It is almost hard to remember when all Amazon did was sell books — the paperback and hardcover versions, that is. Over the years, the company has morphed and then morphed some more into a multilayered e-commerce platform, selling everything from digital music to storage space in the cloud to, well, just about any consumer product imaginable.
Now it appears Amazon is going back to its bookseller roots by getting into the publishing business. It’s expected to publish at least 122 books this fall in both physical and e-book form.
Getting to This Point
Not that this is that great a leap for Amazon — certainly not the leap it had to make to convince users of its cloud computing bona fides when it entered that market.
Amazon has been pushing into publishing for some time, largely through its Kindle platform. Most recently it announced that authors and publishers are able to make their books available in the Amazon Kindle Store using Kindle Direct Publishing.
It has also been developing imprints to publish certain genres, such as fiction and romance novels. Amazon Publishing launched its seventh imprint last week, 47North, which will focus on science fiction, fantasy and horror.
However, all of this activity appears to have been just a precursor to a larger publishing initiative — one that, as it becomes more public, has the traditional publishing industry shaking in fright.
The new venture, which is headed by publishing veteran Laurence Kirshbaum, will be a flagship line for Amazon, according to The New York Times.
Kirshbaum reportedly has been tasked with recruiting authors to the Amazon platform and has signed on self-help author Tim Ferriss and actress and director Penny Marshall.
Amazon did not respond to the E-Commerce Times’ request to comment for this story.
What Amazon is doing is going to change the publishing industry as it currently exists, David Johnson, principal with Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times.
“It will address the one drawback to self-publishing, which is a limited distribution network. Amazon is promising a robust distribution platform to these writers, as well as a full array of services that most publishing houses offer,” he said, citing conversations he has had with people in the industry familiar with Amazon’s initiative.
What’s more, Amazon will be delivering its own analytics and targeting capabilities, refined by years of its bookselling and e-commerce activities.
“It knows how to target and market, say a cookbook, better than any publisher,” Johnson said.
The Industry’s Cast-Offs?
Even if Amazon brings the full force of its financing strength and marketing expertise to bear on this initiative, it is hard to imagine that it would be able to knock down every single publishing name, some of which have existed for decades.
Indeed, some might argue that Amazon is opening a channel of talent that never appealed to the traditional publishing industry.
Consider Bryan W. Alaspa, a client services manager for K Squared Communications by day, book author by night. He has published several history and true crime books via standard publishers. However, he couldn’t find any publisher to take on his true love — science fiction. He found success in that realm through the Kindle format.
Amazon “has the immense potential to bring new talent and new names to the forefront of the fiction and book worlds,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Readers seem to enjoy my books,” Alaspa noted, “but standard fiction publishers and agents seem to run fast in the opposite direction from me when I approach them. Already, the tools made available from Amazon have allowed me to forgo those standard publishing trends and find an audience.”
Some writers think Amazon would be a better deal for them than a traditional publishing house, even one bearing the storied name of say, Penguin or Random House.
“While I have no complaints, the reality is that the amount of money an author sees from the gross sales of a book going through a traditional publisher is very small,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
” In 2004, I wouldn’t have considered anything exceptgoing through a ‘real publisher.’ It guaranteed the book would be available in the sports section of any bookstore, and while my cut wasn’t great, that ensured strong enough sales to make the project worthwhile.”
Fast forward seven years. Several of the bookstores that used to carry his book have gone out of business. Meanwhile, there were 4 million sales of the iPhone 4S this weekend.
“Every book I buy today is on the Kindle,” he said. “I save money, and the Kindle split is such that authors make more revenue. If Amazon offered me a book deal with a better split of revenue and told me the book would be available online in electronic form as well as in select bookstores, I’d take that deal in a heartbeat.”