Posted on February 10, 2014 in Archive

Who’s afraid of the big, bad Amazon Publishing?

10Feb

Big publishers are nervous, certainly. That’s always been the case, though, even when it seemed like Amazon Publishing was going to be a flop. But then things changed, and AP started showing potential promise (was anyone really that shocked?). So it was no surprise when Jeremy Greenfield, a contributor to Forbes.com, posted an article last week that posed the question: is Amazon Publishing finally giving big publishing a run for their money? 

Again, the answer to Jeremy’s question is, not really. Amazon Publishing has four books on DBW’s World Best-Seller List in the last few weeks, but come on, that hardly makes Amazon Publishing an established rival in the worldwide (though mostly New York based) publishing industry. If a small, independent publisher got results like that, they would be called a flash in the pan success, they might get a few profile articles written about them, and then they’d be forgotten in a few weeks. But because it’s Amazon Publishing? Ooooooh, watch out. They’re coming to get you, Big Six! (or Five, depending on who’s merging with who this week. Or Seven? Maybe we should go ahead and start counting AP alongside the big guns.)

The fact is, if Amazon Publishing wants to start ‘giving the big publishers a run for their money’, they’ve still got a ways to go. Amazon Publishing is still in it’s infancy compared to the big publishers – being only five years old, compared with HarperCollins, which celebrates it’s 24th birthday this year (although the ‘Harper’ part has been around since 1817, making it’s median age somewhere in the sixties). Anyway, I digress.

It’s perhaps the ‘Amazon’ part of Amazon Publishing that is preventing it from true (financial and critical) success. For their own financial reasons, some booksellers like U.S. retailer Barnes & Noble have refused to sell Amazon Publishing books – which they are entitled to do. In fact, this issue caused some controversy in late 2012 when Amazon Publishing author Tim Ferriss pompously began marketing his book The Four-Hour Chef as ‘the most banned book in U.S. history’, because it wouldn’t be stocked in every bookstore in the USA. Making light of the serious issue of censorship in order to annoy and antagonise those who won’t sell your book, is a sure way to get new fans. Especially amongst critics and those who don’t like censorship. Yes, the fact that some big retailer’s won’t sell your book is sure to be a downer when it comes to sales – but you kind of signed up for that when AP agreed to publish your book.

Liquid State - Amazon Publishing

Judging by Internet critic’s opinions, it seems as though Four-Hour series author Tim Ferriss gave four hours or less of thought when developing his ‘most banned book in America’ marketing tactic. Surprisingly though, it did seem to help sell his books.

So – if we look at Amazon Publishing objectively, they haven’t had the best of starts. Most people believe that Amazon Publishing failed to crack into big publishing, which is probably a fair statement. Their big-name CEO Larry Kirshbaum quit two years into the venture, their initial attempts at signing bestselling authors ended badly, and the big one – many of the big booksellers won’t stock their titles. That, and the fact that many titles are from independent authors, who tend to have a poor reputation within the publishing industry (and only some are deserved),  Again, if we looked at the company’s history without looking at their name and parent company, I think a lot more people would be saying, ‘Why is this company still operational? Just give up!’

But they’re not. Because it’s Amazon Publishing. A lot of publishers see the ‘A’ word and run scared, because Amazon does a pretty good job of being a behemoth in selling books – so maybe the inevitable is that they will become a behemoth in publishing, too. Their move into imprint publishing might mean that they are starting to look into what makes each genre successful and how best to do that. So maybe AP have major publishing success in their future.

But for now, the big publishers can take comfort in the fact that despite AP’s inclusion on the DBW list, Amazon hasn’t made it onto the New York Times bestseller lists for the same books. The NYT list is more influential and popular than DBW, which will no doubt comfort publishers if Amazon Publishing has any kind of future success. Which, let’s face it, based on previous experience, is likely to happen.