Amazon Gets Into Books Seriously

The thing that many of us publishing types have long speculated about has finally happened. Amazon is doing a general trade imprint and trying to poach authors. Moby Lives has the snarky overview:

A Crain‘s report notes that Amazon has been looking for someone to head the effort for months, and “High on its wish list was someone with connections to bestselling authors that the new imprint could effectively poach, helping to jumpstart its business and make books from the company a must-have even for brick-and-mortar players that consider Amazon their archrival.”

Calling the move “a full-on assault of publishers across many of their publishing markets,” Michael Wolf observes in a column for GigaOm that “Amazon has essentially become a book industry ‘in a box’, having completed the vertical integration of the book industry by launching their own imprints.” And with the news about Kirshbaum, he says, “that box has just gotten a whole lot bigger.”

This is obviously a big deal, although how much of a big deal remains to be seen. As we’ve already witnessed with the Amazon Kindle price wars and Andrew Wylie’s Odyssey Editions, it’s not at all clear that the publishing industry will sit by as Amazon takes the best of its talent.

That said, if Amazon gets a large chunk of said talent, things begin to change substantially. And by “talent” I mean known commodities who sell well, not necessarily great authors. For the latter, I imagine most of them will continue publishing with small and moderately large presses, and for those entities things probably won’t change all that much. It’ll just be a different house poaching the authors that they spend years bringing along into a something borderline marketable/profitable.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon signed several respected/prestige-type authors, even if they don’t sell. For Amazon, the benefit is that it quickly legitimizes its imprint and acts as a draw for other authors (of all types). It would say “we are serious about this.”

For the respected/non-commercial-type authors, I have no doubt that if Amazon wanted them in their collection, it could make them very attractive offers to leave their current publishers. I’m thinking not necessarily of DiLillo or McCarthy, but of writers who are great, but may feel neglected if they are with a larger press, or desire a wider readership if they are on a smaller press. Amazon could break them off enough to make them make the jump, getting the benefit of Amazon pushing their books. And them Amazon could say, “We have the best contemporary writers” and all of the sudden everyone takes them seriously and the writers they want who sell more will start to feel the draw.

I wouldn’t be surprised if their first announced author was someone like Javier Marias. A great great great writer who deserves more readers who would immediately lend Amazon some credibility as a publisher.


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