News

Amazon's Kirshbaum move could reduce competition—BEA

Responses to Amazon.com's hire of Laurence Kirshbaum as publisher have varied from worried to fear of a "dampening" effect on competition among delegates at the BEA conference.

Word that started to spread Sunday night was confirmed first thing Monday morning with the announcement that Kirshbaum, former TimeWarner c.e.o.-turned-agent, would be heading up Amazon's publishing operation in New York.

Everybody knew that an Amazon push into frontlist publishing was coming: the move into original genre books and the cooperation with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was not enough to satisfy the giant's ever-hungry maw. Highly-placed executives from New York houses have been migrating to Amazon for a while, and the company ratcheted up expectations after circulating a recruiting letter for various personnel a few weeks back. The question was only when.

The news spread swiftly around the Javits Center even though the exhibition floor was not yet open, the first day of BEA being devoted to conference sessions. For Kirshbaum, it seemed a natural: as Workman's Bob Miller put it, "Larry missed running the whole show. Being an agent just wasn't the same."

Independent booksellers took the news in their stride: "it didn't surprise" outgoing ABA president Michael Tucker, whose store is in San Francisco. Another major indie bookseller, Elliott Bay's Rick Simonsen (on Amazon's home turf of Seattle), saw it being "of more concern to publishers than to booksellers at this point. Remember, most booksellers have to deal with B&N's Sterling [publishing subsidiary] already. And Amazon will now get trapped in the real world!"

The proprietor of a store much closer to New York, who preferred to talk on background, said that given the state of Borders, and the likely difficulties Amazon may encounter with B&N, indies might actually get higher discounts on the books Amazon publishes since they will need a bricks and mortar storefront.

What people on the publishing side are feeling—again, off the record for the most part—is worried. Publishers, already feeling squeezed, have been feeling even more so since Monday morning.

Agent Richard Curtis, who doubles as proprietor of E-Reads, one of the earliest e-publishing and POD reprinters of out-of-print books, said: "I think Larry is an iconic branded figure in the American book business and will be the perfect person to bring the old and new worlds of publishing together.

"However, because of Amazon's dominant retail position, their wealth and leverage could have a dampening effect on competition. B&N's publishing has had that effect: as an agent, I'll call a publisher and pitch a non-fiction project. ‘We'd love to do it,' they'll tell me, and then add, ‘but we know Sterling will undercut on price for the same kind of book."

And Amazon clearly intends to publish far beyond the Sterling model; they would not have brought Kirshbaum on board if they were not looking to go for some of the biggest fish in the frontlist fiction and non-fiction ponds.

Kirshbaum himself of course had been one of the earliest digital enthusiasts, before the world was ready for digital: at TimeWarner, he had started iPublish, a short-lived and very costly (reportedly the company lost some hefty millions) attempt at harnessing the future.

Another question is the role HMH may play. A few years ago, the company had a well-publicised liquidity crisis. It is unclear how HMH stands in terms of liquidity today, but a couple of observers wondered how the Kirshbaum hire and HMH connection will fit together in future.

Perhaps the Amazon news was not far from the minds of the publishing executives who participated in an IDPF roundtable. One attendee posed the following question from the floor: "Of the big five publishers [the questioner forgot there are actually six], how many will be around four years from now?"

Sourcebooks' Dominique Raccah predicted, "We will lose 50% of publishers." For Bloomsbury's Evan Schnittman, they are already "all just part of each other".

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

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Amazon is more democratic than publishers can be. They have permitted small publishers such as ourselves a gateway to readers via Kindle and listeners via audible. They post eBooks and audiobooks within a few days of receipt and pay larger royalties.

Our company distributes our products physically through CDs, for audiobooks, and downloads for eBooks and audiobooks. Amazon in no way restricts those actions and, in fact, encourages them.

Ditto for Apple which runs iTunes and iBookstore. The publishing marketplace, as with so many these days, has just shifted in terms of the players. Content owners have been the major beneficicary of this trend, other than Amazon and Apple, because we get paid higher royalties faster.

Perhaps publishers could not charge outrageous margins on ebooks. That might help. But it isn't going to happen. Greed-driven DRM killed the music business and now it will kill the book business.

The information age is an exciting time to be a writer. I see this as a capital endeavor for Amazon and, yes, a democratic move to benefit authors. This is super timing for aspiring authors, like me, to jump on the bandwagon and be heard.

The publishing sands are shifting.

Stay tune to the ever changing world of publishing.

Is Amazon going to continue to allow rare/out-of-print/used book dealers to peddle books that they didn't obtain through honest means (permission from the publisher/author)? My books are listed...and they didn't get the VAST majority of the copies from me. The whole book industry has been seriously tarnished since online booksellers started allowing this to happen, along with Google walking right in and taking/scanning it. The LAST place I want to see my books now...is in a bookstore. What an era!

"Traditional" book publishing disappeared years ago and was replaced by corporate publishing. It is disingenuous for corporate publishing and those benefiting from it to now be looking for protection from big bad Amazon. Authors and readers have been screwed over royally in the past 20 years, so let's give the whining a rest. If a new model treats authors fairly and delivers good writing to readers, all will be well. The corporate model certainly has failed to deliver.

Hey publishers! You tried to kill ebooks with your agency model and it backfired. We tried to tell you time and again. Most of us refuse to pay more for ebooks than the cost of the paperback version. You thought we would then buy the paperback instead? You were sorely mistaken. We left you and went elsewhere.

Sorry, but I have to disagree. I've been a writer for 45 years and during that time have witnessed much predation -- all of it on the part of traditional publishing houses and the agents that serve them. I know many published authors and, except for the absolute top names, none are particularly happy with the commission schedules and other treatment received.
It would take a small book to outline the immense number of complaints voiced by professional authors and writers about the publishing industry.
Singling out Amazon makes me highly suspicious of your motives and/or who you represent. Authors are like serfs who, after decades of being under the heel of publishing lords, rise up to overthrow their oppressors.
Today, there are e-book authors making more commission in a month than they ever saw as total advances from the same books under the robber barons of publishing. They are revolting to gain a voice in the future of publishing. It was another writer who perhaps said it best: "We the people ... all men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That pursuit of happiness includes the ability to earn a reasonable living.
Further down in the marvelously crafted Declaration, Thomas Jefferson states: "... experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
As Jefferson noted, Americans have the right to abolish insufferable evils. Thus authors and their readers are fighting to build a more financially remunerative system.

3 reasons Amazon will crush big publishers.

1. They have invested in their infrastructure and will continue to invest. Try getting real time sales figures from publishers other than Sterling (B&N). Amazon updates your standings every half an hour.

Major publisher's accounting systems are frequently in total disarray. We have been mispaid by many of the majors. Amazon on the other hand is always on time and accurate.

2. Amazon isn't married to the traditions so dearly held by Big Pub. I doubt capturing cubic inches in a bookstore means much to Amazon. And the idea of running a string of titles out each season and hoping that at least 1 out of 10 will survive holds much appeal to Amazon.

3. Amazon understands that in this age of the social media the author matters. Publisher's are like caretakers to the terminally ill. Since so many titles perish rather quickly it doesn't pay to get too attached nor invest too much money in those with such a short life span.

Amazon on the other hand uses ever means available to promote the author. As an example our home blog is feed directly into our blog on Amazon. Therefore traffic from Amazon is impacting not only sales but our blog as well.

That is why Amazon will win.

Kevin Kunz

Amazon uses social media and is in the Internet. Publishers on the other hand are on the Internet.

Amazon is more democratic than publishers can be. They have permitted small publishers such as ourselves a gateway to readers via Kindle and listeners via audible. They post eBooks and audiobooks within a few days of receipt and pay larger royalties.

Our company distributes our products physically through CDs, for audiobooks, and downloads for eBooks and audiobooks. Amazon in no way restricts those actions and, in fact, encourages them.

Ditto for Apple which runs iTunes and iBookstore. The publishing marketplace, as with so many these days, has just shifted in terms of the players. Content owners have been the major beneficicary of this trend, other than Amazon and Apple, because we get paid higher royalties faster.

Perhaps publishers could not charge outrageous margins on ebooks. That might help. But it isn't going to happen. Greed-driven DRM killed the music business and now it will kill the book business.

The information age is an exciting time to be a writer. I see this as a capital endeavor for Amazon and, yes, a democratic move to benefit authors. This is super timing for aspiring authors, like me, to jump on the bandwagon and be heard.

The publishing sands are shifting.

Stay tune to the ever changing world of publishing.

Is Amazon going to continue to allow rare/out-of-print/used book dealers to peddle books that they didn't obtain through honest means (permission from the publisher/author)? My books are listed...and they didn't get the VAST majority of the copies from me. The whole book industry has been seriously tarnished since online booksellers started allowing this to happen, along with Google walking right in and taking/scanning it. The LAST place I want to see my books now...is in a bookstore. What an era!

Sorry, but I have to disagree. I've been a writer for 45 years and during that time have witnessed much predation -- all of it on the part of traditional publishing houses and the agents that serve them. I know many published authors and, except for the absolute top names, none are particularly happy with the commission schedules and other treatment received.
It would take a small book to outline the immense number of complaints voiced by professional authors and writers about the publishing industry.
Singling out Amazon makes me highly suspicious of your motives and/or who you represent. Authors are like serfs who, after decades of being under the heel of publishing lords, rise up to overthrow their oppressors.
Today, there are e-book authors making more commission in a month than they ever saw as total advances from the same books under the robber barons of publishing. They are revolting to gain a voice in the future of publishing. It was another writer who perhaps said it best: "We the people ... all men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That pursuit of happiness includes the ability to earn a reasonable living.
Further down in the marvelously crafted Declaration, Thomas Jefferson states: "... experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
As Jefferson noted, Americans have the right to abolish insufferable evils. Thus authors and their readers are fighting to build a more financially remunerative system.

"Traditional" book publishing disappeared years ago and was replaced by corporate publishing. It is disingenuous for corporate publishing and those benefiting from it to now be looking for protection from big bad Amazon. Authors and readers have been screwed over royally in the past 20 years, so let's give the whining a rest. If a new model treats authors fairly and delivers good writing to readers, all will be well. The corporate model certainly has failed to deliver.

Hey publishers! You tried to kill ebooks with your agency model and it backfired. We tried to tell you time and again. Most of us refuse to pay more for ebooks than the cost of the paperback version. You thought we would then buy the paperback instead? You were sorely mistaken. We left you and went elsewhere.

3 reasons Amazon will crush big publishers.

1. They have invested in their infrastructure and will continue to invest. Try getting real time sales figures from publishers other than Sterling (B&N). Amazon updates your standings every half an hour.

Major publisher's accounting systems are frequently in total disarray. We have been mispaid by many of the majors. Amazon on the other hand is always on time and accurate.

2. Amazon isn't married to the traditions so dearly held by Big Pub. I doubt capturing cubic inches in a bookstore means much to Amazon. And the idea of running a string of titles out each season and hoping that at least 1 out of 10 will survive holds much appeal to Amazon.

3. Amazon understands that in this age of the social media the author matters. Publisher's are like caretakers to the terminally ill. Since so many titles perish rather quickly it doesn't pay to get too attached nor invest too much money in those with such a short life span.

Amazon on the other hand uses ever means available to promote the author. As an example our home blog is feed directly into our blog on Amazon. Therefore traffic from Amazon is impacting not only sales but our blog as well.

That is why Amazon will win.

Kevin Kunz

Amazon uses social media and is in the Internet. Publishers on the other hand are on the Internet.