferation of digital imprints demonstrates that the platform is here to stay, at least until the next big thing comes along. Direct-to-brain upload anyone?


Bonus points to anyone who can name the episode this quote came from: “Brain and brain! What is brain?”

About dohlman

Wright received her master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, and Cog was her thesis novel for the program. An accomplished poet, Wright’s science fiction poem “Doomed” was a nominee for the Rhysling Award, the Science Fiction Poetry Association's highest honor. Her other publications include “Of Sound Mind and Body” in the Bram Stoker award-nominated Sycorax’s Daughters; “Dear Octavia Butler” in the Locus Award-winning and Hugo-nominated Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler; “The Haunting of M117” in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction; “Cyberpunk Remastered” in the award-winning Many Genres, One Craft; “The Last Stop” in Diner Stories: Off the Menu; “Bequeathal” in Far Worlds; and “Mission: Surreality” in The City. Find her on Twitter @KCeresWright.
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