Amazon as publisher

Amidst all the news about Apple's iPad and its impressive debut, people have been wondering how Amazon will react. Most eyes have turned to news of a Kindle III or at least some kind of refresh in the coming month, but I think we saw one of those reactions this week when AmazonEncore announced 10 fall titles (click here for announcement) including JA Konrath's, Shaken. When all the titles are released, the imprint will have 27 in print in the space of just three seasons.

That doesn't seem like much except that AmazonEncore launched with just one book in its first season. Amazon has slowly but surely expanded its Encore program and while the numbers are small, the % increase from those small bases has been impressive.

What's more, it represents a much more direct challenge to publishing, going after the still dominant print element of the book industry at a time when there is already so much change and threat from digital publishing, a space that Amazon has, to date, dominated.

When you think about it, Apple's model for ebooks represents a very traditional model for how the industry operates. It has created a channel through which publishers can sell books, much like a bookstore (they have even called it iBookstore).

Apple values quality and seems keen to enforce some kind of threshold for content on its devices. Apple has a massive database of customers credit card accounts and knows what they like to but, they seem happy to work with partners to supply that because they prefer to profit by selling high priced devices for consuming that content. The price for those getting on board is that Apple retains the customer relationship. That suits publishers who have always worked with partners and have always surrendered relations with their readers to those partners.

Amazon on the other hand has always been about changing the model. It tends to be a slow burning process that erases small chunks of the model at a time but over time (and Amazon has had time) those chunks add up. It is a direct and fierce competitor of physical bookstores and ideally would probably like to see them all disappear. But it is the physical bookstore that has supported the current model of book publishing and without it, trade publishing at least, will be severely damaged, even if the numbers drop below a certain level.

To dismiss AmazonEncore, and the latest imprint AmazonCrossing which will translate foreign language titles into English and sell them on the same basis as Encore, is to underestimate the change that can be wrought to a model over time by patient and gradual action, such as that engaged in by Amazon.

But it further underestimates the huge value that Amazon has built up in customer and reader feedback. I guess that is natural enough for trade publishers who have never valued that relationship, having always gifted it to others.

Right now, there is nothing to prevent Amazon ramping their publishing schedule up until they are publishing hundreds of books a year either within Encore or by launching new imprints. All the need to do to attract bigger, more high profile authors than those already on board is show solid rewards for their current crop and with JA Konrath happy to talk about how much he makes from just ebooks, I'd expect that part to be just around the corner.

For authors, that may well be great news, it might even be great news for readers. I'd warrant that in the long run, it is somewhat unavoidable. But for publishers, the sad truth is that, that if this continues, Amazon will have eaten their lunch.

Comments

energy

It is interesting to see the buzz around e-publishing. It is an exciting time for publishers. Many will begin to put their resources into developing apps. Companies like mutual mobile are developing apps for others. I wonder if they will begin to work with authors to help them publish their material through apps. What do you guys think?

Amazon as Publisher

Nicely said, Eoin.

Amazon's business model, since its inception in 1995, has been pushing and shoving, slowly and now more rapidly, the publishing industry into modern times of better serving the consumer and authors. While in the early days, Amazon had little competition with online sales, now they are competitors have competition on many fronts. 

You make a great point on the customer relationship that Amazon has, which publishers have gifted. The lack of an intimate relationship between the publisher and the reader is the Achilles heel of publishers. Amazon has been careful to own the customer relationship and the accompanying data. Amazon's culture obsesses over the customer...every day is a new day to obsess over the customer.

As far as channel conflict of Amazon becoming a publisher, mentioned in another reply, I believe that Barnes & Noble has been a publisher for many years. The key here is that Amazon offers authors real value in marketing and selling their books. Except for big name authors, most titles garner little to no publicity budget with traditional publishers anymore. The author feels that unless they invest heavily in the marketing and publicity of their books, there wouldn't be any activity by their publisher. Amazon has a perceived value for the author, beyond royalty splits. The ability to promote and sell your titles is a big score with authors.

Eoin, I think you are right. Amazon’s publishing ventures will steadily grow.

Amazon as a Publisher

Amazon appears to be filling a growing need in publishing. Midlist authors who haven't been able to sell thier latest, i.e. Konrath, now have a new and potentially more profitable venue with which to sell. Backlists are in demand with readers. Amazon can fill that void as well. Carina Press, Harlequin's new digital first imprint is another publishing arm to fill those voids.

Publishers mapping their own future by continuing down the same road as they have been.

Hoping this route to market

Hoping this route to market for authors will be eroded by publishers telling the world what it is that they do above and beyond selling and distributing their books and eBooks.

AmazonEncore will grow and its easy to be dismissive but the potential for Amazon to eat into the publishers perceived market is huge. I believe organisations should stick to what they are good at or offer a unique service rather than potentially alienate their main customers in this market - publishers.

If its not demanding parity on eBook pricing, agency model issues, then its setting up a direct competitor.

Where has the gentlmanly world of publishing gone with its unsaid rules of engagement and competition? Maybe I am just old fashioned.

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