Tim Ferriss just signed with Amazon Publishing. Photo credit: Brian Caldwell, http://www.flickr.com/photos/briancaldwell/467512232/
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Quoted in an Amazon Publishing press release announcing the deal, Ferriss painted his decision to work with the online giant as something more than a business deal. “[It] wasn’t just a question of which publisher to work with,” he said. “It was a question of what future of publishing I want to embrace. My readers are migrating irreversibly into digital, and it made perfect sense to work with Amazon to try and redefine what is possible.”
But as David Streitfield commented in The New York Times, not everyone in the book world shares Ferriss’s enthusiasm for Amazon’s new venture. Traditional publishers are “downright nervous about the intentions of Amazon, with its deep pockets and an unparalleled distribution system into tens of millions of living rooms and onto electronic devices,” he wrote.
- Nervous industry. Amazon’s is already the dominant book retailer and distributor, and its move into publishing has many in the industry worried. Rachel Deahl, writing in Publishers Weekly before the Ferriss deal was announced, detailed some of the concerns. “For many agents, along with some booksellers, the real concern about Amazon Publishing has to do with what it could signal for traditional publishers,” she wrote. “If Amazon lands enough bestselling authors, it could dominate traditional publishing the way it has come to monopolize online bookselling.” Deahl also quoted some independent booksellers who said they would refuse to stock any titles published by their arch-nemesis. “We’re not doing that,” said one. “I’d love to stock their books and give them more money to put me out of business.” And, according to Deahl, even literary agents were worried about working with Amazon Publishing, albeit for different reasons: “Agents PW spoke to, all of whom talked under the condition of anonymity, said their chief concern is selling a book to an untested entity.”
- Amazon a ‘frenemy’. Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HarperCollins UK, echoed some of these thoughts in The Bookseller. She called Amazon a “frenemy” to the publishing industry and said the company’s “foray into publishing…is obviously a concern.” Barnsley suggested that Amazon Publishing, coupled with the retailer’s existing power, meant that Amazon was “close to being in a monopolistic situation.” Is there anyone who likes the idea of Amazon Publishing?
- The Amazon gravy train. Well, New York literary agent Richard Curtis does, for one. Blogging at e-book publisher e-reads, he claimed that the negativity voiced in Deahl’s article was “astounding.” Taking other agents to task for their nervousness at working with Amazon Publishing, Curtis asked: “What makes these agents imagine that Amazon, boasting enough assets to acquire all Big Six Publishers without raising a sweat, would fail at book publishing any more than it has failed at any other goal it has set for itself?” Curtis admitted that the traditional publishing world had reasons to be fearful, but reframed the “threat” of Amazon Publishing as a potentially exciting change. “That is not the first threat agents have had to adjust to over the past few decades…if they’re smart they’ll see Amazon Publishing as an opportunity to enrich themselves and their clients.”
- Seattle invades New York. It seems that a lot of the unease about Amazon’s entry into publishing may come down to good old-fashioned snobbery. The New York Observer reported in June that Amazon was ignoring “old publishing’s faux-gentlemanly approach to getting promotional quotes” by brazenly asking authors to write blurbs in exchange for extra promotion for their own books. “It’s completely unethical,” wailed one agent. And the vulgarity doesn’t stop there. The Observer’s Emily Witt also reported another incident that makes it clear that the Seattle-based company does not care for the niceties of old-school publishing. “Another person, who was approached by Amazon for hiring advice, had an objection that, though small, perhaps laid bare most plainly the cultural differences between old publishing and Amazon. ‘They never picked up the tab,’ he grumbled.”