New York Times: Is Amazon Shaking up The Book Publishing World?

Very interesting news today from the New York Times: “Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal” —

“Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.”

Amazon has been testing the waters (Gizmodo: “Amazon Is a Book Publisher for Reals Now”) but this would seem to be the boldest move yet by Amazon to make a serious effort into the publishing world — a big step from a book seller/book distributor, to book publisher. Alarmists will immediately wonder aloud: are book publishers nervous? Should they be?

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out.”

For writers trying to get their foot in the door without any luck from traditional publishers, it is pretty great news. I wonder what this means for Kindle Direct Publishing?

“Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.”

Too early to tell where this goes, and it remains to be seen what kinds of resources Amazon is devoting to this publishing effort, but the company certainly has the resources to make some waves in the publishing world with this, especially if mainstream authors are lured away from traditional publishing houses, others may quickly and invariably follow suit. If this is any indication, here were some pretty strong words from an Amazon executive: “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

At least from one example, we know that the possibility of an Amazon-created bestseller book is much more reality than fiction —

“Can Amazon secretly create its own best sellers? “The Hangman’s Daughter” was an e-book hit. Amazon bought the rights to the historical novel by a first-time writer, Oliver Pötzsch, and had it translated from German. It has now sold 250,000 digital copies.”

In case you’re curious (like me), here’s a link the The Hangman’s Daughter (Kindle Edition).


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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