"Imprint" typically refers to a division of a publishing house with a distinct brand name. In much the same way that a single company may own a fleet of cable TV stations, each appealing to a different demographic, publishing houses use imprints to cater to a specific audience.
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Imprints are also sometimes referred to as "trade names." A trade name is different from that of the owning company, generally chosen for commercial purposes. This is not unique to publishing. An example of trade name usage in the pharmaceutical industry is "Tylenol." The chemical name for Tylenol is N-acetyl-para-aminophenol.
The largest English-language book publisher in the world is Random House. It got its start as an imprint of the Modern Library publishing house, but eventually became the parent company. Random House controls more than 60 imprints, ranging from publishers of children's books to large-print books.
Another good example of a publishing house employing imprints to cater to specific audiences can be found in the comic book industry. In its history, D.C. Comics has controlled 12 imprints, each of which operated under a unique marketing strategy. "Helix," for instance, was a science-fiction and fantasy brand, while "Minx" was aimed at an audience of younger women. Today, "All Star" exists as an imprint of D.C. Comics dedicated to pairing the most popular trademarks (Superman, Batman) with the most popular writers and artists in the hope of reaching new audiences.
Although the proliferation of imprints arguably has little direct meaning for the average reader, some suggest that the increasing specialisation of publishing is good for writers, that niche-publishing for focused demographics means an industrious writer or literary agent is more likely to find a suitable home for clients' work. Others argue that the spread of imprints has diluted the field of publishing and weakened traditional powerhouse brands.
History and Other Usage
The word "imprint" is derived from the widespread practice of publishers printing their name on the title page of a book. The word can also be used in publishing to differentiate separate editions of the same title. For instance, a popular title that is reissued often over the years will feature several unique imprints.
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