Hachette Book Group. HarperCollins. Macmillan. Penguin Random House. Simon & Schuster.
In the book-publishing world, these entities are known collectively as “The Big Five,” and they are the backbone of the industry. But the average person grabbing their next reading conquest off a shelf at their local bookstore or library isn’t liable to do so based on the publisher, or to even have an inkling of what “imprints” are.
Aside from the printed name of the publisher, the only thing likely to capture a reader’s attention or spark recognition is the publisher’s logo, usually found on an inside cover page, the spine, or the back cover of the book. Most logos consist of a symbol and the name of the entity. The more prominent and recognizable the name, the more often the representative symbol can fly solo in product design.
But how do the Big Five publishing company logos stack up?
Hachette Book Group
Hachette has chosen a logo that features the name of the publisher along with a deconstructed H as a symbol. The entire logo is typically produced in a soft gray color, but it is also sometimes seen in a Grecian-blue theme. This color scheme has also been applied to the Hachette website and is featured in all their digital marketing spaces. Arguably, the softer tones make this a somewhat forgettable entry, especially when it’s stacked up against the bolder colors and symbols used by industry competitors.
The HarperCollins logo, a bright-red flame resting atop blue waves, is a historical nod to the 1990 consolidation of two major publishing companies: Harper & Row and Collins. The logo colors are apparently mutable, bowing to the needs of design, and have been printed in various shades on book spines. The red-white-and-blue theme is used prominently in digital spaces but lends itself to an unintentionally patriotic vibe. HarperCollins might do well to stick with one color over the other, or to be incredibly strategic about applying both.
The Macmillan Publishers logo features two thick, wavy red vertical lines. The origin of the logo was the double Ms of the Macmillan brothers’ last name, but eventually it transformed into a flag- or banner-type symbol. Designers have recently altered the logo, adding a sleeker shine to the wavy lines and transforming the lines into a balloon for the children’s publishing group. The prominent red color carries over heavily into their digital marketing sphere, with the website adorned in red and black. The symbol is bold, but the context of the double Ms is lost in translation (though after decades of publishing success, altering the image now would be ill-advised).
Penguin Random House
The Penguin Random House logo is arguably one of the logos that has received the most diverse treatment over the years. Sometimes it is simply the company name in text, sometimes it includes a symbol, and oftentimes it is just the symbol of a penguin or a house. The penguin is the most common logo permutation, and it was often seen outlined in orange until recent changes (which were no doubt a nod to modern aesthetical updating). The black-and-orange theme of the logo again ties into the company’s digital branding materials, although unlike some competing publishers, they’ve gone sparse with the use of orange on their website. This is probably for the best: orange and black is a branding theme best played down, since it’s most heavily associated with Halloween.
Simon & Schuster
The Simon & Schuster logo is a black-and-white graphical rendering of a painting by Jean-François Millet called The Sower. The founders of the company likened the concept of book publishing to a sower planting seeds, thinking of books as “seeds of wisdom.” The symbol transformed over time into the current, more abstracted version of the sower. However, given the bold lines and the lack of context surrounding the image, it’s likely that the average consumer or even avid book lover wouldn’t grasp the callout. The black-and-white theme is prominently displayed on Simon & Schuster’s website and across their digital marketing platforms, but it’s a bit of a snoozefest. They should seriously consider adding an element of green, as it relates to the sower planting seeds.
Book publishing is a centuries-old tradition, so the logos and brands have been slightly updated over time to reflect current marketing and branding trends. But are publishers doing enough to keep their symbols fresh, relatable, and contextual for modern readers?