Amazon Venturing Deeper into Publishers’ Territory

May 31, 2011

When it debuted two years ago this month, Amazon’s Encore "flagship
imprint" undoubtedly
raised some eyebrows among traditional publishers. Truly, by creating the world’s
biggest marketplace for books, Amazon has forever altered book retailing. However
publishers felt, until that point, safe from direct competition from the company.

stated mission is to help "unearth exceptional books and
amazing authors for more readers to enjoy." AmazonEncore, in essence, cherry
picks from among the hundreds of thousands of authors that self-publish via its
CreateSpace service, looking for books that have gained traction and talent worth
nurturing. It’s a long-tail approach to what publishers do for a living with
the assistance of book agents — helping authors with editing, book design, marketing,
PR and distribution. And for AmazonEncore, the sales channel extends beyond its
website into physical stores by way of third party wholesalers.

Most publishers
have historically looked down upon self-published work, and so the Encore threat
seemed minor. At Book Expo America (BEA) in New York last week, AmazonEncore
had a modest-sized booth with a few of its authors doing signings, and yet
its presence was sending out murmurs across the exhibit floor. In speaking
(off the record) with some publishers, there appeared to be a reluctant form
of tolerance for AmazonEncore.

One major publisher pointed out that retailers, including Barnes & Noble,
long ago rolled out imprints of their own, although these have generally been
reissues of public domain classics, not current work. One niche romance publisher
expressed only mild concern about Encore, boasting its particular expertise
in the genre and a loyal following for its titles cultivated by a very active
company website.

However, Amazon’s most recent efforts show it exploring much
deeper into publishers’ territory. Since 2009, Amazon has rolled out three
other imprints. The latest, announced earlier this month, is a mystery and
thriller imprint named Thomas & Mercer
(after the company HQ street location in Seattle). Thomas & Mercer is recruiting
name authors such as D.M. Annechino, J.A. Konrath, Kyle Mills and John Rector.

released recently was news that Amazon has hired Laurence J. Kirshbaum, a literary
agent and former publisher.

"Larry will be building out a publishing team in New York and will
found new imprints under the Amazon Publishing umbrella, with a focus on acquiring
the highest quality books in literary and commercial fiction, business and
general nonfiction," wrote Amazon executive Jeff Belle in an email to
literary agents, according to The New York Times.

With Amazon’s resources, is
anything standing in its way if it chooses to aggressively compete with publishers?
Certainly, Amazon would prefer not to scrap its valued publisher relationships.
But a key obstacle may be evident in Amazon’s new deal to sell trade paperback
rights for 10 of its titles to publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. According
to Publishers Weekly, Amazon has encountered friction when trying to distribute
its titles to brick and mortar retailers, most of whom aren’t exactly keen
about working with the company that orchestrated a retail revolution that didn’t
exactly work in their favor.

Discussion Questions: Is the opportunity to move into a dominant position as publisher too tempting for Amazon to resist? As reliant as publishers are on Amazon’s marketplace, is there anything they can (should) do to fight back?

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4 Comments on "Amazon Venturing Deeper into Publishers’ Territory"

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Ryan Mathews
10 years 11 months ago

Amazon will grab as much territory as it can and, no, there isn’t much that publishers can do about it — especially in light of the ongoing collapse of brick and mortar bookstores.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
10 years 11 months ago

This should be interesting.

Amazon started as an alternative distribution system for books which, at that time, were physical objects made of paper. This grew at the expense of 4-wall book sellers as Amazon became a major distributor of these paper objects, obviating the need for 4-wall operations. A major consolidation took place leaving 2 giant 4-wall operations and a handful of local players.

Amazon’s recent announcement that, after only 4 years, over 50% of its book sales are now digital suggests that the game may be changing again. The question may be whether Amazon will acquire the skill sets to do to the publishing houses what it did to Borders and Barnes & Noble. Authors strive to get their work viewed by as many eyeballs as possible. If the primary distribution becomes digital, why would authors go to publishers that are primarily paper-based?

Max Goldberg
10 years 11 months ago

The publishing business has its head firmly planted in the 19th century. It’s time for a change, and Amazon is the company to do it. Amazon has the ability to open up a stodgy business and allow more writers to reach a broad audience. If publishers don’t change, they could find their industry going the way of the music business.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 11 months ago

This seems to be a future area of expansion for Amazon. Consumers will like the expanded choices and conveniences offered by Amazon.


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