Has Become a Publisher. Don’t Expect to Find Their Books at Your Local Bookstore Any Time Soon

There is some interesting news this week about the ongoing struggle within the book business to define the protean changes that are going on, mostly  having to do with  the exponential growth of the ebook market and of Amazon’s  seemingly inexorable march to  dominate book publishing at all levels.

Larry Kirschbaum

Last spring Amazon announced that it was creating a trade publishing division. They hired publishing insider and veteran, Larry Kirschbaum, to head it up. Larry had been for many years the CEO  of Hachette Book group, one of the “big six publishers.” He retired from that position several years ago and became a literary agent. He is about as much of an old school publisher as you could get. Prior to this, Amazon had been dabbling in publishing but they were more involved in the “self-publishing” end of the business.

This new development puts them in direct competition with the New York trade houses. Not to put too fine a point on it, the big publishers are not happy.  Maybe this is  simply sour grapes, maybe  the publishers just don’t want another competitor to split off their business and to steal their best authors. That is certainly a component of it. But Amazon has never been satisfied being a part of a larger whole. Their stategy has always been to be the whole whole.  And they have the money to do that.  Amazon’s market capitalization is moving north of 80 billion dollars. — Res ipsa loquitur. They also have the infrastructure. They pretty much control the retail end of the ebook business and they have surpassed Barnes and Noble as being the largest retailer of print on paper books as well.

And they don’t believe in open platforms. If you are going to buy a Kindle edition, you must buy it from Amazon. They won’t permit their competitors to sell it. And, of course, you can only read Kindle editions on a — Kindle.  In comparison, the iPad and Barnes and Noble’s Nook accept books in the Epub  open format  edition.

It  is true that Amazon over the past few months has been snagging some big name commercial authors and paying big bucks. Tim Ferris, Deepak Chopra, James Franco, and Penny Marshall are frequently mentioned.  And Amazon has announced that they will be bringing out over 100 titles in the fall. And that is just the beginning. Amazon has downplayed their threat to the publishers saying that for them [commercial publishers], “it’s always the end of the world.”

Well, of course Amazon is always savvy at business and they realize that in order to bring in the big authors and get on the best seller lists, they have to have their books available in all venues and in all editions. Since most  other bookstores loathe Amazon as much as  the publishers, one can assume that there might be some reluctance on the part of these stores to order Amazon titles from Amazon. So in January, 2012  Amazon announced that traditional publisher Houghton Mifflin would be distributing Amazon print on paper titles to the trade.

If Amazon really wants to encourage their erstwhile and ongoing competitors to buy Amazon Publishing titles in hardback and paperback, one might think that they would make nice about the e-book editions as well. No. Amazon will not publish their e-books in the Epub format. This means that Barnes and Noble  and pretty much everyone else selling e-books will not be permitted to sell the e-book edition of the Amazon Publishing titles.

This month  Barnes and Noble announced that they would not be carrying  titles by Amazon Publishing in their physical stores. They said that  any publisher who would not make all their editions available to B&N would not  have their books   represented  in their 700 stores. Today the second largest retailer in America, Books-A-Million announced  that they had made the same decision. One can assume that you will have difficulty finding these books in independent bookstore as well, even if the books are carrying the Houghton Mifflin logo, not Amazon’s.

Although it is always troubling to see fewer outlets for any book, most of us in publishing seem to be feeling a kind of exquisite sense of schadenfreude at what appears to  be  Amazon’s overreach. About 70% of all books are still sold in physical bookstores. I think authors are going to think twice about signing a book contract with Amazon Publishing knowing that their books will not be available at most stores nationwide.


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7 Responses to “ Has Become a Publisher. Don’t Expect to Find Their Books at Your Local Bookstore Any Time Soon”

  1. Andrew Says:

    It will be interesting to see how this turf war plays out. I’m sure the Big Six will make every attempt to marginalize Amazon’s output, and the chain bookstores and indies will certainly do everything they can to “put their bodies upon the leavers and upon the gears” when it comes to stocking Amazon books on their shelves. Amazon is really trying to take the gold wristwatch off of the hands that feeds it in this case. I agree with your statement that Amazon is attempting to control every aspect of the publishing/book industry. I’m sure they have interoffice pep rallies where an Amazon-dominated publishing industry is a future goal listed at the end of a Powerpoint presentation given by Bezos. A monopoly on books would be absolutely horrible.

  2. Meghan Ward (@meghancward) Says:

    I’m glad Barnes & Noble and Books A Million are refusing to sell Amazon-published books. It’s about time they started fighting back. Did you hear, by the way, that rumor that Amazon plans to open a bookstore in Seattle only for Amazon books and Kindles?

    • andyrossagency Says:

      Meghan, I read about the new Amazon stores. (At this point, store – in Seattle). The details were pretty sketchy, but it sounds like they are going to be modeled more after Apple than after Barnes and Noble. Focusing on electronics, I imagine. They are going to run into a problem with the sales tax issue. A very big part of Amazon’s strategy has been to have no physical presence in states in order to avoid the requirement of collecting sales taxes in those states. I suppose Amazon realizes that this strategy, which is based on shaky legal grounds, is probably not going to last and they are planning to make a virtue out of necessity. Time will tell.

      • Andrew Says:

        Incredible! That makes total sense. If Amazon is going to have to pay/charge sales tax in the near future anyway, why not go all-in and start opening up some stores? Right now their selection would be pretty slim, so I’m not sure how they would justify opening a store just to sell three or four devices. They would have to supplement their stock with books, dvds, or something like that, unless they plan to open very small boutiques.

        I have owned all of the Kindle models (K1-K4, Touch, and Fire), and I can tell you that the quality of their products is starting to decline based on their efforts to cut manufacturing costs in their price war with B&N Nook & Kobo. Features have been removed, parts are noticeably low quality, and glitches and negative customer reviews started the KT’s Amazon rating at 3/5 stars when it came out.

        I’m anxious to see what new changes Amazon will be making in the future.

  3. Sebastian Clouth Says:


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  4. rjkeith Says:

    Interesting development in the world of publishing. As a writer who wants to be published (when the book is done, of course), this turn of events makes me wonder which way to go. Great article. Thank you!

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