May 17 2009
Amazon announced last week that it was launching AmazonEncore. AmazonEncore plans to bring well received self published books to the mainstream reading audience. It is starting with the book Legacy by Cayla Kluver. Kluver wrote this book two years ago at the age of 14. With her mother’s assistance, Kluver self published the title under her own imprint, Forsooth Books.
The book won several awards and had good reviews, but “achieved only modest sales” according to Amazon’s press release. Amazon has purchased Kluver’s rights. The book will under go revisions with the help of an editor and will be released for national physical distribution via third party wholesalers. Amazon intends to pursue other self published titles as well as books of authors that are out of print. (Something both Sourcebooks and Belgrave House do currently). The Kluver title will enjoy a worldwide release suggesting that she sold “World” rights instead of merely “North American” rights along with her digital and audio rights. It is unknown whether she sold film and non print rights but it might be safe to assume that she did.
Kluver’s title was probably chosen for its sensation factor. A 14 year old girl? Christopher Paolini? The packaging of this product couldn’t be better. Expect a slew of child prodigy articles in print newspapers across the country come August 2009 and the release of Legacy.
This was correctly read as Amazon’s foray into the marketplace as a publisher, not just a retailer. While this may have been a surprise to some, it seemed like the natural progression of Bezos’ moves in the last few years. We actually discussed this just last month wherein I suggested the next logical step for Bezos was to become a publisher.
At some point, I believe that Amazon will be a premiere publishing, housing the biggest names in the industry who will share with Amazon some amount of the net profit from the sale of their books in excess of the current amount. Extrapolating this out further, every author becomes a POD author with some having a greater ability to pay for placement on Amazon’s internet retail store than others. Amazon laughs its way to the bank because it gets paid on both ends – from the author wanting to publish the book to the reader who pays for the end product.I think Amazon as a publisher is inevitable. I think that a co partnership would be viewed attractively by someone like Janet Evanovich.
Others viewed Amazon’s debut on the publishing stage inevitable as well. Eoin Purcell’s wryly titled article “All Your Base Are Belong to Amazon” notes that the competitive advantage Amazon has through vertical integration effectively wrests control of the entire value chain. (Authors, if you don’t know what disintermediation is as it relates to publishing, you should and yes, we will talk about the very last paragraph in that blog article soon). Like personanodata, I don’t see Amazon sticking with just small, heretofore unheralded authors.
A major author such as Janet Evanovich or Steven King signing with Amazon Encore (or whatever other publishing imprint that Amazon would think up) would give the Amazon publishing house instant credibility. Further, it makes sense for these authors to come on board now while the publishing is in its infancy and thereby wrest better terms for him or herself.
It also makes sense for Amazon to force authors to use CreateSpace to publish their own works and then allow the community to choose a salaeable book. It’s like a slow moving American Idol or other reality TV competition show. The community votes for the “best” books and the book is then rewarded with a publishing contract. Getting Amazon’s attention and that of the Amazon community, however, requires monetary investment by the author. This is no different than what HarperCollins is doing with Authonomy.
Is it so incredible to conceive of a publishing environment in which the top producing authors are co publishing with Amazon and all the new and upcoming authors must pay their way into possible publishing? Essentially authors become their own profit centers, but would continue to be required to pay Amazon for increasingly more expensive access to the market to the point that only authors who had sufficient funds could be “published.”
And what would happen to existing publishing if the main publishing houses loose their top producing authors? According to Publishers’ Marketplace (subscription required) Stephenie Meyer books accounted for approximately 9% of the company’s annual revenues, world wide. If Meyer would leave to self publish with Amazon, what happens to Hachette? A 9% drop in revenue could have devastating effects.
We know that Amazon is willing to lose money to gain market dominance. It could stand to have a few failures from its publishing program. As Purcell points out:
Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.
But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too.
What can publishers do? Purcell suggests nothing in the short term. He’s right and wrong. Existing publishing houses can take steps in the short term to improve their position in the long term. For example, a market wherein the digital book share was equal to or greater than print could, conceivably, erode Amazon’s market dominance. This only happens, though, if publishers stop giving Amazon the keys to their digital kingdom. In other words, publishers could push back against Amazon by either pushing for an industry standard and requiring Amazon to conform to their demands rather than vice versa or eliminating DRM altogether. Of course, removing DRM from digital books won’t stop Amazon’s seemingly relentlesss press for publishing domination.
Publishers should create better, easier, and more attractive ways to purchase books directly instead of relying on retailers to move product. I’ve heard that publishers are fearful of pissing off Amazon and getting the “Buy It Now” buttons removed from the webpage, but it seems to me that it’s better to make Amazon angry now when it is only comprising 5-25% of the retail market instead of 5 years from now when Amazon is controlling over 50% of the market.
Publishers need to listen to their consumer base more. They need to spend money on market research and getting to know their customer. It appears that much of publishing’s market research is based on what sells. Because of the delay between the acquisition of a title and the publication of the title, the sales data used at the time of acquisition is stale by the time of the publication. Perhaps if more was known about the demographic for an acquisition, less of the titles would be risky.
Authors and readers need to stop defining the term published with the word print. In an increasing digital reading marketplace, print is simply one vehicle for delivery of the content. Publication should mean the distribution of content to the public, regardless of whether the mode of delivery is in paper and ink or bytes. Changing the view of publishing might go a long way in achieving a more balanced marketplace.
Amazon isn’t the only behemoth out there interested in publishing. Google is and Apple might be. The existing content producers seem not be part of conversations about the future of publishing. It’s like a foregone conclusion that publishing houses as we know them now will go the way of the Woolly Mammoth. Maybe that’s a good thing.